Ginigaththena Road, Kithulgala
Kitulgala is Sri Lanka's white water rafting central because of its access to the Kelani river. We stayed at Ceylon Adventures where we rafted, trekked and slid down mini waterfalls.
Kitulgala is Sri Lanka's white water rafting central because of its easy access to the Kelani river. There are plenty of hotels and adventure groups who organize white water rafting (like Borderlands, whom we've reviewed), and we did ours through Sri Lanka Expeditions aka Kitulgala Adventures, who booked us a stay at Ceylon Adventures.
If you like water sports or you're just an adrenaline junkie, then Kitulgala is where you should go. In addition to white water rafting, you can also trek through the woods, slide down mini-waterfalls (both of which we tried), and go waterfall abseiling (use a harness to shimmy down big rocks).
Kitulgala is about a 2.5 hour drive from Colombo, on the Hatton Road. If you're not going to drive there, you can take the Hatton bus from the Pettah bus station and be there in about 3 hours.
Ceylon Adventures, the place we stayed at for one day, was pretty awesome. It's a lodge of sorts tucked right in the middle of beautiful jungle space with a view of the mountains and its own private streams.
When you're not out rafting, you can wander around the premises and sit in the stream. It's very meditative and refreshing for a holiday after months of being in the city (two butterflies sat on my knee while I was in the stream and I had a little Snow White moment).
Tasty Sri Lankan buffet for lunch
The rafting, trekking and stream-sliding (about 3 hours), along with lunch and tea, cost us Rs. 3000 each (4 of us). If you want to stay at Ceylon Adventures however, lodging alone costs Rs. 3900 per head. We were comfortably able to have fun, eat and head back home within one day though.
I've been white water rafting in Rishikesh on the Ganges River, and the rapids are actually wilder there. Kitulgala rapids are relatively tame but still enough to give you a thrill if you go with a fun group.
An image from the Kitulgala Adventures website
You basically strap on your life jacket and helmet, grab an oar, and they take you in a tuk-tuk to the take-off site. There, you get in your raft with the instructor, and he explains the 4 orders that he'll shout during the 5KM journey: forward, backward, relax, hold the ropes, and get down. It's pretty simple and you don't have to worry much - you won't be tiring your arms out and the instructor knows exactly how to control the raft by himself.
The coolest part of the whole thing however was the 'confidence jump' or the stream-sliding: halfway through the rafting journey, you get out and trek through the woods to a place with a stream and mini-waterfalls. There an instructor will take you down a series of scary little tasks - jumping off rocks into water, sliding down mini-waterfall things, and so on. At the end of it there are two big jumps: a 6 foot drop, and a 12 foot drop, the 'confidence jumps', the certificate that proves that you have balls of steel.
Kitulgala is pretty amazing, and if you start early, it's only a one-day trip that'll cost you Rs. 2000 if you carry your own food (if booked through Kitulgala Adventures at least). Ceylon Adventures is a great place to stay there, with good food and awesome service (Wasantha and Nuwan were the guys in charge on our visit - just FYI, the latter knows ghost stories if you're going to stay the night).
So if you want to take a time-out in Sri Lanka's beautiful mountains and streams, and scare yourself silly doing water sports with a bunch of friends, then this trip is for you.