10 Best Stops on Sri Lanka’s Scenic Train Route
If you’re thinking of doing Sri Lanka’s scenic train route, you’ve definitely come to the right place!

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To sum Sri Lanka up in a coconut shell, it’s pretty much the most perfect little island country to take a scenic train route around. Train tickets only cost a couple dollars, if that, and it doesn’t even matter if you have your own seat, because hanging out of the doorways is way more fun!
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The train routes run through local villages bustling with people, along endless hillsides of tea plantations, and even along Sri Lanka’s sandy beaches! Actually, to be completely honest, there are pricey tours that “take you” on the known “Sri Lanka scenic train route” which goes from Kandy to Ella, but it’s super easy to do on your own! Plus there’s a lot of places to see in between those two popular towns, so doing it on your own time will give you the option to hop off! Oh, and another thing! I found Sri Lanka to be very safe, and very catering to travelers. Locals are friendly, and interested to know where you’re from, and you’ll see on the trains that everyone is trusting enough to keep their luggage or backpacks overhead or on the floor! The trains do get quite crowded, in fact I had to sit on my luggage for a couple of long rides, but it really wasn’t bad, especially since I was sitting next to the open door! Below you’ll find the scenic train route I kind of created as I went during my 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, but you can adjust it on your own, and use the resources to add in other destination. I’ll also list some places that seemed cool but I didn’t have time to go to at the end! Also, if you want to stay connected in Sri Lanka, including most portions of the scenic train routes, check out the portable wifi and unlimited data hotspot that I use called Skyroam!

Here is my Sri Lanka scenic train route “from Colombo to Kandy to Ella”

