How To Ride The Famous Kandy to Ella Train: Essential Info, Helpful Tips and More

Kandy to Ella train | everything you need to know

Sri Lanka’s Kandy to Ella train ride is undoubtedly one of the world’s most scenic. To help you have the most incredible train adventure, this guide contains everything you need to know, from tickets and timetables to what to expect and photography tips.


I’m sitting in the open doorway of a rickety train as it makes its way from Kandy to Ella; feet dangling over the footboard as the wooden sleepers roll past.

In front of me, Sri Lanka’s lush hill country rolls out before us; a thick shag pile rug of green tea fields and misty mountains. Flecks of vivid colour dot the landscape, the brightly-coloured saris of pickers who keep the country’s famed tea industry alive.

Behind, a group of young locals beat a drum and sing local songs with such infectious enthusiasm that before long, the entire carriage is swept up in a happy cacophony of laughter and dance.

Somewhere along the train, a vendor is calling ‘wade wade,’ and my mouth waters at the thought of those deliciously crispy fried balls of dhal, best washed down with a sweet cup of warm chai.

Trains pass in the opposite direction, locals precariously balanced on steps below signs that warn against the very same. A train conductor smiles and waves, his starched white uniform crisp and magnificent against the lumbering blue carriages.

The breeze picks up strands of hair and they dance around my face. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and smile.

This is joy, pure and simple.

Sri Lanka’s train ride from Kandy to Ella is easily one of the most iconic images of this bite-sized Utopia in the Indian Ocean. Having made the journey more than five times, we can attest to how incredible it is.

This is why we’ve put together this Kandy to Ella train guide with absolutely everything you need to know, from tickets to timetables and what to expect, to help you have the most incredible time on your own adventure.

Happy journey, wanderers.

We’ve just released our brand new collection of Lightroom Desktop and Mobile presets, including the Sri Lanka Preset Pack inspired by the tropical beauty and colour of this beautiful country!

 
Kandy to Ella train guide

KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN

SNAPSHOT

KANDY TO ELLA TRAVEL TIME | 7 hours (on a good day!)

TICKET PRICE | Third class | LKR 300, Second class | LKR 600

DEPARTURE TIMES (KANDY) | 03:35, 08:55 am* (EXPRESS), 11:10 am* (EXPRESS), 22:20 pm

AVAILABLE SEATING | First class, Second Class, Second Class reserved, Third Class, Third class reserved

RECOMMENDED SEATING | Third Class reserved for the best views

 

ABOUT THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN RIDE

As with many railways in this part of the world, the Sri Lankan rail network was initially conceived by the British colonial government in 1864.

It was initially built to transport tea and coffee (the latter quickly failed after a mystery fungus wiped out entire crops) from the misty hill country to Colombo for export.

For years, these tightly packed crates of tea were the primary passengers on this route, until population growth saw passenger traffic explode past it in the 1960s.

Today, the network is one of the cheapest ways to navigate Sri Lanka, and is a vital transport link for locals.

 
Kandy to Ella train ride | Essential things to know
 


WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN

Our train ride starts in the cultural capital of Kandy, the impossibly pretty city in heart of Sri Lanka. The station is typically beautiful; they all are in this part of the world one of the few positive outcomes of British rule.

Modernist on the exterior, Victorian on the interior and station platforms, it harks back to yesteryear, of simpler times when train travel was the way to get around, and air travel was still a pipe dream.

It’s hot, humid, and busy. Locals accompany the station benches, with an endless bounty of bags stretched out in circles surrounding the seat.

The train from Colombo arrives. It’s a loud, heaving Chinese-made diesel locomotive, coloured turquoise blue. Imagine this coloured train in your home town - how out of place it’d look amongst the shades of grey concrete, steel and glass. Yet here, it just works. It’s beautiful, even.

We alight to our third-class carriage - our already stretched backpacker budget allowing for little niceties. It’s busy, yet orderly. We miss getting seats, so plonk ourselves and our bags into the service area. It’s uncomfortable, hot, and somewhat frustrating, but oh well, we’re going to Ella.

The Kandy to Ella train has been running this route since the 1920s, a way of transporting tea to the ports of Colombo and the cups of the English. It wasn’t until the 1960s that passengers overtook freight as the primary revenue stream, and now, well, it’s popular. Really popular.

The train jolts heavily, shifting our bodies from their slumped position, and before long we’re making our way out of Kandy, slowly, surely, winding our way through the jungle towards the hill country.

The first hours are spent chatting with locals who have seemingly adopted us, keen to provide the best possible impression of their homeland. “Where are you from?”, asks one friendly man. “Australia”, I reply. “Oh, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath… but my favourite is Adam Gilchrist!”. Mid-2000s cricketers seem to be popular in this part of the world. “I love Gilly too”.

