Riding a Sri Lanka train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most epic things you can do in the country. It takes you through the peaceful Sri Lankan hill country, where you can see breathtaking views of rolling hills full of tea plantations and the quiet of rural farm life.
You get to experience what it’s like to travel like a local, from having the cool breeze from open train windows to being able to snack on samosas and roti rolls.
As part of our 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary, we spent two days in Kandy and then hopped on a train to Ella.
It’s not easy to have the perfect Sri Lanka train ride though. Reserved seats are hard to come by, so most travelers end up standing in the aisle (or worse next to the restroom) with their luggage or big backpacks for hours. It’s as horribly crowded as rush hour on the the L train in NYC.
Instead, let’s do the Kandy to Ella train right. This guide will help you figure out how to get on the right train, score a seat, and enjoy the expansive hill country backdrop fully.
Kandy to Ella Train Route
The Kandy to Ella train is actually just a portion of the Colombo to Badulla Sri Lanka train route. The route is in green on this map:
Map from johomaps.com
The most interesting and scenic part is from Kandy to Ella (or vise versa). Most people do this in one 8 hour go, while others break it up into two portions:
- Kandy <–> Nuwara Eliya
- Nuwara Eliya <–> Ella
We did it in one go, but if he had more time, we would have broken up the ride in two portions so that we could stop for a day or two in Nuwara Eliya.
Kandy to Ella Train Schedule
Although there are several trains that depart Kandy throughout the day, you’ll want to catch either of these so that there’s daylight to see the landscape along the way.
- 8:47am, or
Kandy to Ella Train Classes
There are three classes of train cabins:
- 1st Class – Reserved seating with A/C. It’s pretty much impossible to get a ticket unless you have a travel agent or a host that can assist with booking. Tickets are released 30 days in advance. Mostly, if not all, well-to-do tourists with travel agents.
- 2nd Class – Unreserved 2-2 comfy seats. Windows can be opened/closed and there are ceiling fans to keep you cool. You’ll find a mix of backpackers, self-planners, and locals. We paid 230 Rs per person for these tickets.
- 3rd Class – Unreserved seats. Mainly locals with some tourists.
If you can’t get a reserved seat, which would be 99% of you, then the 2nd or 3rd class ticket would be your only option. We did 2nd class as the general recommendation from the interwebs mentioned this as the best experience for the train ride.
Tip: Getting a 2nd class ticket does allow you the option to sit in 2nd or 3rd class, but not the other way around if you purchase 3rd class seats.
Getting an Unreserved Seat
You’ll come across some horror stories of riders standing for hours on the train, unable to get a seat. This defeats the whole purpose of taking the train since you can’t enjoy the scenery!
If you’re doing a 2nd/3rd class ticket, the one thing to significantly up your chances of a seat is to board at Perideniya Junction. It’s the train stop before Kandy and about 20 to 30 minutes (3 miles) away by car or tuk tuk.
Several travelers via Tripadvisor forums were successful in securing seats through this method as well. You’ll most likely get a huuuge ROI.
For us, it worked like butter. We were able to get one aisle seat at Perideniya immediately after boarding. As we pulled into Kandy, we were able to snag two seats together with a beautiful window view easily as locals got off.
Unfortunately for those boarding at Kandy, the vast majority had to stand. Some of them ended up standing for hours — that’s no way to enjoy this train ride.
Tip: At Perideniya Junction, the 2nd Class cabin stopped further away from the station, closer to the restrooms.
Which Side of the Train is Best?
The Kandy to Ella train mostly cuts along the hills. Both sides have beautiful views and there’s not one side that is better than the other.
But in a nutshell, here’s what we found out:
- Sit on left side of train for more closer views of people and plantations
- Sit on the right side of the train for more dramatic views of landscapes
Tip: If you’re looking to score a seat on your preferred side, know that the train terminates at Kandy, then reverses. If you’re boarding at Perideniya, for example, the left side become right since the train reverses back. They can do this since there’s an engine at on each end of the train.
Best Views By Sri Lanka Train Station
For those obsessive detail-oriented super optimizer type of travelers, we wrote down some notes on which side had a better view.
These observations pertain to the segment after the station noted. No notes mean it’s a tie.
- Perideniya // start here if you’re smart
- Sarasavi Uyana
- Kandy // start here if like standing
- Perideniya (it passes your origin station, but does not stop)
- Watawala // right side winner
- Rozella // right side winner
- Talawakele // left side winner
- Great Western // right side winner
- Ohiya // left side winner
- Idalgashinna // left side winner
- Haputale // left side winner
- Diyathalawa // left side winner
- Bandarawela // left side winner
- Kinigama // left side winner
- Heel-oya // left side winner
- Kithalella // right side winner
- Ella // destination!
It’s pretty even. Any seat would be a good seat, so be happy with any seat you score!
The best part of the train ride is the three hour chunk from Nuwara Eliya to Ella.
Tips On Enjoying Your Kandy To Ella Train Trip
We hope that you’ll use these tips to score a perfect train ride from Kandy to Ella. A few last tips:
- Stay hydrated! Someone fainted during the trip as it’s stuffy and hot in the cabin.
- Sri Lankans are incredibly hospitable. We saw one guy give up his seats for travelers several times!
- Whatever faces forward when you get on at Perideniya will face backwards after coming back from Kandy since the train terminates there and then goes travels backwards towards Ella.
- You can buy snacks from local vendors that come through the cabins. It’s about 50 Rs for a samosa or a vegetable roti roll, 200 Rs for 6 savory donuts.
- Probably best to avoid holidays and Sundays since it’s a big travel day and will be more crowded.