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From Adventure to Finding Serenity: 10 Things To Do in Kitulgala, Sri Lanka

If you’re a daring explorer seeking an adventurous thrill or a wellness enthusiast looking to escape into the solace of the quiet wilderness, Kitulgala is your choice destination for a vacation in Sri Lanka. Located in the Central Highlands about 98 Km away from Colombo city, Kitulgala is a scenic stop you definitely want to make on your way to Kandy, Nuwara Eliya or Sri Pada. Kitulgala is Sri Lanka’s adventure capital where you can experience a variety of adrenaline-pumping water sports from white water rafting and waterfall abseiling to canyoning. Alike the namesake from which ‘Kitulgala’ is derived; the exotic ‘Kitul Palm’ tree that grows famously in this region from which delicious palm syrup is extracted to make some of Sri Lanka’s most iconic sweet treats, Kitulgala is home to many lush and verdant tropical rainforests where you can enjoy picturesque treks and birdwatching. Here are the Top 10 things you can do while you stay in Kitulgala.

White Water Rafting along the Kelani River

The abundance of hills and uneven landscapes in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, through which flows many waterfalls and rivers make up for some amazing opportunities to experience exhilarating water sports in this region. Particularly, the Kelani River that winds through Kitulgala is a hotspot of cascading rapids that are perfect for a day of white water rafting with your friends and family. If you’re a more experienced traveller seeking an action-packed ride, you can start off your journey with the 5 major rapids found at the upper section of the river. However, if you’re a beginner or you simply wish for a more relaxed ride while taking in the surroundings, you can commence rafting along the 4 minor rapids found in the lower section of the river where the water currents are less rigorous. Kitulgala is one of the best places to go rafting all year round, especially when the water levels of the Kelani River are more rapid during the monsoon season, offering a more challenging but exhilarating experience. All safety briefings and precautionary measures will be carried out by professionally trained instructors, and you will be required to wear a compulsory life jacket at all times. Even if you’re a non-swimmer don’t worry, you will have guides with you to assure your safety.

White water rafting in Kitulgala provides a unique sightseeing experience. If you’re a nature lover, what might hold more compelling for you in this journey is the peace and serenity of simply just floating through the waters and taking in the lush surroundings. As you follow the currents down the Kelani River, you get to observe stunning vistas of steep mountains, thick woodlands and rubber plantations with occasional sightings of the hidden wildlife scurrying about.

Makandawa Rainforest Trek

If you like to explore the lush natural beauty of Kitulgala’s woodlands, Makandawa Rainforest Reserve offers a tranquil hiking experience with mesmerising sights for some phenomenal photography. Here, you can trek underneath a canopy-like verdant forest overgrown with ancient trees that offers you a cool shade and a relaxing breeze throughout your journey. Since its declaration as a forest reserve in 1903, it is one of Sri Lanka’s most ancient reserves that covers an area of 1155 hectares, protecting an array of resident and migratory wildlife from insects, amphibians, fish, reptiles and mammals to birds as well as exotic plant life. Furthermore, hikers can enjoy interactions with the local community as well as the pleasures of discovering fairy-tale-like hidden waterfalls, streams and natural pools, where you can stop to take a refreshing dip before recommencing your journey. However, we advise you to definitely gear up with Leech socks as the lush rainforest floor is home to a throng of these critters. We at Moksha can also help you with hiking essentials so you can have a safe and wonderful experience. As the Kelani River flows through the reserve, you can also enjoy a peaceful canoe ride on the traditional ‘paaruwa’, or your guides can arrange white water rafting and canyoning expeditions during the monsoon seasons.

Hike to Aberdeen Falls

Named after the Scottish city of Aberdeen, this scenic waterfall is recognised as the 18th-highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, reaching nearly a height of 100 metres. If you prefer to simply enjoy the marvellous sights, you can view the falls from the observation platform. If you prefer an adventurous trek, you can hike a distance of about 1.2 Km along a trail that goes through a lush forest and climb over a steep set of steps that lead to the waterfall. At the base of the falls lies a deep and almost-bottomless pool where the enormous cascades descend with a powerful surge, creating a majestic spectacle to behold. Local folktales describe that a hidden tunnel stretches between Aberdeen Falls and the nearby Laxapana Waterfall. However, visitors must practise extreme caution when exploring the Falls, especially during the monsoon season when the water levels rise, and the rocky pathways become very slippery.

Waterfall Abseiling at Mannakethi Ella

Dare to push your limits to the test and experience a mountain high while exploring the beauty of Kitulgala? Then Waterfall Abseiling is definitely your favourite pick. This thrilling sport involves descending along the slippery slope of the spectacular Mannakethi Ella which is about 40 m in height and located 2 Km away from Moksha Boutique Hotel, Kitulgala. Waterfall Abseiling is a feat that requires endurance and strength in order to scale mighty cascades but offers a satisfying finish with a soulful reward of stunning sights of the surrounding rainforests, mountaintops and tea plantations. You can also enjoy a refreshing dip in the scenic natural pools located at the basin of the waterfall, once you have completed your challenging descent. While the height of the falls might look terrifying at first glance, there are concrete steps built to take you to all three levels of the waterfall. So, if you’re reasonably fit, you will find the concrete steps relatively easy to climb up and down. With the training and guidance of professionals, you can enjoy this exciting venture under the finest safety conditions.