 
 

Despite crawling along the tracks at a rather slow speed, there’s a real sense of freedom and adventure to be felt in these carriages; the wind whipping through doors and windows to tease your hair, groups of locals singing and dancing in carriages, dangling your feet out of the open doorway and watching the tracks blur by, platforms full of colourful saris and families waving goodbye to each other.

Vendors balance flasks of sweet chai and steaming hot wade precariously as they race through carriages, and everyone, local and tourist alike, is positively beaming with excitement.

Before long, the warmth disappears and a wave of cool air overcomes us. It’s glorious, as are the vistas we see from out the open door. That open door is to be our seat for the next four hours.

We bypass misty mountains, endless tea plantations, picturesque stations, colourful tuk-tuks, and bustling towns, each providing a glimpse into the everyday lives of thousands of people. It’s overwhelming.

There’s a certain type of freedom that exists in these carriages; the wind whipping through doors and windows to tease your hair, groups of locals singing and dancing in carriages, dangling your feet out of the open doorway and watching the tracks blur by, platforms full of colourful saris and families waving goodbye to each other. Vendors balance flasks of sweet chai and steaming hot wade precariously as they race through carriages, and everyone, local and tourist alike, is positively beaming with excitement.

To say that those four hours were the best of our lives would be an understatement.

We arrive seven hours later (and a lot dustier and wearier) into sleepy Ella. “When can we do that again?” asks Mim. “Soon - real soon”, I reply.

In our opinion, this is one of the greatest train rides in the world - and definitely one of the best things you can do in Sri Lanka.

 
Kandy to Ella train guide
 

HOW TO PLAN YOUR KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN JOURNEY

KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN JOURNEY ITINERARY

The Kandy to Ella train ride forms one section of the ‘Main Line’, the longer Colombo to Kandy to Badulla route that snakes its way through the stunning hill country and tea plantation heart of Sri Lanka.

As well as being insanely scenic, many of the key tourist stops can be found along this train line too, making it extra popular with tourists keen to take in the best sights (more on those below).

The journey takes around 7 hours - assuming there are no delays or breakdowns on the route!



KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN TIMES (& ELLA TO KANDY TRAIN TIMES)


FROM COLOMBO/KANDY TOWARDS ELLA/BADULLA

From Colombo Fort | 05:55 am*, 08:30 am*, 09:45 am, 20:30pm (doesn’t stop Kandy)

From Peradeniya Junction | 08:32am*,10:55am*, 23:06pm (doesn’t stop Kandy)

From Kandy | 03:35, 08:55 am* (EXPRESS), 11:10 am* (EXPRESS), 22:20 pm

From Ella (to Badulla) | 13:36pm, *15:15pm, 17:28pm, 06:06am

  • = the blue train


NOTE | Times correct as of 2023. Click here for the most up-to-date schedule.

WHERE IS KANDY STATION?

Kandy Railway Station is located in the centre of Kandy, just a short tuk-tuk ride from the bustling downtown, including Kandy lake and the famous Temple of the Tooth (travelling from Colombo? Here’s how to get to Kandy).

Kandy station is easy to get to - you can either walk, take a tuk-tuk, or a local taxi to the station. Sitting alongside the train station is the bus station, for anyone arriving from Colombo or further north. The station itself is a glorious mix of modernist and Victorian architecture and harks back to yesteryear with wooden signage and panelling.

There are a number of ticket counters on-site, and toilets are also available.

Thankfully, this bustling, chaotic and lively part of the city is not as overwhelming as Colombo, and there are a number of markets, food stalls and shopping malls close by in case you need last-minute food or drink.


FROM BADULLA/ELLA TOWARDS KANDY/COLOMBO FORT

From Badulla | 05:45 am*, 08:30 am*, 10:15 am (doesn’t stop Kandy), 18:05 pm (doesn’t stop Kandy)

From Ella | 06:42 am*, 09:20 am*, 11:12 am (doesn’t stop Kandy), 19:01 (doesn’t stop Kandy)

  • = the blue train


NOTE | Times correct as of 2023. Click here for the most up-to-date schedule.


WHERE IS ELLA STATION?

Ella Railway Station is located right in the heart of Ella, just a short walk from the bustling main street.

Thankfully, Ella is rather small, so getting to and from the station is simple - either walk or grab a tuk-tuk that awaits your arrival. There are a number of food stalls that surround the station, should you need to top up on snacks or water for your ride.

There’s also a small ticket booth on site.

