Waterfalls in Sri Lanka
Though Sri Lanka's waterfalls are neither record-breaking in height nor overwhelming considering the amounts of water, it can be called an island of waterfalls, because of the sheer number and the immense beauty of its waterfalls. Sri Lanka has about 200 falls of more than 10 metres height, most of them are situated in the highlands. Currently, there are 430 waterfalls registered by the "Lanka Council on Water Falls" (LCWF), an NGO creating a database on Sri Lankan waterfalls since November 2000. Regarding the density, the "number in comparison to size" quotient, Sri Lanka is probably the world-record-country for waterfalls. The reason for the huge number of waterfalls is the geological formation of the hill country. It consists of a sequence of plateaus. Streams leaving such plateaus will, crossing the plateau's edge, pour quickly to lower altitudes, often in rapids or sometimes falling down rock surfaces vertically, thus forming a waterfall.
Regrettably, some of Sri Lanka's waterfalls have become less impressive during the recent decades, since hydropower projects have reduced the amounts of water. The largest (though by far not the tallest) waterfalls of the island are almost forgotten today, their name was "Victoria Falls", they disappeared below the surface of huge Victoria reservoir, which is part of the Mahaweli irrigation and power generation project. On the other hand, there are additional man-made waterfalls in Sri Lanka now. Good news for thing for lovers of waterfalls is: Most of them are remote, still undisturbed, and surrounded by charming sceneries, inviting to relax. Many of the falls are very difficult to find in the dense forests and some are almost inaccessible, and a few are still unknown to the public. A handfull of Sri Lanka's waterfalls have pools that provide perfect opportunities for refreshing bathes in the middle of mother nature. Some rock pools are safe, but others are dangerous, partly because of slippery rocks. Several frequently visited places such as Ravana Falls and Bopath Falls have claimed dozens of lives, particularly when rainfalls at the upper reaches, sometimes unnoticed, suddenly increased the amounts of water. Always ask locals if swimming is safe or not. Sometimes the lovely setting will be enjoyable enough without a bath. And don't hesitate to enjoy a hike to some secluded waterfalls. This webpage will introduce the dozen waterfalls that are best-known but also some of those little-known hidden treasures.
With a height of 241 m (791 ft), Bambarakanda Ella is by far the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. It ranks as one of the 300 tallest waterfalls in the world. This waterfall is formed by one of Sri Lanka's several streams called Kuda Oya ("little river"), which is a tributary of the Walawe river. Bambarakanda Falls, also known as Bambarakele Falls, is located in Halmadulla near Kalupahana at the southern foot of Horton Plains, where a third access road to the national park begins, which is a spectacular steep mountain road, but beyond Bambarakanda Falls the upper parts of the road require 4-wheel vehicles. The falls can be seen from a distance when acessing the, they are in only 5 kilometres distance from the A4 mainroad. A footpath leads to the pool at the bottom of the Bambarakanda Falls hidden in a pine grove. The extent of water spilt downwards is can vary significantly, depending on rainfall.
Diyaluma Ella, Sri Lanka's third tallest waterfalls, is located directly at the A4 mainroad, in about 40 km distance west of Bambarakanda Ella, halfway between Beragala and Wellawaya, not far from Koslanda. Diyaluma Falls are 171 m (561 ft) high. The water is from the small river Poonagalla Oya, originating from the Mahakande Pass in Koslanda. It's a tributary of the Kirindi Oya. In Sinhala, "Diya Haluma" means "rapid flowing water". But it can also mean "liquid light". Legend has it that a young chieftain was banished to the highlands. When his betrothed tried to follow him, all the passes were guarded. So she tried to climb the rock, the young chieftain let down a rope of twisted creepers over the escarpment, but as she was hauled up she was dashed against the rocks and died. Out of pity, the gods caused a stream of water to gush from the mountain in order to veil the body in a watery light, hence the name "Diyaluma".
