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 non reserved 2nd or 3rd class ticket. These kind of tickets are by far the cheapest ones, but be warned that 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 amt.12go.asia before flying to Sri Lanka.
UPDATE JANUARY 2022: amt.12go.asia added Sri Lanka railways to their online booking system. The service is constantly being improved. The anticipation period to book in advance has been reduced to 72-96hrs. Tourism in Sri Lanka keeps on growing and so does the interest in this route.
We strongly recommend to book at least 3-4 days in advance, or weeks in advance during peak season!
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 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.
- 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.
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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;
- Romance in Ella: for an unforgettable couple’s stay, check out this romantic retreat!
- Kandy Hill Escape, Kandy: 2000rs/night, large room with bathroom and balcony, big house.
- You can book your stay in Kandy with free cancellation here.
HOW TO GET AROUND:
- Train Ella-Kandy: Book your train ticket online and in advance here.
- You can book flights to Sri Lanka here.
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
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What months are considered low season in Sri Lanka? I am planning on going in November 🙂
we were in Sri Lanka between September and October and it was just perfect, not rainy nor too much crowded, definitely low season. I think November can be considered mid, as many hosts told us winter months are peak season in Sri Lanka.
When planning to visit Sri Lanka, you have to consider that it is affected by 2 monsoon seasons yearly. One monsoon brings rain to the south-west of Sri Lanka between May and September, the other to the north-east between October and January.
November should be great especially for beaches and coastal areas in the south.
Have a nice trip!
Hey there. Thanks for your blog post, really helpful!
We have already booked 1st class tickets before reading your post and now we are worried we won’t get very good views or pictures. Do you know if you can walk the whole way down the train from 1st class to 2nd and 3rd if we decide we want to?
thanks for your positive feedback!
I’m not sure 100% but I would say yes, you can walk from one carriage to another. We personally didn’t go into 1st class but we moved easily between 2nd and 3rd. Alternatively, you could always get off 1st class at one station and hop on in 2nd to have that experience, and then go back to your seat at the next station! There’s usually plenty of time at every station, as lots of people have to get on and off.
Have a great journey guys!
Hi Jamie! Where did you buy your ticket from? Have you had a chance to use it already? I am a bit worried about buying the ticket beforehand but do not want to leave the purchase for when I am already in Sri Lanka either/
It’s possible to book tickets online from Colombo to Kandy/Ella here https://12go.asia/en/travel/colombo/ella/?z=368077
How did you purchased train ticket for kandy? As far as I knew, no online booking can be made in advance for Sri lanka train.
at that time we bought tickets at the train station few hours in advance.
It is now possible to book tickets from Colombo to Kandy here https://12go.asia/en/travel/colombo/kandy/?z=368077
And hopefully soon booking will be possible from Ella too! (at the moment there’s no office where to collect online booked ticket yet)
Check this website to stay updated http://amt.12go.asia
If you had to choose the stretch between Kandy to Nuwara Eliya or Nuwara Eliya to Ella, which do you think is more scenic?
Hi! I’d say Nuwara Eliya to Ella is better, there’s more tea plantations around whilst the section towards Kandy has more views on hills and forests. Have a good trip!
We’re travelling to Sri Lanka in April with 2 young children and were hoping to take the train from Ella to Kandy but not sure how long my youngest will last! If we were to just travel to Newark Eliya would it be easy for us to find a car/taxi to travel the rest of the way to Kandy?
Hi Nicola! We haven’t been personally to Nuwara Eliya, but I would say yes because it’s quite a touristy area and it’s probable that drivers will be waiting for people to take around from the train station. However, the road from Nuwara to Kandy is winding as the railway, I think it takes at least 3 hours by car against 4.5 hours by train, so not that big a difference. I would always go by train to enjoy the ride and the views, it rides slowly and induces sleep too 😉
Enjoy your travels!
Hi! Do you know if it possible to reserve tickets from Badulla? I’ve heard that if you go from Badulla you get to cross the Nine Arch Bridge.
Thanks for the great tips too!
Hi Miranda! Yes sure, you can book from Badulla at this link https://amt.12go.asia/en/train/badulla/kandy
Nine Arch Bridge is a spectacular sight! You can also walk there from Ella, walk right on the bridge too, and see the train crossing it from great points of view. And then yes take the train from Badulla and cross the bridge on it! Have fun!
I am thinking about taking my 17 year old daughter to sri Lanka in November. Can you suggest any other train trips, definitely want to do Ella to Kandy.
other than Ella-Kandy, we used the train as much as we could in Sri Lanka! We went from Colombo to Galle in the Southwest, the railway runs along the coastline and offers great views on the Indian Ocean. Then we did a coast to coast train ride from Trincomalee to Negombo: this route has less panoramic views compared to the Ella-Kandy, however it was pleasant and very cheap too. We also did a commute trip from Negombo to Colombo.
If you are planning to visit the South of Sri Lanka, definitely take the train between Galle-Colombo, that was our second favourite trip after Ella-Kandy! Enjoy! 😀
Thanks so much, looks great
Definitely take the train from Colombo to Galle. Galle also has a beautiful old Dutch fort. A must see. Make sure to do a walk along the ramparts, and if your lucky you maybe able to watch a cricket match at the Galle stadium standing from on the ramparts.