 
 

HOW TO BOOK YOUR TICKET FOR THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN

The process for booking your ticket depends upon whether you’re travelling on an unreserved or reserved ticket:


UNRESERVED TICKETS / AT THE STATION

These cannot be purchased before the day of travel. It’s simply a matter of showing up at the station a bit earlier and queueing at the ticket office. Unreserved tickets also can’t sell out - they’re uncapped.

If you’re told that tickets have sold out, it’s probably because the seller has assumed that as a foreigner, you’d prefer a reserved seat. You can always buy an unreserved ticket. Neither second-class unreserved nor third-class tickets guarantee you a seat.

Remember though, if you want to get a reserved seat in the first or second class, you must book in advance - you can’t buy reserved tickets on the day of travel.

If you prefer winging your travels, we suggest getting to the station at least 2 hours prior to departure to purchase your tickets (but seriously, just buy them online and save yourself the hassle)!

BEST FOR | Those who are travelling spontaneously through Sri Lanka, and don’t mind third class or unreserved seats


RESERVED TICKETS

Reserved seating cannot be purchased on your day of travel, so you must book reserved tickets ahead of time. In the off-season, you can probably get away with booking these at your departure station a few days ahead of time.

Otherwise, book online (32 days before) at 12go Asia.

We think purchasing your tickets in advance is the smartest thing to do, regardless of your travel plans in Sri Lanka. Not only will you secure your seat, but you’ll also have much greater peace of mind knowing you’ll be able to.


BOOK | You can book online (32 days before)here

BEST FOR | Well-prepared travellers who wish to secure tickets in advance


HOW MUCH DO KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN TICKETS COST?

Overall, train travel in Sri Lanka is extremely affordable, though there are some big differences in pricing depending on which class ticket you’re after.

From Kandy to Ella (or Ella to Kandy), prices are as follows:

Third class | LKR 300, LKR 440 to Colombo Fort

Second class | LKR 600pp, LKR 900 to Colombo Fort

First class | LKR 1500

BOOK | You can book online (32 days before)here

NOTE | Prices as of January 2023. Click here for updated pricing. Also, note price increases from other blogs - this is due to the Sri Lanka financial crisis.

BOOK YOUR KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN RIDE HERE

Powered by 12Go Asia system


KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN TRAVEL TIME

The Kandy to Ella train journey takes around 7 hours - assuming there are no delays or breakdowns on the route! This might sound like a long time, but it’s the perfect opportunity to slow down and watch the world go by.

Before you know it, you’ll be arriving at your destination and dreaming of taking the train again in the reverse direction.

 
 

WHICH CLASS SHOULD YOU BOOK FOR THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN? 

Reserved or unreserved? First class or third class?

When it comes to buying tickets for your train ride in Sri Lanka, the different ticket options can initially be a little confusing. 

Personally, we strongly believe that this train ride is one of the rare times where the best experience is actually found in the lower ticket classes. First class is stuffy with windows and doors that won’t open and most other foreigners occupying the seats next to them. The second and third classes, on the other hand, are a truly authentic taste of what life is really like for locals on the Sri Lankan railway system. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of what each class entails (keep reading for costs!): 

THIRD CLASS UNRESERVED

Third Class Unreserved are the cheapest tickets available for the train, and as such, tend to be the most popular with locals too. The seating here is non-allocated wooden benches (it’s basically a free for all!) so be prepared that at least some of your journey will involve standing.

For all that the journey may be a little uncomfortable though, this is where the most authentic taste of Sri Lankan life can be found though. 

Groups of local boys sing and play drums, big families crowd together on one or two benches, sharing meals and passing little ones across the carriage for the best views, while vendors squeeze past with precariously balanced trays of deep-fried delights.

The mood is jovial and everyone’s keen to chat - it’s just a super happy place to be! 

THIRD CLASS RESERVED

Exactly as above, but with the difference of allocated seating. It’s a little less chaotic, but the mood is just as fun.

This is probably our favourite place to be on the Sri Lankan rail network, as it comes with all the fun and local interaction of third class, but with the slightly more organised aspect of having a (mostly) guaranteed seat.

You can also open the windows and doors here, and the doorways don’t tend to be as crowded as you may find in the unreserved carriages - perfect for dangling your feet over and feeling the wind through your hair!


SECOND CLASS UNRESERVED

A little softer than third-class seating-wise, though in a stuffy carriage with hard seating, this doesn’t really make too much of an impact!

Not too much more expensive than the third class, but again, you’ll probably need to push your way onto the train for this one.

These seats tend to be great if you’re travelling in the off or shoulder seasons, as the trains are a lot less busy then. 

