Sri Lanka is famous for one very special rickety old train and its journey through the mountains. We decided to give it a go ourselves, as well as visiting the home of the country’s tea plantations and more…
Stop 10 – Ella
Spend – We spent two nights in Ella, but if you’re really up for hiking all of the nearby routes through the mountains you could spend a few days there. If you’re planning on taking one of the most beautiful train journey’s in the world from Ella, it’s advised to buy your train ticket from the station in advance. So you should really allow at least two days to do this and see the sights.
Getting there – The lovely Jaya from our guesthouse in Tissa drove us to Ella for 6,000 rupees, about £30, including stops at a rubber plantation, one of Ella’s famous waterfalls, some beautiful Buddha statues in a very serene, unvisited spot and more. You can also travel by bus, you’ll need to change bus halfway through and it’ll cost you about £3 per person.
Stay – We stayed at the Nature Resort Guesthouse, which was really close to the station and you could watch the trains go past and the tea plantations from a balcony. It cost £12 a night for a double room with breakfast (no AC, but there was a fan).
Eat – We mainly ate street food while in Ella to try and save some money after the expense of visiting Yala. However, we’ve heard the Chill Restaurant is very nice. The breakfast at the guesthouse was delicious, including some tasty Sri Lankan pancakes filled with coconut and spices.
Do – Ella is a great place for hiking through the hills and visiting tea plantations. We climbed Little Adam’s Peak and stopped halfway up to watch a local volleyball match – Sri Lanka’s national sport! One of Ella’s biggest draws is the train journey between there and Kandy/Colombo – so this was our favourite thing to ‘do’. Through beautiful mountains and some of the best scenery you’ll see from any train window. We went to watch the train drive over the famous Nine Arch Bridge the day before we actually caught it. Quite the sight!
While on the train, Patrick made friends with the conductor and was allowed to head to the driver’s carriage to watch some of the journey from there. We also enjoyed watching the local sellers at each stop showing off their wares through the train windows and the comings and goings on the train.
Stop 11 – Nuwara Eliya
Spend – Nuwara Eliya is a convenient stop along the Ella – Kandy train line and many people like to stop there as it’s one of the highest parts of the mountain range. We spent one night there and for us, that was more than enough. The town is known as Little England as many British people lived there during colonial times. However, there’s not an awful lot to see apart from a few pretty old buildings. If you don’t mind a six hour train journey without a stop there, we’d suggest missing it off your itinerary if you’re in a rush. The journey from Ella to Kandy is absolutely stunning and the time will whizz by if you don’t want to stop at Nuwara Eliya.
Getting there – The train journey from Ella to Nanu Oya (the nearest station to Nuwara Eliya) cost us 400 rupees each (£2). We’d recommend travelling in the ‘3rd class reserved’ carriage. It’s clean and wasn’t too busy but is still a bargain price. A tuk tuk into Nuwara Eliya was 500 rupees (£2.50), however, make sure you agree the price to your specific guesthouse (not just to the town) before getting in. There’s a known con among the tuk tuk drivers there where they suddenly ‘realise’ halfway through the journey that your guesthouse is quite far out of town/too far up a hill so it’ll cost twice as much… A stern ‘500 rupees to our guesthouse or you can let us out here and we’ll find another tuk tuk’ should work if you do get caught in this.
Stay – We stayed at the Lake View Guesthouse, which cost about £8 including breakfast (no AC, just a fan). It was definitely the most basic guesthouse we’ve stayed in in Sri Lanka, there was quite a bit of damp (because you’re so high up you’re basically in the clouds), there was a 12 hour powercut the night we stayed and our room didn’t have any windows. However, definitely not the most basic place we’ve stayed on our whole trip and the owner was so lovely and helpful – we felt really at home. He showed us lots of things we could do in the area for free and really understood the needs of backpackers on a budget.
Do – The train journey here really is the big sight but we visited some beautiful old colonial buildings, like the Old Post Office. We also took a walk around the lake, a very popular choice with local tourists. However, the clouds descended just beforehand so we were walking through mist the entire way round, unable to see further than 10 metres in front of us! If you want to do this walk, make sure you go in the morning.
The next day, we hopped back onto the train to Kandy for more incredible scenery and views. The tickets cost us 400 rupees each (£2) and we booked them the day before at the station. See our photos from Ella, Nuwara Eliya and our journey through the mountains below. Then read about other legs of our Sri Lanka trip – HIKKADUWA TO MIRISSA – and – TANGALLE TO KATARAGAMA.