Kandy to Ella Train Guide - Most Beautiful Railway Journey in the World?
In Sri Lanka, there’s a train ride that is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world. This nine-hour-long journey connects two towns called Kandy and Ella and takes you through stunning vistas of rolling hills, lush tea plantations, and old stone bridges.
To many travelers, the train from Kandy to Ella (or vice versa) is one of the highlights of their trip in this South Asian country. This article tells you all you need to know about going on that railway journey.
Table of Contents
Overview of the Sri Lankan Railway System
The railway system in Sri Lanka was originally built by the British in 1864 to transport tea and coffee from the Hill Country to Colombo to be shipped internationally.
Today, it connects most of the major cities in Sri Lanka and is one of the main mode of transportation used by the locals and tourists alike.
Types of Train Classes in Sri Lanka
- 1st class observation car: Very popular among tourists, the observation car provides full view of the scenery and is usually located at the train rear. Only available on certain daytime trains, mostly on the more tourist-frequented lines like the one between Ella and Kandy.
- 1st class sleeper: Carries sleeping berths and is only available on a few overnight trains.
- 1st class air-conditioned seats: Available on some intercity express trains.
- 2nd class seats: Available on all intercity trains, either as reserved or unreserved seats. Coaches are equipped with fans, and windows can be opened if it gets too warm or stuffy inside.
- 3rd class seats: Available on most trains and comes with the most basic facilities. These coaches can get very crowded.
About the Kandy - Ella Train
How Long is the Journey Between Kandy and Ella?
The Kandy to Ella train actually starts in Colombo and ends in Badulla, but the most scenic stretch of the journey is between Kandy and Ella, which is why it is the most popular.
The 150-kilometre journey from Kandy to Ella is said to take only 6 – 7 hours, but in reality can take up to 9 – 10 hours, taking into account all the stops and delays, which are quite frequent.
Kandy to Ella Train Stops
The Kandy to Ella train stops at these stations:
- Colombo Fort
- Hatton (Adam’s Peak)
- Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya)
- Haputale (Lipton’s Seat)
If 9 – 10 hours is too long for you, you don’t necessarily have to do the entire journey from Kandy to Ella in one go.
How Much is the Train Fare from Kandy to Ella?
I paid Rs 240.00 for my 2nd class train ticket, but the current fares listed on their official website are as follows:
- 2nd Class Coach: Rs 270.00 (USD 1.40)
- 3rd Class Coach: Rs 150.00 (USD 0.75)
Kandy to Ella Train Timetable
Kandy – Ella
There are three trains from Kandy to Ella every day, one of which is an overnight train, although that would defeat the purpose of the scenic ride. There’s also one that runs only on weekends.
- Departs from Kandy: 03:35 – Arrives in Ella: 13:24 (Mixed Trains)
- Departs from Kandy: 07:45 – Arrives in Ella: 13:28 (Local Trains – Saturday & Sunday only)
- Departs from Kandy: 11:10 – Arrives in Ella: 16:59 (Express Train)
- Departs from Kandy: 22:20 – Arrives in Ella: 04:17 (Long Distance)
Colombo – Ella
If you’re starting from Colombo, you have slightly more options, but do note that some of these trains may not stop in Kandy. All trains are available daily.
- Departs from Colombo Fort: 05:55 – Arrives in Ella: 15:38 (Express Train)
- Departs from Colombo Fort: 08:30 – Arrives in Ella: 16:59 (Express Train)
- Departs from Colombo Fort: 09:45 – Arrives in Ella: 18:26 (Express Train)
- Departs from Colombo Fort: 19:25 – Arrives in Ella: 04:17 (Long Distance)
- Departs from Colombo Fort: 20:30 – Arrives in Ella: 06:38 (Night Mail Train)
Ella – Kandy
- Departs from Ella: 06:32 – Arrives in Kandy: 13:03 (Express Train)
- Departs from Ella: 09:21 – Arrives in Kandy: 15:53 (Express Train)
- Departs from Ella: 10:25 – Arrives in Kandy: 16:22 (Special Ella Odyssey – Friday & Sunday Only)
- Departs from Ella: 12:05 – Arrives in Kandy: 20:37 (Mixed Trains)
- Departs from Ella: 14:15 – Arrives in Kandy: 20:11 (Local Trains – Saturday & Sunday Only)
Ella – Colombo
- Departs from Ella: 06:42 – Arrives in Colombo Fort: 15:47 (Express Train)
- Departs from Ella: 09:21 – Arrives in Colombo Fort: 18:57 (Express Train)
- Departs from Ella: 10:25 – Arrives in Colombo Fort: 19:20 (Special Ella Odyssey – Friday & Sunday Only)
- Departs from Ella: 11:12 – Arrives in Colombo Fort: 20:16 (Express Train)
- Departs from Ella: 19:01 – Arrives in Colombo Fort: 05:24 (Night Mail Train)
Please check their official website for latest updates. Do bear in mind that these schedules only serve as a loose guideline and that train delays are quite frequent.
How to Book Kandy to Ella Train Ticket
There are three ways to book train tickets in Sri Lanka:
At the Station
Depending on the route, train tickets are available for sale up to 30 days before the departure date. You can buy tickets at the station right up until departure time, unless the train is fully booked.
However, if you want to get a reserved seat on the first or second class, you must book in advance. You cannot buy it on the day of travel. Otherwise, you will get the ‘second class unreserved’ or the third class ticket, neither of which guarantees you a seat.
If you’re visiting during the peak season, it’s advisable to buy your train tickets as soon as you arrive in Sri Lanka because they tend to be snapped up fast by travel agents, especially the Kandy – Ella route.