Options: Travel an hour South to see Colombo; Stay the night in Negombo; Immediately start your journey to Pinnawala When you book your flight to Sri Lanka, it will say that you’re flying into Colombo, but really you’re flying into Negombo, which is an hour north of Colombo’s city center. If you want to see Colombo, go for it, but I didn’t really find it particularly enthralling compared to the rest of the areas of Sri Lanka that I experienced. To get down to Colombo, you can either take the local train (cheapest), a rickshaw if your luggage is small enough (second cheapest), an Uber if you can find one, or a taxi. I would recommend stopping in Colombo last though, as it’s a good base to stay in before your flight out of Sri Lanka. Also because if you follow my little scenic train route, it makes more sense to just get going to the next destination as soon as you arrive.
  • You can start your Sri Lanka scenic train route straight from the airport in Negumbo, or further south in Colombo
I arrived in Sri Lanka late at night due to a little mishap in my flight bookings, and booked a hotel last minute in Pinnawala on Booking.com which got me an extra discount. I didn’t know much about the area, other than that’s where Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was and that I HAD to see the elephants. So, I figured staying the night there and waking up early AF to be the first person to see them was a genius idea. It was a MEGA genius idea. Why? Because the majority of people who go to see Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage do day trips from Kandy or Colombo, and never stay the night. AKA I actually saved money, and got a VIP seating area! I knew the elephants were brought to the river that my hotel was on twice a day, but I didn’t know some are brought earlier than others. That meant I got to WAKE UP to them with no one else there! So for that reason, I’d highly recommend staying a night at one of the river hotels in Pinnawala before hoping back on your scenic train route!
  • Yep. I seriously woke up like this - advantages to staying by the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
-Train: From the Negombo Train Station, take the Colombo Communter ($1-2 USD, leaves hourly) south to the Ragama Train Station, where you’ll need to switch to the Express Train ($1-2, leaves 4 times a day so check the schedule), which you’ll take to Rambukkana Train Station. -Uber: I actually got super lucky and was able to snag one of the like, only Ubers on the whole island from the airport (I arrived late at night, so taking the train wasn’t an option). It costed about $30, and took only about 1 hour 45 minutes rather than the 3 hour train ride. If you happen to find an Uber driver, make sure you keep their information! -Taxi: Taxis are the most expensive, but also easiest to arrange since they have tourism companies in booths lined up right as you exit the arrival area. You can even have a company give you an exact price to pay for the trip, just make sure you let them know you only want that one ride. Otherwise they’ll try to sell you an entire tour. You can probably expect to pay between $45-60 for the ride to Pinnawala in a taxi. Best things to see/do: Watch the elephants bathe in the lake Visit the elephant poo products shop Walk across the river (when there’s no elephants in it) The only downside about this stop is that you’ll also get a front row view of how the elephants are treated. As much as I was hoping to get there and see free roaming elephants, the reality was that they were marched from the orphanage to the river twice a day, usually with chains on their ankles and the keepers riding on their heads. I’m not an elephant expert, but I also didn’t think it was necessary for the keepers to scrub them down twice a day. In fact, it looked like it was pretty stressful for them to lay down and get scrubbed with brushes. It was also hard for me to watch the keepers demand money from all of the tourists to feed the elephants bananas and take photos with them. I wrote my full opinion and more information about the “orphanage” in the link below if you’re interested in reading more… For full details about Pinnawala and my opinion on the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, see: How to Wake Up to Elephants in Sri Lanka for Less Than $50
Kandy isn’t too far from Pinnawala, and in my opinion, it also isn’t terribly exciting. I say that mostly because I’m not a fan of places that turn too much into tourist-centered destinations, where there’s constantly something trying to be sold to you, and you feel more like you’re at a foreign amusement park than a local city.
  • I just so happened to be in Kandy during the biggest religious festival in the world! They worship elephants, so it was nice to see them all with their tusks, but not so much being chained to one spot…PS, yes, that is his penis, not a small leg.
I did get extremely lucky with timing, and got to catch the biggest cultural festival in the world (and also get trapped inside of it for 6 hours) called the Kandy Esala Perahera which was pretty incredible, but other than that the main sites to see are the Kandy Lake, and the Temple of the Tooth.
-Train: Take the Express Train from Rambukkana ($1, departs 3 times per day) to Kandy Station (about 1 hour). -Rickshaw: As I was getting a rickshaw to take me to the train station, he somehow talked me into just driving me since it was a holiday and the trains were likely to be packed. I thought it would be fun since it’s all open, and I was able to bargain the 1 hour ride (with my luggage) for about $18. Best things to see/do: Temple of the Tooth Kandy Lake Dancing Festivals I again found a last minute deal on Booking called the Jasmine Villa Homestay which was actually a room in a guest house up in the hills that overlook the city. It was cute, but a bit far, so if you’re only staying for the night I’d recommend something closer to the city/train station.
Kandy is the official starting point of the known Sri Lanka scenic train route, so you’ll probably see a difference in the trains and people riding them once you board. Get a second class ticket just because it’s less crowded, but don’t bother with any of the first class AC cabin options because you’ll want to hang out the windows and doors anyway. The first hour or so is mostly through towns and stuff, but the second half of the journey is all through lush green hillsides and tea plantations! That being said, be sure to take the trains during the day when it’s light out! Kandy Train Information – Station: Kandy Station – Times: 3:30am, 8:47am, 11:10am, 5:00pm (*Note: times may change, so it’s best to check the boards at the station beforehand) – Cost: Between $3-10 depending if you want a sleeper/aircon train or a regular one (I did 2nd class for $5 and hung my feet out of the door) – Time: 4 hours (to Nuwara Eliya) Get more information on the different seat class options and additional train stops/times from this helpful post by Seat61: A Beginner’s Guide to Train Travel in Sri Lanka
  • We bought 2nd class tickets and the seats were full, so I sat on the floor in the doorway and it ended up being the best seat ever!
Talawakelle isn’t a town many people stop in. In fact, there are only two options for accommodation there, BUT, there are also two really cool waterfalls! To be completely honest, the reason why I ended up in this town was because I accidentally knocked my friend’s iPhone off the moving train with my GoPro pole, so after riding the train all the way to Nuwara Eliya 45 minutes later we had to take a rickshaw all the way back so he could look for it (somehow a local found it, found him, and gave it back), and since it was getting late we just stayed the night. It turned out to be a great idea since two of the biggest waterfalls that are “recommended to see in Nuwara Eliya” are actually in Talawakele! That being said, you can jump off the train at the Talawakele station, stay the night, wake up early to see the waterfalls (hire a rickshaw for the day), stop at the Tea Palace, then have your driver just bring you to Nuwara Eliya! There’s only two options for accommodation, but the one I stayed at was called Talawakele Rest House. Talawakelle Train Information – Station: Talawakelle Station – Waterfalls: Devon Falls, St. Claire Falls
  • Literally only stopped here bc I accidentally knocked my friend’s iPhone off the train, but it was 100% worth it to see these waterfalls in the tea fields!
For Devon Falls: Have your rickshaw driver take you to the “temple entrance”; it’s closer to the falls than the “scenic viewpoint” even though you can only go as far as the private temple at the end of it. From the entrance you’ll hike down steps and a winding pathway to a little old privately-owned temple, which is the closest view you can get. Someone actually lives there so be sure to take off your shoes, be respectful, and leave them a donation! For St. Claire Falls: Again you can only really see it from the viewpoint since it’s situated in the middle of tea fields, BUT! If you’re nice and friendly to the locals and your rickshaw driver, you can hike down the steep, dirt pathways in between the tea plants to a rock ledge that gives you a closer view of the wide, awesome waterfall! TIP: Invest in a destruction-proof phone case like the Nuud Lifeproof Case and a finger strap to avoid losing your phone on a moving train. If you do happen to lose something off a moving train, try to go back to the station closest to where it happened, and ask the locals working there; apparently it’s a known thing that people actually return lost items there!
  • This is the closest you can get to Devon Falls (unless you sneak down), and the viewpoint is from someone’s personal temple.

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