Kithulgala is quickly gaining reputation the capital of adrenaline sports in Sri Lanka. The Kelani River, which begins at Sri Pada and continues to Colombo, is home to amazing rapids. There are a number of tour operators who run rafting trips on the Kelani out of Kithugala, but only one is internationally certified for safety – Borderlands.
Taking the number 18 bus from Colombo to Hatton, the journey to Kithugala should take about three hours. When I arrived at Borderlands’ base camp I was served a hearty meal of pasta with marinara, garlic bread, salad, and a cup of Hansa coffee. After digesting, my friends and I piled into a van and headed upriver to begin our trip.
Once we were in the river Nimal, our tour guide, gave us a lengthy lecture on what to do in the event of an emergency. After the verbal guide, he took us to the middle of the river and had us practice basic strokes and safety techniques. The safety training was equivalent to what I’ve received in on the Colorado River. After the practice, the lead kayak headed out and we quickly followed. We were the only boat on the river who had safety training and a lead safety kayak.
We set out, hit some rapids, and got thoroughly soaked. (Note: don’t bring electronics unless you’re ok with them getting wet) Nimal filled us in on the history of the river, and pointed out the remnants from Bridge on the River Kwai. Luckily I had watched the film the week prior, the landscape looks a bit different due to dams that were built after the movie was filmed. After thirty minutes or so we reached the half way point, and it was time to go canyoning.
We hiked through the jungle for about fifteen minutes until we reached our boulder playground. Nimal gave us another safety talk before giving us the go ahead to start cliff jumping. The river has carved out a park in the boulders, there are pockets of water to slide, jump, and dive into. Canyoning was by far the highlight of the day – it was exhilarating.
After finishing up with the canyons we piled back into our rafts and headed out to finish the 6.5km stretch of rapids. Nimal helped us to surf some rapids in the boat, and let us get out and go swimming for a stretch. The entire trip took just under four hours, and when we got back to camp the staff gave us some tubes to go play with on the small rapids that surround the camp.
Guests have the option to spend the night at Borderlands, and I can’t recommend it enough. After tubing I headed to shower and then went to use the wifi available in the lodge. A few hours later we were served a dinner of fried chicken, vegetables, and banana fritters with ice cream. By the time I put down my fork I was exhausted, and ready for bed. The tents are large, and host two twin beds. Lying in bed and listening to the babbling brook below was a perfect way to end the day.
Borderlands’ website is a bit outdated, and it doesn’t have any pricing information available. So you’ll have to call for booking information. Only cash is accepted at the camp, so come prepared. There is an ATM up the road, serviced by HNB.
Kithulgala is a lot of fun, and a great way to break up the trip from Colombo into tea country. A definite must do in Sri Lanka!
– Slip and slide down canyons
– Watch Bridge on the River Kwai before you go
– Don’t forget your bug spray
– Bring some petroleum jelly (vaseline)/plasters in case you get leeches