World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka – 7 sites

Virgin forests, royal and sacred cities, cliff top citadels, colonial strongholds and temple caves – with no fewer than seven World Heritage Sites declared and listed by UNESCO, Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s richest treasure troves of both natural and man made wonders.

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Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja Forest Reserve

The Sinharaja Forest Reseserve This tropical rain forest is a living heritage. Bio diversity of the forest is very high and a large proportion of the flora in this forest is endemic to the country and some endemic to the Singharaja Forest itself. This is a very good place to see many endemic birds such as Ceylon Lorikeet, Layard’s parakeet, Jungle and Spur Fowl, Ceylon Wood Pigeon, Grey Hombill, Spotted wing Thrush, Rufous and Brown- capped Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush, Ceylon Blue Magpie, White Headed Starling, Ceylon Hill Mynha, Legge’s Flowerpecker. The clear cut roads in to the jungle provide easy access to the forest. This important forest is a Man and Biosphere Forest reserve and it is considered as a World Heritage Site.[/column]

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The sacred city of Anuradhapura (4 BC)
The sacred city of Anuradhapura
(4 BC)
The Cave Temples of Dambulla (1 BC)
The Cave Temples of Dambulla
(1 BC)
The Medieval capital of Polonnaruwa (10 AD)
The Medieval capital of Polonnaruwa (10 AD)



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The Sigiriya rock fortress (5 AD)
The Sigiriya rock fortress (5 AD)



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The Royal City of Kandy (17 AD)
The Royal City of Kandy (17 AD)



The Duch Fortifications at Galle (17 AD)
The Duch Fortifications at Galle (17 AD)


National Parks

Compiled By L.A.M.C.Amarasekara
Forestry and environment socitey, University of Sri Jayewardenepura

Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains


The Horton Plains National Park is the only national park situated in the wet zone of the country and falls within the Nuwara Eliya district. Situated 2300m above sea level this national park has different climatic conditions and habitat to all the other national parks. Almost all life forms in Horton Plains are adapted to the high altitude conditions. There are a lot of endemic flora and fauna found in the plains itself. The endemicity among fauna is comparatively high. Bear Monkey (race of the Purple Face leaf Monkey), Sambhur and Leopard are some interesting mammals. One would also find several endemic hill country birds in the Horton plains national park. The panoramic scenic beauty of the hill country could be witnessed within the park. The famous “World’s End” and “Bakers Falls” are major attractions. The Kirigalpotta, second highest peak and the Thotapola, third highest peak of the country are also situated in the Horton plains.

Yala National Park

The Ruhunu (Yala) National Park is one of the largest national parks in the Country with 103,882.9 hectares. It is situated 300 K.m. south of Colombo on the southeast shore of Sri Lanka. This National Park has several habitat types such as forests, scrub lands, grass lands, lagoons, beaches and other wetlands. This is the most visited national park of the country and its main attractions are Elephants, Leopards, Sloth Bears, Crocodiles, migratory and resident birds. Most appealing is the overall ‘feel’ of undisturbed jungle. Big rock formations, Tanks, Beaches and the Lagoons amplify the scenic beauty. A safari jeep ride will take you to close encounters with the wild beasts and to the beauty of the park and make it an unforgettable experience of your life.

Kithulgala Forest Reserve

Kithulgala Forest Reserve

The Kithulgala forest is a secondary rain forest situated beside the Kelani River, one of our longest rivers. There is a tributary flowing through the forest to this river. The forest reserve has a high biodiversity. Though it is mostly secondary forest, it’s faunal and floral diversity is very similar to a primary forest. Wild boar, Toque Macaque, Purple faced leaf monkey, and Barking deer are some of the interesting mammal species.Among the interesting bird species Red faced Malkoha, Ceylon Blue Magpie, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Frog Mouth and Layard’s Parakeet are outstanding.

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park is situated in both intermediate zone and the dry zone. Udawalawe park is adjacent to the Udawalawe reservoir and Walawe river. The extent of the Udawalawe park is approximately 30821 hectares and is situated 170km south east of Colombo. This park lies between Rathnapura and Moneragala districts. Though rain forests, scrub lands, and teak plantations are the habitat types of this park, grasslands with tall grass and occasional trees and bushes decorates the land for the living herds of wild Elephants. Udawalawe, is probably one of the best places to see wild elephants in Sri Lanka!

Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park is the only ‘RAMSAR’ site in Sri Lanka, which lies in south arid zone of the country. This national park consists of many large and small water bodies such as lagoons, tanks (reservoirs) and salt pans. Apart from the wetlands, the park consists of dry thorny scrub forest short in height. This type of forest is unique to the dry and arid parts of the country. The water bodies create a good feeding ground for the wetland birds, Migratory birds & Flocks of humming birds which attracts many visitors. Migratory birds can be found in very large numbers during the migratory period. A large flock of Flamingos loitering is also a big attraction.



Waterfalls of Sri Lanka

Waterfalls of Sri Lanka

Compiled By L.A.M.C.Amarasekara
Forestry and environment socitey, University of Sri Jayewardenepura

The island is blessed with 103 rivers and streams radiating from the central hills, rushing down rocky precipices forming a number of roaring waterfalls of various shapes and heights, all ending up loosing the momentum at the Indian Ocean.Here are some of the most picturesque waterfalls, out of which only a few can be viewed with ease, where as the others can only be seen by penetrating thick forests and tea plantations

  1. Bambarakanda Ella The highest waterfall in Sri Lanka (865 feet), which is at it`s peak capacity during September and October.
  2. Diyaluma You will find the 2nd highest waterfall around 13 Km towards “Koslanda” on the Wellawaya Road. Diyaluma means Watery light. 
  3. Dunhinda To see the breathtaking beauty of Dunhinda falls(210 feet), you have to travel about 5 Km from Badulla along the Mahiyangana road, and walk for another 2 Km (trekking) away from the main road.
  4. St. Claire The widest waterfall in Sri Lanka, about 265 feet high. 
  5. Laxapana Falls Laxapana fall is 377 feet high
  6. Aberdeen Falls A mere 5 Km away from Laxapana you will find the 322 feet high Aberdeen Falls. 
  7. Devon Falls Devon falls(318 feet) can be best viewed from the 20th mile post of the Talawakele-Nawalapitiya highway.
  8. Rawana Falls  Visible from the Ella-Wellawaya road, near Udunuwara village. A popular stopover for travelers.
  9. Alupola Ella This 200 feet high fall is to be found 25 Km away from Ratnapura in the Wewalwatte village.
  10.  Bopath Ella  The water falls 100 feet in the shape of a Bo leaf. When you travel along the Colombo-Ratnapura highway, turn at Higasthenna junction and drive along the Agalawatte road up to Devapahala village to see Bopath Ella.
  11.  The Lovers Leap The 100 feet high Lovers Leap begins it`s journey as a fountain at the Southern slope of Sri Lanka`s highest mountain Pidurutalagala. The falls can be seen from the town Nuwara Eliya.
  12. Mawanella Ella Travel 35 Km from Nuwara Eliya towards Udupussallawa and another 13 Km towards the Napola gap, and then you will find Mawanella Ella in the Lunuwatta village.
  13. Bakers Fall Discovered by Sir Samuel Baker and a good stopover on your way to the World`s end.
  14. Elgin Falls Railwaybetween Nanu Oya and Ambewela offers a panoramic view of the 75 feet high Elgin Falls.
  15. Bridal Falls The winding highway to the Nuwara Eliya Plateau offers a memorable view of Bridal Falls, resembling a bridal veil, while dropping over the rock face. 
  16. Perawella Falls Perawella Fall is about 90 feet high.
  17.  Ramboda Falls Can be seen from the Ramboda Bazaar on the Nuwara Eliya-Ramboda road.


Sinharaja Forest

Sinharaja is a forest in south-west wet zone of Sri Lanka which contians a high Bio diversity. A large proportion of flora and fauna in this forest is endemic to the country and some endemic to the Singharaja Forest itself. This is a very good place to see many endemic birds such as Ceylon Lorikeet, Layard’s parakeet, Jungle and Spur Fowl, Ceylon Wood Pigeon, Grey Hombill, Spotted wing Thrush, Rufous and Brown- capped Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush, Ceylon Blue Magpie, White Headed Starling, Ceylon Hill Mynha, Legge’s Flowerpecker. The clear cut roads in to the jungle provide easy access to the forest. This important forest is a Man and Biosphere Forest reserve and it is considered as a World Heritage Site.