The Ravana Falls, known as Ravana Ella, are situated 6 km south from Ella in the Ravana Ella Wildlife Sanctuary in the Ella Gap. The main waterfalls of several cascades measures about 25 m (82 ft) in height. During the local wet season, the waterfall turns into a form similar to an Areca flower during wet season, but the amount of water is reduced dramatically in the dry season. dramatically. The falls are named after the legendary King of Lanka, known from Hindu mythology and the Indian Ramayana epic. Ravana kidnapped Rama's wife Sita. Local legend has it that he had hidden her in the caves behind this waterfall and sometimes bathed in the pool. Nothing like this is mentioned in the Indian scriptures. Nevertheless, due to the belief that the Ravana Ella Cave had once served as an abode of Sita, the Ravana Falls attract pilgrims from India travelling on the Ramayana Trail.
The best places to enjoy the famous panoramic views the small town Ella is famous for are a little bit outside town at a side road climbing the hill a little bit further upwards. From the guesthouse called "Panorama" and the neighbouring "Ambiente" and Hotel "Heaven's Edge" you can enjoy even more than the view to the Ella gap and Ella rock. Far in the east is the high peak of the Namunukula mountain near Badulla, and at the right angle of the 180-degreepanorama are the nice waterfalls that are sometimes called "Little Ravana Falls" or "Upper Ravana Falls". Those travelling to Ella by train from Kandy or Nuwara Eliya will see the waterfalls to the right just a few minutes before arriving at Ella Railway station. Whoever wants to walk from Ella to its waterfalls has to walk along the rails. The name of the city, "Ella", means just this, "waterfall". Accordingly, "Ravana Ella" means "Ravana Falls".
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sri Lanka, Dunhinda Falls, is located just 5 kms north of Uva's provincial capital Badulla, in less than 2 km distance from Badulla-Mahiyanganaya Road. A small scenic jungle path leads from food stalls to an observation platform close to the falls. The picturesque Dunhinda Falls are only 64 m (210 ft) in height, but due to the extent of water pouring down, they are quite voluminous and noisy. The Sinhala word "Dunhinda" (pronounced "dung-hinde"means "smoky spray. This smoky vapour is created by the river Badulu Oya that flows through the Badulla town. Slighty further downstream is Kuda Dunhinda Ella, the "Small Smoking Waterfalls", which can be seen in a distance from another observation platform at the above-mentioned jungle path. The surrounding area is said to have been inhabited by Bintenne Veddas a long time ago.
Baker's Falls, 22 m (72 ft) in height. is a beautiful waterfall on Horton Plains, about 35 kms away from Nuwara-Eliya. The waterfall looks like steps. Atop of the fall is a long pool. Below the middle part there is another fall. Many Rhododendron and Fern bushes are around the waterfall. The river forming Baker's Falls is Belihul Oya, which is a tributary of Walawe Ganga. The falls were named after Sir Samuel Baker, who was the first European who has seen these waterfalls, when he was hunting in this remote part of the hill country. Samuel Baker is the famous British explorer, who tried to find the sources of the River Nile and indeed dicovered Lake Albert. Baker served as the Governor-General of the Equatorial Nile Basin between 1869 and 1873, which he established as the Province of Equatoria. His desire for travel took him to Ceylon first, where he founded an agricultural settlement at Nuwara Eliya.
Devon Falls, formed by Kotmale Oya, a tributary of the Mahaweli River, is 6 km west of Talawakelle, on the A7 mainroad between Hatton and Nanu Oya. There are two carparks with observation platforms at the road, offering perfect views. The 97 m (318 ft) tall waterfall, one of the 20 highest in Sri Lanka, is named after an English coffee planter called Devon. A tea plantation of the sam name is situated nearby the falls. Devon Falls is also an adventure activity attraction, as from the very top, hikers can rappel down about 5 m along the rocks on the left side of the waterfall and be geared up in harness and helmet. A quick demonstration will be given be the group leader for those who had never rapelled previously. Walking along a narrow ridge can be quite thrilling here. But as a safety measure a support system is set up for controlling the climber's fall in the event of a slip.
St. Clair's Falls
This twin waterfall cascades called St. Clair's Falls can conveniently be seen by travellers on the A7 mainroad as well as from the railway between Hatton and Nanu Oya. All cacades together measure about 80 m (260 ft) in height. Due to the large volume of water and, with 50 m (165 ft) being the widest waterfalls on the island, St Clair's Falls are often called "King of Waterfalls" or "Niagara of Sri Lanka". Visitors can walk down among tea bushes at a steep slope to reach the waterfalls. Regrettably, a hydro power project will affect the water resources of St Clair's, but after protests, a quantity of water will be released then to prevent disappearance of the falls. The second cascade called Kuda Ella (Small St Clair's), further downstream, is also visible at the curve near the 90 km post of the A7. St. Clair's Falls are situated amidst Sri Lanka's vastest tea growing area, its nameging village Dimbula is not far from the falls.
