Kitulgala is a small town located in the Hill Country of Sri Lanka. This place is famous for its beautiful landscape, rich biodiversity, and exciting adventure activities. The Academy Award-winning movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, was filmed on the Kelani River near Kitulgala, now known for its white-water rafting. This article will provide an overview of the town of Kitulgala and its features, including agriculture, bird watching, and adventure activities.
History of Kitulgala
Kitulgala is a town with a rich history that dates back to the colonial era. “Kitulgala” is derived from the fishtail palm tree, Caryota urens, called “kitul” in Sri Lanka. The tree sap is used to make palm wine and is crystallized as jaggery, a popular sweetener in the country. Kitulgala has a rich history that dates back to the Kandyan Kingdom era.
The town was located on the route from the highlands of Kandy to the coastal city of Colombo and was an important transportation hub for spices and other goods. During the British colonial period, Kitulgala was a popular destination for British planters who would come to the town to hunt and enjoy the area’s natural beauty.
Kitulgala was also important near the strategic Kelani River during World War II. The area was used as a training ground for soldiers and featured in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, based on the construction of the railway bridge over the river during the war.
Today, Kitulgala is a popular destination for tourists who enjoy the town’s natural beauty and participate in adventure activities. In addition, the town has become a hub for outdoor enthusiasts and is known for its white-water rafting, trekking, and bird-watching opportunities.
Agriculture in Kitulgala
The agriculture around Kitulgala is specific to the hilly wet zone. The town is famous for the solitary fishtail palm tree that gives rise to its name. Agriculture is an important industry in Kitulgala. The town’s fertile soil and abundant rainfall provide ideal conditions for growing various crops, including tea, rubber, and fruit trees. Tea plantations are common in the area, and visitors can take guided tours to learn about tea cultivation and production. In addition to tea, rubber plantations can be found in the area, with many residents employed in the rubber industry.
Fruit trees such as mangoes, papayas, and bananas are also grown in Kitulgala. Visitors can purchase fresh, locally-grown fruit from roadside vendors or visit one of the many fruit stalls in the town.
Agriculture plays an important role in the economy of Kitulgala, providing income and employment opportunities for many residents. In addition to providing food and raw materials, agriculture also contributes to the town’s scenic beauty, with rolling hills and lush green fields dominating the landscape.
Bird Watching in Kitulgala
Bird watching in Kitulgala is a popular activity among nature enthusiasts. The town is located amid the Kitulgala Forest Reserve, which provides a perfect habitat for various bird species. Many lowland endemic bird species can be spotted here, including the Green-bill Coucal, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Spot-winged Thrush, Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Ceylon Jungle fowl, and Yellow-fronted Barbet. The recently discovered Serendib Scoops Owl was also first heard in this forest. In addition to bird species, visitors can also spot various mammal species, such as the Grizzled Indian Squirrel, Layard’s Striped Squirrel, and the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey.
The Kitulgala streams also host endemic fish and many species of amphibians. Reptile species, such as the Earless Lizard, Kangaroo Lizard, and Hump-nosed Lizard, can also be spotted in the foliage along the Kelani River. Visitors should use insect repellent and anti-leech socks when entering the forest.
Kitulgala is named after the Kitul palm tree, which grows abundantly in the area. The sap of the Kitul palm is concentrated and crystallized to produce jaggery, while fermented sap is used to make palm wine. Kitulgala receives two monsoons each year, making it one of the wettest places in Sri Lanka. However, it is especially lively in the first three months of the year, particularly in February, the driest month.
Bird-watching enthusiasts can expect to spot a variety of bird species in Kitulgala, including Black Eagle, Rufous-Bellied Eagle, Ceylon Spur Fowl, Ceylon Jungle Fowl, Ceylon Green-Pigeon, Ceylon Frog Mouth, Ceylon Hanging-Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, Green-Billed Coucal, Serendib Scops-Owl, Chestnut-Backed Owlet, Brown Hawk-Owl, Black-Backed Dwarf Kingfisher, Ceylon Swallow, Brown-Capped Babbler, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Black-Capped Bulbul, Gold-Fronted Leaf Bird, Spot-Winged Ground-Thrush, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Ceylon Rufous Babbler, Ceylon Hill-Myna, and Yellow-Fronted Barbet.
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a 1957 epic war film directed by David Lean, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle. The movie was filmed on location in Sri Lanka, specifically on the Kelani River near Kitulgala. The story is set during World War II and follows a group of British prisoners of war forced by their Japanese captors to build a railway bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand. The film won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Alec Guinness, who played the role of Colonel Nicholson.
Today, visitors to Kitulgala can still see the concrete foundations of the bridge built for the movie. The location has become a popular tourist attraction, with many visitors participating in white-water rafting and other adventure activities on the Kelani River. The film also helped put Kitulgala on the map as a destination for filmmakers, with several other movies and TV shows filmed in the area since then.
Adventure Activities in Kitulgala
Kitulgala is a hub of exciting adventure activities that attract tourists from all over the world. Here are some of the popular activities you can do in Kitulgala.