Fauna Endemism is high, particularly for birds with 19 (95%) of 20 species endemic to Sri Lanka present. Endemism among mammals and butterflies is also greater than 50%.
Threatened mammals are leopard Panthera pardus and Indian elephant Elephas maximus (E). The endemic purple-faced langur Presbytis senex is present. Birds considered to be endangered or rare (Hoffmann, 1984) are Sri Lanka wood pigeon Columba torringtoni, green-billed coucal Centropus chlororhynchus, Sri Lanka white-headed starling Sturnus senex, Sri Lanka blue magpie Cissa ornata, and ashy-headed babbler Garrulax cinereifrons, all of which are endemic, and red-faced malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus. Of interest is the presence of Sri Lanka broad-billed roller Eurystomus orientalis irisi (I), sightings of which have decreased markedly in the last five years (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987). Of the reptiles and amphibia, python Python molurus is vulnerable and a number of endemic species are likely to be threatened. Noteworthy species include Calotes liolepis, the rarest of all Agamids on the island, the rare rough-nose horned lizard Ceratophora aspera, restricted to part of Sri Lanka’s wet zone, and Ramella palmata, a rare endemic microhylid (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987). Threatened freshwater fish are combtail Belontia signata (R), smooth-breasted snakehead Channa orientalis (R), black ruby barb Barbus nigrofasciatus (V), cherry barb Barbus titeya (V) and red-tail goby Sicydium halei (V), the conservation status of which is considered in Evans (1981). Of the 21 species of endemic butterfly, Sri Lanka rose Atrophaneura jophon is vulnerable (Collins and Morris, 1985). Sri Lankan five-bar sword Graphium antiphates ceylonicus, which is considered to be very rare, is not uncommon in Sinharaja at certain times of the year (J.N. Banks, pers. comm., 1986). Zoysa and Raheem (1987) comprehensively summarise what is known about the fauna.
An early account of the fauna is given by Baker (1937). Preliminary lists of the fauna (viz. mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes and butterflies) have been compiled (March for Conservation, 1985) and are included in the draft conservation plan (ForestDepartment, 1985).


Sinharaja Forest

Two main types of forest can be recognised. Remnants of Dipterocarpus forest occur in valleys and on their lower slopes, with hora D. zeylanicus and bu hora D. hispidus present in almost pure stands. Secondary forest and scrub occur where the original forest cover has been removed by shifting cultivation and in other places the forest has been replaced by rubber and tea plantations (Rosayro, 1954). Mesua-Doona (Shorea) forest, the climax vegetation over most of the reserve, covers the middle and upper slopes above 500m (Rosayro, 1942) or above 335m as suggested by Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke (1985). Garcinia hermonii followed by Xylopia championii invariably dominate the understorey tree stratum, a range of species dominate the subcanopy and na Mesua nagassarium usually predominates in the canopy layer (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1985). Details about the structure and composition of the vegetation are summarised by Zoysa and Raheem (1987).

Of Sri Lanka’s 830 endemic species, 217 trees and woody climbers are found in the lowland wet zone (Peeris, 1975). Of these, 139 (64%) have been recorded in Sinharaja (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1985), 16 of which are considered to be rare (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1981). Other rare endemics are the palm Loxococcus rupicola (R) and Atalantia rotundifolia, the latter being restricted to Sinhagala at 742m. Of 211 recorded species of trees and woody climbers, 40% have low population densities (less than or 10 or fewer individuals per 25ha) and 43% have restricted distributions, rendering them vulnerable to further encroachments into the reserve (Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke, 1981).

A variety of plants of known benefit to man are present, of which palm kitul Caryota urens (for jaggery, a sugar substitute), wewal Calamus sp. (for cane), cardamom Elattaria ensal (as spice), Shorea sp. (for flour), dun Shorea sp. (for varnish and incense) and weniwal Coscinium fenestratum (for medicinal purposes) are used intensively by villagers. A list of 202 plants, together with their endemicity and uses is given in the draft conservation plan (Forest Department, 1985).

Geographical Location

sinharaja forest

Situated in the south-west lowland wet zone of Sri Lanka, within Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces. It is bounded on the north by the Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga, on the south and south-west by the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga, on the west by the Kalukandawa Ela and Kudawa Ganga and on the east by an ancient footpath near Beverley Tea Estate and by the Denuwa Kanda. 6°21′-6°26’N, 80°21′-80°34’E

Date and History of establishment

Notified a national heritage wilderness area on 21 October 1988 (Gazette No. 528/14). Most of the area was originally declared a forest reserve on 3 May 1875 under the Waste Lands Ordinance and notified in the Ceylon Government Gazette No. 4046, dated 8 May 1875, while the rest was notified a proposed forest reserve in the early 20th century. Sinharaja Forest Reserve, comprising the existing and proposed forest reserves, was declared a biosphere reserve in April 1978, and inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988.


