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Sinharaja & Kitulgala
Snapshot
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 rainforests and winding rivers. The Sinharaja tropical rainforest – a UNESCO International Man and Biosphere Reserve, is renowned as a hotspot for birdlife. 34 out of 36 bird species endemic to Sri Lanka are found here. Trekking through this bewildering land of exotic colours and wonderful sounds is an experience of a lifetime. Ratnapura also known as the `city of gems’, is on route to the Sinaharaja and is home to a long-established gem industry. The sleepy riverside village of Kitulgala owes its popularity to the Kelani River which offers exciting Grade 3 and 4 rapids for rafting. 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.
Don’t Miss
Trekking in Sinharaja’s tropical rainforest
Spotting unique 'mixed-species' bird flocks of the Sinharaja
Thrills and spills of an exciting white water rafting adventure in Kitulgala
Camping at the edge of the winding Kelani River
Canoing, kayaking and mountain biking in Kitulgala
Magical night-time climb up the sacred Adam’s Peak
Visiting gem mines in Ratnapura
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Getting There
Situated in the Sabaragamuwa Province, the Sinharaja Rainforest can be accessed from Colombo, Kandy, Uda Walawe and the south. Kitulgala is on the A7 route and can be reached by road 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.

Useful drive times include: Colombo to Ratnapura (2.5 hours); Ratnapura to Sinharaja (2 hours); Colombo to Sinharaja (4.5 hours); Kandy to Sinharaja (4.5 hours). Colombo to Kitulgala (2.5 hours); Kitulgala to Adam’s Peak (2 hours); Kandy to Kitulgala (3 hours); Nuwara Eliya to Kitugala (2.5 hours); Dickoya to Kitulgala (1. 5 hours)

Historical Background
The Sinharaja tropical rainforest, located a couple of hours east of Ratnapura, is a biological treasure trove which provides diverse habitats for numerous species of endemic fauna and flora, not found anywhere else in the world. The Sinharaja covers an area of about 11,000 hectares of low land rain forest and is a valuable storehouse of scientific knowledge. Its significance was recognized in 1978 when UNESCO declared it an International Man and Biosphere Reserve and soon thereafter, a protected World Heritage Site in 1989.

The Sabaragamuwa province 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.

Sights
Nature lovers should not miss the Sinharaja tropical rainforest. Declared by UNESCO as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve, trekking through this bewildering land of exotic colours and wonderful sounds is an experience of a lifetime. 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. 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.

Accommodation
Accommodation options just outside of the Sinharaja rainforest include Boulder Gardens, Rainforest Edge, Blue Magpie Lodge and Martin’s Lodge – a simple guesthouse that is popular with birders. Rainforest Eco Lodge set on a 500-acre working tea plantation bordering Sinharaja in Deniyaya, is also a good accommodation option in this area. This eco-lodge is close to the southern end of the Sinharaja rainforest and can be reached travelling north from Galle. In Kitulgala, accommodation is mainly in rustic eco-retreats and guesthouses. The Rafter’s Retreat and Borderlands offers ecologically-themed accommodation in wooden cabins on stilts or tents overlooking the Kelani River; Forest Edge offers comforatable a/c rooms and is set on a tea plantation, edged by a pine forest which is s and is about half an hour away from Kitulgala.

Food & Drink
Kitulgala, named after the 'Kitul' palm which is seen in abundance in this area, is famous for its Kitul juggery – a fudge that can be purchased from wayside boutiques. The Plantation Hotel and the Rafters Retreat are popular stopovers for a rice and curry lunch. The restaurants at both places sit right over the scenic Kelani River. Several basic roadside cafes in Ratnapura which is on the way to Sinharaja, sells shorteats (buns and pastries), cool drinks and tea.

Shopping
Ratnapura town is filled with inviting gem shops where you can buy gemstones as well as gem studded gold and silver 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 & Jewellry Authority regulates and maintains the standards of the country’s gem industry and it is important that a certificate of authenticity is obtained for gems that are purchased.

Events
Birding in Sinharaja: Head to the magnificent 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 Perehara (cultural pageant) 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 which is distinctly different to the Kandyan and southern dance forms.  Dancers, drummers, Chieftains in traditional attire, and elephants dressed in glittering cloaks are all a part of this colourful pageant.

