A DAY ON THE RAILS
It’s an early start today for what is likely to be the most spectacular journey of your trip. The HILL COUNTRY TRAIN FROM KANDY TO ELLA is widely regarded as one of the finest rail journeys in the world, a dramatic ride marked by epic scenery that begins not long after you chug out of Kandy’s old colonial-era station. Weathered locomotives heave themselves up through eucalyptus forests to a rolling landscape of immaculate tea estates, and you’ll pass waterfalls and Hindu shrines and plantations flecked with the brightly coloured saris of workers picking tea. At times, the train runs through little stations that look like they’ve been transplanted here from 1930s Britain; at others, the track passes so close to ramshackle villages that children race alongside and you can catch glimpses of women drying their clothes on rocks in the river. Whenever the train stops – at Hatton, Nanuoya, Haputale – vendors climb aboard and work their way through the carriages hawking soft drinks and deep-fried spicy donuts. It’s a long journey, nearly six and a half hours (if you’re on the earlier train out of Kandy) until you clack across the scenic NINE ARCH BRIDGE and chug your way into Ella. But it’s an amazing ride, no matter what class you’re travelling in, and if you’re very careful, you can stand in an open doorway between the carriages and watch some of the finest scenery in Sri Lanka roll by.
TOP TIP There are two useful EXPRESS TRAINS that run from Kandy to Ella (and beyond): the #1005 (which departs Kandy at 8.47am and arrives in Ella at 3.14pm) and the slightly quicker #1015 (departs 11.10am, arrives 5.16pm). This is a very popular route, so book your tickets in advance. You can reserve seats in 1st class (air-conditioned and with drop-down video screens – handy for younger kids on a long journey like this), 2nd class (bigger windows, so better views, and these ones actually open) and 3rd class (similar to 2nd class but not as comfortable); the best thing about 2nd and 3rd class, though, is that it gives you the chance to travel with the locals. Tickets cost an absolute bargain Rs.420 in 1st class, Rs.230 in 2nd and Rs.125 in 3rd; they’re half price for children under 12 and free for children under 3. If you’re using a driver-guide from an agency like Ayu in the Wild, then you can ask them to book your tickets for you. Otherwise, you can book them online with Visit Sri Lanka Tours (up to thirty days in advance) and then either pick them from the Mobitel counter at the airport, get them delivered to your hotel or collect them from Kandy Station itself; these tickets are still (relatively) cheap at £14 for 1st class and £13 for 2nd. If you haven’t reserved your tickets in advance, you can still book them ahead of time at Kandy Station (at Counter 1 or 2) or turn up on the day and buy a ticket for the 2nd or 3rd class unreserved carriages, though these will be packed to the gills and you’re unlikely to get a seat. Make sure you’re at the station at least half an hour before your train departs, longer if you’re having to buy tickets for the unreserved carriages.
WHERE TO STAY
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From safari camps to beachfront villas – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in Sri Lanka
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of Sri Lanka’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety and how to get around
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