Driving Matale, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya to Ella in Two Days

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Seatbelts on and eyes shut as we head out on Sri Lankan roads to continue our 7-day itinerary of Sri Lanka.

We find the driving in Sri Lanka is similar to Vietnam. Tooting, tailgating and 3-4 vehicles sharing the two-lane highway. 

Using a private driver is definitely the safer option than renting a car or taking a local bus. So instead of watching the Sri Lankan roads, sit back and watch the scenery.

For day three, we would drive through the spice region of Matale to the old capital of Kandy. And on day four, visit tea plantations and ride the famous train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella.

Spice gardens, tea plantations, and an iconic train ride in two days would be epic.

Exploring Matale, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Ella, we couldn’t wait to get started.

Visit Diana Spice and Herb Garden, Matale

Making a stop at Matale, the leading region of spice production in Sri Lanka for its pepper, cardamom, and cloves.

Nishantha had organized a couple of hours to learn about the medicinal properties of the spices. The information we gleaned from our guide was learning earning how to apply the spices to benefit the body.

It was fascinating to see the spices and herbs in their natural state rather than in a glass jar from the supermarket.

A unique plant was the coca tree (cocaine), used initially by workers to sustain long working hours. We were allowed to have a photo of the tree but not to touch it.

The tour concluded with a lovely shoulder and neck massage of sandalwood. 

You can purchase spices and medical ointments after the tour.

7 Things to Do in Kandy

Fall leaves from branches
Botanical Gardens, Kandy

Kandy got its name from the British, who struggled to pronounce the Sri Lankan name Kiri Muhuda.

Located on the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka’s longest river, the city is surrounded by mountains of greenery. And perhaps because of its central location, it was the last capital of the Sri Lankan King.

Kandy is a city you could spend a week and use as a base to explore more of Sri Lanka.

The town is easy to navigate and accessible by train. And there is plenty of cultural things to do in Kandy.

1. Bogambara Lake

The focal point of Kandy is Bogambara Lake. On the island in the middle of the lake is the former Royal Summer house (now a bathhouse).

2. Buddhist Temple of the Tooth

Next to Bogambara Lake is the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa).

A sacred relic is held within the Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Since ancient times, the relic has played an essential role in local politics. The belief is whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. 

The entrance fee to the temple is about USD10 per person.

3. The Royal Botanical Gardens

Bats hanging in a tree
Botanical Gardens, Kandy Bats hanging in a tree

Kandy’s Royal Botanical Gardens was established in 1843 and covers 59 hectares.

Plants from Kew Gardens, London, were grown to create a garden of trees and fauna along walkways and ponds.

But the best place to visit in the garden is the greenhouse of orchids.

Unfortunately, our visit was interrupted by a couple of massive downpours and hundreds of bats clinging to trees and flying mid-air.

The entrance fee to the gardens is about USD10 per person.

4. Kandyan Dancers

Dancers at Kandy

For a cultural experience of Sri Lanka, book a Kandyan dance performance at Kandy’s cultural centre. The legend is the dance was adapted from Indian shamans who came to Kandy.

The hour-long performance covers several dances, and a drum recital and ends with fire walking. 

The entrance fee is about USD3 per person.

5. Wearing an Indian Silk Sari

Shopping is always fun in new countries, looking for souvenirs or unique items.

We gave Nishantha a special request for Maura to dress in a traditional sari. Using his contacts, the ladies in a local clothing shop were fantastic in finding colours that suited them.

6. National Museum of Kandy

A former palace for the living quarters of the Queens of the Kings is known as Palle Vahala.

To learn more about the Kandyan period of the 17-19 century, the museum has over 5,000 items to view. And you get to see inside this amazing building.

7. Gemstones of Kandy

Sapphires are not just blue but can be yellow or pink.

Sri Lanka is famous for its gemstones, especially sapphires, since the 2nd century.

To see these beautiful gemstones or to make a purchase, there are plenty of shops in Kandy.

We visited Opanima Gems and Jewellery (Pvt) Ltd.



