No doubt you’ve seen photos of travellers leaning out from a bright blue train and looking out onto the vibrant green tea plantations of Sri Lanka. That’s the famous train ride from Kandy to Ella and it’s a must do on every Sri Lankan itinerary. Read on to find out what it’s like to take the scenic train journey to Ella.
With the shrill sound of a whistle, the train slowly pulled away from the platform at Kandy Train Station. Bright blue in colour, the train travelled slowly along the train tracks, passing Sri Lankan houses and side streets before the terrain opened up to coconut trees and green fields.
The sound of vendors filled the air as they walked up and down the aisle selling deep fried parcels of curry and egg, nuts, coffee and apples.
The train wasn’t crowded but people already filled the doorway ready for the scenic journey ahead to the town of Ella.
The train ride to Ella is described as one of prettiest train journeys around the world – and with good reason.
The track leads you through Kandy’s suburbs, before heading into the mountains and past bright green tea plantations.
As the train gained speed, people were leaning out the windows and crowding to hang out the doors of the train. I joined the crowd, feeling the wind in my hair and a sense of freedom. You can’t hang out of a train in Australia! It was a lot cooler hanging outside of the train then sitting on the sticky seats which quickly melted to you in the humid Sri Lankan air.
After about three hours, we stopped in the town of Hatton – gateway to the Adam’s Peak hike. The sunrise hike up to Adam’s Peak is one of the most popular activities in Sri Lanka. Many people left the train, while others got on to continue their journey east. Around Hatton, the area was grassy and forested and then we slowly wound further up into the hills.
The train started to slow as it wound up the hills. The track is full of twists and turns and sometimes the trees are so close to the track you could reach out and touch them.
The next major stop was the town of Nuwara Eliya. The area around Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed Little England due to its mild climate. By the time, we reached Nuwara Eliya, the air was cool.
As we wound further into the hills, we came to the tea plantations. Rows and rows of bright green cascaded down the hills, creating a picture perfect landscape.
The temperature dropped further, the sky transformed from sunny and blue to dark grey, and rain began to fall. But it didn’t ruin the journey, it just added to it – creating a misty backdrop as the train steamed along the track.
If you leaned outside, you could see many faces taking in the scenery around them, feeling the cool air whip across them.
After seven hours, we reached the small town of Ella. There’s not much to Ella – it’s what is around it that makes it a popular destination for backpackers. The main street of Ella is filled with tourist restaurants selling Sri Lankan dishes of roti and kottyu, as well as Western dishes.
The main attractions around Ella are Little Adam’s Peak, Ella Rock and the Nine Arch Bridge.
Being time poor, my friend Caden and I only ventured out to the Nine Arch Bridge on our visit. The Nine Arch Bridge is on the railway line and is located a short two kilometre walk from Ella’s centre up a hill and along a dirt track behind the homes of locals. It will take you about 25 minutes to walk there.
You’ll first see the bridge from a viewpoint and if you time it right, you may be able to capture a train taking the bridge. Trains cross the bridge about every three hours.
From the viewpoint, it’s a short but steep walk down to the bridge and you can walk along the train tracks provided there’s no train coming. There’s a guard at the site making sure you don’t get into trouble.
It makes for some great photos walking along the bridge and into the train tunnel.
Ella has good connections with surrounding areas and you can take the train or bus to Nuwara Eliya or head to the coast.
The bus ride from Ella to the backpacker favourite of Mirissa Beach is about five hours and is just as scenic as the train ride as you head down the green hillsides and a valley before heading for the coast.
Things You Should Know:
- Reserved seats for the Kandy to Ella train sell out quickly. However, it’s likely you’ll be able to get an unreserved second or third class ticket on your day of departure. Trains depart at 8.45am and 11.10am daily from Kandy. If you’re trying to get a ticket on the day, get to the ticket office at least an hour before the train’s departure.
- There’s plenty of guesthouses in Ella to choose from. You can book ahead or simply get off the train and they’ll be people offering cheap rooms outside the station.
- Be prepared for wet weather if you’re heading to Nuwara Eliya or Ella as it has a completely different climate to coastal Sri Lanka. If you plan to climb Adam’s Peak near Hatton you’ll need cold weather gear as it gets very cold at the top, especially if you’re doing the sunrise hike.
- Make sure you bring insect repellent with you when you visit Sri Lanka to ward off mosquitoes.
- If you’re going onward from Ella by bus, know that buses are extremely crowded and you have to be prepared to stand for part of the journey. It’s a hot, sticky journey but you’re unlikely to pay more than $A3 for any bus. You buy your ticket on the bus.