Sinharaja Rain Forest-The Largest Extent of Gondwana Forest in Southern Asia

Sinharaja Rain Forest” is a Sinhalese word, and it means “Lion King. Sinharaja Rain Forest is the oldest forest patch on the island, and it has many names, such as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Man and Biosphere Reserve, and National Heritage wilderness. 

Table of Contents

Sinharaja Rain Forest, the Green Treasure Trove of Sri Lanka

Sinharaja Rain Forest” is a Sinhalese word, and it means “Lion King. Sinharaja Rain Forest is the oldest forest patch on the island, and it has many names, such as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Man and Biosphere Reserve, and National Heritage Wilderness. Sinharaja rainforest is a biodiversity hot spot, and it is home to hundreds of endemic fauna and flora. By far, Sinharaja is the most popular rainforest in Sri Lanka for jungle tours and trekking tours. Undoubtedly, the Sinharaja rainforest tour is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka for nature lovers.

New Chapter of Sinharaja

A new chapter of Sinharaja starts in 2020, as the government of Sri Lanka issued a special gazette notification to extend the forest cover by four times its current size. It could be the most welcoming message in 2020 for the nature lovers of Sri Lanka, and the government has earned high praise from the people for its commitment to protecting nature.   

A few decades ago, Sinharaja faced the treachery of short-sighted rulers, who removed a large number of trees from Sinharaja and its surrounding forests on a logging project. Even though the logging project had been halted with the new laws to stop forest clearing, Sinharaja and the surrounding forests considerably lost their grip on the ground, and Sinharaja forest was distanced from the surrounding patches of forests.  

Despite the prevailing strict laws to protect nature, many people engage in activities that harm Sinharaja and surround the forest. Clearing forests for illegal construction, cultivating spices, cultivating tea, and gem mining are the most destructive activities that harm nature in Sinharaja. Extending the nature reserve is a timely decision taken by the government, mainly to protect the forests located around Sinharaja. 

IUCN World Heritage Conservation Outlook Assessment 2020 on Sinharaja

According to “The IUCN World Heritage Conservation Outlook Assessment”, which was released on September 9, 2020, the Sinharaja rainforest is walking towards a grim future. In its latest assessment cycle of 252 global Natural World Heritage Sites, the Sinharaja Natural World Heritage Site (SNWHS) has been categorised under the group “significant concern”, Natural vegetation that is facing numerous obstacles is invariably threatened and/or is showing signs of deterioration. The report suggests immediate attention from the relative parties and additional conservation efforts to maintain and/or restore values over the medium to long term. Read more on the report.

History of Sinharaja rainforest

The very first historical note on Sinharaja was written by “Ibn Batutta”, the world’s most popular explorer. He had come across Sinharaja as he was walking to the sacred mountain (Adams Peak). The forest was first known to the island as “Sinhalaye Mukalana” (the forest of the Sinhala whose boundaries were unseen); later, it was changed to Sinhalaye Raja Vanaya (the Royal Forest of the Sinhala); the name was further changed and became Sinharaja.

How big is the Sinharaja rainforest?

The Sinharaja Rainforest occupies 118425 acres in the wet zone of Sri Lanka. Sinharaja is declared a biosphere reserve in 1978 owing to its significance to the world. It was also declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, and Sinharaja is the first natural world heritage site on the island.

The Sinharaja forest is 11,187 hectares in extent, and when it is contiguous with Panagala, Moapitiya-Runakanda, Dellawa, Warathalagoda, Neluketiya, and Delgoda forest reserves, it swells up to 47370 hectares, making it the largest constituent of the green canopy in the wet zone, amounting to about 43%. The Sinharaja rainforest is part of the Rakwana mountain range. The highest point in Sinharaja is measured at 1171 feet above sea level.

A tiny village adjoining the oldest rainforest in Asia

Where is the Sinharaja Rainforest located?

Sinharaja Rainforest is located at 6°21′-6°26’N and 80°21′-80°34’E on the world map, and it is the last remaining primaeval rain forest on the island. Sinharaja Nature Reserve is spread over a huge area in south-west Sri Lanka (Sabaragamuwa province), which is primarily a wet zone region. 

