The train journey between Kandy and Ella in Sri Lanka is often described as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Even on grey, gloomy, rainy days like the day we travelled, the views are still magical. The journey was the highlight of our time in Sri Lanka, and I’d definitely recommend adding it to your itinerary! Here’s your guide to booking your journey between Kandy and Ella.
- Train Timetables
- Ticket Prices
- How to book tickets
- Where to sit
- Other tips
Don’t forget to read my 10-Day itinerary in Sri Lanka and my backpackers guide to Sri Lanka.
There are 4 daily trains between Kandy and Ella, and the journey takes between 6 and 7 hours. The most scenic part of the journey is between Hatton and Haputale stations, so if you can’t get on the train at Kandy or Ella, then try to get on at either of these.
The prices on the train line’s website are 50p for third-class tickets, £1 for second class and £2 for first-class – however, you will most likely have to pay a lot more than this! Tickets go on sale 30 days prior to travel and aren’t sold online by the operator, so travel agencies go to the station, buy them all up and resell them for a massive markup.
When you’re booking your tickets on the Kandy to Ella train from outside the country, you’ll have to accept this inflated price. If you wait to buy them at the station chances are you’ll be left with no tickets or standing only (you do NOT want to do this journey in one of the unreserved standing carriages – see “Where should I Sit” below!). Your best bet is to shop around and find an agent that’s selling them at the lowest price.
We traveled from Kandy to Ella in third class reserved and bought our tickets through Visit Sri Lanka Tours for £8 per person. It’s a huge markup, but at the same time, it’s not exactly expensive for a 6-hour journey with a reserved seat. I tried belligerently refusing to pay so far over the odds and insisting we take our chances with tickets on the day but Tim quickly told me to stop being so cheap! 🙂
Booking your tickets
Buying tickets in person
If you’re in Kandy or Ella, you can buy tickets directly at the station. You can usually buy them from local travel agencies if you’re in other parts of Sri Lanka. Ask around at your accommodation or in a shop, and they will direct you to the nearest person selling tickets.
Haggle hard, and inspect your ticket to ensure you get the seat you promised.
Buying tickets online
Remember, the train company doesn’t run these websites, they are run by agencies that sell pre-bought tickets. So if seats are sold out with one agency, they may still be available from others.
Where Should I Sit?
There are five ticket options, depending on your budget, how far in advance you book, how comfortable you want to be, and if you want to take good photos.
First-class observation car
This carriage is attached to the rear of the train and has huge windows looking out over the scenic views. It doesn’t have air-con, but the windows open so it doesn’t get stuffy, and you can hang out to get some great photos. You will be travelling backwards on this carriage, so that might be something to consider if you get travel sick.
Seats here are always the first to book out, so if you want to sit in the observation carriage, book as soon as the tickets come on sale. We haven’t ridden on this carriage, but every travel blog I read recommended these as the best seats.
First-class air-conditioned car
As you’d expect, these are the most comfortable carriages with leather seats and air conditioning. AC means that the windows do not open, unlike in the other carriages. You will be given an assigned seat with your ticket. An inspector mans doors and usually, the walkways between lower carriages are closed off to keep people out.
One of my favourite things about travelling on this journey was hanging out the doors and out the windows taking amazing photographs, which you can’t do in first class. I feel like you might be a little removed from the experience if you travel on this carriage, but that’s just from reading reviews online.
Second Class / Third Class
Second and third-class carriages are not air-conditioned, so all the windows and doors are wide open for the entire journey. As you’d imagine, there is a difference in standard as you go down in ticket class. Seats are slightly less comfortable and less spacious as you move down to third class. There is less room to move around, and standing tickets are available, so the aisles will be crowded.
Second and third-class travel is split into two carriages – reserved and unreserved.
Reserved vs Unreserved Seats
Reserved tickets must be booked in advance, and you will be assigned a seat in the carriage. There will be an inspector on the door that checks tickets, and nobody who doesn’t have a seat in the carriage is allowed in. This will allow you much more room to put your stuff and make it more secure.
Unreserved tickets can be bought at the station, sometimes on the day of travel, and you will not get assigned a seat on these carriages, so you may have to stand. There are many unreserved tickets sold, so there is a lot of competition for seats, and even if you do get one, the carriage will likely be packed with people, and you won’t have much space to put your stuff.
In our reserved carriage, we could move around, take pictures from different windows, and walk outside to hang out the doors and watch the views. On an unreserved carriage, you don’t have that freedom of movement – you’d be lucky if you got up to go to the bathroom and still had your seat when you came back (or had a seat in the first place)!
Here’s what you need to remember when you’re buying your tickets:
- Always get reserved tickets
- Just because the class is higher doesn’t mean the experience will be better.
- Second class unreserved is far, far worse than third class reserved.
How Comfortable Is It?
I found the third class reserved surprisingly comfortable! We were in a 6 seater booth with two rows of three seats facing each other and a table in between us, there were racks to hold our luggage above our heads and space by our feet to put our day bags. There was an inspector at the door of our carriage that was checking tickets so nobody was standing in the carriage, and there was enough space to move around.
The trains that run this route are old, so don’t expect first-class carriages to be equivalent to first-class back home. Seat61.com has some photos of the interior and exterior of each of the carriages here, which might be helpful when deciding which tickets to buy.
Obviously, your comfort level will depend on how much you’re willing to spend and how early you buy the tickets. I’ll go into more detail about the different classes of travel below, under ‘where should I sit’.
Food & Drink Onboard
There was no on-board meal service in third class, but street vendors would get on when the train stopped and offer us hot food, snacks, and water. Since the journey is over 6 hours with only 3 stops, I’d recommend bringing your own snacks and water on board.
Be careful when you stick your phones and camera’s out the window . We saw a few fall from people’s hands and selfie sticks along the way.
If you’ve left it too late and can’t get a seat on the train, consider getting a tuk-tuk to Peradiniya station 6km away and buying a ticket from there. This is the stop before Kandy, and sometimes trains run from here to Ella but don’t stop at Kandy so seats will be available.
Try not to end up with second or third-class unreserved tickets – it really does affect the enjoyment of your trip if you’re standing for the whole thing. Even if you get a seat, it’s so crowded in there that it’s very uncomfortable in the heat.