The rhythmic clatter of wheels on weathered tracks, the carriages with open doors and beautiful landscapes – riding a train is one of the must-do’s when visiting the country of Sri Lanka. And not only for transportation reasons. For many, taking a train in Sri Lanka is a bucket-list-worthy experience that immerses you in the very soul of this lush island.
The most famous Sri Lankan train travels between the town of Ella and the city of Kandy. Known as: Ella-Kandy train. Or the other way around.
And even though the train winds its way through scenic landscapes, offering panoramic views of valleys, waterfalls and terraced tea plantations, this iconic journey can be stressful if you want to take the perfect Sri Lankan train photo as well.
What if I told that there was another way? That you could snap this iconic photo and fully enjoy the Ella-Kandy train ride? That there was another train ride that you could take?
Read to find out.
How to take train photos in Sri Lanka – the secret train route!
1. Be in Ella.
Firstly, to take this less travelled train route you have to be in the town of Ella. Because the train you have to get on to take this perfect train photo in Sri Lanka, travels between:
Ella and Badulla!
Badulla is a town located north of Ella, in the scenic heart of Sri Lanka’s hill country. It’s surrounded by tea plantations and offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Badulla is actually the starting point for the Ella – Kandy train journey (well, some trains set off from here).
This mini guide doesn’t require you to stay in Badulla, because you can take a return train to Ella, but if you feel like exploring another Sri Lankan town, feel free to stay for a bit.
Unlike Ella-Kandy route, the train from Ella to Badulla will pass the famous Nine Arch Bridge. So if you’re ready and brave enough, you can snap a photo then. But as far as I remember, the train was going too fast on this part of the route (for my taste) and it was kinda scary to lean out. Plus even in the early morning you might have people in the background.
And in my opinion this shot doesn’t look like anything.
2. Take an early train.
If you want to snap a Sri Lankan train photo in great light and mysterious fog, you should take the earliest train possible. Now, I can give you a train schedule, and I will, but timetables in Sri Lanka are kinda useless. There’s a 99% chance that the train will be delayed. I took the earliest train of the day (6:05 am) and waited around an hour for it to arrive.
Trains from Ella to Badulla.
6:05 am; 1:24 pm; 3:15 pm; 5:27 pm; 6:22 pm.
Trains from Badulla to Ella.
5:45 am; 8:30 am; 10:00 am; 11:00 am; 5:50 pm.
I DO NOT GUARANTEE THAT THIS SCHEDULE IS CORRECT!
It would be wise to head to the train station a day before your Badulla trip to check the most recent timetable.
Anyway, as I said, I was at the station early in the morning, to catch the 6:05 am train. It came after 7 am. The journey took 60-90 min…or maybe a bit longer, because I remember missing the 10 am return train and having to wait a bit for the 11 am one. Like I said, planning anything according to train timetables in Sri Lanka is pointless.
3. Pick the correct side of the train.
Yes, you want to be on the most green, bushy and filled with palm trees side of the track. As far as I remember on the way to Badulla, the left side offered the best views. And on the way back to Ella…well (obviously?!?), the right side. The train also goes through villages and not so picturesque parts of the countryside, so you kinda have to wait for your moment, but I guarantee that the beautiful scenery will appear.
Do you want to enjoy beautiful scenery everywhere you travel? You have to take care of it! Download my free guide on being an eco-friendly traveller and help to protect our Planet!
4. Wait for the train to slow down.
Since the majority of the train journey traverses hills, it slows down quite a bit, so it’s actually easy to lean out and take this famous train shot. Of course, it takes some time getting used to – I think I needed good 15-20 min to feel confident enough to fully lean out, but later on, it was actually quite fun. Riding the train “on the edge” gives you this weird feeling of freedom.
5. Enjoy the experience.
Since the journey takes about 90 min, you’ll have plenty of time to take this perfect train photo in Sri Lanka and to simply enjoy the views and your time on the train. Compared to the Ella-Kandy train, the Badulla route is mainly ridden by the locals, which makes it less crowded. Especially if you take an early train.
If I have to be honest, I took the Badulla train mainly for photos, but I’m super glad that I did. The views were equally pretty, I could enjoy my time without being interrupted by hundreds of people and the photo taking process was actually super fun. Plus – no strangers in my photos. I even had a few chats with friendly locals and some Sri Lankan boys took a few photos of me, that we later exchanged. Having taken the Ella-Kandy train as well, the Badulla journey is the one I remember most fondly.
6. Be safe.
Last but not least, the safety issues.
Under my Instagram photos I received some comments that leaning out of the train is dangerous, that it’s banned and you shouldn’t do it. Well, firstly it’s not banned – it’s the way the locals travel too. Secondly, you always should do whatever is comfortable for you – if you’re too scared of leaning out, simply don’t do it. But thirdly yes, you have to be careful!
- Don’t lean out when the train goes too fast!
- Keep in mind that it’s a train track, so there are electricity pylons along the side.
- Keep you eyes open for palm trees and all sorts of bushes that grow close to the track.
Well, just use your brain, be reasonable and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Ok, we’re done here. Hope you enjoyed my mini guide to taking a train photo in Sri Lanka. If you took the train to Badulla and managed to snap a few shots, send me a DM on Instagram or leave a comment here.
But I’d recommend taking this train even if you’re not planning on taking photos. I can guarantee that it will be a better and more authentic experience than taking the Ella-Kandy train.
If you like riding trains, I’m sure you’ll be fascinated by cute little capsules that you can take in Busan, South Korea. Read my top tips!
Hi, it’s Aga, the author of this blog. If you found this blog post interesting, entertaining or useful, please think of buying me a virtual coffee to support the site’s running costs. But if you know me, I might actually spend it on coffee 🙂 Thanks!
Pin for later!