Sri Lanka has gotten a lot of attention lately for being an 'up and coming' travel destination. It's cheap, easy to navigate and not super touristy. I came in with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised by the different experiences this small country provided. Sri Lanka is clearly capitalising on the boost of tourism, charging tourists way more than a local. Some attractions can cost up to $30USD to get in! This is why my favourite attraction in Sri Lanka was the train ride from Kandy to Ella. Not only do you get the same rate as the foreigners but it's an amazing 7 hour journey through some of the most scenic parts of Sri Lanka.
I loved travelling around Sri Lanka and using their public transportation system - it's fun and very easy to navigate. The Kandy to Ella train ride has been named “the most beautiful train ride in the world”. Of all the train rides I’ve taken, I have to agree with its reputation - this one is the most beautiful in my books. You go through never ending tea plantations, mountains and small towns so there's a real mix of scenery. The entire route is stunning and the fact that you can sit with your feet dangling out the doors is so refreshing (a major 'life is good' moment). Like any transport system, the energy on our train was high - people drumming and making music, vendors shouting, loud cheers whenever we reached a tunnel. Instead of a 6 and a half hour train journey, it was like a party instead because what else can you do on a train?
WHEN TO GO
There are two train times leaving at 8:47AM and the other at 11:10AM. We took the 8:47AM option and highly recommend this. You’ll get to Ella earlier (trust me, you'll want to get to Ella early!) and you’ll also be able to see everything in the daylight as the train journey takes about 6 and a half hours. But be aware because on any given day, it’s busy.
Here's a sneek peak of Ella for you:
HOW TO BUY TICKETS
We tried going to the train station a day before to reserve tickets but this doesn’t exist. Unless you booked months in advance through a tour company, you cannot get a reserved ticket. The best option is to go on the morning of the train to buy a second class unreserved ticket.
The ticket office opens an hour before the train leaves…you’ll see the line - it’s the one full of tourists. You can literally buy the train ticket up until last minute, this is not the important part. The most critical part is figuring out where to stand on the platform to enter the correct carriage. Stand somewhere in the middle of the platform and be prepared for a little pushing when the train arrives. We were lucky to be the last ones to fit on a second class carriage and get the door seat!
As with all transportation in Sri Lanka, the train ride cost us peanuts. We paid 240rps per person which is equivalent to about $2CAD for the long train journey - WHAT A STEAL!
THE JOURNEY - WHAT YOU'LL SEE
I thought the middle bit, hours 2 to 5, of the train journey was the best part. You get to go through multiple tea plantations then see beautiful, mountainous landscapes. I remember seeing signs that said part of the train journey was 1500m above sea level. I didn’t expect it but Sri Lanka is full of green, lush landscape. Also, seeing the train wrap around with all the legs, faces and arms hanging out was majestic in itself.
FINAL TIPS (these will be useful!)
- Even if the carriage looks full, there’s always more room. Don’t be afraid to squeeze yourself in or else you’ll be asked to move to the third class carriages even if you paid for a second class seat.
- The best seat is actually just on the edge of the door. They don’t close the doors at all so you can chill on the edge and watch the landscape right in front of you.
- Wear closed toe shoes if sitting on the edge of the door - you’ll be hit by leaves or branches. It can be a close call between your feet and whatever you’re passing.
- Buy food and water before you go - there are many vendors selling snacks along the ride but if you don’t want to eat fried foods, peanuts or pre-cut fruit, I would recommend just buying a couple of bananas.
- Sit on the right hand side. We found the better views here.
- Wave and smile. You’ll pass many people along the route.