When I decided to go to Sri Lanka, the thing I heard most from my friends was “You have to take the scenic train to Ella”!
And it’s certainly one of the best recommendations I’ve ever received. Apart from the Trans-Siberian journey, I can say without a doubt that this is one of the most beautiful journeys in the world!
In fact, it’s become quite famous as many travelers have seen the breathtaking photos of the scenery on the internet.
An unmissable and always authentic Sri Lankan experience; here’s my guide.

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History of the Train

This railway network, the country’s first, first appeared in the 1800s, with the construction of the line from Colombo to Ambepussa. The main purpose of the railroad was to transport tea and coffee from the countryside to Colombo.

There is also a much slower red train, which stops at every station. This is probably why everyone tends to take the blue train. But be aware that tickets sell out fast and it can be difficult to get one. This is not because of the train’s fame, but mainly because locals use it to get from work to home.

Length of the ride

It took me 6 hours to get from Kandy to Ella (see my post about the village here), but it can take longer depending on how long the train stops between towns, or simply if an incident slows the train down.

Railway network for train amidst the nature in Ella

You never know in Sri Lanka, and more generally in Asia, as everything is slower, which personally doesn’t bother me at all. It simply taught me to put things into perspective and appreciate the present.

What’s more, there are always vendors boarding the train at every stop, so you can buy food and enjoy the scenery outside at the same time.

Train tickets

Train platform in Sri Lanka

Depending on the class you choose and where you start your journey, the price will of course be different. Whether you’re departing from Colombo or Kandy, make sure you buy your tickets before they sell out. Opt for 2nd or 3rd class tickets, as you’ll be able to sit close to the open door.
Ticket prices start at 300 LKR for third class (about $1) if you’re departing from Kandy.

  • Directly at the station: as this is a famous route, it can be difficult to find a ticket on the day, so make sure you arrive early, about 1-2 hours before. You’ll only be able to buy unreserved seats in second or third class. My advice: buy your ticket the day before so you can reserve your seat and be sure of getting on the train.
    > And if there are only 1st class tickets left, don’t worry, you can always go to the end of the carriage and enjoy the view from the open door while swinging your feet in the air!
  • Online or with a tour operator: if you don’t want to miss out on this experience and you’re not comfortable or don’t have time to go to the station, you can ask a tour operator to buy it for you. You can also buy in advance online, but don’t forget to plan your trip in advance as tickets sell out very quickly.
Inside the blue train in Sri Lanka

You can check timetables and prices for all Sri Lankan trains on this website.

The Experience

1. Getting on the train

Inside the train in Sri Lanka

If you’ve never experienced train station madness in Sri Lanka, let me warn you that it’s on a whole new level. If you’ve booked unreserved seats, it’s first come, first served, and it doesn’t matter if you’re closest to the tracks. Everyone wants a seat and won’t hesitate to push you around to get their way.
So it’s best to be prepared to elbow your way to a seat or a good spot.

Once on board, you’ll rediscover the politeness and friendliness typical of Sri Lankans.

Don’t worry, this unique experience happens mostly in big cities. I’ve never had to fight to get on a train in the smaller parts of Sri Lanka. That leaves the bus, which is sometimes just as comfortable as the train.

2. Morning Train or Afternoon Train?

That’s easy. You absolutely must choose the morning train (the 8:55 a.m. express). Firstly, because it’s less crowded and less difficult to get seats than the later trains. Secondly, if you take a later train and it’s delayed, you’ll arrive at the start of the night.

Ella in Sri Lanka

Whereas the morning train will get you to Ella in the afternoon, giving you time to explore the area or simply relax at your hotel and meet other travelers like yourself.

3. Which side of the train?

The right side, of course, unless you’re not interested in the incredible scenery, but you wouldn’t take the train if you weren’t. However, you might want to switch sides once you’ve passed Nuwara Eliya and admired the breathtaking mountains in the distance.

4. Bring food and water

Although you’ll see vendors boarding the train with various types of food, it may not be enough to satiate you. Usually consisting of bread rolls or fried local snacks (although really delicious), I’d choose to buy it as a supplement rather than as a meal.
Especially if you expect to be on the train for 6 hours or more. My advice is to buy a packed lunch and water in advance.

5. Best time to go

In my opinion, September to February is the best time to visit Ella. The weather is neither too hot nor too rainy, and the tea plantations are still green.

If you’re looking for the warmer months, June to August are best, although accommodation is generally more expensive and train tickets harder to come by.

6. The scenery

The train to Ella is a real adventure. You’ll pass through tunnels before emerging on the other side with a magnificent view of green tea plantations as far as the eye can see.
You’ll also pass other trains, probably the red ones, slower than your carriage, where inside, smiling locals and their children will give you a warm welcome.

Standing or sitting in the doorway, feet in the air, wind in my hair, I embraced the magical view of mountains and greenery that flashed before me like a fairy tale.
Passing through many villages and towns to get even a glimpse of the lives of these people was a truly moving journey.

Station after station, the train slowed down or stopped before moving forward again, I only hoped that time would slow down, right here, at this moment when I felt free.

Less than 7 hours later, the train stopped for the last time in the quiet town of Ella. Still excited by the experience and even a little sad that it’s already over, I don’t regret having embarked on the most beautiful trip I’ve ever made to Sri Lanka.

7. Always have your camera ready without putting yourself in danger

Blue train ride in Sri Lanka

It goes without saying that on an adventure like the Blue Train, your camera is the number one tool you should always have to hand. I took so many photos that day that it was a real ordeal to sort them out afterwards.

One thing, though: don’t put yourself in danger by trying to get the perfect photo. Ask someone to take your picture, hold the handles with both hands, even if the train is slow, always be aware of your surroundings and always prioritize your safety and the safety of others before attempting something stupid.

It’s perfectly okay to dangle your feet in the air and pose for a photo leaning out of the train (I did), as long as you don’t put your life in danger!

Sri Lanka

In a nutshell

The train ride from Kandy to Ella is undoubtedly a must on your trip to Sri Lanka. If you have the opportunity to do so, don’t hesitate, as you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the wonders of nature!
An unforgettable and wonderful experience!

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