 
 

SECOND CLASS RESERVED

As above, with allocated seating this time. The price jump for reserved seating in this carriage is about half again of what you’d pay for the other classes, but if you’re travelling during peak season and you know your travel dates in advance, it’s absolutely worth booking these well ahead of your arrival to Sri Lanka (read our top Sri Lanka travel tips for more handy tips).

Note that these will often sell out 1-2 months in advance during peak season, so booking online is the best option.


FIRST CLASS

Allocated plush(ish) seating, privacy, and air conditioning are the main features here.

We absolutely wouldn’t recommend this carriage if you’re wanting to get a real feel for the train ride though; the windows and doors remain locked, and you’ll be rubbing shoulders mostly with other foreigners.

It’s not exactly the most authentic way to experience the country or the train, but if you’ve already taken a few train journeys and just want to get to your destination comfortably, this might be the option for you. 

OBSERVATION CARRIAGE

These are only available on select trains and are mostly just 1st class carriages with the added feature of wide windows for observing the views.

Observation carriages will need to be booked a month or more from your travel date and sell out extremely quickly, so you’ll need to organise them online (check 12go Asia) before your trip. 

Again, we don’t actually recommend the observation carriage, as a) you can’t open the windows and b) the carriages are often at the end of the train, facing backwards. If travelling in the wrong direction makes you nauseated, definitely avoid this one! 

 
 

sri lanka’s most stunning sights | a guide to nine arch bridge, ella


TIPS FOR RIDING THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN


WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO RIDE THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN?

We suggest travelling on the Kandy to Ella train during December-March, as this is Sri Lanka’s least wet time of year. At this time, the tea plantations are still wonderfully green, the waterfalls flowing, and the weather comfortable.

It is, however, peak season, so expect large crowds (buy your tickets in advance to secure your seat).

Personally, we’ve ridden the Kandy to Ella train in April and November, and while both were equally joyous - April was during Sinhalese New Year, which made securing a spot on the train virtually impossible.

We also suggest taking the morning train, as this tends to be quieter and more peaceful, and you’re guaranteed to arrive at your destination (whether it’s Ella or Kandy) at a reasonable hour in the afternoon.


CONSIDER STARTING YOUR JOURNEY AT PERADENIYA JUNCTION TO GET A SEAT

Trying to get on the train at Kandy can be nigh on impossible, especially at peak times. But fret not travellers, we have a sneaky tip for you that might even win you a seat!

Rather than concertina yourself on board here, grab a tuk-tuk and head ten minutes away to Peradeniya Junction station, on the outskirts of Kandy. Board the reverse service (Ella to Kandy) here at Peradeniya, which is prior to its final arrival in Kandy.

When everyone on this service finally disembarks from the train at Kandy station, you'll be primed to grab a seat (as you're already on board!) before the hordes of people embark again at Kandy for the service from here to Ella.

Thank us later.

 
 

THE JOURNEY CAN BE TAKEN IN REVERSE

We’ve had a number of emails and comments on our Instagram recently regarding whether travellers will miss out on anything by taking the Kandy to Ella train in reverse (ie. travelling from Ella back to Kandy.

The answer is: no! The train travels the exact same route back again, so you won’t miss out on any of the fun by taking it in reverse.



SIT ON THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE OF THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN

This is one of, if not the most important tips: if you’re coming from Kandy, sit on the right side of the train, unless you want to be gawking at an up-close view of the cliff side (you don’t).

The right side is significantly more beautiful than the left, with views over the rolling tea plantations, misty mountains, and lush valleys.

Obviously, this is flipped if you’re travelling from Ella back to Kandy; be sure to sit on the left then.


FIRST IS THE WORST, SECOND AND THIRD ARE THE BEST

As we mentioned above; skip first class and head straight to the second and third-class carriages for the best experience ever.


TAKE THE EARLY TRAIN BETWEEN ELLA AND HAPUTALE

As with most things in photography, the early bird gets the worm (or in this case, the shot).

On our recent visit, we decided to take the first train from Ella to Haputale one morning so we could see Lipton’s Seat and the tea plantations in the early morning light. As it happened, Lipton’s Seat and the valley were both hidden under thick, oppressive fog - but we did get a half-empty train on our way there (check out our best things to do in Ella).

This provided the perfect opportunity to run between windows and doors, lean out in wonder, and snap away to our heart’s content without also having to worry about our backpacks or jostling with others. If you’ve got a morning to spare and you want a stress-free photography experience, we’d highly recommend doing the same!

PREPARE TO PUSH ON BOARD

Sri Lanka has a culture based around politeness and exceptional friendliness - that is until you’re trying to get on a train. This is one instance where there are no holds barred, and particularly if you’re from the west, you’re going to have to put away your polite ‘no pushing’ mentality here.