According to Gazette No. 528/14, the total area of the national heritage wilderness area is 18,899 acres and 12 perches (7,648.2ha). The area of the biosphere reserve and World Heritage site as cited in the respective nominations is 8,864ha, of which 6,092ha is forest reserve and 2,772ha is a proposed forest reserve.

Cultural Heritage

The Sinharaja region has long featured in the legends and lore of the people of Sri Lanka. Its name, literally meaning lion (sinha) king (raja), perhaps refers to the original ‘king-sized or royal forest of the Sinhalese’, a people of the legendary ‘lion-race’ of Sri Lanka (Hoffmann, 1979), or to the home of a legendary lion of Sri Lanka.

Local and Human Population

There are two villages within the south-west of the reserve, namely Warukandeniya and Kolonthotuwa, and about 52 families live in the north-western sector. At least 20 other settlements occur on the periphery, an unknown number of which have been illegally established on state land without approval from the relevant authorities. The total population is in excess of 5,000 people. Some land adjacent to the reserve is under private ownership, including small tea and rubber plantations. The extent to which local people are economically dependent on rain forest resources is variable but about 8% of households might be completely dependent (Silva, 1985).

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

Visitors are low in number and mostly naturalists. Entry is by permit, obtainable from the Forest Department in Colombo. There are nature trails to the peaks of Moulawella and Sinhagala. Guidebooks to the Moulawella Trail and to the secondary vegetation have recently been prepared (Gunatilleke et al., 1987a, 1987b). Some accommodation is available with the Forest Department near the reserve entrance at Kudawa. Further facilities are planned.

Scientific research an Facilities Among the earliest studies are those of Baker (1937, 1938). Rosayro (1954, 1959), Andrews (1961) and Merritt and Ranatunga (1959) assessed the area’s potential for selective logging, based on aerial and ground surveys. Gunatilleke and Gunatilleke (1980, 1981, 1985) examined the floristic composition and phytosociology of woody vegetation and assessed its conservation value. Research on theendemic fauna has been undertaken by WWF/IUCN (Project 1733) and March for Conservation (Karunaratne et al., 1981). Conflicts over the local use of forest resources have been examined by McDermott (1985, 1986) and Silva (1985). An annotated vegetation/land-use map (1:40,000) of the reserve has been produced by the Forest Department (n.d.). The Natural Resources Energy and Science Authority of Sri Lanka has provided a field research station in the reserve. The Forest Department building at Kudawa, outside the reserve, is used by scientists and visitors.

Conservation Value Sinharaja is the last extensive primary lowland tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. It holds a large number of endemic species of plants and animals, and a variety of plants of known benefit to man. Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the last viable remnant of Sri Lanka’s tropical lowland rain forest; over 60% of the trees are endemic and many of these are rare; and there are 21 endemic bird species, and a number of rare insects, reptiles and amphibians (IUCN Technical Evaluation).

Conservation Management Sinharaja is administered by the Forest Department under the Ministry of Lands and Land Development. Recognising the need for maximum possible protection, it has recently been declared as a national heritage wilderness area under the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act. Any excision to such an area is permissible only with the concurrence of parliament and the President of the country. The site is also partially protected under the provisions of the Forest Ordinance. Sinharaja was first recognised in 1936 as being “the only considerable patch of virgin tropical rain-forest in the island” (Baker, 1937). Owing to its inaccessibility and steep, hilly terrain, the reserve remained untouched until 1968 when a government directive was issued to extract timber for the plywood sawmill and chipwood complex established at Kosgama. From 1971 until 1977, when logging was banned, largely due to public pressure with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society playing a leading role (see Hoffmann, 1972, 1977), about 1,400ha of forest in the western sector were selectively logged (Gunatilleke, 1978; Forest Department, 1986). Presently, the reserve has 6,500-7,000ha of unlogged forest. Since 1977, the Forest Department has given high priority to protecting the reserve and in 1978 began planting Pinus caribaea along the periphery to establish a live boundary. More recently, betelnut palm Areca catechu has been used for this purpose (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987).

