February 2018


Discover the Secrets of Sinharaja
February 2018




Sinharaja forest reserve is the largest rainforest in South East Asia. Rich in terms of biodiversity, the forest reserve was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. Extending within Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces, Sinharaja has an extent of 11,185 hectares.


Words and Photos: Priyantha Talwatte


Sinharaja is within the districts of Ratnapura, Galle and Matara. It is a narrow strip (21km from east to west and about 7km from north to south) of undulating terrain, which consist of, a series of ridges and valleys drained by an intricate network of streams. To the north Napola Dola, Koslanda Ganga, Maha Dola and Gin Ganga to the south west, Kalukandawa ela, and Kudawa Ganga to the west.


The forest enjoys the benefits of both monsoons. February to April is the best time to visit the reserve, as it could be warm and dry with little rain.

Sinharaja was declared a forest reserve in 1875, and it was also declared as an International Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1978. The man and biosphere programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme, launched by UNESCO, which aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments.


Carbon sequestration is a natural phenomenon that takes place during photosynthesis in plants, which absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. Leaves, branches, trunks, and roots store these carbon and produces oxygen. Thus, Sinharaja rainforest plays a pivotal role in the ecosystem.


Average annual rainfall varies between 3000-6000mm without a distinct dry period. Locals believe that it rains 300 days of the year. As such when you visit Sinharaja always be prepared for rain, even if you are visiting during the dry season. Carry adequate protection for your camera gear and electronic equipment.


Vegetation mainly consist of tropical lowland wet evergreen forest. In addition there are sub montane forest and sub montane grasslands. Fresh water habitats, rocky terrains and other ecosystems contribute to the ecological diversity of this unique rainforest.

The forest reserve comes under the Forest Department of Sri Lanka. There are three main access roads and one relatively unknown road to Sinharaja.

- Colombo, Ratnapura, Thiruwanaketiya, Niwithigala, Kalawana, Veddagala, and Kudawa. (160km)
- Colombo, Mathugama, Agalawattha, Baduraliya, Kalawana, Veddagala and Kudawa. (123km)
- Colombo, Akuressa, Morawake, Deniyaya, Mediripitiya, via Lankagama, ticket counter.
- Morning Side road, Colombo, Ratnapura, Rakwana, and Sooriyakanda.


The vertical stratification of the vegetation is very clear and can easily be distinguished. The top most layer (emergent layer) consists of very tall (over 45m) trees such as Hora, Boo Hora, Dorana and Dun.


The second layer or the Canopy, which rises up to 30-45m consists of Batu-na, Atamba, Wal Del, Liyan and Nawada whose branches are interlocked to form a closed canopy. Dawatha, Hedawaka, Kitul, and Walukeena are in the third layer with an average height of 15-30m. Below this layer are the understory layer 5-20m shrub layer 2-4m and ground layer below a metre, which is called the forest floor.


This vertical stratification of the vegetation further gives rise to a phenomenon called a "mixed species feeding flock." An amazing arrangement between different kinds of birds coming to hunt for food together. A wide variety of birds join together in a team effort to forage for food. The jungle fowl and spur fowl scratch the ground for worms, at the next level woodpeckers and the nut hatchers feed on grubs and caterpillars, while the insects that have been disturbed fly around even higher at the next level only to be snapped by the crested drongos and bee-eaters. The group of birds fly off in a flash and you will be extremely lucky if you happen to be in the midst of this feeding frenzy. This phenomenon could be witnessed during morning hours and evenings.

Elephant, leopard, sambar, mouse deer, barking deer, purple face leaf monkey, brown mongoose and golden palm civet also make Sinharaja their home. However, you may not always see these mammals during your visit.19 out of the 20 endemic species of birds in Sri Lanka are found here. Out of the 12 endemic mammals eight species are found in Sinharaja.


The Kudawa entrance is the most preferred route and is considered the main entrance. There is a visitor-friendly conservation centre established at Dorana Ella, from where you can purchase your tickets and obtain the services of a trained guide who will then assist you to track the paths and provide a glimpse into the ecosystem of the rainforest.


There are several interesting nature trails that one could venture upon with varying degrees of difficulty and significance. Waturawa, Nawada Tree, Pitakele Dooli Ella, Mullawella, Gallenyaya, as well as the Sinhagala nature trail are some of the popular trails in the Sinharaja Rainforest.


A minimum of two days visit is a must to fully understand the rainforest ecosystem and all its hidden secrets of life.

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    The Ceylon tree nymph is endemic to the island

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    A green forest lizard in perfect camouflage

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    A pair of Sri Lanka frougmouths

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    A spot-winged thrush enjoying its lunch

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    Serendib scops owl, discovered in Sri Lanka in 2004

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    The Sri Lanka blue magpie, the icon of Sinharaja

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    A grizzled giant squirrel poses for a photo

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    The common bronze-back snake

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    Katu una (Bambusa bambos) is a native species

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    A shoal of blackline rasbora

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