A Complete Travel Guide: Tips, Tricks, and More on Everything You Need to Know for Your Ultimate Train Journey from Kandy to Ella (Sri Lanka).
Often lauded as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, the train ride from Kandy to Ella (or Ella to Kandy) is absolutely stunning! On the 6-8 hour journey, you will travel through lush forests, waterfalls, tea plantations, colorful villages, and plenty of smiling faces and waves from the friendly Sri Lankans near the rails.
Hence, If you are visiting Sri Lanka and are seeking a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, I highly recommend you don't miss out on this epic train journey. This short blog post will cover step-by-step how Elli and I booked last-minute rail tickets and embarked on of the most remarkable train voyages in the world!
There are two prominent options for embarking on the well-known train journey in Sri Lanka. Option one takes you from Kandy to Ella, and option two takes you from Ella to Kandy. Which route you decide to take is up to you; Elli and I took the Kandy to Ella route since we were heading eastbound and departed from the capital city of Colombo.
Traveler Tip: Avoid constantly searching for free WIFI spots, purchase a pre-paid SIM Card at Colombo airport, or download an e-SIM through the Airalo app. Having internet 24/7 will come in handy during your trip.
Getting to Kandy:
If you are flying into Sri Lanka, you will most likely land in the capital city of Colombo. Kandy is located 114 kilometers (70 miles) away from Colombo and can easily be reached by taxi, train, bus, moped, or tuk-tuk.
Taxi - If you decide to take a private cab to Kandy, it will take you three hours to get there and will cost you about 32,582 LKR ($90 US dollars).
Traveler Tip: split the taxi cost among other travelers heading in the same direction to reduce your cost!
Train - If you opt for the train, as we did, you can reach Kandy in under three hours. Booking your train ticket is extremely easy. You can reserve a seat directly on 12go.asia or go to the train station in Colombo and book instantly from there. A one-way train ticket from Colombo to Kandy will cost you 2,172 LKR ($6 US dollars), or even less, depending on your booking class. The train is a fun way to travel and connect with locals and other travelers alike.
Traveler Tip: don't wait until you arrive in Kandy to purchase your Kandy to Ella train journey; book as soon as possible.
Bus - The bus is probably the cheapest way to get around Sri Lanka. A one-way bus trip to Kandy will cost you 724 LKR ($2 US dollars) and will take about four hours to reach there. All public bus tickets are purchased upon boarding the bus. Be sure to keep cash with you and ask for the final price before boarding. There are also serval private bus companies available which you can book online at busseat.lk.
Tuk-tuk - Did you know you can rent a tuk-tuk while in Sri Lanka and drive around the island? The process for renting a tuk-tuk is quite simple and can be booked at tuktukrental.com. Don't forget to apply for an International Driver's Permit in your home country!
Traveler Tip: If you are short on time, skip Kandy and book your train ticket directly from Colombo to Ella instead.
The Train Ride from Kandy to Ella:
Once in Kandy, you have the option of spending a few days there to explore its magnificent temples, royal gardens, and colorful markets, or you can go directly to Ella; it is up to you! Elli and I decided to stay a few days exploring Kandy before heading off to catch the prominent train journey.
When we returned to the Kandy train station to secure our tickets to Ella, we were out of luck; all trains were completely booked for the next few days. We had no clue that there were only three trains a day; at 3:30 am, 8:50 am, and 11:20 am.
Although luckily for us, one of the lovely ladies from the ticket booths said she would let us know if anyone canceled their tickets. To our surprise, after about 30 minutes of waiting, someone withdrew their reservation, and we were able to secure tickets!
Important Ticket Information:
To avoid frustrations, we highly recommend reserving your train tickets beforehand if you already know what dates you will travel. Don't forget to pick up your ticket as soon as you arrive in Sri Lanka since they do not accept electronic tickets when boarding. You can pick them up in Colombo or have them delivered to your hotel.
Traveler Tip: On 12go.Asia you can purchase your train tickets up to 30 days in advance!
What type of ticket should you purchase?
Trains in Sri Lanka have three different classes of tickets available for you to book:
First-class - are the most expensive of all tickets and include reserved seating, air-conditioning (A/C), and cushioned seats. Remember that A/C means all doors and windows will be shut; therefore, taking pictures during the journey will be difficult.
Second-class reserved seating - is the busiest of all classes and includes reserved seats and cushioned chairs. Elli and I managed to secure tickets for this category, and It was just perfect! There is no A/C, but there are fans, and the windows and doors are open.
Second-class non-reserved seat - as the name suggests, this category has everything as the prior category minus reserved seating.
Third-class - is the cheapest of all classes, with hard benches, no A/C, and no fans. And although it sounds horrible, this category is not bad at all. You can still open the windows and doors and sit on a bag of clothes if you need some cushion on your seat.
Traveler Tip: Avoid booking on weekends as the trains are busier and fuller than usual.
What to Expect on the Train Journey from Kandy to Ella:
The total time for the train journey from Kandy to Ella varies, although most trains reach Ella in 7-9 hours.
If you booked a second or third-class ticket, you would have the opportunity to sit next to an open door and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way. Sitting near the open door is up to you. Just remember to exercise precaution and don't swing your body out while the train is in full motion. For the most part, though, the train moves at a walking pace for the more significant part of the journey.
Also, be patient. You will have some competition if you want to sit near the door. When we say "competition," we mean other travelers who also want to sit near the door to take iconic pictures. We recommend just waiting a bit to see if someone moves. If time passes and nobody gets up, you can always politely ask someone if you can swap spots.
Note: Don't hang out of the train while it is in full motion. You will have plenty of opportunities to hang out and take nice pictures when the train slows down to a close stop (which happens often).
Food and Drinks on the Train:
There are no food/drink carts on the train. Elli and I underestimated the amount of food and water we brought and ran out of both halfway through the journey. However, luckily for us, local vendors hopped on the train at some of the stops selling local peanuts, samosas, and chai tea, amongst other snacks!
The train has toilets in every other cart; however, they are "squat toilets" and are challenging to use while the train is moving. Also, some bathrooms are cleaner than others ones. We recommend finding a clean restroom and using it only when the train comes to a complete stop.
Traveler Tip: Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you!
Overall, no matter what ticket you purchase, what route you choose, or where you end up sitting, the train journey to Ella will mesmerize you and leave you wanting to go back to Sri Lanka for more adventures. Looking back on our gap year trip, Sri Lanka continues to be one of our absolute favorite destinations!
Have you ever been to Sri Lanka? What are your most memorable experiences from there? Let us know in the comments below!