A conservation plan has been officially approved (Forest Department, 1986), implementation of which is being carried out under a cooperative agreement between IUCN and the Sri Lankan government, with additional funding from the Norwegian government (Hails, 1989). In order to ensure the strict protection of the reserve for scientific and aesthetic reasons, a scheme of zonation and management is proposed for areas outside the reserve. The creation and propagation of essential forest products, for sustained utilisation, in areas outside the reserve is intended to meet local needs and thereby eliminate former dependence on resources within the reserve. Alternative strategies are either to establish a 3.2km-wide buffer zone round the reserve or to enlarge the area protected to about 47,380ha, with the reserve forming a strictly protected core area and surrounding areas set aside as buffers for various uses. The only resource which may still be legally collected, under permit, is kitul (McDermott, 1988). The preferred strategy has been to freeze resource use within the reserve at 1985 levels (when the conservation plan was prepared) and gradually eliminate futureresource dependency on the reserve by relocating villages to areas outside the reserve (Ishwaran and Erdelen, 1990).

Management Costraints Of the many constraints to the protection of Sinharaja, socio-economic ones relating to the people and organisations in the immediate vicinity of the reserve are perhaps among the most important. Encroaching cultivations are probably the biggest problem, particularly along the southern boundary (McDermot, 1985). Contractors open up routes to facilitate logging operations and, although no felling is permitted within 1.6km of the reserve boundary, this may render the reserve more accessible to illicit timber operations. Planting of Honduran mahogany Swietenia macrophylla along abandoned logging trails as an enrichment species may lead to displacement of natural species, especially as it is a prolific seed producer (Zoysa and Raheem, 1987). Alleged malpractices by the State Timber Corporation are a source of concern for the Forest Department. Private land owners along the periphery perhaps make illegitimate use of timber resources within the reserve: having felled all merchantable timber on their own land, they continue to request permits for timber (Hathurusinghe, 1985). The most important forest produce is firewood, significant quantities of which are used in the production of jaggery (McDermot, 1985; Silva, 1985). The traditional use of minor forest products, most important of which are kitul for jaggery and wewal or cane for weaving baskets, is now restricted to forest surrounding the reserve. Illicit gem mining was considered to be a serious problem in eastern parts of the reserve. It is organised mostly by wealthy merchants from outside the Sinharaja region and needs to be stopped. The lack of a uniform land-use policy and the multiplicity of governmental and semi-governmental agencies involved in land-use planning in Sri Lanka are the major administrative constraints in evolving a suitable protection plan for Sinharaja. For the moment, transactions related to lands surrounding the reserve are suspended under presidential order until such time as the conservation plan for the reserve is ready for implementation (Forest Department, 1986).

Local Address: Range Forest Officer, Range Forest Office, Kudawa, Weddagala

Compiled By L.A.M.C.Amarasekara

Sinharaja Rain Forest Trail Map

Sinharaja Trail Map

A – Kudawa Conservation Centre
B – Jeep track from Kudawa Conservation Centre to Kudawa Research Station
C – Mulawella Peak
D – Kudawa Research Station
E – Gal Yen Yaya
F – Sinhagala Peak
G – Pitadeniya Conservation Centre
H – Pitadeniya Ticket Counter
I – Track from Mediripitiya to Pitadeniya Conservation Centre
J – Kohila Aramba
K – Kekuna Ella
L – Patan-oya Ella
M – Duwili Ella (Kosmulla)
N – Morningside Conservation Centre
O – Natural Pool
P – Duwili Ella (Morningside)

1 – Wathurawa- Mulawella
2 – From Kudawa Conservation Centre to Nawanda Tree
3 – From Sinhagala Trail to Gal Len Yaya
4 – Sinhagala trail from Kudawa
5 – Kohila Aamba Trail
6 – Kekuna Ella and Pata-oua Ella Trail
7 – Sinhagala Trail from Pitadeniya
8 – Duwili Ella Trail from Denuwakanda
9 – Duwili Ella Trail from MCC
10 – From Morningside to the natural pool
11 – Trail from Kosmulla via Duwili Ella to Siththara gal lena (cave)


“The density of both natural and cultural assets in a small island is unique and, provide a strong foundation for an ecotourism industry, as it is relatively easy for a visitor to obtain a very rich and rewarding holiday experience in a short period of time.” 

Chandra de Silva
Founder President- Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka (ESSL)
Board Member – The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) Washington DC.
Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Director/CEO – Ranweli Holiday Village


Sri Lanka’s planned tourism started in 1965 on a beach model which is generally referred to as sun, sea and sand tourism. This classical model of tourism development was used by global lending agencies – World Bank and IDB to provide employment and generate foreign exchange earnings in some third world countries where sandy beaches were identified as a resource.

Countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia which viewed beach tourism as a development tool on the mass market beach model were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the economic leakage of tourist dollars and the negative, social and environmental impacts of mass tourism.

Mounting criticism of the collateral damage caused by mass tourism led the World Bank and IDB , which had invested heavily in large tourism projects , to conclude that tourism is not a sound development strategy. In the late 1970s, both institutions closed down their tourism departments and ceased lending for tourism. They only moved back into providing loans for tourism projects in the 1990s, this time under the rubric of ecotourism – (“Protecting Eden” by Martha Honey, July/August 2003 in “Environment”.)

In this context it has to be noted that the Sri Lanka Tourist Board has recognized this new segment of tourism and changed Its slogan to “beyond beaches, culture, nature, adventure” which fits very well with ecotourism.

The devastation of the Tsunami made it even more important for Sri Lanka to develop nature and cultural tourism with these resources distributed inland away from the mass tourism destinations along the coast.

Sri Lanka is a tropical island with total area of 65,610 and a coastline extending over 1,585 km. Her natural environment is famed for its great scenic beauty and diversity. It ranges from clear blue coastal waters, coral reefs and sandy beaches on one hand to primeval forests, wetlands and mountain environments on the other. Super-imposed upon this are historic and cultural sites of antiquity going back to over 2000 years.

This rich blend of natural and cultural wealth represents a microcosm of many large countries. The density of both natural and cultural assets in a small island is unique and, provide a strong foundation for an ecotourism industry, as it is relatively easy for a visitor to obtain a very rich and rewarding holiday experience in a short period of time.

It was these striking attributes that, nearly 800 years ago, prompted Marco Polo, the famous European traveller and, perhaps, Sri Lanka’s first European tourist, to give expression to his wonderment in words that are still true today.

” On leaving the island of Andaman and sailing a thousand miles a little south of west, the Traveller reaches Ceylon, which is undoubtedly the finest island of its size in all the world”.


Tourism sector integrates a wide range of economic activities and is regarded as worlds’ largest industry. Over the last few decades, tourism has been one of the consistent growth industries. 808 Million took a holiday in a foreign country in 2005 (WTO press release26.1.06).

According to a paper prepared by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), for the world summit on sustainable development (WSSD) Johannesburg, 2002. in addition to strong overall expansion, the development of tourism is characterized by continuing geographical spread and diversification of tourist destinations. While in 1950 the top 15 tourist destinations, all in Western Europe and North America, attracted 97 per cent of the world’s total arrivals, by 1999 this figure had fallen by 35% to 62%, with market shares increasing for developing countries and economies in transition, particularly in South-East Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America.


Some key qualitative development trends in tourism include: increased market segmentation; development of new forms of tourism, especially those related to nature, wildlife, rural areas and culture; and introduction of new programmes in traditional package tours. Consumers’ motivations and behaviour are increasingly characterized by a more selective choice of destination, greater attention to the tourism experience and its quality, and a greater sensitivity to the environment, traditional culture and local people at the destinations.

The increase of market share to nature and culture will be over 300 Million of international arrivals – taking 35percent of 808 million arrivals in 2005 as a base – Such large numbers engaging in nature and cultural tourism is bound to create massive problems of environmental degradation both physical and social if not managed with sensitivity and cultural integrity.

Consequently, in order to minimize these impacts authentic ecotourism which is regarded as the most sustainable component of sustainable tourism seems to be the answer. Sri Lanka must take advantage of this trend and be ready to cater for ecotourism which encompasses nature and cultural tourism.

Related article
What is ecotoursm?

What is Ecotourism

“Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural and cultural areas, which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people. “

Chandra de Silva
Founder President- Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka (ESSL)
Board Member – The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) Washington DC.
Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Director/CEO – Ranweli Holiday Village’

Ecotourism is an exciting niche market that combines the pleasure of discovering and understanding spectacular fauna, flora and cultural sites a holiday in the educational periphery combined with conservation and welfare of the community, In contrast to the pleasure periphery based on consumerism offered by mass tourism.

The term ecotourism first appeared in the 1970s, a decade during which emerged the rise of a global environmental movement and a convergence of demand for sustainable and socially responsible forms of tourism. With a history deeply rooted in the conservation movement ecotourism has provided a highly strategic source of revenue to natural and cultural areas that need protection. Further, ecotourism could be used as a strategy for poverty alleviation since these assets are often located in peripheral areas.

