Why a train trip to Ella and the hill country is must-do in Sri Lanka
How can I get tickets to take a train ride in Sri Lanka?
Are you a train enthusiast, a family travelling with children in Sri Lanka or travellers wanting to experience a scenic journey in Sri Lanka’s hill country? If yes, then a train trip on one of the country’s comfortable local trains should be added to your tour of Sri Lanka. For many of our travellers on one of our private tours in Sri Lanka – a train journey is a must-do experience.
But where can you get tickets for the train in Sri Lanka, what can you expect from the experience and where can you board the train?
We often include a train journey in the itineraries we craft for our travellers and we find all of our clients love the experience. We also know that getting train tickets in Sri Lanka can be tricky, so if you are planning to take a train in Sri Lanka, be sure to have your tour operator secure them for you in advance. At Kingfisher Tours Sri Lanka, if we craft a private tour for you featuring a train ride, we will take care of all the arrangements including booking the train, getting you to the station and meeting you at the other end with your luggage – so you can enjoy a hassle free journey on the train.
Having taken the train several times ourselves – on trips from Anuradhapura to Jaffna, Colombo to Galle and several from Kandy into the hill country, here are some travel tips for enjoying a train ride in Sri Lanka based on our first-hand experience. Some of our suggested itineraries which include a scenic Sri Lanka rail journey are Chic Island and Sri Lankan Family Adventure.
What is the train ride to Ella in Sri Lanka like?
Is it worth taking a train ride in Sri Lanka?
YES is our answer and here’s why. With our teams’ years of travel to every corner of this island and some great journeys across other parts of Asia, we are happy to say the train rides in the tea country of Sri Lanka hold some of the best scenic views that Asia can offer. So why miss if you have the opportunity? The British built the Sri Lankan railways back in 1864 (then known as Ceylon). For a number of reasons, the colonial masters ended up building complex routes resulting in some amazing journeys. You are bound to see many British influences especially as you travel into the hills, in the smaller railway stations and in the larger ones, from a post box to a uniform! One of the best-known includes 9 Arches Bridge, a must-see sight in Sri Lanka, and an impressive engineering feat.
What are the best train routes to take in Sri Lanka?
On a round tour in Sri Lanka, we recommend a couple of options to include in a private tour. These options are purely based on how much time you have and how long you want to spend on a train. We can include the journey that best suits you.
Kandy - Nuwara Eliya
Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is one of our top recommendations. Do note that there is no railway station in Nuwara Eliya, the closest railway station is Nanu Oya (a small station 8 km from Nuwara Eliya – a 20-minute comfortable drive). You will be dropped at the Kandy railway station and picked up Nanu Oya. This ride takes around 3-4 hours. Don’t expect complete accuracy on arrival times. The timing may vary due to fog, rain or any other unforeseen reason including delayed departure from the previous station. A 10-minute lead time is a good consideration when arriving at the station to board the train. The trains are pretty much reliable to arrive at the destination give or take a few minutes delay. There are number of trains that leave the Kandy station heading to Nanu Oya. The upcountry trains travel from Colombo to Badulla, and as such all other destinations including Nanu Oya, Bandarawela, Hatton, Ella are on this line.
*Train 1005/1006 Podi Menike and train 1015/1016, Udarata Menike are modern, Chinese built ‘blue trains’ that are most preferred. Train 1005/1006 gets to Kandy at 8.42 a.m. and 1015/1016 gets into Kandy at 11.03 a.m. daily.
When you reach the hill country – what are some of the best hotels near Ella and Nuwara Eliya? Some of our favourite hotels in this area are Goatfell in Kandapola, Ferncliff in Nuwara Eliya, Stafford Bungalow in Ragala and Sinhagiri in Nuwara Eliya
Kandy – Ella ( Ella – Kandy)
The Kandy to Ella train ride is another popular route especially with backpackers and train lovers. This is a good 6-to-7-hour ride. So be prepared to be seated for a long duration although getting up and moving about is possible. Once again there are number of trains that head to Ella that you can choose to travel in. Please see above*
Kandy – Hatton
To reach Dick Oya and Adams Peak, Hatton is the closest railway station. This journey is likely to take around two and a half hours.