However, if you want to enjoy a more calm visit to Mannakethi Ella, you can also take a walk through the village, which is located about 1 km from the main road and have a lively chat with the locals, while enjoying a steaming cup of tea offered at their home, and go for a swim in both of the natural pools created by the cascading water.

Hike to Handun Ella

A hidden gem relatively unexplored amongst the magnificent attractions in Kitulgala is the Handun Ella, named so, as it is located in an area that was once heavily populated with sweet-smelling handun trees centuries ago. Buried deep within the rainforest, this charming waterfall stands over 30m tall with beautiful cascades crashing over a sharply sloping rock face. Visitors with an appetite for adventure can enjoy an exhilarating hike of about 2 Km to reach the falls, by crossing a sharp terrain of slippery, jagged and uneven pathways that lead deep into the forest where the falls remain. As you climb about halfway along the rocky ledge, you will find a lovely large natural plunge pool collected from the falls. The surge of the falls causes it to overflow and gush into another pool below. Guests can engage in trekking, waterfall abseiling, and swimming in the pools during their visit to this stunning attraction.

Canyoning along the waterfalls of Kataram Oya

Canyoning, also known as rock sliding, offers a fun escapade amidst the thick forests of Kitulgala where you can enjoy a thrilling ride as you take in the stunning views of jungles, tea and rubber plantations as well as lovely mountain landscapes. Upon completing a 2 Km trek to Kataram Oya, found buried deep within Kitulgala’s wilderness, you will be astounded by the sight of a number of natural rock pools and picturesque waterfalls that are perfect to glide down along the smooth rock faces and plunge into its cool waters. With Kataram Oya’s 7 natural rock pools of varying degrees of height, you can enjoy different types of jumps and slides and conclude your adventure with a refreshing swim in the natural pools. This is indeed an exciting excursion you can take along with rafting on Kelani River.

Visit the film location of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Explore the beautiful landscapes that were featured in the Academy Award-winning film The Bridge on the River Kwai upon your visit to Kitulgala. The film based on the 1952 novel by Pierre Boulle explores the emotional stories of British soldiers who were enslaved to construct a bridge across the river Kwai during their imprisonment at a Japanese Camp in Thailand, following WWII. The locations featured in the film were shot on the Kelani River, surrounded by the wild thickets of Kitulgala. The bridge that was constructed then; stretched 425 feet long and rose 90 feet above the water. Today, only its concrete foundations can be found on either side of the river banks. The bridge that was built for the film was blown up as part of its narrative, and whatever later remained was demolished to safeguard the surrounding ecology. This film site is a popular landmark that white water rafters will find along their journey, while the same river will also lead you to Mannakethi Ella. While enjoying a splendid jungle trek to the film location, visitors can also meet the locals who had been featured in the movie and relive their exciting tales of filming in the wilderness.

Birdwatching at the Kelani Valley Forest Reserve

For avid birdwatchers, Kitulgala is home to many varieties of exotic birds both local and migratory to the region. The Kelani Valley Forest Reserve in Kitulgala was established to protect the watershed of the Kelani River and harbours many of Sri Lanka’s endemic birds, mammals, amphibians, fish, and uncommon species of butterflies and other insects. Alike the Makandawa Rainforest, you can view rare and protected wildlife, yet it presents some exquisite sights for particularly bird enthusiasts such as the Spot-Winged Thrush, Chestnut-Backed Owlet, Yellow-Fronted Barbet, Green-Billed Coucal, Red-Faced Malkoha, Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot and the Orange-Billed Babbler. It is also one of the few locations where the elusive Serendib Scops Owl may be seen. Visitors can also enjoy white water rafting along the Kelani river or a relaxing canoe ride arranged by tour guides. Previous birdwatchers who stayed at Moksha@Kitulgala have also photographed a rarer Black Eagle on our premises.

Visit the Wewalthalawa Plateau of the Halgolla Tea Estate

Considered one of the wettest and most lush regions of Sri Lanka, the Wewalthalawa plateau belonging to the Halgolla Tea Estate lies at the basin of a circle of mountains. As you enter from the Halgolla Tea Factory, you will be greeted by endless stretches of luminous tea bushes as far as the eyes can see. The roads wind in between the verdant tea plantations as well as picturesque woodlands where you can catch glimpses of its exotic fauna and flora. Halfway along the journey, you will encounter the Dripping Rock, which is a vertical rock face with lovely natural streams flowing along its surface. As you reach the top of the Wewalthalawa Plateau at a height of 2,800 feet, visitors can find a few local buildings amidst expanses of tea plantations with scenic sights all around, which are best viewed when visiting between February and April.

Explore the Belilena Caves

Take an expedition back in time and explore the pre-historic home of the legendary ‘Balangoda Man’, the early ancestor of Sri Lanka’s indigenous people. These caves are internationally well-known for their findings of skeletal remains that date back to approximately 13,000 years as well as evidence of human tool and fire usage going back to almost 32,000 years. These caves are also famed for their unique abundance of stalactite and stalagmite deposits as well as for the study of various nocturnal creatures native to the environment. Visitors can enjoy a thrilling hike along a steep path on a hillside to reach the Belilena caves, which are located about 30 minutes away from Moksha Kitulgala. While the road leading to the caves may be a bumpy ride, you can enjoy breathtaking vistas of rubber plantations and lush rainforest surroundings while you make your way to the hiking point.

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