If you seek adventure, waterfalls, nature’s beauty, and a chance to watch birds to your heart’s content, Kihtulgala is the place for you. Famous for white water rafting, short-distance hiking, and as the favoured home of a variety of birds, Kithulgala is a miniature adventure that awaits your visit.
Kithulgala is a fleck on the map of Sri Lanka’s rising mountains and has captivated adventure frenzy travellers looking for an action-packed holiday. Kithulgala is packed with adventure lovers and tour operators eager to launch whitewater-rafting tours on the frothy Kelani Ganga River or traverse the interesting hiking trails in the woods. Those who are after a little something cerebral can take a trip to the historic Belilena Cave where a 20,000-year-old human remains were discovered! Kithulgala is popular for Kithul Palms (Caryota urens) a tree native to Sri Lanka and some parts of South Asia. The sweet syrupy Kithul treacle is made from the sap of this palm tree.
We are sure you didn’t know that the 1950’s Oscar-winning film The Bridge on the River Kwai was shot in the picturesque setting of Kithulgala!
Travelling to Kithulgala
Many people travel to Kithulgala on Sri Lanka group tours by travel operators so transportation is included in the package. If you are looking to venture on your own then here are your travel options.
You need to take the Colombo – Hatton bus from the Fort bus station and get down in Kithulgala.
This is the easiest way to get around but not the cheapest. You can travel from Colombo to Kithulgala in 2.5hours by car. You can book an Uber or PickMe (local alternative to Uber) to get there too.
Where to stay in Kithulgala
Kithulgala Rest House
The Kithulgala Rest House is managed by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation. It is the perfect spot to relax after an adventurous day. This is the most popular place to stay in Kithulgala, maybe because it’s been around for over 50 years. It’s a charming guesthouse that serves mouthwatering local food and western dishes. Try their desserts!
Kumbuk Sevana Adventure Camp
For adventure-loving budget travellers this is the best place to stay. Located on the riverbank, this is a campsite that you can enjoy yummy and cheap food. They also have BBQs on weekends. It’s easy to book a white water rafting or canyoning tour from here. Camping here is a great option for budget travellers.
If you are looking for luxury then try the Palmstone Retreat. This is a small hotel that offers 5 start experiences to visitors. Hidden among the lush greenery and cascading waterfalls, the retreat offers luxurious accommodation with unique dining options.
Things to do in Kithulgala
White Water Rafting in the picturesque Kelani River is extremely popular in Sri Lanka. It covers four minor rapids and five major rapids and has fascinating names to them such as Butter Crunch, White quarter, Virgin’s Breast, and Head Chopper. Children above 10 years can take part and all safety precautions are taken. Patches of forest surround the river; this makes the experience even more exciting and adventurous.
Best time for whitewater rafting in Kithulgala
April to November is considered the best time for rafting. During this time the southwest monsoon increases the water level in Kelani River. This may create furiously strong rapids but it does go back to its usual form. It is very important to your safety that you go rafting with a professional guide. There are many operators in Kithulgala including Rafters Retreat, Borderlands, Action Lanka, and Adventure Base Camp. Going by yourself could be dangerous if you are unfamiliar with the rapids and the surrounding. The operators provide all safety gear so all you need to do is wear something appropriate and get into the raft.
Blackwater rafting in Kitulgala
If whitewater rafting is not wild enough for you then, try blackwater rafting! This is actually rafting at night and it’s a challenging step forward for adventure junkies looking for extra adrenalin pumping fun. This is not available every day so check with the tour operator if you are interested. You will be equipped with headlights during the night adventures.
Caving in Kithulgala
Sri Lanka is the perfect destination for caving. There are numerous caves located around the country. The Belilena Cave in Kithulgala is a significant site. It’s a massive cave in which the remains of a 20,000-year-old skeleton remains were found. To reach the Belilena cave you need to do an 8km hike and you get a chance to witness the rural village life on your way. You can take time to mingle with the local and even enjoy a mouthwatering traditional Lankan lunch!
Hike in Kithulgala Forest reserve
Kithulgala Forest reserve also called Makandawa covers more than a thousand hectares. To access the forest you need to cross the Kelani River on a boat. There are myriad birds here including lowland endemic species. The hike will cover low country tea and rubber plantations, hilltops, and interesting little natural wonders. Be wary of the clingy leeches! You can expect to see the endemic purple face leaf monkey as well as wild boar, Layard’s Striped Squirrel, Mouse Deer, and Grizzled Indian Squirrel.
Best time to hike in Kithulgala
The best months are from February to April due to no or little rainfall. However, you can go during other months by checking the weather updates.
Taste the world’s best dessert (We are not kidding!)
We urge you to have the relishing curd (something very similar to yoghurt but thicker and made with buffalo milk) and palm treacle poured over it! It’s a healthy sweet surprise that you cannot but love!
Tips for adventures in Kithulgala
- Carry sunscreen, sunglasses and a cap
- Take appropriate clothes for rafting
- Wear comfortable shoes (trainers will be useful)
- Mosquito repellent will be useful especially if you are camping
- Leech socks will be a lifesaver during hikes and treks
- Make sure you wear proper safety gear during watersports
- Bring your camera
- If you plan to take a birding tour don’t forget your binoculars
- Try palm treacle!