Elbows out, and respectfully pushing on board is the only way to guarantee a seat (or simply some space to stand) here.

Don’t worry though, as soon as everyone’s settled in their places, the mood returns to one of the utmost care and concern for those around you!


THE MOST SCENIC PART OF THE JOURNEY IS BETWEEN HAPUTALE AND BADULLA

The whole train ride from Colombo to Badulla is pretty scenic, but the best parts are absolutely between Haputale and Ella, and then between Ella and Badulla.

From Haputale to Ella, the landscape shifts to misty forests and beautiful mountain views, as the train runs along a narrow mountain ridge.

From Ella to Badulla, the train line has a Swiss-like ‘knot’, where the train loops back on itself and crosses its own path at a different level. It’s unique and absolutely stunning too.

Badulla is just 30 minutes by tuk-tuk, or about an hour from Ella, if you wish to make the journey then head back to Ella.

 
 

IF YOUR WANT TO GO OVER NINE ARCH BRIDGE, BOOK A TICKET TO DEMODARA

If you’re keen to tick off two attractions at once by travelling over the Nine Arch Bridge, you’ll actually need to book a ticket past Ella towards Badulla. Demodara is the next stop, although we’re not sure if all trains stop there so you’d be best to check when booking your tickets.

Demodara is only about 3km past Ella station, so it’s simple to jump in a tuk-tuk between the two if need be.


NOT ALL TRAINS ARE BLUE

Some are blue, others are red. Both are beautiful and travel along the same tracks with the same epic views. If you have your heart set on taking the blue train though, take the express train. The red ones are either mail and goods trains or are super slow as they stop at all stations.

See the timetable above for more info!


THERE ARE TOILETS ON BOARD

There are toilets on board the trains, and while they’re definitely not the greatest we’ve ever encountered, they’re also not the worst.

They are squat toilets - so best avoided on particularly windy parts of the track - and always take some toilet paper in with you, as we’re yet to encounter any that provide it!

AVOID TRAVELLING OVER SINHALESE NEW YEAR & CHRISTMAS

When we first travelled to Sri Lanka in April 2016, we had no idea that we were walking into the biggest celebration the island sees all year: Sinhalese Tamil New Year, aka Avurudu/Puththandu (check our Sri Lanka travel tips post for more essential travel info!).

From the 13th-15th of April every year, Sri Lankans welcome in the new year with a colourful festival of firecrackers, sweet treats, and loads of family time. It’s a wonderful time to be travelling in the country, except for one thing: the entire country basically grinds to a halt.

Everything closes, people travel from one side of the country to see family, and the transport network is heaving beyond any comprehension. It makes travel between destinations extremely difficult.

On one occasion we couldn’t physically get onto our train in Hatton, considering we would have had to dangle out of the doorway on top of the four people already doing so.

We hear the same goes for Christmas time, so avoid these dates like the plague, settle into one destination (and its celebrations!) and avoid the bedlam on the rails!

 
 

BRING YOUR OWN SNACKS AND DRINKS

The train journey is long and tiring, so be sure you’ve got plenty of food and water with you.

There may be a few vendors wandering the train with snacks (see below for the one you must try!), although there generally won’t be anything overly substantial to purchase while on board.

If you feel you’ll need something more than samosas to keep you going, organise some food the night before.

If you spot the tea wallah making his way through the carriage, be sure to get a cup of steaming, sweet milk tea for about LKR 40-50


BUY ALL THE DELICIOUS WADE (SRI LANKAN STREET FOOD!)

If you encounter someone moving through the carriages carrying trays of calling ‘wade wade wade wade [wah-deh]’; make a beeline for them and buy allllll the snacks.

These are deep-fried dhal balls, and they’re a quintessential street food snack in Sri Lanka. They’re also bloody delicious, and we are obsessed with them (so please, eat an extra one for us!).

 
 

PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FOR THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN

Chances are if you’re reading this post, you’re after a few tips to maximise your photography on this insanely photogenic train ride too. We don’t blame you; we’ve now taken this train more times than we can count, and it still takes our breath away every single time.

To help you get the most from photographing this train ride, here are a few of our top photography tips:

TAKE THE FIRST TRAIN BETWEEN ELLA AND HAPUTALE

As with most things in photography, the early bird gets the worm (or in this case, the shot).

On our recent visit, we decided to take the first train from Ella to Haputale one morning so we could see Lipton’s Seat and the tea plantations in the early morning light. As it happened, Lipton’s Seat and the valley were both hidden under thick, oppressive fog - but we did get a half-empty train on our way there (check out our best things to do in Ella).

