Sri Lanka is a country that has it all. From beautiful beaches to rich national parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites to incredible trekking trails, and from bustling cities to stunning hillside tea estates – there is certainly something for everyone. Even for the train enthusiast!
Said to be one of the most scenic train rides in the world, the Kandy to Nuwara Eliya rail route runs on the original tracks built by the British in 1864. Originally designed to transport tea and coffee from hillside estates, it’s now an important means of connecting major cities and a tourist attraction in its own right. After experiencing this historical train on our Wild About Sri Lanka group tour, I’ve put together this little guide about what to expect on the journey.
Kandy Train Station is bustling
We began our journey in Kandy, where we were greeted by a chaotic station! Tickets cannot be purchased online so most people were lining up to purchase their seats, luckily our guide had ours in advance and we could easily pass through the line with no fuss.
Our train was arriving from Colombo, and the departure times and platforms were meticulously displayed on the departure boards. Although, we were advised that these were more like guidelines than actual departure times!
The station was bustling with locals and tourists alike. The train also travels to the popular backpacker’s delight of Ella, a beautiful town known to appease those on a very tight budget. But we were heading for the high life, the stunning estates of Nuwara Eliya!
There are three cabin classes
There are three different cabin classes on the train the Nuwara Eliya. First and Second Class have reserved seating (on most but not all second class journeys) and large windows.
Third class, however, may seem like a good idea to save a penny, but seats are unreserved and capacity is whoever can squeeze in on the day. I highly recommend forking out for the upgrade – a few hours into the journey you will certainly thank me for it!
The journey gets better and better
The first quarter of the four-hour journey is, honestly, a little underwhelming. With expectations of stunning views of rolling hills, it’s easy to forget one needs to first get out of Kandy. Passing the outskirts of the city in itself is quite interesting. Family houses back right onto the tracks and give you a glimpse into local life. With houses and trees right outside the window, you start to become a little disheartened with the view – but sit tight! As the train starts to ascend so does the outlook.
Slowly but surely, the train begins to climb and the city limits melt away giving light to thick greenery. Tall trees draped in creeper vines line the railway track before stunning tea estates come into view. Local villagers stop, watch and wave as the train rattles by and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see the tea pluckers expertly harvesting tea leaves in the fields.
As the train powers on, there are stunning views (on both sides) of waterfalls in and amongst the tea bushes, small vegetable crops and farms, as well as the lush thick greenery which you can be sure is home to all sorts of Sri Lankan wildlife.
There’s food on board
The train itself is also a sight to see. Bright blue in colour, it’s most commonly seen with locals and tourists sitting on the edge of the open doorways or popping their heads out for some fresh air and a happy snap. Each carriage has a toilet and food and drink is available on board. Sellers hustle up and down the aisle yelling ‘pineapple, pineapple, pineapple….mmmmango, mango, mango!’ with incredible articulation.
Everything is available from fresh seasonal fruit, bread and hot nuts to drinks and even homemade samosas. It was a great way to sample the local cuisine and I would definitely recommend the sweet peanut. This local peanut toffee delicacy is impossible to stop eating!
Nuwara Eliya offers great high tea
On arrival in Nuwara Eliya, it’s almost impossible to believe that four hours have passed. Even the drive from the station to the town is stunning. With a camera full of photos there is no better way to finish the journey than by booking a delicious high tea in one of the beautiful estates.
We stayed in the old colonial style St Andrews by Jetwing, where high tea starts at just $12 USD per person. With stunning topiary bushes and an extensive tea menu, it’s the perfect end to a scenic day!