The largest surviving tract of undisturbed lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is one of the island’s outstanding natural wonders and a bio diverse treasure box of global significance (recognized by its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989). This is the archetypal rainforest as you’ve always imagined it: the air thick with humidity (approaching ninety percent in places) and alive with the incessant noise of birds, cicadas and other invisible creatures; the ground choked with a dense understory of exotic ferns and snaking lianas wrapped around the base of towering tropical hardwoods, rising towards the forest canopy high overhead.
According to tradition, Sinharaja was formerly a royal reserve (as suggested by its name, meaning “Lion King”). The first attempts to conserve it were made as far back as 1840, when it became property of the British Crown. Logging began in 1971, until being banned in the face of national protests in 1977, when the area was declared a national reserve. Sinharaja is now safely protected under UNESCO auspices, using a system whereby inhabitants of the twenty-odd villages which surround the reserve have the right to limited use of the forest’s resources, including tapping kitul palms for jaggery and collecting rattan for building.
Sinharaja stretches for almost 30km across the wet zone at the southern edges of the hill country, enveloping a series of switchback hills and valleys ranging in altitude from just 300m up to 1170m. To the north and south, the reserve is bounded by two sizeable rivers, the K?lu Ganga and the Gin Ganga, which cut picturesque, waterfall-studded courses through the trees.