This provided the perfect opportunity to run between windows and doors, lean out in wonder, and snap away to our heart’s content without also having to worry about our backpacks or jostling with others. If you’ve got a morning to spare and you want a stress-free photography experience, we’d highly recommend doing the same!

FOCUS YOUR CAMERA INSIDE THE TRAIN, TOO

It’s a real shame that so many travellers jump aboard this train to snap photos hanging out the doors when the real magic of the train ride is the life that’s happening within its carriages.

The entire journey is a super unique and authentic cultural experience and one that’s absolutely worthy of being documented - respectfully - too.

USE A FAST SHUTTER SPEED, AUTOFOCUS + BURST MODE

Hanging your arm out a door or window and trying to take a photo whilst the train is lurching from side to side is a pretty impossible mission, particularly if your shutter speed is too low.

Set your shutter to a minimum speed of 250th, set your focus to auto, turn on burst mode, and fire away (while hoping that at least one shot turns out okay!).

MOUNTAIN AREAS CAN BE QUITE DARK, SO BUMP THAT ISO

It can get pretty moody and foggy through the mountain areas, so bump up your ISO to add more light to your shot without sacrificing that super speedy shutter setting from above.

DON’T BE RECKLESS TO GET ‘THE SHOT’

In recent times, a couple of Instagrammers have been called out for recklessly hanging out of train doors for Instagram photos. Let’s be clear here: it is possible to hang out of trains in Sri Lanka (after all, we’ve done it ourselves!), and they do move pretty slowly at times.

BUT.

There is a limit to pushing these boundaries responsibly and safety should always be your number one priority.

Running along the tracks are all manner of potentially dangerous objects; branches, poles, wires, tunnels, etc, that - should they hit you as you hang backwards by a fingernail out a doorway - could cause serious damage and/or topple you out of the train.

So by all means, have some fun and dangle a limb here or there, hang your feet off the edge, and lean out to feel the freedom of the road. But please, be acutely aware of your surroundings and don’t go endanger your life for a stupid photo for social media.

TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY ON THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN RIDE

In addition to not endangering the lives of yourself or your fellow passengers, there are a few responsible travel tips to keep in mind for your journey:

Be respectful | Please remember that this train ride is more than just a tourist hotspot in Sri Lanka; locals depend on this railway network for their everyday lives and livelihoods. Be mindful of that, and behave respectfully.

Don’t throw your trash out the window | This is something we saw too many times on the train ride, and it’s super disappointing to see. Try to minimise your trash, and for the love of god, take it off the train with you to dispose of it properly.

Respect your reservation | If you’ve booked a specific ticket and seat, don’t go sitting in someone else’s seat or a different carriage just because it suits you.

 
 

OUR CAMERA GEAR

Ask Mark and it’s all about Sony’s mirrorless beasts. Ask Mim, and it’s all about Canon’s well-made, reliable DSLRs. Regardless of our gear, we love photography and shooting in foreign destinations (click here to see what’s in our camera bag).

This is the photography gear we used to get all of our shots on the Kandy to Ella train ride (and all of Sri Lanka, too).

  • The Sony A7RII produces brilliant stills and video

  • The original stills beast which keeps going strong, the Canon 5D MKIII produces the best colours

  • The Canon 24-70mm is known as one of the best zoom lenses on the market; it's exceptionally sharp, small and lightweight, which makes it perfect for travel photography

  • The Canon 70-200mm f4 is our favourite lens, hands down. The image stabilisation works a treat, even on moving trains!

If you like our photography, be sure to follow us on Instagram, too.


the cultural capital of sri lanka | the best things to do in kandy



WHAT TO SEE & DO IN ELLA

Tucked away in the misty Sri Lankan high country, amongst idyllic green hills and gushing waterfalls lies Ella: one of this tear-shaped island's most appealing destinations.

From scaling the heady heights of Ella Rock to laying eyes on the mystical Nine Arch Bridge for the very first time; standing on the edge of the roaring Diyaluma Falls (the second tallest in the country), and winding through the tea plantations and mountains passes on the famous Kandy to Ella train; many of our favourite Sri Lankan adventures can be found right here.

At its heart, Ella is a charming and laid-back village perfect for relaxing, hiking and escaping the searing temperatures of the southern coast, and a town we feel should be firmly embedded on your Sri Lankan itinerary.

ADMIRE ELLA’S FAMOUS NINE-ARCH BRIDGE

It's astonishing to think that a bridge could drive tourists in droves to Ella, yet the Nine Arch Bridge, just outside the town, has done just that.