The Ramboda Falls close to the village of the same name near Pusselawa. Actually, Ramboda Falls consists of two different waterfalls in close proximity to each other. The waterfalls can be seen from the Ramboda Falls Hotel. Many Sri Lankans visit the falls for enjoying a picknick. The double fall is 110 m (361 ft) tall. Ramboda Ella is formed by the Panna Oya , which is a tributary of the Kothmale River. Ramboda Falls can easily be seen when travelling along the A5 mainroad from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, crossing the tea plantation are where most tourists visit a tea factory, viz Greenwood or Bluefield or Labookellie. Ramboda Falls are in an elevation of almost 925 m (3100 ft) above sea level. Ramboda is part of the Ramayana route. This Indian epic mentions that Ravana tried to impress the abducted consort of Rama, Sita, by showing her the beauty of his kingdom. Flying over the region, Sita saw lots of waterfalls. More about Ramboda...
"Laxapana" is also spelt "Lakshapana" in English. The meaning of the Sinhala word "laxa" is "hundred thousand" and "Pahana" is one of the many words for rock. With 126 m (413 ft) the Laxapana Falls belong to the top 10 highest waterfalls in Sri Lanka. Laxapana Falls are situated a little bit hidden at a side road between Kandy and Adam's Peak, in a village called Kiriwan Eliya and in 9 km distance from Norton Bridge. The rarely visited waterfalls can only be reached via a long flight of stairways running to the pool. Laxapana Ella is formed by Maskeliya Oya, not far from the confluence with the Kehelgamu Oya forming the Kelani River. Today, Laxapana Falls carry much less water now than before the two Laxapana Hydroelectricity Power stations were constructed. Local legend has it that Laxapana Falls was the place where Buddha mended his saffron robe when he was on the way to Sri Pada.
Aberdeen Falls, near Laxapana Falls, is one of the most picturesque waterfalls of Sri Lanka and a real off-the-beaten-track destination. The 98 m (322 ft) high waterfall is formed by the Kehelgamu Oya, a tributary of the Kelani Ganga. Aberdeen Falls can be reached by driving to a nearby carpark on a sideroad from Norton Bridge to Kitulagala, then walking down a steep stairway. Alternatively, there is a 9 km side road and jungle trek from Ginigathena, an easily accessible village at the pass of the same name. The first part of the sideroad to Aberdeen Falls is managable for cars. Due to a lack of signboards you should not try to find this jungle trek without the help of locals, though coming from this direction can see the Aberdeen Falls already from a far distance. A viewing platform is close to the waterfalls. The pool at the bottom of Aberdeen Falls is crystal clear. But bathing here can be dangerous because of underwater currents.
Though situated only 6 km away from Kitulgala, which is popular with adventure tourists, for river rafting and canyoning and trekking, the fascinating Manneketi Falls remain to be a quaint and gorgeous unknown place, due to its secluded location. Believe it or not, it's almost impossible to find the Manneketi Falls without the help of locals or experienced guides. But Manneketi Falls is actually worth a hike. It's more than one waterfall, There are two different levels, to be reached using different jungle pathes. The upper Manneketi Falls consist of several parallel cascades. The large rock pool here is invating, bathing is not dangerous, though it is only 100 metres to the spectacular edge of the 60 m tall main waterfall. This knife-shaped Manaketi Falls can be seen in their full beauty from another pool further downstream. The name of the river is Girankathi Oya. Be aware of leeches when walking in the jungle.
Bopath Ella, fromed by the Kuru Ganga, is an amazing waterfall near Kuruwita in the Ratnapura District. The name refers to its distinctive shape resembling that of the leaf of a "Bo" tree, "Path" being the Sinhala word for "leaf". The form is caused by a narrow gap in the rock at the top of the Bopath Falls. When pouring through this gap, the water fall on a horizontal rock surface causing it to spray as an increasingly widening veil. Myths say that Bopath Ella is haunted and hides a treasure trove. The amount of water can vary dramatically, because Ratnapura District is the main monsoon area. After heavy rainfall bathing in the stream below the Bopath Falls can become quite dangerous, several people lost their lives. Bopath Falls is commercialized, it attracts many visitors, particularly in the weekend, most of them are Sri Lankans. Bopath Ella is situated closer to Colombo than any other highland waterfall, only 100 km.