White-water rafting is a popular adventure in Kitulgala, Sri Lanka. The town is situated on the banks of the Kelani River, which offers a thrilling experience for rafting enthusiasts. The river has several rapids ranging from grade 2 to grade 5, making it suitable for beginners and experienced rafters.
Several tour operators in Kitulgala offer white-water rafting packages, usually including safety equipment such as helmets and life jackets and experienced guides who ensure the rafting experience is fun and safe. In addition, the packages typically include transport to and from the river, and some even offer meals.
The best time to go white-water rafting in Kitulgala is during the rainy season, usually from May to December. During this time, the river is challenging and offers an even more exhilarating experience.
White-water rafting is a great way to experience the area’s natural beauty while getting an adrenaline rush. It’s an activity suitable for solo travellers and families and will create lasting memories.
Trekking and Hiking
Hiking and trekking in Kitulgala offer an excellent opportunity to explore the lush rainforests, breathtaking mountains, and hills around the area. The Kitulgala Forest Reserve, also known as the Makandawa Forest Reserve, covers an area of 1,155 hectares and is a secondary lowland rainforest gradually moving towards higher elevations. Visitors can cross the Kelani River by boat to reach the forest reserve, usually a traditional dugout canoe with an outrigger. During dry seasons, it is also possible to wade across the river.
The forest reserve is home to many endemic species of fauna and flora, similar to the Sinharaja Rain Forest and scenic waterfalls such as the Makulu Ella and Lenakiri Ella. The reserve is also home to 54 rare bird species, making it an ideal location for bird-watching.
Exploring the forest on foot allows visitors to get close to nature and experience the scenery differently. It is also an excellent opportunity to learn about the various types of flora and fauna found in the forest, as well as secluded waterfalls and streams. Visitors can relax and feel refreshed by dipping in these fresh streams.
There are many options for hiking and trekking in Kitulgala, with local tour companies like Kitulgala Adventures offering organized treks and hikes tailored to individual preferences. Taking the time and enjoying the experience is essential, as rushing through the forest can detract from the natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere.
Jungle camping is a popular activity in Kitulgala, as lush rainforests surround the area and offer a unique opportunity to experience the wilderness up close. Several campsites in the area offer tents, basic facilities and experienced guides to help you explore the jungle and enjoy a night under the stars.
Camping in Kitulgala can be a thrilling adventure, but it is essential to take necessary precautions and follow safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Camping with an experienced guide familiar with the area is recommended, as the jungle can be dense and challenging to navigate. Additionally, it is crucial to carry enough water and food supplies, insect repellent and other essentials for a comfortable stay.
Jungle camping in Kitulgala is also an excellent opportunity to spot wildlife such as monkeys, squirrels, and various species of birds. It is essential to respect the outdoors and their habitats and not to disturb or harm them.
Abseiling and Canyoning
Kitulgala, a hill area in Sri Lanka, is known for its adventure-based activities, such as abseiling and canyoning. The town is a popular destination for people who want to experience an adrenaline rush through waterfall abseiling. One of the highlights of this activity is descending a 105 ft. high Sadun Ella waterfall, which is a perfect opportunity to test your confidence and have a memorable abseiling adventure in the Sri Lankan wilderness.
You will have the chance to explore the crystal-clear waters of the Kelani River and its surroundings, which offer breathtaking views over the hill country. The roaring waterfall that tumbles through the rocky gorge will give you a thrilling rush of exhilaration.
Nature and Scenery
Apart from adventure activities, Kitulgala is also known for its natural beauty and scenic attractions. Here are some of the must-visit places in Kitulgala.
Belilena Cave is a large cave located in the Kithulgala area. The cave is famous for its archaeological significance, as excavations carried out in the cave have revealed evidence of prehistoric human habitation. The cave is estimated to be around 32,000 years old and is believed to have been occupied by early humans during the late Pleistocene era.
Belilena Cave was first discovered in the 1880s by the British explorer William Ferguson, who stumbled upon the cave while on a hunting trip in the area. Archaeologists later excavated it in the 1960s and 70s and uncovered several vital artifacts and fossils. Among the finds were stone tools, animal bones, and the remains of early human settlements.
One of the most significant discoveries made in Belilena Cave was the skeletal remains of a prehistoric hominid, believed to be around 16,000 years old. The remains found in the cave’s deepest chamber are believed to be the oldest human fossils ever discovered in Sri Lanka.
Today, the cave is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors worldwide who explore its ancient chambers and learn about the prehistoric peoples who once called it home.
Nalagana Ella Falls
Nalagana Ella Falls is a breathtaking waterfall in the Kegalle District of Sri Lanka. The Nalagana River forms the waterfall, a tributary of the Kelani River. The waterfall cascades down from about 40 meters and is surrounded by lush green vegetation.
To reach Nalagana Ella Falls, visitors must take a winding and steep path through the jungle about 1 km from the Nalagana village. The trek is quite challenging, but it is worth it to witness the stunning beauty of the waterfall.