You can buy train tickets for any route at any train station. For example, you can buy your Kandy to Ella ticket at the Colombo Fort station or any other station you happen to find first.
Via Tour Agents
If you’re somehow unable to go to the station to purchase the tickets yourself, you can book through a local tour operator for a fee.
You’ll probably end up paying many times the price of the original ticket, but this is your only option if you want a reserved seat but are unable to go to the station in time. Anyway, the ticket price is so cheap that the total amount you’ll be paying is not going to be that much.
Unfortunately, the Sri Lanka Railways website does not support online booking. The only way you can buy Sri Lankan train tickets online is through 12Go Asia. It’s an online e-ticketing platform for booking transports in Asia, including taxis, private transfers, buses, flights, ferries, and trains.
The price you’ll pay will be a little more expensive than if you were to buy it yourself at the train station, but it’s totally worth it if you want to secure a seat on your exact travel date.
Then, you can either have the ticket delivered to your hotel for a fee of USD 10, or pick it up yourself at their office in Colombo. Remember to bring your confirmation voucher (which is emailed to you upon confirmation).
**IMPORTANT: You can only book Sri Lankan train tickets on 12Go Asia at least 37 days prior to your train travel date. You CANNOT book Sri Lankan train tickets on 12Go Asia any later than that.
What to Expect on the Kandy-Ella Train
Kandy Train Station
Because I was such a risk-taker (read: procrastinator), I bought my ticket on the day of departure itself, at Kandy Train Station. This was in October (not the peak season), so I was fortunate enough that the train was not fully booked.
The station was nondescript — it had all the basic amenities and was comfortable enough if your train was delayed and you needed to wait awhile.
But what I found interesting was that there was a separate washroom for foreigners. That was the first time I ever saw a place that segregated the washrooms for locals and foreigners.
I wonder if it was because the local one had squat toilets while the foreigners’ one had Western-style toilets.
The Train Ride
Although the train was not fully booked, it was still pretty full. And since my ticket was the ‘2nd class unreserved’, I didn’t have a guaranteed seat. Not that I wanted any.
My goal was to get the best seat on the train: at one of the open doors. But even those were already taken when I got on board.
So, for a while, I had to sit on the floor with the other passengers who were all eyeing the same spot. Nobody wanted to move further inside the coach where the proper seats were.
We tourists are a crazy lot, aren’t we?
But it was not only the foreign tourists that were hanging out the doors and windows, the locals were doing it too.
Finally, one station later, when some of the passengers got off, I managed to squeeze my way to the door, although I still had to share it with someone else. But everyone was cool about sharing the confined space with a bunch of strangers (mind you, this was before Covid).
For those who have never done it before, sitting at the train door may seem like a terribly reckless thing to do.
Maybe it is, but the train doesn’t actually move very fast (there were some instances when it just crawled) and there isn’t any hazard to look out for throughout the journey. At least, none that I saw when I sat at the door.
However, standing with half of your body hanging out of the door or window is something that needs to be done with extra caution.
I’m by no means encouraging you to do it, but if you choose to do it anyway, please be aware of your surroundings and make sure that whatever belongings you have with you are securely strapped to your body.
To say that the Kandy to Ella train journey is one of the most beautiful in the world is probably not too much of an overstatement. As you travel through the Hill Country, you will see verdant hills and mountains covered with tea plantations, small villages, waterfalls, and old bridges.
No matter which side of the train you sit, you will have beautiful views, but for the best ones, it’s recommended to sit on the right side from Kandy to Ella, and on the left side from Ella to Kandy.
If you’re lucky, you may also be rewarded by friendly waves from the locals, or groups of kids running along the train tracks to say hi to the foreign tourists.
After close to 9 hours, I finally reached Ella station — a charming little station in a hillside town that is famous for Little Adam’s Peak and especially popular among backpackers.
Additional Tips for Ella-Kandy Train Ride
- Avoid going on weekends, if possible, as the trains tend to get very crowded and may be fully booked.
- If you prefer less crowd, choose morning trains over midday ones, and express trains over the slower ones.
- If the second-class coach happens to be too crowded, try checking the third class. It may sometimes be emptier.
- There are no luggage size or weight limits on Sri Lankan trains, so you are free to take your luggage onboard no matter how big or heavy it is. However, if your bags can’t fit into the overhead racks above your seat, the train staff may place them in another carriage.
- The train tickets do not include any food or drinks, regardless of what class you’re in. However, local vendors usually hop on the train at some stations to sell drinks and snacks. Prepare small change.
- Expect delays. So, you don’t have to turn up at the station super early. Around 15 – 20 minutes before the scheduled departure should suffice.
- The first-class coach is air-conditioned, therefore you can’t open the windows. That’s something to keep in mind if you plan to take photos out of the windows.
- Do be careful when you take those photos while hanging out of the doors or windows.
Final Thoughts on Kandy-Ella Train Ride
Admittedly, I haven’t been on many epic train trips around the world, so I can’t say how high this one ranks. But I can say for sure that it must be one of the most unique, especially if you get that most coveted seat at the open door.
Anyhow, fun though it may be, sitting there for 9 hours is going to give you back pain, not to mention a sore bum. I’d recommend getting a reserved seat, so that you’ll have somewhere comfortable to rest your poor bum on once it decides it has had enough of your shenanigan.
All in all, the train is a cheap and comfortable way to travel in Sri Lanka — when it’s not overcrowded, that is. It is also a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the country and make friends with other travelers and locals.
What is the most beautiful railway journey you have ever experienced? Share your story in the comment section below.