Pick Tea at Sri Lanka Tea Plantations

Growing up as kids, we had known Sri Lanka as Ceylon. The brand of tea our parents drank.

Once again, the British had given Sri Lanka the name Ceylon.

But what was a surprise, was the tea plantations with Scottish origins. 

Picking Tea at Glenloch Tea Plantation

Tea picking
Picking Tea near Kandy

Our drive from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya took us by some stunning scenery of Sri Lanka. 

Our first stop of the day was at Glenloch Tea Plantation. They organized an individual guide to explain the process of gathering the tea. From drying the tea, sorting the tea leaves and stalks, and finally, the fermenting phase required for black tea. 

Some of the machinery we saw is the original machinery used over 150 years ago. It’s still used today alongside new, improved machine technology.

Time for the tea tasting

Our new favourite is silvertip tea, which is the most expensive tea to produce.

Silvertip is a tea bud with less processing. You only need a few buds infused in water to make a delightful cuppa. 

We also learned tea sold to wholesalers may be mixed with other tea products. So, in the end, a consumer has no idea where the tea source is.  

Now pick some tea leaves. Maura had the gathering basket secured by a fabric belt on her head while Terry supervised (yes, the man’s role). 

We gave a gratuity to our guide before leaving for Nuwara Eliya.

Travel the Train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella

Train to Ella
Train to Ella

You can take the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and to Ella. But it would mean missing the tea plantation experience.

So, it was the windy and steep roads through the hill country for us.

It did mean we got to stop for a mountain view lunch between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. The vista from the restaurant balcony was breathtaking.

Getting the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella

When you first reach Nuwara Eliya, you could be mistaken for thinking you are in England.

This quaint town is often referred to as “Little England” because of the colonial houses and iconic Post Office.

Nuwara Eliya colonial train station is a starting point to catch the iconic train to Badulla. The train journey is a 2.5-hour trip to Badulla for the scenery of farms, valleys, and tea plantations.

Our driver purchased our tickets the day before in Kandy.

For the best views, the right side of the train passes by gardens and farms. Then swap after an hour for views of the valley as you emerge from the tunnel. Until you reach Badulla, the scenery is tea plantations.

Except at Demodara, the famous train station. It’s here the track travels back 360 degrees on itself for the final part of the trip. A must for photos.

Arriving at Badulla station, we were met by our driver and taken to Ella for the night. 

Things to Do in Ella

Ella is a tourist town in the hill country. The main street was buzzy with backpackers enjoying a beer, a curry, or a pizza. It reminded us of a ski resort town.

We stayed at Shadow Inn, which felt more like a homestay. Maura was helping with dinner, making Coconut Roti bread, while Terry chatted with fellow travellers. 

Location: Grand View, Pasara Road, Ella 90090, Sri Lanka


Wait for the Train at Nine Arches Bridge

Nine Bridges
Nine Arches Bridge near Ella

Our driver had planned a morning of train spotting and climbing a mountain.

Not quite what we expected.

However, the train spotting was to get the Sri Lanka iconic photos of the train crossing Nine Arches Bridge. The train we took yesterday from Nuwara Eliya to Badulla.

But to get the photo, we had a 20-minute bush walk. Terry is busy looking for snakes:

  • a viper snake
  • a cobra
  • a python

Some Sri Lankan households keep non-venomous rattlesnakes to kill rats and frogs. Luckily for us, the walk was uneventful, and we were in time to get some great photos.

Next was a hike up to Adam’s Peak.

Hiking Little Adam’s Peak

Little Adam’s Peak is actually three peaks with amazing views of valleys and hill country. 

The first section of the hike is around 350 steps to the first peak. But to get to the following two peaks, be prepared for a goat track. You’ll need to watch your footing.

It is exhilarating getting to the top of Little Adam’s Peak.

So we were quite happy to rehydrate with a mango lassi (milkshake) on our return.

What Else Is There to See in Sir Lanka?

It’s been a busy morning and a busy two days from Kandy to Ella.

But the highlight of the day is still to come.

In the afternoon, we are going on our first-ever safari to Yala National Wildlife Park.