The waterfall’s base has a natural pool ideal for swimming and relaxing. The water is cool and refreshing, providing visitors with a much-needed respite from the heat and humidity of the surrounding jungle.
Nalagana Ella Falls is a popular destination for locals and tourists who enjoy hiking and exploring nature. The area also has various birds and animals, including monkeys and giant squirrels. However, visitors are advised to be careful while trekking through the jungle and swimming in the pool, as the area can be slippery and dangerous.
Makulu Ella Falls
Makulu Ella Falls is named after the numerous spider species once inhabited the area. The fall is situated in the Makandawa Conservation area, rich in biodiversity and home to various animal species, such as jungle fowl, giant squirrels, deer, and wild boar. The fall is reached by crossing a wooden plank bridge and features slow water flow over a 30m wide rocky formation for about 120m, culminating in a 4m drop and forming an 8m waterfall. Tourists who visit the Kitulgala Rest House for bird watching are often drawn to this scenic waterfall, surrounded by a water-hole-filled terrain that provides a refreshing place to swim.
Lenthiri Ella Falls
Lenthiri Ella Falls is a stunning waterfall that spans 20m in height and cascades in three stages, with the final drop measuring 20m. The journey to the fall is an experience like no other, with the sounds of animals and the chirping of exotic birds filling the air. Due to the dense canopy formed by the surrounding forest, sunlight is blocked, and a relaxed atmosphere prevails. The route winds through mountainous terrain, and interestingly, relics of a road constructed by wildlife officers in the 1965-1967 period can still be seen.
Located in the Yatiyaktota PS, Kegalle District at Kitugala Makandawa Conservation area, the Lenkiri Ella Fall is accessible by bus from the Awisawela-Ginigathhena Road to Kitulgala Town. From behind the Ceylon Tourist Board Rest House jetty, cross the Keleni River and arrive at Paravalalatenne Village, surrounded by the jungle conservation on one side and the Kelani River on the other. From here, another km ahead is the 180 hectares of Makandewa Conservation, which is 909m above MSL and extends to the south. Trekking through the jungle, you’ll reach a point where the route bisects.
Aberdeen Falls, located in the Nuwara Eliya District, is named after the nearby tea plantation of the same name. The falls are formed by the Kehelgamuwa, a tributary of Kelani Ganga, and stand at an impressive height of 98 meters. The waterfalls are considered one of the most picturesque on the island of Sri Lanka.
According to local folklore, a 5 km long tunnel connects Aberdeen Falls to Lakshapana Falls further south. However, the water flow of both falls has decreased due to the establishment of water reservoirs and hydroelectric power stations in the Kelani Ganga tributaries between Maskeliya and Kitulgala.
Despite the decrease in water flow, the Kehelgamuwa River at Aberdeen Falls only dries out partially, except during periods of extreme drought. As a result, a small observation platform has been built close to the natural pool beneath the falls, framed by scenic rock surfaces. Swimming in the pool is possible, but visitors are warned of the dangerous currents and quicksand, and it is not recommended for children.
The falls can be reached by walking down a few hundred steps through the jungle to the observation platform from the south or left side of the river. The road from Norton Bridge to the car park is difficult to find, but signboards are along the route. An 8 km long hiking trail from Ginigathena leads to the right bank of the pool, offering scenic views of the Kehelgamuwa River valley and the falls. The trail starts in the southern outskirts of Ginagathenna and runs 6 km along the Ella Una Theniyagala road before winding down for the last 2 km to the falls. The same jungle path can be accessed from Dehigantenna on the route from Ginigathena to Norton Bridge. The hike from Dehigantenna is 5 km long.
Accommodation options in Kitulgala
How to Reach Kitulgala
Kitulgala is located approximately 90 kilometres from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka.
There are several ways to reach Kitulgala:
By car: You can hire a taxi or rent a car from Colombo or any other major city in Sri Lanka. The journey takes about 3-4 hours, depending on the traffic.
By bus: There are regular buses from Colombo and other major cities to Kitulgala. The journey time is longer than by car, but it is cheaper.
By train: The nearest railway station is Avissawella, which is about 20 km away from Kitulgala. You can take a bus or a taxi to reach Kitulgala.
By tuk-tuk: Tuk-tuks are a popular mode of transportation in Sri Lanka. You can hire one from Avissawella or any nearby town to reach Kitulgala.
Q. Is it safe to go white-water rafting in Kitulgala?
A. Yes, it is safe to go white-water rafting in Kitulgala if you follow the safety guidelines provided by the rafting companies.
Q. Can I camp in the jungle in Kitulgala?
A. Yes, there are several camping sites in Kitulgala where you can spend the night surrounded by nature.
Q. Are there any good restaurants in Kitulgala?
A. Yes, several restaurants in Kitulgala offer a variety of Sri Lankan and international cuisine.
Q. What is the best time to visit Kitulgala?
A. The best time to visit Kitulgala is from December to April