Sinharaja Forest Reserve

The Hill Country

A beautifully coloured Agamid lizard in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka

Getty Images/AWL Images RM

The Sinharaja (Lion King) rainforests occupy a broad ridge at the heart of the island’s wet zone. The only way to get about the reserve is by foot, and excellent park rangers (at the park entrance) or freelance guides (available through local hotels) can lead you along slippery trails, pointing out the wealth of stunning plant, bird and animal life. Entrance tickets are sold at the main Forest Department office at Kudawa and at Deodawa, 5km from Deniyaya on the Matara road.

On most days the jungle is shrouded by copious rain clouds, which replenish its deep soils and balance water resources for much of southwestern Sri Lanka. Recognising its importance to the island’s ecosystem, Unesco declared the Sinharaja Forest Reserve a World Heritage Site in 1989.

Sinharaja is bordered by rivers: the Koskulana Ganga in the north and the Gin Ganga in the south. An old foot track that goes past the Beverley Estate marks the eastern border, close to the highest peak in the forest, Hinipitigala (1171m). Towards the west the land decreases in elevation.

The reserve comprises 189 sq km of primary and modified forest, measuring about 21km east to west and 3.7km north to south. It was once a royal reserve, and some colonial records refer to it as Rajasinghe Forest. It may have been the last redoubt of the Sri Lankan lion.