Nuwara Eliya – Ella (Ella – Nuwara Eliya)
This is one of the most scenic rail journeys in Sri Lanka. You drive up to Nuwara Eliya on the picturesque windy roads and the board the train from Nanu Oya. Or you just hop onto the train in Ella and arrive in Nanu Oya.
Kandy – Bandarawela
This train journey in Sri Lanka is quite popular ride with our clients, though it is a fairly long train ride and not for the faint-hearted traveller. The ride takes approximately 6 hours. Once again, it is possible to break this journey into shorter train times and complete the rest of the journey by road. Travel to Nanu Oya and hop into the train heading to Bandarawela.
Some of our preferred hotels in this area are Ceylon Tea Bungalows, Roseland Cottages and Dutch House.
What are the trains like in Sri Lanka?
The train ride into the tea country in Sri Lanka is fascinating and scenic. Although we can try explaining it with words here, the beauty is really far beyond explanation. Seeing is really believing. You will see sprawling mountains, mountain peaks hidden by the slow-moving misty clouds, endless stretches of lush green tea plantations and tiered paddy fields, smiling faces of the locals and the colourful sarees of women plucking tea buds making these tasks look seamlessly effortless.
If you are travelling from Kandy to Ella, most people prefer to sit on the right-hand side as this faces the open fields. However, it is hard to guarantee as we don’t know which seats you’ll be assigned until close to the departure date. Do not be disappointed as the train ride embraces the mountains and miles and miles of tea estates making the train ride so scenic irrespective of your seat. For memorable photos step up to the open door and take some shots of the impressive views.
Some trains have an observation car (1st Class) which is connected to the last carriage of the train. These are found only in the express trains from Colombo to Badulla. They are airconditioned with sealed windows, popular with tourists who prefer to sit comfortably and take a view the surroundings. However, these trains and seats are very hard to secure. Available on Train 1005/1006 Podi Menike and train 1015/1016, Udarata Menike.
Our preference really is the 2nd class reserved seats with open windows which are great for photography and general viewing. As you reach the hill country the temperature falls down to a comfortable mid 20º C, making the journey quite pleasurable so not having air conditioning is never a worry. As the windows are open there is great opportunity to take photographs and take in the fresh mountain air.
If you are a morning person and your overall travel schedule can accommodate an early morning train ride, catching the sunrise especially on the train from Ella to Nanu Oya is a worthwhile investment. It is such a stunning view and an unforgettable experience.
These train rides also give you the chance to meet locals from all walks of life. It is a great way to interact and see and learn how they live and get about their daily lives. The locals are very friendly even if they may struggle to communicate in English.
The trains can be a bit wobbly, so take care when walking around the carriage.
As we mentioned before timing and punctuality are not the strengths of Sri Lankan railway, so do give 10 minutes lead time on arrival at least. Your driver guide on our custom made tours of Sri Lanka will ensure you reach the station in plenty of time to board your train. The trains are reliable, and they will be there, perhaps not at the exact time.
Onboard – what to expect on board a local train in Sri Lanka
Book your tickets in advance: As far as Sri Lanka Unbound clients go there is no need to worry, as we take care of the booking. However, this means that the train rides need to be pre-planned and well locked in.
Bring a light sweater or a cardigan: Travelling early morning into the hills can get kind of chilly as the temperature can drop down to below 10ºC. It is best that you always carry a light jacket or a thick cardigan. Do layer and be ready to strip off the layers as midday gets hot.
Carry some snacks and water: If you are travelling with children in Sri Lanka or taking a longer train ride, it is best you carry a few snacks and water. The trains have a small ‘canteen’ that tends to get crowded and have very few options.
Are there toilets on the trains in Sri Lanka? : Yes, there are toilets on the trains in Sri Lanka. However, we strongly recommend going before you board the train.
We can include a rail journey in Sri Lanka into a custom made private tour crafted to suit you. To speak to one of our senior Sri Lanka tour planners contact our office today on firstname.lastname@example.org or whatsapp us +94 77 936 000 4