The infamous blue train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most recognised images of Sri Lanka and is the most scenic way to travel between the two places. Trains in Sri Lanka are easy, cheap and a great way to see the country. Here are a few tips and bits of information to hopefully make your journey on the Kandy to Ella train even easier.
The best resources to check direct train times and ticket prices are these official Sri Lankan railways sites:
Unreserved vs Reserved Carriages
Tickets for unreserved seats are only available for 2nd and 3rd class seat and CAN’T be booked in advance. You have to buy them on the day of travel and, unlike reserved tickets, they can’t sell out. Therefore, once you’ve bought your unreserved ticket, you can hop on any train that day.
Unreserved carriages are often busy, with people standing throughout the aisles and doorways. Getting a seat is usually dependant on how busy the train is that day and the route you’re taking (the Kandy to Ella train is extremely popular for example). It’ll be easier to get a seat if you’re joining at the starting station.
Longer train journeys typically have designated 2nd class reserved carriages, and sometimes reserved 3rd class carriages. Some will also have a 1st class carriage – these are always reserved.
Tickets for reserved seats will become available 30 days in advance. I would recommend buying them as far in advance as possible as they typically sell out quickly. Unfortunately, Sri Lankan Railways don’t sell tickets online. Therefore, you will need to buy them via an agency. I was recommended: http://12go.asia/?z=771
Reserved tickets guarantee a seat and will come with a designated seat number. Furthermore, you’ll be able to enjoy a quieter journey as these carriage don’t allow people to stand in them.
If you hear the train if full, it just means the reserved tickets have sold out. There will always be unreserved tickets left as these can’t sell out (you just won’t be guaranteed a seat).
Kandy to Ella Train Advice & Information
The Kandy to Ella train is one of the most popular in Sri Lanka and you can expect that this will be busy throughout the year. The journey takes over 7 hours, so you if you’re looking for optimum comfort during this time, opt for 1st class reserved tickets. This will guarantee you a seat, space for your bags and air con.
However, for the ultimate Kandy to Ella experience (photos, scenery and all), buy 2nd class carriage tickets. Here you’ll be able to enjoy the incredible views through open windows and doors, whilst having the experience to dangle your legs out the doorways. The 1st and 3rd carriages will have closed windows and doors, therefore, taking photos will be harder.
Best options for the 2nd Class Carriage:
Buy a reserved second class ticket. If you know your travel dates in advance, this will be your best option. A reserved ticket will guarantee you a seat (with a ceiling fan). Plus you’ll be able to open the windows and sit in the doorways to get the best views and pictures.
For unreserved second class tickets, you will have to purchase these on the day at the station. If you’re hoping to get a seat (and bag space), I suggest you get a tuk tuk to Perideniya Station. Perideniya Station is 10 minutes away from Kandy, and trains coming from Colombo will stop here before Kandy. You will be able to get a seat more easily here as fewer people will be getting on. Many people will be getting off at Kandy too, increasing your chances of getting a seat
The less favourable option for getting an unreserved seat on the Kandy to Ella train, is queueing at Kandy station first thing in the morning. This is the route I took. I queued for 45 minutes in the sun and bought my unreserved second class ticket for a train that morning. It’s worth noting the 3rd class ticket queue was practically empty.
Tips for the train ride
- Pack water and snacks! I arrived at Ella station very dehydrated! – local Sri Lankans hop on at different stations with ice coolers and buckets of food/drinks but you can’t guarantee
- Bring small change. Local Sri Lankans hop on at different stations with various hot food and cold drinks, so prepare to have some cash with you. The foods I had were amazing, so I’d recommend trying a few things.
- Make sure you’ve got a fully charged phone/camera to take lots of amazing photos and videos.
- Bring some form of entertainment. Despite the incredible views, the train takes over 7 hours from Kandy to Ella (longer if you start at an earlier station, like Colombo). Although the views are stunning, you’ll appreciate having music/podcast/book to help break up the journey.
- Use the bathroom beforehand. Although there are toilets on board, it’s a tight squeeze standing in the aisles and corridors. Therefore, trying to walk down the carriages to find and use the bathroom (and making your way back again) would be a mission. Also I heard they weren’t that pleasant to visit several hours into the ride…
Despite it being a long and hot journey, the incredible views and people I met made it an unforgettable adventure I’ll never forget. I’d highly recommend taking the train for the experience and the scenery. That being said, if you have limited time in Sri Lanka, this 7 hour journey might not be for you. There are many buses and taxi options which will take you there in half the time. You might find a bus or taxi easier too if you’re travelling with small children.
Are you planning a trip on the Kandy to Ella train? Or have you been lucky enough to experience it first hand? let me know!
Happy Travels x
If you’re looking for more tips of travel in Sri Lanka, I have a few guides on Climbing Sigiriya and visiting Galle!
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