Ella – Kandy: probably the most beautiful train journey in the world

One activity you simply cannot miss when you’re in Sri Lankan Tea Country is a train journey. The full route from Ella to Kandy takes 9 hours but the most spectacular section spans between Nanu Oya and Hatton. The train moves through a landscape of rolling hills covered with tea gardens and a high mountain range looming in the distance. From time to time, you can get a glimpse of massive waterfalls.  Sitting or standing in the open doors of the train makes for a fully immersive experience.

A blue train snakes through hills covered with tea gardens in Sri Lankan Tea Country
Train passing through tea gardens

Take it slow

Tea Country is unmissable yet it’s up to you whether you start (like us) from the seaside and make your way up via Tea Country to the Cultural Triangle or move in the opposite direction.
To avoid the monotonous and tiresome journey and to explore the Tea Country more thoroughly, we divided the train journey into three sections: Ella – Haputale- Nanu Oya- Kandy.

A concrete board with Nanu Oya name written in English, Tamil and Sinhala scripts and the train platform behind it
Make it a hop-on, hop-off experience

Cheap is best

Don’t bother with getting a reserved ticket. First of all, it’s far more expensive. Secondly, it’s the most popular option among the tourists, so you would have to compete for your spot at the train’s doors. We’d always arrive at the station well before the departure to make sure we get the tickets. None of the three trains we took was overcrowded. In fact, we had a seat and place for luggage on all of them.

A basket filled with Sri Lankan deep fried snacks lies on the floor at the doors of the 3rd class train car
Deep fried snacks sold on the 3rd class carriage

Ella – Haputale

Wherever you start your journey from, make sure you arrive at the train station early to get your tickets. Thirty minutes before departure, there was already a long queue at the ticket counter at Ella train station. Most of the people at the station were tourists – that made finding a seat and space for our luggage on the 3rd class unreserved compartment easy.

School children in uniforms look through the windows of a train passing through tea gardens between Ella and Haputale
On the 3rd class train from Ella to Haputale

The train moved very slowly. The views got better only after Diyathalawa station. I stood at the doors and took numerous photos of rolling hills covered with tea gardens. We got off at Haputale, which was our favourite destination in the Up Country.

Haputale- Nanu Oya

Nanu Oya is just a few stations away from Haputale and is the nearest train station to Nuwara Eliya, located over 1600 meters above the sea level. Since we were going to take a train to Kandy afterwards, it was making sense to stay in Nanu Oya itself. To make things easy, we stayed at the accommodation arranged at the former train station building.

A crowd of locals, mostly children, waits a the train platform in Haputale
Haputale train station, moments before boarding

Our train arrived half an hour late. We were a bit worried if we could squeeze into the 3rd class carriage since there were lots of schoolchildren on the platform. Luckily, the train was quite empty when it pulled into the station. We could find a place to sit and to keep the backpack. As usual, all the tourists disappeared at the reserved compartments.

Panoramic views on rolling hills covered with tea gardens and a high mountain range spanning on the horizon on Ella - Kandy railway route
Stunning views between Haputale and Nanu Oya

At first, it was quite misty and there were too many people to enjoy the views. Luckily, after all the kids got off, I could stand in the doors and soak in the idyllic views of the rolling, green hills with the mountain range far in the background. The most exciting was the moment we passed by a huge waterfall.

A tall waterfall half hidden in the forest visible from the train between Haputale and Nanu Oya
There are many waterfalls on that route

Nanu Oya – Kandy

The real highlight of this trip was taking a train from Nanu Oya to Kandy. The 3rd class compartment of the 9.15am train on a Saturday morning had plenty of free seats and space for the luggage. The number of passengers was changing throughout the journey, at times getting more busy. We stood or sat at the open doors for most of the way until Hatton since the views were spectacular.

train passes through a tea garden, giving way to a forest of slender trees and a high, rocky moutain on the Ella - Kandy route
Train winding its way trough the mountains

I’ve seen many beautiful railway routes in my life, but none can compare to that section between Nanu Oya and Hatton. The train snakes between tea estates and there are open views at the distant mountain range for most of the time. Sometimes, instead of tea plantations, we would pass by forested hills. There were plenty of tunnels on the way, too. Plenty of curves guarantee good shots of the train itself. We were positively surprised to have another glimpse of both Devon Falls and St. Claire’s Falls from the train.

Wide St. Claire falls at the bottom of a valley with tea gardens and a road above it seen from the train in the Sri Lankan Tea Country
St Claire’s Falls as seen from the train

Plenty of people got off at Hatton and that’s when we got back our seats with a window view. Since Hatton is located 1200 meters above sea level, the views continued (in a less spectacular form) for another hour or so. The train arrived at Kandy at 1.30 pm.

PRACTICALITIES

Prices [in Sri Lankan rupees as of Feb 2019]:
35 3rd class (unreserved) train Ella- Haputale
55 3rd class (unreserved) train Haputale – Nanu Oya
120 3rd class (unreserved) train Nanu Oya – Kandy


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