Physical traits in the Sinharaja Rainforest

This 21 by 4 km piedmont skirts the Rakwana mountain massif with hills and valleys. A complicated trellis of streams drains it into two large rivers: the Maha Dola into the Gin Ganga along the southern boundary and the Napo Dola, Koskulana Ganga, and Kudawa Ganga into the Kalu Ganga to the north. The reserve sits between Sri Lanka’s two main rock types. The southwest formations have metasediments, charnockites, and scapolite-bearing calc-granulites, whereas the highland group has khondaites of metamorphosed sediments and charnockites (Cooray, 1978). The Sinharaja Basic Zone is a massive outcropping of basic rocks in the centre. It includes hornblende, pyroclasts, basic charnockites, pyroxene amphibolites, calc-granulites with scapolite, garnet-biotite gneisses, and intermediate charnockites (Hapuarachi et al., 1964). An aeromagnetic anomaly in this zone may have caused the gem fields’ desilication (Katz, 1972; Munasinghe & Dissanayake, 1980). Except for valley alluvium, the red-yellow podzols are impermeable, weather to laterite, and have minimal organic content. Due to climatic conditions, a complex soil microbiota that rapidly breaks down organic materials into nutrients, and quicker tree uptake and recycling of nutrients,

Why choose Sinharaja for the rainforest tour in Sri Lanka?

Why choose Sinharaja for the rainforest tour in Sri Lanka? Because it offers an unmatchable ecological experience. It is difficult to imagine how bizarre the Sinharaja forest, the largest extent of the Gondwana forest in southern Asia (Gondwana supercontinent existed 180 million years ago), is. It is the super biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka with the highest concentration of endemic fauna and flora, majestically standing in the heart of Sri Lanka’s wetland, beyond the reach of the lumberman’s axe in 1977. Today, it is fully secured and cherished under the emblem of a “world heritage site” granted by UNESCO.

Sinharaja tropical rainforest is one of the most significant biodiversity hot spots in the world. It is difficult to recognise the ecological pattern of the Sinharaja rainforest owing to its large diversity of fauna and flora species.

The beauty and scientific value of the Sinharaja rainforest are beyond the imagination of most of us, so protecting this biodiversity treasure trove is really important. We include this unmatchable natural jewel in our Sri Lanka adventure tour package which includes a five-hour trek accompanied by one of our rainforest experts.

Exploring the Sinharaja rain forest during your Sri Lank tour is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in a fascinating wild palette. The Sinharaja rain forest is a rare opportunity to submerge yourself in vital vegetation, almost as wet as the nearby sea, and has a never-ending vibration with life than any other forest.

Sinharaja rain forest: The Most Important Bio-diversity hotspot in Sri Lanka

The Sinharaja rainforest is the ecosystem with the largest combination of species in Sri Lanka. An unexplored, mysterious, concealed, and large part of Sinharaja is still not known to the world, and most of the jungle is inaccessible due to dense foliage. You will find that Sinharaja is incomparable to anything that you have seen before, and the fauna and flora, mountains, and borderland villages that are hidden in the jungle will be amazing travel memories.

Unlike the Amazon, where you have easy access to the interior of the forest using the Amazon River, Sinharaja does not provide navigable water resources to the interior of the forest. Perhaps this is the reason that most travellers in Sri Lanka overlook Sinharaja against other places such as cultural sites, beaches, mountains, etc.

Sinharaja rainforest package

A large number of travellers like to visit the Sinharaja rainforest during their Sri Lanka trip. Even travellers can spend a night in a nearby hotel on their trip to Sinharaja. Sinharaja rainforest tour is available in many forms. Travellers can book a one-day trip to the rainforest from Colombo. The Sinharaja rainforest package is available and can also be combined with any other tour package in Sri Lanka, such as a 7-day Sri Lanka tour or an 8-day Sri Lanka tour package. Sinharaja Trip is not only a sri Lanka nature tour it can also be described as a Sri Lanka adventure tour package.

When is the best time for a Sri Lanka jungle tour?

