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A Guide to White Water Rafting in Kitulgala

Sandy shores, a balmy breeze and calm blue waters… Sri Lanka’s beaches are generally the first thing that come to mind when considering the variety of water sports that the island has to offer. However, if you were hoping for something that would get your blood pumping a little more than a day on the beach, look no further than the sport of white water rafting in Kitulgala!

The Place

Kitulgala is a small town in Sri Lanka that is considered one of the wettest places on the island, and it is widely known for its white water rafting adventures. Located in Sri Lanka’s famous hill country, this picturesque town is located about 95 kilometres outside of Colombo and is surrounded by wooded hills, and has been cleaved into two halves by the Kelani River. Kitulgala gets its name from the Kitul palm tree, present in thick groves around the area. The sap of the Kitul tree can be used to make jaggery (an unrefined sugar product popular in Asian countries) and palm wine.

The town is also known for being the filming location of The Bridge on the River Kwai, a movie from 1957 that went on to win seven Academy Awards.

The Requirements

White water rafting doesn’t have a high entry threshold – an average level of fitness will suffice, but an adventurous spirit is definitely required! Rapids are generally graded for white water rafting, and the waters at Kitulgala are not considered dangerous for those above the age of 10 years old, especially when accompanied by a guide. However, it is recommended that visitors with heart conditions or who suffer from epilepsy should sit out. If you have a health condition that you think might affect your experience, you should let your guide know so that they can make any necessary arrangements for you.

Every rafter is provided with a lifejacket, and your guide will be trained in safety and rescue. International-standard safety equipment will be on board, along with any rescue and repair equipment, so just grab your oar, hold on, and listen to your guide!

The Rafting

White water rafting at Kitulgala takes place on the Kelani River. This river allows visitors to enjoy adrenaline-fueled moments battling with the rapids, intertwined with several opportunities to enjoy the stunning scenery of the surroundings. As you paddle past the town, Kitulgala’s high riverbank is fringed by tall, beautiful bamboo trees that sway gently as if to wave you onward. The entire experience takes around 90 minutes to enjoy, with the five rapids along the river having been graded between a 2 or 3.

“Black Rafting” is another unique way to enjoy this water sport – where adventurers are given headlights and safety gear, and ushered out onto the rapids under the cover of nightfall with only the light of the full moon.

White water rafting is best undertaken between the months of May and December to avoid any heavy rains. With enough rain, the river can quickly become too dangerous for visitors to navigate, and is therefore best avoided.

Adventures Nearby

After your rafting adventures, bird-watching enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike would be hard pressed to miss the abundant birdlife that resides in the Kitulgala Forest Reserve. Many of the bird species that fly through the Sinharaja Rainforest can also be found at Kitulgala – in fact, since the Kitulgala Forest Reserve is more open than the dense forest of Sinharaja, some endemic bird species are easier to spot.

Meanwhile, 8 kilometres from Kitulgala, the Belilena Cave is a site where evidence of human life from as early as 32,000 years ago has been found. The site is an “Archaeological Reserve” according to the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka, where the remains of an early prehistoric ancestor of Sri Lanka’s indigenous population is believed to have been found. Large parts of the cave system have yet to be explored, but travellers are welcome to visit and witness this key feature of Sri Lanka’s history.

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