Sri Lanka’s Scenic Train Ride from Kandy to Ella

travel tips for srilanka

Considered one of if not the most beautiful train journey in the world, the train ride from Kandy to Ella is an unmissable experience and definitely one of the best things you can do while in Sri Lanka for your holidays.

Imagine lush tea plantations, waterfalls, clouds and mist framed by your train window. Expect to go through green hills, mountains and dense forests, to ride over bridges and through tunnels and villages. It’s a picture-perfect landscape that will surprise even the most seasoned traveler.

In this article, you’ll find details and travel advice for the Kandy-Ella train, including:

  • The train’s historical background
  • Kandy-Ella practical information like times, tickets, and stops
  • Necessary documentation for taking the train, including Sri Lankan visas

How Long Is the Train Ride from Kandy to Ella?

The first train system in Sri Lanka was implemented in 1864 by the British Colonial government to move tea from the hills to Colombo. In present times, the train is an extremely affordable way to see the beautiful countryside of Sri Lanka.

However, the Kandy to Ella train is not a mere tourist attraction. Locals use it like any other means of public transportation and are often amused by foreigners flocking to the area to live what for them is a daily experience.

Some trains are quicker than others but on average, the whole journey lasts about 6 hours. If you think that’s a lot, you’ll be surprised by how quickly time passes on this track.

Your camera will be on 90% of the time and you can join the other tourists as they hang out the train windows and doors to feel the wind on their face and take the best shots. Be careful though: the tree and bush branches can get very close to the tracks in some spots.

Where Does the Train from Kandy to Ella Stop?

If you’re wondering how to get from the capital Colombo to Kandy, the good news is that the Kandy-Ella train doesn’t leave from Kandy but rather, the journey starts at Colombo Fort train station. However, the station is pretty far from the international airport (which is in fact closer to Negombo than Colombo) so if you intend to take the train journey just after you land in Sri Lanka, you’ll have to plan ahead and arrange transportation from the airport to Colombo.

Find below the main stops along the line. Please note that there are many other minor stops on the way.

  • Colombo Fort
  • Peradeniya
  • Kandy
  • Hatton
  • Nanu Oya – (for Nuwara Eliya)
  • Haputale
  • Ella
  • Badulla

There are infinite ways of enjoying this trip and it’s entirely up to you to decide your itinerary depending on the time you can dedicate to the journey.

The most popular leg of the journey is the one from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya but many say that the most scenic moments can be appreciated in the Nuwara Eliya-Ella part.

Stops of tourist interest include, for example, Hatton, Nuwara Eliya and Haputale. It’s not unusual for travelers to get off the train multiple times along the line to be able to explore Sri Lanka before continuing the journey.

How Far Is It from Kandy to Ella?

The actual distance between Kandy and Ella is 65 km. Since the train makes many stops between the two towns, it’s easy to see how going by car would be much quicker (about 2 and a half hours).

However, you would miss out on sights and memories that will last a lifetime. Moreover, the scenic train is also the cheapest way to travel this distance.

Can You Book Sri Lanka Train Tickets Online?

When it comes to the famous Kandy to Ella route, no, you usually cannot book your tickets online directly. However, some travel classes need to be booked in advance in person or through a travel agent.

Remember that there are various trains, which means that speed, comfort, and fares can change. However, Kandy-Ella ticket prices are all very low by Western standards: from $2 to $10 for the whole route depending on the train and class of your choice.

Here’s a breakdown of the different travel classes and where to buy your ticket:

  • First class. You will have to book these tickets well in advance as they tend to sell out months prior to departure during the peak season. You can buy them at Colombo Fort station at counter 17 or hire an agent to book the seats for you.
  • Second class. You can buy a spot on the day of travel or in advance, but these tickets don’t reserve a specific seat. To book a seat in advance, you’ll have to pay a 50% additional charge.
  • Third class. These tickets must be bought on the day of travel. They don’t sell out because they don’t allow to book a seat. However, carriages can be very busy with both people and animals (think chickens in cages, dogs, and cats).

Kandy to Ella: First, Second, or Third class?

Since there’s such a small difference in prices, many foreigners decide to book a first class seat to travel in style. Indeed, the first class is more comfortable and usually, carriages are more modern.

However, they are fitted with air con systems. This means that you can’t open the windows, which will prevent you from taking some of the most breath-taking shots.

On the other hand, third class can become extremely crowded — a stressful experience for most people on holiday. That’s why the majority of tourists travel in second class.

What Documents Do You Need to Take a Train in Sri Lanka?

If you’re buying your train ticket in person (for the Kandy to Ella route or any other Sri Lankan train) you won’t need anything but your wallet. Simply go to the station and purchase a ticket at the counter.

Third-party operators often ask foreigners for their passport number to book a train seat on their behalf.

It’s strongly advisable not to throw the ticket out after getting on the train. Your ticket might be checked before and after the journey and you might get a fine for failing to provide it.

Remember that you must have a valid Sri Lankan visa with you while you’re in the country should the authorities ask for it. You can apply for a visa online before traveling and receive it via email.