Sri Lanka, Ratnapura: Travel/Tourist Information Guide

Ratnapura is a major city in Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of Sabaragamuwa Province and the Ratnapura District. It lies at the foot of Adam’s Peak close to Sinharaha Rain Forest. The name of the city means “City of Gems” in Sinhala and Tamil. It is believed that over 2000 years ago when the first Buddha monks arrived here from the north eastern provinces of India, they did not only bring the Buddhist religion but they also influenced the local language. The name comes from the Sinhala “ratna” means gems and “pura” means city. Ratnapura is the centre of the industry of precious stone mining such as rubies, sapphires and other gems. The city is also known for rice and fruit cultivations. The city is also surrounded by large plantations of tea and rubber. The city holds many tourist attractions such as Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Udawalawe National Park, Kitulgala and Adam’s Peak. The city has a tropical rainforest climate and it receives rainfall mainly from south-western monsoons from May to September.

Getting There

Ratnapura is located on the A4 highway that connects Colombo to Kalmunai. Travellers can reach Ratnapura from Colombo by using A4 highway. With a private vehicle, the drive to Ratnapura will take around an hour and a half. There are also buses depart from The Colombo Pettah Bus Station every day.

Getting Around

According to most travellers, the most convenient and easiest way to get around is by bicycle. It is the best way to see and explore the city. Travellers can also travel by tuk tuk. Negotiating the price beforehand is recommended. Buses are the most affordable way and locals and bus conductors can be asked for help.

Places to Visit

Maha Saman Devalaya

Maha Saman Devalaya is a temple built on top of a hill that was built in 13th century. The temple is dedicated to Lord Saman along with other shrines of Buddha and Pattini. The temple was destroyed by the Portuguese and replaced with a chuch. Then, it was rebuilt during Dutch colonial times. A three wheeler from the town centre to the temple will cost around Rs 150. The temple holds ancient paintings and there is an ancient Bo tree to the south of the steps.

Ratnapura Gem Bureau, Museum and Laboratory

Ratnapura Gem Bureau, Museum and Laboratory holds a display of samples of precious and semi-precious stones that include Sapphires, Rubies and Amethysts. There are also exhibited pictures, tools and other items that illustrate the history and methodology of this industry. It is also a reputable place to purchase gems with relatively low sales. The museum is open between 8.30 am – 5.30 pm daily. Address: Pothgulvihara Mawatha, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka.

National Museum

The museum holds a display of fossilized remains of animals such as rhinos and elephants that were found in the mines from where gems were extracted. It also displays the local culture and history with a series of old black and white photographs. The entrance fee is Rs 300. Opening hours: 9 am – 4.30 pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays.

Gnanasiha Tapowana Vihara

Gnanasiha Tapowana Vihara is a temple located atop a hill that houses a full size replica of Aukana Buddha. It can be walked from through Pompakelle Forest Park.

Katugas Falls

Katugas Falls is a 6 meter high water fall located about 3 km from Ratnapura. The place is crowded on Sundays and public holidays. Taking extra caution on a rainy day is recommended because the rocks can get very slippery.

Peter-Paul Church

The history of Catholics in Ratnapura begins with Portuguese rule in Ratnapura. Many of them were the descendants of Portuguese and locals that they married. This can be supported with the evidence that the Portguese built a church on top of a destroyed Buddhist temple. The church was destroyed when the Kandyan kingdom recaptured Ratnapura from the Portuguese. The current church was built in a different location along the main street.

Diva Guhava

Diva Guhava is a cave temple that is believed to be the place Buddha had rest while visiting Sri Pada with his 500 followers. The temple is located on the way to Adam’s Peak and is around 5 km away from the town of Kuruwita. According to historical records, the cave is named as the Batatotalena Cave but it is known as Diva Guhava in Buddhist literature. The cave holds ancient wall paintings, statues and shrines which date back to the Kandyan period. The cave’s entrance can be accessed via a 400 metres hike from Sudagala and a climb of 50 meters.