Only 2 km north of Bopath Falls, Dodan Falls, altogether 53 m (174 ft) high, consists of cascades in two distinct sections, the upper one having trunk-shaped arches. Dodan Falls' source is the Devipahala river, which flows into the Kuru river just below Bopath Falls. The Dodan Falls are close to a small road, the jungle path to the bottom end of the falls is very short, but steep and slippery, ans usually full of leeches. The area of Bopath Ella and Dodan Ella is famous for its abundance in herbal plants. Dodan Ella, as a picturesque location, was used for the filming of the Sri Lankan movie “Inspector Champa”. The pronunciation of "Dodan Ella" is "Dodang Elle". This "n" is sometimes spelt as an "m": "Dodam Falls". But this is misleading. "m" with a dot is used in scientific literature for a character of Indian languages that is called "Anushvara". It changes is sound, "m" befor "b,p", "n" before "d,t", but "ng" otherwise.
Kirindi Ella near Pelmadulla in Ratnapura District is a picture-book waterfall in the jungles at the southern slopes of Sri Lanka's highlands. The source of this 116 m (381 ft) high waterfall is the Kirindi Ela, not to be confused with the river Kirindi Oya. The Kirindi Ela flows from Kuttapitiya Mountain via the Denawaka River to the Kaluganga. At the base of the Kirindi Fall, the water plunges into a pool called Diyagathwala, which can dry up during the dry season. Locals believe that a flight of stone steps leads down to the bottom, where a treasure trove is hidden. The forested area surrounding the Kirindi Falls was once known as Kustapitiya, meaning itch. Legend has it that a king suffering from an itch had lived here. Locals also believe that during Halloween human voices can be heard near the waterfall and that fireballs can be seen in the skies at night. "Kirindi" is the name of a pearl.
Hunas Falls, 48 m (157 ft) high, is man-made, an artificial waterfall in a landscape garden belonging to the renowned hotel of the same name. Just above Hunas Falls lies a 32 hectares garden with an artificial lake, which is for the exclusive pleasure of the hotel guests. Hunas Falls is one of Sri Lanka most scenic hotel locations, right in the centre of the Hunasgiriya Tea Estate. When opened in 1971, it was run by the Tea Estate, now belongs to the Amaya Resorts and Spas offering luxurious ans stylish hotels in many parts of Sri Lanka. The Hunas Falls resort is situated in the hills high above the village of Elkaduwa, 26 km away from Kandy. The mountain hotel, indeed a haven of peace and tranquillity, is an ideal starting point for trekking tours in the Knuckles Range and day trips to Sigiriya or Dambulla in the Cultural Triangle. Hunas Falls has become a hideaway for honeymoon couples in particular.
Bamarakiri Falls, a romantic waterfall with several cascades, is situated in the very northwest of Knuckles Range, not far from Rattota and Riverston. A suspension bridge spanned just above the precipice of the main cascade adds a final touch to the already beautiful scenery. There is a rock pool between the upper three cascades called Kuda Bamarakiri Ella and the main waterfall, Maha Bamarikiri Ella, "Kuda" and "Maha" means "small" and "grand" respectively. The natural pool seems to be inviting. But be aware, this is one of the most dangeous places for bathing in Sri Lanka at all. In May 2002, seventeen people lost their lives here, presumably after a sudden increase of waterlevels and currents. But this is not the only example of fatal accidents at Bamarakiri Falls. "Bamara" is the name of a wasp, whereas "kiri" is the Sinhala word for "milk".
The cascades of the small river Kataran Oya (also spelt "Katarang Oya") are a family-friendly canyoning opportunity near Kithulgala.
Kithulgala (also spelt "Kitulgala") is the best adventure holiday destination in Sri Lanka.Apart from white water rafting on Kelani river, Kithulagala offers trekking routes to waterfalls.
Those interested in caving tours will, too, find waterfalls in front of many caves, for example at Wavol Panne, Batadomba Lena and Beli Lena.