When is the best time for the Sri Lanka jungle tour? The best time for the Sinharaja jungle tour is from November to April. During this period, the northeast monsoon is in place, which means a large part of the country sees dry weather, including the west coast, where Sinharaja resides. The Sinharaja rainforest is open to visitors throughout the year; however, from April to November, the rainforest experiences heavy downpours very often.

Biodiversity of Sinharaja rainforest

The Sinharaja rainforest is the most valuable forest patch on the island and harbours the most endemic fauna and flora species in Sri Lanka. The Sinharaja rainforest has a large collection of trees, plants, and animals. Facts and figures about the vastness of the fauna and flora of Sinharaja are still unknown to the world. But undoubtedly Sinharaja rainforest records the highest bbiodiversityamong all forests in Sri Lanka and it is a valuable repository of natural wealth.

There had been several exploration missions in the forest, but due to the biological complexity, no one has been able to ascertain the true value of the forest so far. A complete study of the forest cannot be fulfilled within a few days. Due to the vastness of the diversity, it may take even a lifetime to complete the exploration of the ferns, trees, and creatures and reveal the secret of this forest patch.

Flora of Sinharaja rainforest

The richness of Flora in Sinharaja is exceptional Ferns, Colourful flowers, vines, and trees of the canopy and upper canopy create a thick forest cover and create gloomy settings in the body of the forest. Bim Orchid (Arundina graminifolia) can be besotted in many places during the trek.

There are two carnivore plant species that can be found in the forest namely green bandura and red bandura. Red bandura is less occurring in the forest than its counterpart green bandura (Nepanthus distillatoria) and the red bandura. Red bandura is believed to have medicinal value and is useful when treating whooping cough.

Characteristics of flora species found in Sinharaja are similar to those of vegetation in wet evergreen rain forests. Rainfall in the forest is measured to be over 5000 mm per year, and it is a region with high humidity all the time. It is estimated that endemism among the fauna and flora is to be to a very high degree. The vegetation density of the reserve is estimated to be very high compared to other forests on the island.

The number of shrubs, herbs, trees, and seedlings is estimated to be around 240,000 per hectare. Ninety-five percent of the flora is comprised of individuals and can be observed in the ground layer, which is less than one metre in height. Sinharaja recorded a large number of lianas around 30 cm in height.

The estimated density of lianas in the reserve is six to seven hundred per hectare. Sinharaja is inhabited by many species of animals in the country, and it is home to a large number of endemic fauna species. There is very high endemism among the fish, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals in the reserve.

Fauna of Sinharaja rainforest

The largest animal recorded in the national park is the elephant, which is rarely seen in the forest. Leopards are also recorded within the forest reserve, but very few people have spotted them in the park. Leopards are very shy and avoid humans as much as possible. The wild fishing cat is a very common mammal for park visitors. Deer, Sambhur, and wild boar can also be spotted in the reserve, while all vertebrate species move through the tree canopies frequently.

The number of amphibians recorded in the forest is 19, and out of them, 10 species are endemic to the island. Of the 65 butterfly species recorded in the forest, 21 are endemic.

Many rare species of butterflies are found in the forest, and some of them occur very rarely in other parts of the country, such as Common Birdwing (Troidus helena), Blue Mormon (Paoilio polymnestor), and Blue Oakleaf (Kallima philarchas). Twenty-one species of endemic reptiles were recorded in the forest, and the number of non-endemic species of reptiles recorded was fifty-one.

Birds in the Sinharaja rainforest

The Jungle fowl (Gallus lafayetii ), the national bird of Sri Lanka, which is endemic to the island, can be spotted here with many other indigenous bird species such as Layard’s parakeet (Psittacula calthripae), the Spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata), the Ceylon Hanging Parrot (Loriculus beryllinus), the Ceylon Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtonii), the Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush (Garrulax cinereifrons), the Ceylon Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), the Red-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus), the Brown-capped Babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillum), and the Ceylon Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornate).