Adam’s Peak climbing season:   Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, is sacred to all four religious groups in Sri Lanka – the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and the Christians.  During the climbing season from December to April, thousands of devotees from many faiths make the pilgrimage to the peak of this 2,234 meter mountain.  The climb is best attempted at night where you reach the mountain top to see the sunrise and the awe-inspiring view from the top.  It can be one of the most moving experiences in Sri Lanka.
Activities
Whitewater rafting in Kitulgala
Experience the thrills and spills of an exciting rafting adventure in a jungle paradise. Rafting mixes the ups and downs of rapids with calm sections that meander through the jungle clad mountains, tea and rubber plantations of the Kandyan hill-country. The scenery is breathtaking. Red Dot only uses Sri Lanka’s top guides, and if you can hear the instructions amidst the pounding water, you stand a better chance of remaining in the raft. In the calm stretches, sit back and float with only the hub of the rainforest to break the silence as you breathe in the wilderness. This stretch of the River Kelani offers grade 3/4 rapids, and is therefore great for beginners and experienced rafters alike.
Mountain biking in Kitulgala
Starting at Rafter’s Retreat, go on a bike trail on flat land and uphill through Kitulgala’s rural villages, past green forested hills and rubber plantations. En route, have a dip in a stream and relax by a waterfall. Mountain bikes can be rented from Rafter’s Retreat. Requires reasonable fitness.
Camping in Kitulgala
Camp at the edge of the Kelani River with Borderlands. Rise to the sound of bird call and the gushing waters of the Kelani; go white water rafting, kayaking, hiking, canyoning or trekking.
Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak is one of the great challenges of Sri Lanka to active holidaymakers with the urge to conquer. Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, is sacred to all four religious groups in Sri Lanka – the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and the Christians. The giant footprint at the top is variously claimed as an imprint either of Lord Buddha, God Shiva, Adam, or St. Thomas the Christian Apostle who preached in south India. This 2,234m is visited by thousands of devotees and a steady trickle of travellers from December to April. The climb is best attempted at night where you reach the mountain top to see the sunrise and the awe-inspiring view from the top. It can be one of the most moving experiences in Sri Lanka. During pilgrimage season, the stepped mountainside is lit by strip lights and rudimentary stalls offering refreshments to fire your resolve to reach the summit.
Jewellery making in Ratnapura
Cutting, polishing and setting of valuable gem stones into gold and silver to produce intricate pieces of jewellery is an art that is passed down in generations in this country. 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 have as a priority to purchase a pair of gold earrings for a new-born girl. The art of jewellery making can be observed at many shops in Ratnapura.
Ratnapura Gems
Home to a thriving gem and jewellery industry that dates back to ancient times, Ratnapura has been a vital source of precious and semi-precious stones for centuries. Sri Lanka is famous for its Blue Sapphires and is the source of two of the world’s largest: the 'Blue Bell' adorns the British crown and the 'Star of India' is on exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Other precious and semi-precious stones found here include Red Rubies, Cat’s Eyes, Alexandrites, Tourmalines, Zircons, Garnets, Amethysts and Topaz. The mining, cleaning, cutting, and polishing of these precious jewels is a skill that is passed down to generations and is still done manually according to traditional methods. Gem pits, simply covered open-sided huts with thatched roofs, are a part of Ratnapura’s rural landscape. Visit a gem mine and observe as the muddy gravel from below the earth surface is brought up and sifted through by hand. Watch as the rough stone is transformed into a sparkling gem through the process of cutting and polishing. Learn of the various gem stones and the cultural beliefs that surround specific gems.
Ratnapura’s National Museum
Housed in the Ehelapola Walauwa, this museum displays ancient historic artifacts from the Sabaragamuwa region and provides information about Ratnapura’s gem industry. The museum is closed on Thursdays & Fridays.
Saman Devale in Ratnapura
Built by King Parakaramabahu in the 13th century, the Saman Devale is dedicated by Buddhists to god Saman, considered to be the guardian deity of Adam’s Peak. During the colonial occupation of Sri Lanka, this ancient temple was destroyed by the Portuguese and a church was built on this site. Later it was rebuilt with the Catholic Church remaining alongside it.
Sinharaja Rainforest
The Sinharaja is a biological treasure trove which provides diverse habitats for numerous species of endemic fauna and flora, not found anywhere else in the world. The Sinharaja covers an area of about 11,000 hectares of low land rain forest and is a valuable storehouse of scientific knowledge. Its significance was recognized in 1978 when UNESCO declared it an International Man and Biosphere Reserve and soon thereafter, a protected World Heritage Site in 1989. 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 and should your tracker manage to find you one of the ‘mixed hunting flocks’ all you will need to do is stand and savour. Trekking through this bewildering land of exotic colours and wonderful sounds is an experience of a lifetime.
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