Spanning 91 meters at a height of 24 feet and flanked by verdant forests and tea plantations, the bridge is on the famous Kandy to Bandarawela (via Ella) train line, with trains passing around five times a day, depending on the ever-changing Sri Lankan train timetable.

HIKE UP THE FAMOUS ELLA ROCK

For those who seek spectacular views everywhere they go, the summit of Ella rock, with its views over Ella, Little Adam's Peak, and Ella Gap, is one vantage point you don’t want to miss out on.

Once at the summit, we enjoyed the incredible views for at least an hour, munching away on our vegetarian roti and some well-deserved water.

ADMIRE THE VIEWS OF ELLA GAP FROM LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

If a strenuous hike in the sun doesn’t really appeal but you’re still keen to get the legs moving and explore the Sri Lankan countryside, the easier hike up to Little Adam’s Peak is absolutely worth checking out.

Named after its similarly shaped, yet far taller older brother, Adam’s Peak, the Little Adam’s Peak hike takes about two-hours roundtrip from Ella town. Here, you'll have 360-degree views overlooking the giant Ella Rock and Ella Gap towards Udawalawe National Park, perfect for photos.

WITNESS THE BEAUTY OF DIYALUMA FALLS

Cascading from high in the Sri Lanka mountains, Diyaluma Falls may be a little off the beaten track, but the epic views and natural infinity pools make the 1.5-2-hour journey more than worth the effort.

The journey to Diyaluma takes you through quintessentially Sri Lankan tea plantations, before a hike to the Diyaluma falls, where you can stand above a sheer 220m rush of water to the valley floor below.

It’s amazing, and a must-visit in Ella.

ENJOY THE FAMOUS VIEWS FROM LIPTON SEAT & TAKE A TEA FACTORY TOUR

Tea is synonymous with Sri Lanka, and the name Lipton is synonymous with tea, so it was only natural that our Sri Lankan travels would eventually bring us to Lipton Seat.

This is the famous viewpoint where entrepreneur and tea mogul, Sir Thomas Lipton, used to sit and contemplate his vast plantation and the magnificence of Sri Lanka's high country and sample some of the world's finest tea straight from the source.

From this viewpoint, you can see as far as Udawalawe National park and beyond to Hambantota port.

We also suggest taking a tour of the Dambethenne factory (book here), which takes you through the whole tea production process in great detail, from the picking, rolling, drying, fermenting, cutting, sieving and grading of the tea, to the final auction process (80% is on sold to Colombo and exported to the world).


WHAT TO SEE & DO IN KANDY

The gateway to Sri Lanka’s hill-country action (and the greatest train journey in the world!) is Kandy; the City of Kings, Sri Lanka’s second city and the island’s undisputed historical and cultural capital.

There are so many great things to see and do in Kandy, and we highly recommend spending a few days in the city to take it all in.


TEMPLE OF THE SACRED TOOTH RELIC, KANDY

Never has a decaying tooth held so much significance to so many people, yet that’s exactly the reason that the impressive Temple of the Sacred Tooth and Royal Complex (Sri Dalada Maligawa) is the number one attraction in Kandy.

This ornate golden-roofed temple houses the most important Buddhist relic in Sri Lanka - a tooth of Buddha brought to the island in the 4th century.


ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS/PERADENIYA SRI LANKA

We're big fans of sprawling city parks, and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya are amongst the best we've visited anywhere in the world.

Home to over 10,000 trees spread across 60 hectares, the gardens also showcase all of Sri  Lanka’s unique flora along with representative species from all around the tropical world.

We definitely recommend visiting the impressive and totally insta-worthy avenue of royal palms; a beautiful tree-lined pathway in the interior of the gardens.


VISIT THE HISTORIC THREE-TEMPLE LOOP OF KANDY

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth relic might be the most important of Kandy’s temples, but it’s definitely not the only temple worth visiting.

Jump in a tuk-tuk and get out of the hustle and bustle of downtown Kandy for the day to the lush countryside of Gampola, where numerous Kandyan-era temples and shrines still stand proudly over green fields and quiet winding lanes.

Three of these temples, Gadaladeniya Viharaya, Embekke, and Lankathilaka form the aptly named 'three temple loop', and serve as a living history of Sri Lanka's extensive Buddhist heritage and craftsmanship.


WALK AROUND KANDY LAKE

Right at the heart of Kandy is the Kandy Lake; surprisingly peaceful despite the bustling road that winds around it, and the backdrop to many of the city’s major attractions including the Temple of the Tooth Relic, and Udawattakele Forest reserve.

It takes about an hour to walk the lake’s circumference (just over 3kms), and our favourite part was around the area next to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.