Access to the Sinharaja rainforest

There are 2 access points to the Sinharaja forest: the Kudawa Sinharaja rain forest entrance and the Pitadeniya entrance. Both the Kudawa entrance and the Pitadeniya entrance are popular starting points for the Sinharaja rainforest tours. Kudawa Forest Office is situated north of Kalwana, about 120 kilometres from Colombo, and the Pitadeniya entrance is located south of Deniyaya and Mediripitya, about 180 kilometres from Colombo. Entrance tickets and guiding services can be obtained at the entrance for a fee, which is required.

Weather pattern

The Sinharaja rainforest is shared by three provinces in Sri Lanka, namely the southern province, the western province, and Sabaragamuwa province. This tropical rainforest records high temperatures and humidity at any given time of the year. At the same time, it receives very high rainfall, and it is one of the places on the island where the yearly rainfall is highest. Sinharaja receives 3000 to 5000 mm every year. Due to the heavy rainfall, it could be a daunting task to find a dry season in Sinharaja. Even during the driest month on the island, February, Sinharaja receives between 180 mm and 200 mm of rainfall, as most parts of the country receive no rain.

Hariyawa water stream

The perennial waterways start in the Sinharaja forest and feed the two major rivers of Sri Lanka “Kalu Ganga” and “Gin Ganga”. These waterways create many cascading waterfalls as they make their way down the forest. “Duli Ella, Ura Wetunu Ella, and Brahmana Ella are some of the few waterfalls.

Hariyawa Water Stream is located in southern Sri Lanka, and it mingles with Ginganga in the Sinharaja Nature Reserve. The place where the stream and Ginganaga meet is one of the deepest points of the stream. Brahmana Ella is located some 500 metres from this point.

This point is not suitable for baths or any such activities, and there have been a few tragic events in which people drowned while bathing here. There are many safe places along the stream where one can have a safe bath other than the deep spot mentioned here.

The gloomy, dark surroundings due to the thick jungle keep the water of the stream very cool, even on very warm days. The water of the Hariyawa water stream can hardly see the sun rays due to the blockage of the thickly grown tree canopy. The water is crystal clear and clean, while it is filtered by nature and still not in touch with humans.

Waterfalls in the Sinharaja rainforest

By far, Doowili Ella is the most attractive waterfall in the reserve, and it is also the best-known waterfall within the group of waterfalls in the region. The waterfall can be accessed very easily since it is located at the edge of the reserve.

The waterfall is just 6 km from Neluwa, the nearest city to the waterfalls. The height of the fall is estimated to be 17 m, and it is 1m in width. The name ‘Doowili Ella’ means the dust fall; it is named after the dusting spray that arises while it is tumbling down the mountain.

Brahmana Ella is estimated to be 150 feet, and the cascading fall is divided into five distinct parts. The waterfall is 12 km from Neluwa city. The waterfall is used for power generation today. The waterfall is located within the protected area of the Sinharaja Nature Reserve.

The number of waterfalls that arise from the Hariyawa stream is 5, including the Duvili Ella. The rest of the waterfalls are Tattu Ella, Gal Oruwa Ella, Uran Wetunu Ella, and Brahmana Ella. From the point where the stream meets the Ginangana, which marks the beginning of the journey to the waterfalls, to the last waterfalls, it is around 1/2 kilometre.  

All these fascinating waterfalls can be viewed within a few hours due to their proximity to each other. It is very rare to see five beautiful waterfalls on a single journey within a short period of time, like here.

How to reach Sinharaja waterfalls

The pathway to the waterfalls is extremely beautiful, with a thick jungle on both sides. One needs to wear shoes that are designed for walking or climbing. Even though it is not as hard as rock climbing, it is not a very easy task to climb the small mountains along the way. At the end of the journey, the visitors can explore all five waterfalls that are located in the verging forest.

At present, the pathway is developed, and the journey has become easier than it had been. The changes have caused some destruction of nature, which could hurt the nature lovers who visit the waterfalls. Steps were added to the places where it was difficult to climb.

Walking here is adventurous and a reason for satisfaction. The fresh air and cool breeze eliminate the difficulty of walking and keep you alive. The trees that are bent over the pathway make for a beautiful view along the way. This journey can be used for adventure holidays, and it can be easily offered as a day excursion from beach hotels in western and southern Sri Lanka.

The pathway is divided into two different directions after several minutes. One pathway directs you to the Duwili Ella and Tattu Ella, while the second pathway takes you to the Gal Oruwa Ella and Uran Wetunu Ella. The visitors are properly directed in the proper direction by the arrow signs along the way.

The pathway becomes more difficult towards the end of the journey, and it may be very difficult to go through the jungle in several places. If you need any outside help, you can have the help of the trees and plants that are bent over the pathway to help passersby. Pathways are very dark and gloomy due to the thick jungle, which is full of small hillocks, escapements, and bends. Large tree roots in some places have blocked the pathway.

It was almost impossible to reach these waterfalls due to the conditions of the pathway. It is a pleasure to note that the present condition of the pathway has largely improved in the last few years. Lanka Gama, one of the most beautiful and remote villages near the waterfalls, is also worth including in the journey.

Five main entrances to Sinharaja rainforest

Kurulugala Sinharaja Forest Entrance

This gate is around 12.8 kilometres from Deniyaya’s centre. You can walk along several trails. One of the best spots in Sinharaja Rain Forest Reserve for bird and butterfly watching Because the average elevation is around 1000 m and the Rakwana Mountains are located nearby, this area has a high biodiversity. The primary destinations at Kurulugala entrance include fascinating waterfalls, the southern plains, and the Kurulugala mountain top. The newest of the Sinharaja Rain Forest Reserve’s entrances

Pitadeniya Sinharaja Forest Entrance

This gate is around 15 kilometres from Deniyaya’s centre. The primary attractions are Kekuna Ella waterfall, Pathan Oya waterfall, and the Pitadeniya Conservation Center’s hanging bridge. One of the most busy entrances in recent years.

Lankagama Sinharaja Forest Entrance

This entry is around 18.5 kilometres from Deniyaya’s centre. Six waterfalls can be seen in a relatively short period of time. This entry is extremely popular with local tourists. A route from Lankagama Entrance to Lions Rock was recently created.

Morningside Sinharaja Forest Entrance

This gate is around 40 kilometres from Deniyaya’s centre.

Kudawa Sinharaja Forest Entrance

This gate is around 95 km from Deniyaya’s centre.

Accommodation in Sinharaja forest

There are only a very few up-market hotels in the vicinity of Sinharaja Forest, but there are many accommodation providers with small properties that provide visitors with clean and secure accommodation at an affordable rate. If you are heading to Sinharaja during the peak holiday season in Sri Lanka (from November to April), it is strongly recommended to have your accommodation finalised before arriving here. It might be difficult to find a place to sleep at the last moment during the high-occupancy period.

Village homestays

Sinharaja Sumitrayo (friends of Sinharaja) and the Sinharaja village trust are two important organisations that are represented by the adjoining village community. A large number of villagers depend on the bounty of Sinharaja, and the Sinharaja forest is an important income generator for some.

These two organisations are fully focused on protecting the forest through knowledge sharing and skills among the members about the importance of conservation of the Sinharaja forest while using the forest for financial gain. They have turned the village resources to the benefit of the travellers, without any negative impact on the forest. At the same time, villagers also benefited from these programmes.

One such important initiative was an expansion of homestays that had already been in practise for some time in the area. As a traveller, anyone can support these communities by using the homestay accommodations provided by villagers while enjoying warm, welcoming, and personalised service.

Inquiries for homestays can be made through:

Tel: 0094-45-568-1977, 009411631334,

Hiniduma Rainforest community

Tel: 0094-91-2232585, Web:

Forest lodging

The department of forest maintains dormitories for visitors at Kudawa and Pitadeniya entrances. The reservation of rooms is possible only at the headquarters of the forest department in Colombo from Monday to Friday during office hours.

Forest department
Tel: 0094-11-2866624

There are many members of the Sinharaja guide association, who are primarily young people from the nearby villages. They are providing guided village tours and jungle trekking to travellers. Seerendipity tours always use the services of these young village boys, who are very knowledgeable about the fauna and flora of Sinharaja.

These young boys are well trained to be rainforest guides through projects and seminars sponsored by government and non-governmental organisations.