If you have done your research about Sri Lanka, or follow the travel blogger sphere, I am 100% sure you have seen pictures of the beautiful blue train that runs between Kandy and Ella (but not only!). This train ride offers the most epic views of the green and lush landscapes that characterize the region, the tea plantations reminders of British colonial times, and the occasional spectacular waterfall. Aside from the amazing scenery, taking a train in Sri Lanka (or any other public transport) is a great way to interact with locals, try some authentic snacks and take great pictures! But before your get on board there is 8 tips you should know to enjoy your Kandy to Ella train ride to the fullest.
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT CLASS FOR YOU
The ride from Kandy to Ella is long , around 6 or 7 hours, so choosing the right level of comfort for you is important.
Most trains in Sri Lanka have 3 classes , and below is a quick description of each to help you decide which one is the most suitable.
1st Class : Seats are assigned and limited, so it is better to book your ticket in advance (either at the train station itself or through your hotel for example). The carriage has air conditioning and the individual seats are confortable, making the ride very pleasant. On the other hand, to preserve the AC, the windows don’t open. Since the windows are not very clean, it will limit the photo opportunities. Most of the travelers will be slightly older tourists and maybe a few middle class Sri Lankan. Overall you won’t get much chance to interact with locals. Also, the trains doors remain close, and in some cases are even guarded with a security man. So if you want to have the iconic “hanging out the door” picture, you will have to go to 2nd or 3rd class.
A 1st class ticket from Kandy to Ella is ± 1200 LKR – 7 USD.
2nd Class : Seats are sometimes assigned and sometimes not, and the wagons don’t have AC. The windows open and there is some ceiling fans. This class will be a lot busier and more local than the 1st class but the price of the ticket is significantly cheaper. If you want to have an interesting experience, while keeping it simple this is the class I would recommend.
A 2nd class ticket from Kandy to Ella is ± 230 LKR = 1.3 USD
3rd Class : In 3rd class, seating is not guaranteed and the train is vastly overbooked. If you do manage to seat, you will probably share a bench with 2 or 3 other passengers. Quite likely you will be standing up for a while. But you could also end up seating on the open doorway, your legs hanging outside the train doors and that is pretty cool too (cf. point 5)
A 3rd class tick from Kandu to Ella is ± 80 LKR = 0.5 USD
2. THE TRAIN IS NEVER ON TIME
Just be patient, because the train is absolutely never on time ! Although I think it is better for you to show up on time, just in case, don’t expect to leave at the planned departure time. That also means you shouldn’t expect to arrive on time at your final destination, so don’t organize anything too time specific then. My recommendation would be to take the train as early as possible, so you have a chance to 1. beat the crowd and 2. not spend the full day in the train.
You can check out the official train schedule here.
3. PREPARE TO FIGHT
I am just kidding with this alarming title! But still, joke aside, as mentioned earlier the 2nd and 3rd class train are very very busy and having a ticket doesn’t mean you are gonna get it. It will be chaos when the train arrives, and particularly difficult to navigate if you are a foreigner, so get some advises from the train station employees before the train arrives, to understand where you wagon / class will stop. My advise would be to get in first and figure out the rest later. Most likely you will not be allowed to jump into the 1st class wagon, so just get in through any other door. After than you can travel from one car to the other until you find some space to seat (or stand !).
Don’t be shy, just go for it or you will be left at quay waiting for the next train.
4. CHOOSE THE BEST SIDE
In my experience, from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, you get the most scenic view on the right side of the train. What I read in a few blog posts, is that it changes from Nuwara Eliya to Ella and it is then better to seat on the left side. Don’t stress too much though, the view is beautiful on both sides anyway.
5. HANG OUT THE DOORS AND TAKE EPIC PICTURES !
Even if you got an assigned seat, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it the whole journey. It takes 7 hours to go from Kandy to Ella, so you might want to spice things up a bit ! Seating on the open doorway with the train at full speed is definitely an exhilarating experience that you will remember for long. Just keep in mind that the train rides quite fast and shakes a lot, so you have to hang tight ! Also be mindful of the many branches, trees etc .. that might come your way.
If you want to take an epic picture hanging out of the door, head towards the back of the train and wait for a nice bend, so you can have most of the train in the shot !
6. DON’T OVERPACK
All carriages have some overhead racks to store your luggage, but it is definitely not meant for heavy and large luggages, and you will have to share the space with many many other travellers. If you are traveling 1st class, it shouldn’t be an issue to leave your luggage in the walkway, but in 2nd and 3rd class, it is not an option.
7. TRY SOME AUTHENTIC SNACKS
Although there should be a wagon in the train selling food and drinks, it can be difficult to get there, or you might not want to leave the seat you so strongly fought for !
Then the best option if you get hungry is to buy some snacks from the merchants that comes through the carriage. It looks kinda risky , but in my experience it was always pretty good. At least it is authentic ! I tried the dalh samosa (lentil patty) and the spicy peanuts for example and it was delicious. I don’t remember them selling water though, so you might want to pack your own.
In any case, pack some small change to pay.
8. CARRY TISSUE AND HAND SANITIZER
I guess it won’t come as a surprise to anyone to read that the toilets in the train are not gold standards ! But the train ride from Kandy to Ella is long, and it can get hot so if you drink plenty, at some point you might need to go the bathroom. Just to be on the “safe” side, take some toilette paper / tissue paper and hand sanitizer with you … And hope for the best.
Voila, I am glad to finish my list of Kandy to Ella train tips on such a charming note ! I hope you feel more informed now, and that the above 8 tips will be useful for planning and enjoying your train ride between Kandy and Ella. Let me know in the comment below if you think about any other tip I should add to the list. Thanks.
If you want more information to plan your Sri Lanka trip check my 1 week itinerary here.