The train ride from Ella, in Sri Lanka’s highlands, to Colombo is worth taking as a great way to see the hill country. It’s a 9-hour train ride and a lot more comfortable than taking the bus. Most of the journey (about 6 hours) passes through the hill towns on the way to Kandy and then from Kandy back in Colombo is a further 3 hours.
The parks area around Nuwara Eliya (such as Horton Plains National Park) is on this route so you could put in another stop if you wanted. The views are spectacular, and Sri Lankan Railways is happy to leave the carriage doors open so you can take a clear shot.
You can choose between an open-window 2nd Class or a more comfortable but slightly warm 1st Class with sealed windows. There are 4 daily trains from Ella to Colombo – the first at 6:39am works well, as you get morning light to see the mountains. I was able to book a seat on turning up an hour before at the station (reservations the afternoon before were no longer do-able, but there was plenty of space on the early departure).
The hill country presents small communities surrounded by tea plantations and highland scenery. An early start catches the mist in the valleys before it burns off.
The tea plantations work into the contours of the hills around them.
There is plenty of untamed countryside along the way.
A quick stop in Kandy.
Some Sri Lankan railway history – the railways date from the 1860s onwards…
And back to Colombo.
The other thing I liked about the route was having originally started from Batticaloa on the east coast (http://www.aerotrekka.com/eastern-sri-lanka-trip-highlands/), the options back to Colombo either involved very long bus journeys or just retracing my steps around the north of the highlands via Anuradhapura. Taking a bus from Batticaloa to Ella, and then this journey back to Colombo was a good way to split the distance and see the highlands as well.