EXPLORE THE MARKET STREETS OF KANDY OLD TOWN

The old town of Kandy is home to a labyrinth of market stores selling everything from textiles to incense. The loud and chaotic streets are filled with local Kandyans going about their daily business, and we found it a great place to get a feel for the 'real' Kandy.

Some sights worth checking out within the old town include the Giragama Walawwa, the oldest walawwa (former royal building) in Kandy, the historic and stunning Red Mosque of Kandy, and the colourful Kataragama Devalaya Hindu temple.


 
Nine Arch Bridge, Best things to do in Sri Lanka
 

EDIT YOUR PHOTOS OF THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN WITH OUR SRI LANKA PRESETS

The  Sri Lanka Lightroom Preset Packs  are finally here! Inspired by the tropical beauty and colour of this beautiful country, they’re perfect for bringing your epic Sri Lanka images — especially this incredible train journey! — to life.



ESSENTIAL TRIP PLANNING INFORMATION FOR KANDY TO ELLA

We’ve already written comprehensive travel guides for both Kandy and Ella, full of awesome things to do and essential travel information, but in the meantime here are some recommendations for hotels:



WHERE TO STAY IN ELLA

We’ve written a super comprehensive guide to where to stay in Ella, which covers the best hotels, hostels, guesthouses and eco-lodges for every budget.


In the meantime, here are a few of our top recommendations:

ROWINRICH COTTAGES | Spacious loft-style cottages with terraces overlooking the jungle-clad valley and Ella Rock. Prices and availability here

CHILL VILLE VIEWPOINT HOTEL | This great value hotel is set amongst beautiful gardens close to the Nine Arch Bridge. Prices and availability here

THE SECRET ELLA | Overlooking Nine Arch Bridge, The Secret is tucked away in a 10-acre tea estate in Ella’s hills. Prices and availability here

READ THE GUIDE | Our ultimate guide to where to stay in Ella


WHERE TO STAY IN KANDY

HELGA’S FOLLY | Decorated whimsically with traditional Sri Lankan artwork, this is a super unique place to stay.
Prices and availability here

OZO KANDY | Sophisticated, chic, stylish - Ozo is a stunning, well-located hotel with an epic rooftop pool.
Prices and availability here

KANDY CITY VIEW | Where we spent three nights in Kandy. Simple, sizable rooms close to town.
Prices and availability here


TRAVEL INSURANCE IN SRI LANKA

Overwhelmingly, we’ve found the country to be extremely safe and friendly, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues with petty theft or personal safety at times.

You absolutely need to have travel insurance that ensures you and your belongings are protected here.

Plus, as the pandemic has taught; many things can go wrong anywhere in the world and insurance is often the only way of mitigating any issues with minimal expense or stress for you.

For all travellers | HeyMondo - COVID-19 coverage, comprehensive travel + medical insurance, an app with 24-hour medical support, and no out of pocket fees. *Get 5% off your policy by booking through our link here.

For digital nomads | SafetyWing - COVID-19 coverage, comprehensive travel & medical, and policies can be purchased while already abroad.

Car Insurance | Insurance4CarHire - a great annual car insurance policy


SRI LANKA BACKPACKING ESSENTIALS

Travelling through Sri Lanka comes with a unique set of needs. To help you have a comfortable, happy journey, we recommend bringing the following items with you:

READ | check out our eco-friendly packing guide to travel through Sri Lanka consciously and comfortably



EXPLORE THE BEST OF SRI LANKA WITH THESE GUIDES

ELLA, SRI LANKA | Our complete guide to Ella, a guide to the Nine Arch Bridge, How to see Diyaluma Falls, Ella accommodation options for every budget (+ our recommendations)

KANDY | What to see and do in Kandy, How to get from Colombo to Kandy

SRI LANKA TIPS | 31 incredible things to do in Sri Lanka, Everything you need to know before you visit Sri Lanka (39 essential tips!)

SRI LANKA CULTURAL SITES | Our essential guides to both Sigiriya and Pidurangala, the scared city of Polonnaruwa

SRI LANKA CITY GUIDES | We’ve got in-depth guides to Galle, Jaffna, Hiriketiya

PHOTOGRAPHY | Click here to view our detailed photography gear guide, as well as our top travel photography tips!

RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL | Responsible travel is important. REALLY IMPORTANT. Learn our top responsible travel tips

ECO-FRIENDLY PACKING ESSENTIALS | Don’t leave home without our favourite eco-friendly travel essentials


We hope this Kandy to Ella train ride (and Ella to Kandy train ride!) guide gives you all the information you need, but if we’ve missed anything, let us know in the comments!


PLAN YOUR TRIP TO SRI LANKA WITH OUR TRAVEL GUIDES