Highlights of Kitulgala – a must-include in your Sri Lanka itinerary

by | Jul 3, 2022


Kitulgala, Sri Lanka, offers a beautiful river setting, low country tea estates, and jungle-like hills, making it an ideal destination for adventure lovers and environment enthusiasts. It is also the hub for exciting water sports activities such as white-water rafting, abseiling, canyoning and exploring waterfalls.

Located about 83kms from Bandaranaike International Airport and 100 kms from the city of Colombo, Kitulgala makes for a perfect stopover on your way to Nuwara Eliya to explore the hills of Sri Lanka. Kitulgala has also become famous as it was a featured shooting location in an Academy Award winning film – The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Canyoning and Abseiling – combined adventure

Canyoning is an exciting activity also known as rock sliding and is similar to abseiling but less daunting. The Kelani River is naturally designed in a way where many small waterfalls and rock pools are assembled. So, it has become a fun activity to slide down these slippery rocks and plunge into the pool below – somewhat like a natural mat slide.

Abseiling involves a short jungle trekking pathways until you get to the top of a waterfall. From here, you will be harnessed to a rope and will scale down the cliff face, slowly descending into the natural pool at the base of the waterfall. The adrenaline rush with abseiling is unmatchable!

If it is your first time in Kitulgala, zip lining is a mandatory excursion. You will have a bird’s eye view of the luscious greenery around you as well as the snappy Kelani River swishing its way through the forest.


Kitulgala offers falling-water campsites which makes the location a popular one amongst those interested in camping overnight. Guests can enjoy a magical experience – surrounded by an evergreen forest area, soothed with nocturnal sounds as well as the continuous rush of waterfalls.

Rainforest Trekking

Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy the trekking trails in Kitulgala. You will encounter crossroads of a variety of landscapes; you can decide whether you want to go through the tea and rubber plantations, a thick canopy of rainforest or ascend one of the rocky hills in the area. Whichever pathway you decided to choose, you are sure to have a fun-filled day!

The rainforest trekking trail in Kitulgala offers an abundance of endemic flora and fauna. The unspoilt environment provides for an enjoyable trekking experience as long as you are prepared for a long hike and are equipped with the necessary footwear and insect repellent. This trek is recommended with a guide, which you can get from most nearby hotels. The hills in the area are draped with a thick forest covering to avoid the sunshine hitting directly on your trail, but beware of the leeches!

Bird Watching and other Wildlife

Nature lovers are going to be thrilled at the bird watching experience in Kitulgala as there are a wide range of endemic bird species to be spotted while on the nature trail to explore the Kitulgala rainforest. 23 out of the 27 endemic birds of Sri Lanka can be seen in forest environments; few of which are named below:

  • Orange-billed Babbler
  • Chestnut-backed Owlet
  • Red-faced Malkoha
  • Hanging Parrot
  • White-faced Starling

Apart from birds, a variety of butterflies can be seen such as:

  • Tree Nymph
  • Red Helen
  • Blue Oak Leaf
  • Tawny Raja

Some of the popular amphibians seen amidst the Kitulgala greenery are the earless lizard, green pit viper and the hump-nose lizard, while some of the frequently spotted mammals are the wild boar, mouse deer and the purple-faced leaf monkey.

Belilena Cave

As one of the largest prehistoric caves in Sri Lanka, Belilena Cave is known for finding the remnants of the 12000-year-old Balangoda Man. A hike through lush tea and rubber plantations is required to get to the cave, in addition to a 1km ascent which will take you to the mouth of this large cave. Exploring this attraction is a fun combination of history and adventure while being surrounded by the beauty of Mother Nature.

Tips on safety and essential items required for a visit to Kitulgala

It goes without saying that all sorts of adventure sports come with a share of safety threat. However, all white water rafting and other water activity service providers will assure to back your thrill-seeking adventures with safety equipment including life jackets, helmet, modern rafts, and a detailed safety briefing by trained professionals before you begin your rafting adventure.  These guides will be with you throughout your white-water rafting, canyoning, abseiling, and all other activities in Kitulgala, assisting and motivating you every step of the way.

For the nature trails, camping, trekking and cave excursion activities, it is best to have a guide with you throughout as they are aware of the routes, the dangerous spots, and will also help with spotting the many flora and fauna surrounding you. In case of any fall, accident, leech or other insect bites, these trained professionals will know exactly what to do to relieve you of any pain.

For the water activities in Kitulgala, you are most likely to get wet. So, wear comfortable clothing and bring a change. White-water rafting, cliff jumping, canyoning and abseiling are do able with flip-flops, although abseiling may require something with a better grip. Trekking and nature trail excursions are best done with shoes. Don’t forget to pack an insect repellent, water, snacks, and of course – your camera!

If you want to stay over for a night, hotels in Kitulgala include the five-star Palmstone Retreat and Moksha Kitulgala, but there are also other budgeted options such as Rafters Retreat and Forest Edge. If you are just passing by, there are plenty of simple retreats that arrange a day package for you with all the activities, access to a changing room, and an authentic Sri Lankan lunch buffet included.