Today we get to try the Ella-Kandy train route, that’s said to be one of the greatest not only in Asia but in the entire world.
There are 3 ways to book a train ticket in Sri Lanka:
- Simply show at the train station on the day of travel to buy a not reserved 2nd or 3rd class ticket. These kind of tickets are by far the cheapest ones, but be warned the carriages may be overcrowded, especially during high season and leaving from the main cities i.e. Colombo and Kandy, and standing for 4 hours is never a good idea.
- Reserve your ticket at the station with a few hours or better 1 day in advance. In this way you will have a guaranteed numbered seat in a standard coach never too busy since standees are not allowed in them. You can book anything except for 3rd class tickets; the prices are about 50% more expensive than same day tickets. When we were in Trincomalee, we got our tickets a couple of hours in advance.
- Book online through agencies before getting to Sri Lanka: according to The Man in Seat 61, www.visitsrilankatours.co.uk is a trusty one. Prices of course are higher than standard rate.
What seat do I need to buy?
There are quite a few different seat options in Sri Lanka. As travellers, we love adventure: the lower the class, the more the fun. 3rd class is a deep dive into local culture, 1st class and above are 95% tourists, so it’ll be closer to a private tour, which doesn’t sound fun. We personally think using 1st class is a shame! So let’s see in detail:
- 3rd class seat: wooden non numbered benches. The most popular choice for local people, because of their super cheap prices (a 200+km ride from Colombo to Trincomalee costs less than 1$, 130 rupees!). We recommend this kind of seat if you want to have a taste of Sri Lankan culture. You will see all kind of people, big families, students, workers, etc.. In busy areas particularly around Colombo, these coaches will easily be full, so get prepared to stand. We don’t recommend 3rd class tickets for journeys longer than 3 hours, your back is the most important thing when you are backpacking, and you don’t want to lay it to a wooden surface for a long time, or worse, not lay it at all. We had a nice experience travelling in 3rd class from Colombo to Negombo!
- 2nd class non reserved seat: way more soft, not too expensive. This might be your best option if you are travelling in mid-low tourist season, you won’t have to worry about the crowd and you will be able to sit back and enjoy the landscapes. Prices are still very very affordable, our Colombo-Galle 2nd class fare was 260rs (less than 2$).
- 2nd class reserved seat: same coaches as above, with numbered seats. The price is about 50% higher than standard. Definitely suggested during high season and touristic routes.
- 1st class seat: they come only numbered. You will have privacy and air conditioning, if that’s what you’re looking for, but you will miss the breeze of leaning from your window, which is the best part of the trip in my opinion! Recommended if you need some quietness and you’ve already experienced the lower classes.
- Observation deck carriage (available only on selected trains): we came across one of them at a middle station, it looked like 3/4 of the carriage are closed, with AC, while there’s an open space area at the end of it where you can enjoy the panoramic sights. Prices of course are higher and booking in advance is required. This option is recommendable if you travel with a numerous family, for seniors, or during peak season when all other classes might be packed.
Whatever class you choose, make sure you do at least one train ride in Sri Lanka, you won’t regret it!
Let’s now go back to our Ella-Kandy journey. The platform becomes quite busy, there are about 40 foreigners ready to get in 1st and 2nd classes, only a few go for 3rd, while locals opt for mainly 3rd and some in 2nd class.
Our patience will soon be rewarded, most of the westerns step off either in Haputale for Lipton’s Seat or in Nanu Oya for Nuwara Eliya.
Leaning out of the doors is a true feeling of freedom! The view is so beautiful, staring out of the window is a must.
Hours fly, only towards the end the sky becomes cloudy, while we approach Kandy. It really is a marvelous journey, would take a 6 hour train ride like this all day compared to any bus trip or flight!
WHERE TO STAY:
- Misty Mount Homestay, Ella: 1500-2000rs/night, room with ensuite bathroom, sweet nice family;
- Kandy Hill Escape, Kandy: 2000rs/night, large room with bathroom and balcony, big house.
- Plenty of choice in Kandy’s colonial atmosphere, search here.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND:
- Train, 2nd class, Ella-Kandy: 240rs/person.
HOW TO GET YOUR VISA TO SRI LANKA: