This was probably the thing I was most excited to do during our week in Sri Lanka. This train ride has been on my bucket list for such a long time and there is something so relaxing about travelling by train. For the duration of this journey I was literally glued to the window unable to take my eyes off the views unfolding outside. Now the problem with wanting to do something for so long is that you have high expectations but thankfully the Colombo to Ella train did not disappoint, in fact I think every expectation was beaten.
The Blue Train
This train line runs a few different trains along the journey and shock, horror, they are not all blue. So I have to say I was crossing my fingers for a blue train for our journey. There’s just something about this one that seems more authentic and prettier… As luck would have it a delightful blue train rolled into the station for us on both journeys.
TIP: It is possible to book your train tickets in advance using a couple of options. This will cost you more money but will save you time and hassle on your holiday. It will also enable you to get a reserved seating ticket.
Our journey in Colombo from the Fort station which was every bit as intense as I had imagined. We had already purchased our tickets online using Visit Sri Lanka Tours as we didn’t have much spare time to play with but I was so grateful we had done this as the line for tickets was long! We breezed straight into the station, handing our ticket over to the guard for inspection (they won’t let you onto the platforms unless you have a ticket) and received instructions on where to go immediately. I’d read up on Seat 61 website that the display board was on platform 3 so we headed here just to double check the information we’d been given. It was of course correct and within a few minutes of waiting our ride rolled into the station.
Finding our carriage was pretty simple thanks to the ticket numbering and the helpful guards at the station. It didn’t take us long to get comfy in our seats, pull the window down and stow our luggage above our heads. For this part of the journey we had 2nd class reserved tickets and I can’t help but think these were the best tickets to have.
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Colombo to Hatton
We wound round the outskirts of Colombo along the edges of homes and communities getting what felt like an obtrusive look inside. Many lived in tin shacks which can’t have been more than one room large and bare ground across many of the floors. Although I’d visited Colombo before I was still taken aback by these views. Though it wasn’t long though before we left the houses and city communities behind and vast green areas stretched out in front of our eyes. This would remain for much of the journey. It only really changed in gradient of hills and distance you could see across.
We decided to break our journey up into to two parts. The first being Colombo to Hatton, this meant our first leg was around five hours on the train. Or at least it was suppose to be, somewhere along the way we lost nearly an hour of time. We took the 8.30 train from Colombo on a Saturday morning and despite hearing this was a busy time to travel it didn’t feel busy.
For the majority of the journey I had my head partly out of the window just enjoying the views and fresh air taking photo after photo of it all. I don’t think I stopped grinning the entire time. We were sat on the left of the train in the direction of travel (although it changes direction in Kandy so then became the right) and enjoyed great views for pretty much the entire time. There were a few occasions where we had the edge of the hill blocking our views but these were never long lasting. The other side of the train maybe had slightly more of this during the early part of the journey but after Kandy you can’t fault the views.
Staying in Hatton: We chose to break up our journey on the train so that we could stay on a tea plantation in a colonial building. It was such a cool experience and one I would highly recommend. We stayed at Royal Majesty Bungalow which was around 30 minutes from the train station.
Hatton to Ella
We rejoined the train the next day at 1.30pm to complete our second leg of the journey and this train was a lot busier. It was Sunday by now and everyone we spoke to, double checked we had booked our tickets in advance as it would be ‘very busy today’. We already knew this as when our agent had booked our tickets there were no available 2nd class reserved tickets so we were in first class for this part. This was both a pro and a con, the latter because the windows did not open but the former because it had AC, comfier seats and open doors near our carriage. The lack of open doors near our 2nd class reserved carriage had been a disappointment the previous day for this adrenaline bunny who wanted to hang out the side of a moving train. My husband was probably quite pleased about the lack of open doors though.
The views before and after Hatton probably have to be the best in my opinion. For the most part of this section there were views of tea plantations for miles and miles on both sides of the train. We were often high up in the hills giving amazing vistas across the landscape and the train slowed or stopped regularly to photograph it without blurring.
Much to my husbands dismay my favourite part of this journey was hanging out of the doorway and experiencing just what taking a train ‘local style’ feels like. Just having the fresh air whipping through my hair as the bright greens of the countryside dashed through my vision was everything I hoped for from this iconic journey.
What you need to know
Trains run from Colombo to Ella four times a day and tickets can be purchased at the station in person or through an agent up to 30 days before the date of travel. There is no direct link to buy Sri Lankan rail tickets online. As mentioned about Seat 61 recommend a few agents and we used Visit Sri Lanka tours.
There are three classes of carriages and they vary in price accordingly. 3rd class is unreserved and the cheapest, 2nd class has both reserved and unreserved seats on offer and first class is only reserved seats. The latter carriage also comes with a/c and is typically located at the far end of the train (the back in Colombo and the front any station after Kandy). In both 2nd and 3rd class carriages the windows open and there are fans above. Typically first class seats were only occupied by tourist but you’ll find locals and tourist among the rest.
You’ll be able to get both snacks and drinks during the train ride as vendors will come through the train an intervals. We were offered a wide selections of things from sandwiches, samosas and nuts to water, sprite and chai tea. There were a few station stops where vendors also came to the train window to sell you these items too. Most train stations also had a little cafe with a few snacks and samosas on offer.
All trains have toilets, although not in every carriage so you may have to wander to find one. These were typically squat toilets with no toilet paper or soap to wash your hands, so be prepared. I did find a ‘western’ toilet on one of the trains near first class and then realized that the symbol on the door showed what type of toilet was inside. I’d suggest trying to use the toilet while the train is going slow or stopped other wise you need some good holding on skills for those squat toilets.
Hopefully this has given you an insight into the Colombo to Ella train and if it wasn’t already on your bucket list, I expect it is now!
Read more | Why you need to visit Sri Lanka