I’m going to be drinking a lot more tea after this trip! Sri Lanka is the world’s 4th largest producer of tea (which is incredible for a country the size of West Virginia). The tea factories and plantations are in the mountainous central region of the country, and the best way to see them is by taking a train or driving through the mountains.
We took the train for most of the route from Colombo to Kandy to Nuwara Eliya to Ella, and it’s such a fun experience passing different terrains and seeing people in the stations.
Here are the different ways you can see the countryside:
This is peak season for tourism, so we weren’t able to get a train ticket from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. We ended up hiring a driver for 7,500 rupees ($50), and I’m so glad it worked out that way. Because we had a car, we were able to stop along the way to see waterfalls, awesome mountain views and the Blue Field Tea Factory.
The Blue Field Tea Factory only produces black tea, though the same plant also can produce green tea. We saw the women in the fields picking the leaves…
and a woman at the factory gave us a five-minute tour. After the tour, we stopped in their café for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. It was good to get out of the car too, because the winding roads up the mountain were starting to make me car sick!
Riding the Train:
Riding the train in Sri Lanka is an experience as well. There are several different types of cars you can buy tickets for. The website Seat61 was so helpful in laying out the ticket options and providing links. We tried several different cars:
Rajadhani Privately-Run Car: The reserved tickets for Colombo to Kandy were sold out, so we bought tickets for the Rajadhani, a private company that hooks onto the public train. Buying the tickets was an experience! First, we asked about reserved tickets at the window labeled 1st and 2nd class reserved. The man said they were sold out that day and turned us away. Next we called Rajadhani, but they just said to buy tickets at the station – with no details on where. We asked at three different ticket windows, before someone pointed us back to the man at the very first window. Why didn’t he tell us Rajadhani was an option, instead of turning us away? Customer service is different in Sri Lanka.
The Rajadhani cars are 1970s fancy and air conditioned, but everything is quite worn down. They give you a water bottle, and you can order food from the attendant. They also have a TV playing without sound, so I was able to watch Kung Fu Panda 2 and part of Minions.
2nd Class Reserved: We had these tickets for our Nuwara Eliya to Ella trip, and these were my favorite seats. The seats are basic without many frills, but there is plenty of space for luggage. The best part is that the windows are open, so I could take great pictures. It relaxing and breezy. As long as it’s good weather, I recommend this ticket option.
1st Class Reserved: The 2nd class tickets were booked for the return leg of our trip, so we booked 1st Class Reserved. The seats are nicer, and you have your own compartment with two seats and a curtain. The air conditioning is good, so the seats are nice. But there is no overhead or under-seat storage, making it feel cramped. And it’s not as fun for taking pictures, since the windows are sealed shut! (Also, if you’re on the Galle to Fort Colombo train, try to get seats on the left side of the car – that’s where all the beautiful coastal views are!)
Riding around the country and drinking Sri Lankan, or Ceylon, tea was such a beautiful way to explore the country. The tea is sold to many global tea manufacturers, including Lipton. Tea that’s 100% from Sri Lanka has a “Lion Logo” that’s monitored by the Sri Lankan Tea Board, so I’ll definitely be looking for that label when I get home.