The area is famous for birdwatching – 23 of Sri Lanka’s 27 endemic bird species inhabit the surrounding forest. Rafter’s Retreat has the best ornithological guides. A half-day of birdwatching is around Rs 2800.
At the time of research, the Kelaniya Ganga, the river that runs through Kitulgala, offered the best white-water rafting in Sri Lanka. However the construction of two new dams upstream (scheduled to be finished by perhaps 2019) will disrupt the river and impact future rafting trips. Contact Rafter's Retreat or Borderlands for the latest situation.
For now, the typical rafting excursion takes in seven Class 2-3 rapids in 7km for US$30 per person, including transport and lunch. You’ll be on the water for around two hours. Experienced rafters can opt for more difficult Class 4-5 rapids by special arrangement. Some operators also combine river canyoning with a rafting trip.
Almost every hotel can organise rafting trips with over a dozen local operators. All offer pretty similar packages but not all have insurance – ask to see their papers first. Xclusive Adventures has a good reputation.
The sheer hills surrounding Kitulgala are covered in rainforest and the area makes for some decent, but quite strenuous, jungle hikes. You will need a guide, good footwear, waterproofs and leech repellent. Most hotels can arrange a guide and suggest a suitable route; Channa Perera at Rafter’s Retreat is the most experienced ‘jungle man’ in the area and is knowledgable about the local flora and fauna. A half-day trek costs around US$20.