Since the day I booked my flights tickets to Sri Lanka, I dreamt about that epic train ride. I’ve seen many photos and videos which made waiting even harder. I read blog posts and travel guides to get tips to plan the train ride perfectly.
Sri Lanka has a good railway network and there are many routes where you can catch the train. However not all of them are as scenic as the one between Kandy and Badulla. Even between Kandy and Badulla only some parts offer the breathtaking views out of the window.
Kandy – Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya)
During this 4 hours train ride the most scenic part starts in the second half of the ride. To be more precise it start after Hatton, which is the station most of the people get off to go to Adam’s Peak.
After Hatton the Hill Country presents itself from its best side during the train ride. You’ll see hundred shades of green meeting the bluest sky ever in the horizon. You’ll be filled with joy and hope. Sitting on the doorway or hanging out of a window will make you feel like a child again.
Tip: At this route position yourself rather on the right side to see the best views.
Nanu Oya – Elle (Ella)
The ride between Nanu Oya and Ella takes about 2 hours and is as beautiful. You’ll see tea pickers at work in the tea plantations and you’ll feel the urge to wave back to the school kids waiting for the train to pass by to cross the way over the rail tracks.
Most of the tourists choose the 6-7 hours drive directly to Ella (a tourist magnet town), which means, if you’re not lucky enough to get seats, it is very possible that you’ll spend 7 hours standing. Also keep in mind, there aren’t toilettes in every carriage and walking between carriages is not easy as it is blocked by other passengers standing 🙂 So decide wisely.
I recommend to have a stopover in Nuwara Eliya to shorten the train ride and to visit Nuwara Eliya which is as beautiful as Ella.
Warning: Don't throw your train ticket away. You'll be asked to show your train ticket when getting off and leaving the train station in Elle.
Tip: This time position yourself rather on the left side of the train.
All you need to know about the train ride in Sri Lanka
|Only 3rd class||
|Arrival and departure in||Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya)||
|Arrival and departure in||Elle (Ella)||
The 11:10 train departing from Kandy is supposedly less crowded.
|2nd class without reserved seat||2nd class reserved seat||1st class|
|from Kandy to Ella||160 LKR||600 LKR||1250 LKR|
Which class to choose?
It is air conditioned with closed windows and doors which means NO FUN! There is supposed to be an observation car for the 1st class also, where you can sit outside on the observation deck, but I haven’t seen one of those, at least not between Kandy and Ella.
2nd class with reserved seats
There is no air condition but who needs it when all the windows and doors are open 😀 I had reserved seats between Nanu Oya and Ella but spent most of the time in front of the open doors anyway. It was of course very comfortable not to be stacked like sardines in a box.
But honestly, don’t go crazy to get tickets for reserved seats. Even if you don’t have seats, you’ll survive to stand or sit on the floor for couple of hours. It’s no big deal.
The seats and everything else is the same like the 2nd class with reserved seats. The only difference is that these carriages get crowded, especially at the weekend. All the tourists who didn’t get (or didn’t want) tickets for the 1st and 2nd class with reserved seats, obviously buy tickets for the regular 2nd class.
All the seats are already occupied with passengers coming Colombo. If you’re lucky enough you’ll find a nice corner in front of the doors, or in the connection thingy between the carriages like I did. I put my backpack on the floor and sat on it. After 2 hours, as most of the passengers got off in Hatton I was very lucky to inherit the seats of and enjoyed the second half of the ride hanging out of the window. I was really lucky.
Tip: The spicy snacks the vendors sell in the train are delicious. Just try it! By the way, you'll miss the vendors if you travel in 1st class or in 2nd class with reserved seats.
The owners of the guesthouses warned me not to drive in 3rd class. They told me that this would be the place where you’d be surprised to see how many people fit in one carriage. Not only people but also goods such as chickens in cages and sacks of vegetables will be transported in the 3rd class carriages. I guess it is another kind of experience to have in a train ride which could be also considered.
Where to buy train tickets?
As usual, you can buy the ticket for the train you want to catch at your departure station.
At bigger train stations such as Colombo and Kandy, you can buy tickets for other routes. This way I bought my train tickets in advance in Kandy for the route between Nanu Oya and Elle.
You canNOT buy train tickets online in Sri Lanka.
When to buy train tickets?
If you want to get tickets for the 1st class or for the 2nd class with reserved seats, you should hurry up. There is only one 1st class carriage (mostly booked for tours already) and two 2nd class carriages which means a very small amount of tickets. You should buy those tickets 3-6 days in advance. So maybe it is the first thing to do in Colombo, unless you stay in Kandy more than just 1-2 days. Or as I just mentioned above, don’t make yourself crazy to get these tickets. It’s no big deal. Really…
The ticket for the regular 2nd class and 3rd class are sold at the regular counter (in Kandy counter 4 & 5) 1-2 hours before departure. Tickets for the 2nd and 3rd class are unlimited which means the train will be crowded, especially if you’re traveling during weekend or public holidays.
Remember, most of the people get off in Hatton to go to Adam's Peak, so it is very likely you'll get a seat here.
After all, I’m sure you’ll have one of the most epic train rides you can imagine of. It is absolutely beautiful and a totally different train ride experiences for people from western cultures, where you’re not allowed to open windows or doors in the trains. This slow paced ride is quite the opposite of it. I loved it. I’m sure you’ll love it too
- Seat61: This guy knows everything about the trains, not only in Sri Lanka, but everywhere! For the best and most up to date information check this page.
- The Official Site of Sri Lankan Railway
- Expo rail for the observation deck. You can book it online.
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For more insights from real pros I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Sri Lanka. For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
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