Sri Lanka Travel Tours

Kitulgala-Kelani Forest Reserve

Kitulgala-Kelani Forest Reserve

Sum up

The Kitulgala-Kelani Forest Reserve is the hub of adventure activities in Sri Lanka. Try canoeing, white-water rafting, trekking, waterfall abseiling and much more. The breathtaking scenery here was chosen as the backdrop for the 1950s Oscar-winning classic The Bridge over the River Kwai, directed by David Lean. Kitulgala lies 95kms west of Colombo on the Colombo-Avissawella-Hatton road. On the edge of Sri Lanka’s wet zone, it receives rainfall from two monsoons a year, ensuring a lush landscape and the broad waters of the Kelani.

Duration: N/A

Best Time: Year-round

Additional Information

White-water rafting and canoeing

Go white-water rafting on grade 3 and 4 rapids. Kelani River has a run of 5 major rapids and 4 minor rapids over about 5kms. Red Dot uses qualified instructors who offer good-quality rafts, safety gear and a full safety briefing. Kitulgala also provides stretches of river not just for advanced canoeists in the Class III and IV waters further upstream but for beginners who can paddle lazily downstream in sedate waters while enjoying the scenery. Find out more about white-water rafting and canoeing in Sri Lanka.

Canoeing and kayaking

Kitulgala provides stretches of river not just for advanced canoeists in the Class III and IV waters further upstream but for beginners who can paddle lazily downstream in sedate waters while enjoying the scenery.

Trekking in Kitulgala

The Forest Reserve, also called Makandawa, and covering more than 1,100 hectares, is a lowland rainforest gradually moving towards higher elevations and is normally accessed by crossing the Kelani by boat. Trek through the jungle-clad hills, or wander through the rubber and low-country tea plantations. When exploring the forest in search of the wide variety of creatures which inhabit this area, it is advisable to take leech socks and plenty of insect repellent.

Mountain biking and cycling

Several on and off-road routes are available for mountain biking or cycling around Kitulgala. And you can even ensure that your chosen route is largely downhill. One trip is to Beli Lena caves where 10 skeletons were discovered of “Balangoda Man,” Sri Lanka’s earliest inhabitant, estimated to have lived there 32,000 years ago.

Waterfall abseiling and canyoning

If you can think of an extreme river-based sport, Kitulgala will probably conjure up a way of trying to offer it. These are two other activities where we recommend you use the mot experienced and professional operators.

Camping in Kitulgala

Accommodation choices in Kitulgala are limited to budget guest houses, eco properties on organic farms and camping options by the side of the river. Red Dot can advise on the best and offer highly-competitive prices.


Many of the lowland endemics can be seen in Kitulgala including the Green-bill Coucal, Chestnut-backed Owlet, Sri Lanka Brown-capped Babbler, Red-faced Malkoha, Sri Lanka Spot-winged Thrush, Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lanka Orange-billed Babbler, White-faced Starling, Legg’s Flowerpecker, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Sri Lanka Myna, Yellow-fronted Barbet and the Serendip Scops Owl, which was heard for the first time in this forest. Other specialties include the elusive Dollar Bird, Ceylon Frogmouth, Hill Swallow, Black-throated Munia, Black Bulbul & Black-capped Bulbul.


Kitulgala is an excellent place for spotting rare species of butterfly, and most of the endemics can be seen here too. The Tawny Raja, Red Helen, Blue Mormon, Tree Nymph, Common Blue Bottle and Blue Oak Leaf can be seen, to name a few.

Amphibians And Reptiles

This rainforest is home to many of Sri Lanka’s endemic amphibians, as well as the elusive Earless Lizard, Kangaroo Lizard and Hump-Nosed Lizard. Many species of frogs can be seen (or rather heard) in the forest, and the streams hold a vast number of fresh water fish that are mostly endemic and endangered.


As well as several varieties of bats and mice, the mammals in the Kitulgala-Kelani Forest Reserve include the Purple-Faced Leaf Monkey, Grizzled Indian Squirrel, Layard’s Striped Squirrel, Wild Boar and Mouse Deer.

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