The magnificent Sinharaja rainforest and the village of Kitulgala, which is popular for white water rafting, are situated in the western foothills, sandwiched between the west coast and the central highlands. This is an area of rolling hills, tropical rain forests and winding rivers. The Sinharaja tropical rainforest is renowned as a hotspot for birdlife. Ratnapura, is on route to Sinharaja and is home to a long-established gem industry. The sleepy riverside village of Kitulgala owes its popularity to the Kelani River which offers Grade 3 and 4 rapids for rafting.
>Trek in Sinharaja’s tropical rainforest
>Spot unique ‘mixed-species’ bird flocks of the Sinharaja
>Go white water rafting or canoe and mountain bike in Kitulgala
>Camp at the edge of the winding Kelani River
>Take a magical night-time climb up the sacred Adam’s Peak
>Visit gem mines in Ratnapura
Sinharaja Rainforest can be variously accessed from Colombo, Kandy, Uda Walawe and the south. Kitulgala is on the A7 and can be reached directly from Colombo, Kandy or the highlands. A two-hour drive east from Kitulgala takes you to Hatton, Adam’s Peak, Dickoya and Nuwara Eliya in the Hill country.
The significance of the Sinharaja tropical rainforest was recognized in 1989 when UNESCO declared it a protected World Heritage Site. The Sabaragamuwa province, in which Sinharaja sits, is of great archeological importance with the discovery of Stone Age settlements in Balangoda. Considered to be the earliest settlement on the island, the excavated artifacts are currently on display in the National Museums of Ratnapura and Colombo. Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, is a significant place of worship for devotees of many faiths. It is believed that Sri Pada is one of three sacred locations on the island that was visited by Lord Buddha. Each year, thousands of devotees and a steady trickle of travellers climb to the top of this sacred mountain during the season from December to April.
Ratnapura town is filled with gem shops where you can buy gemstones as well as gem studded jewellery. Most places have their workshops at the back where the coarse gem stones found in the depths of the soil are cut and polished. The National Gem & Jewellery Authority regulates Sri Lanka’s gem industry and it is important that a certificate of authenticity is obtained.
Birding in Sinharaja: Head to Sinharaja rain forest during November to March, April and August to spot the Mixed Species Feeding Flocks and other forest birds.
Saman Devala Perehera: The Saman Devala in Ratnapura hosts an annual Perahera on the full-moon Poya day of July or August. This pageant displays traditional folklore, music and the rhythmic dance forms of the Sabaragamuwa region. Dancers, drummers, Chieftains in traditional attire, and elephants dressed in glittering cloaks are all part of this colourful pageant.
The Sinharaja Reserve has a wet equatorial climate and, in common with the south west highlands which it fringes, is one of the wettest part of Sri Lanka. Dryest months are January to March and July to September. Sri Lanka is affected by two monsoons which generally means that there is good weather somewhere. The main south-west (“yala”) monsoon brings rain to the west and south-west coasts and hills largely between May and July. The north-east (“maha”) monsoon hits the east coast predominantly from November to January. There is also an inter-monsoonal period of unsettled weather in October.
Nature lovers should not miss the Sinharaja tropical rainforest. The Sinharaja is a biological treasure trove with numerous species of unique fauna and flora, not found anywhere else in the world. It covers about 11,000 hectares of low land rain forest and is a valuable storehouse of scientific knowledge. Dense, dark, muggy and mysterious, Sinharaja Rain Forest is teeming with life. Tall trees with rustling leaves; gigantic ferns and wild orchids; gushing waterfalls and gurgling streams; creaking crickets and butterflies fluttering by – all nature’s wonders, untouched by man. Apart from the very distinct atmosphere, which is created by this great cacophony of noise and movement, Sinharaja is particularly renowned as a hotspot for birdlife. 34 out of 36 bird species endemic to Sri Lanka are found here
En route to the Sinharaja is the town of Ratnapura, home to a long-established gem industry. It is here that villagers from the surrounding gem fields gather to sell their precious stones to local gem merchants, international traders and tourists. In Sri Lanka, traditional jewellery worn by local women is set in 22 carat gold and is considered a valuable investment and a basic accessory. According to tradition, even the poorest of families will want to purchase a pair of gold earrings for a new-born girl.
Kitulgala offers rafting on Grade 3 and 4 rapids down the Kelani River. Travel through jungle-clad hills and plantations growing low-country tea and rubber. Just across the Kelani River is a small, lush primeval forest, home to about 54 rare species of birds, including the indigenous white owl. Jungle trekking, outdoor camping, and mountain biking is also possible. A two-hour drive from Kitulgala will take you to Adam’s Peak, a 2,234m mountain that is a sacred pilgrimage site for people of many faiths. The climb to the summit is possible from December to April and is recommended for the active walker. (see Hill Country).