Kirindi Ella

Kirindi Ella is the seventh highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. It is located 4 km away from Ratnapura. It is commonly known that Kirindi Ella falls from a height of 116 meters. When tracing the falls back to its source, there is the Kuttapitiya Mountain. The stream that leads up to the falls is 13 km long and lows through the Kaluwaramukalana Jungle, via the Denawaka River to the Kaluganga River.

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River, as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir. The park centres on the 308.2 sq km Uda Walawe Reservoir. The entrance to the park is 12 km from the Ratnapura – Hambantota Road. It is the best place to observe wildlife in its natural state and where the animals are comfortable enough to hunt, sleep and live their life in a natural habitat. The park is home to a variety of animals both endemic and endangered. It is also home to many Sri Lankan elephants.

Kalu River

Kalu River connects Adam’s Peak and the sea at Kalutura which is Sri Lanka’s very own Black River also known as Kalu Ganga. The river stretches across 129 km in length. The water is the main attraction for activities such as kayaking and canoeing.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. It has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and listed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1989. The reserve is 21 km from east to west and 7 km from south to north. It is home to endemic species such as trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The only way to get around the reserve is by foot. Opening hours: 6.30 am – 6 pm.

Where to Stay

Deer Park Ratnapura

This guest house features free Wi-Fi, a barbecue and a terrace. It offers pet-friendly accommodation. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Free private parking is available on site. Some units come with a seating area. There is a kettle in the rooms. Rooms come with a shared bathroom equipped with free toiletries and a hair dryer. The guest house also offers free use of bicycles. Address: 151/2 Khemananda Mawatha, Muwagama, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka.

Hotel Gem Land

The hotel is located 49 km from Kalutara and 35 km from Kitulgala. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property. Free private parking is available on site. There is a shared lounge at the property. The nearest airport is Bandaranaike International Airport which is located 79 km away from the hotel. Address: 23 Mudduwa Road, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka.

Centauria Hill Resort

The resort is a hilltop colonial mansion that offers an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant and air conditioned rooms with a spa bathtub. Free private parking is available on site. The rooms come with high ceilings and classical wooden furnishings. Every room is equipped with a cable TV, a seating area and work desk. A minibar and personal safe are included. Guests can enjoy a variety of local and international dishes at the restaurant. There is a 24 hour front desk at the property and the hotel can arrange shuttle services. The tour desk can provide assistance with sightseeing bookings. Address: 305/2, Colombo Road, Veralupa, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka.

Sapphire Holiday Resort

This bed and breakfast features a barbecue and a spa centre. Guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant. Free Wi-Fi is features throughout the property. Free private parking is available on site. Some rooms come with a private bathroom with a hot tub while others have bath robes and free toiletries. Certain unites include a seating area. Some units feature views of the mountains or garden. A flat screen TV is provided. The bed and breakfast offers free use of bicycles and bike hire. Address: 36/7b, Safaya Lane, Polhengoda, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka.

Excursions and Day Trips

Adam’s Peak

Ratnapura is located at the foor of the 2243 metre high Adam’s Peak. It is a conical mountain and it is well known for the Sri Pada which is the “sacred footprint”, a 1.8 rock formation near the summit. In Buddhist tradition, it is held to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Shiva and in Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam, or that of St. Thomas. There are 6 trails to access the mountain which are Ratnapura-Palabaddala, Hatton-Nallathanni, Kuruwita, Erathna, Murraywatte, Mookuwatte & Malimboda. The Mahawamsa tells how the sacred footprint was imprinted by the departing Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka. The site did not become an object of regular Buddhist pilgrimage until the Polonnaruwa period. In addition, the Muslim tradition of a footprint of Adam, first of the prophets, goes back to gnostic sources as early as the Mahawamsa itself. Many Sri Lankans make the climb to Adam’s Peak several times in their lives. The busiest time to climb is from January to March. There is less traffic during the other months. Many stalls lining the path are also not open during the low season. Travelling in groups is always recommended.