The word ‘ecotourism’ has become a buzz word and a marketing tool for spurious products referred to as “green washing” in ecotourism literature. Ecotourism should be developed with ecological and sociological sensitivity in order to achieve the principles on which it is based, namely:

  • Responsible travel to natural and cultural areas,
  • which conserves the environment and
  • sustains the well-being of the local people.

Ecotourism ranges from a casual walk through undisturbed forests to exploration and study of unique natural and cultural features in remote areas.

An important product of ecotourism is the eco lodge coupled with facilities based on nature and culture as operations are different from conventional tourism.


Ecolodges- the lodging facility of ecotourists- are generally small units of 10 – 15 rooms constructed with local building material and traditional methods. An ecolodge could be constructed with wattle and daub with village labour and decorated with local artifacts to create an indigenous flair. They have to be built in harmony with the natural environment in spirit and design.


During the last decade ecotourism properties have been constructed around the world in proximity to forests and cultural centers which can extend to over 100 rooms provided the spatial dimension is taken into consideration and constructed on the principles of carrying capacity. Carrying capacity means that some use or development limit exists which when exceeded, begins the process of environmental degradation.


A global example is Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village (KBRV) located in Frazer island in Queensland . Frazer island is 180,000 Hectares in extent with woodlands and a rainforest. KBRV is a land mark in the ecotourism industry. It includes a 152 room resort , 75 residential villas and a 120 bed wilderness lodge , staff and shopping villages constructed on a scheme sympathetic to the natural shapes of the island with environmental, social and economic sustainability, landscaping and interior design.

The philosophy behind the project was that Frazer island would be the primary motivation for guests to visit the resort. The antithesis of the approach of most of the beach hotels, concrete castles designed to be fully self contained and internally focused.


Conventional tourism often involves substantial ‘leakages’ of income out of the country as costly items for construction, furnishings and décor, food and beverages are central to the construction and operation of traditional hotels. World Bank estimates that the leakage is around 50% – 70%.

Ecotourists do not expect accommodations, food or night life that meet the standard of comfort or luxury held by other groups of tourists. For ecotourists living with local conditions, customs and food ‘enrich’ their vacation experiences. They are well educated and discerning travellers looking for knowledge based holidays, and engage in activities, such as bird watching, nature and cultural tours etc. for which expert interpreters (guides) are engaged.

Thus, most of the money remain in the country – particularly in peripheral areas, stimulating economic activity and growth in the rural sector. Leakage out of the country is therefore minimal.

Local communities have the most at stake and therefore most to loose, in the emerging ecotourism market place. As globalization makes local economic control increasingly difficult, ecotourism seeks to reverse the trend by stressing that local entrepreneurs and communities must be vitally involved

Consequently, ecotourism, which is a niche segment of the tourism industry should be owned and managed by Sri Lankans, which will prevent leakages out of the country and provide the right Sri Lankan flavour and stimulate the appreciation of nature and culture among the community. Further, Sri Lankans know their country best and ecotourism should be their business; as the resource base is their heritage.

Ecotourism could be developed extensively in Sri Lanka. Such development can make a sustained contribution to the Sri Lankan economy, to the generation of country-wide employment and to the improvement of the quality of life of the people.

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Sri Lanka is one of the 25 Biodiversity hot spots of the world. The country has the highest Biodiversity per 10,000 square km in Asia. Fifteen (15) distinct bio regions in an area of 62,500 square km each offering different landscapes and wildlife opportunities – with an ancient civilization contemporary to that of the Greeks and Romans and numerous cultural sites of antiquity, including six world heritage sites – Sri Lanka has an exotic and vibrant resource base of Ecotourism.

Sinharaja world heritage forest

Sinharaja world heritage Forest is a unique rain forest on the island which apart from very limited use by local people has been left largely undisturbed.

Biodiversity of the forest is very high, a staggering 830 of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of flora and fauna are found here, including myriad birds, reptiles and insects, while no less than sixty percent of the reserve’s trees are also endemic to the country and some endemic to the Sinharaja Forest itself.

There are two entrances to the forest. Most popular one is on the north side of the forest at Kudawa (see Sinharaja trail map), and the other one is at Mederipitiya about 11km east of Deniyaya.

Wild Life Sanctuaries and National Parks

Sri Lanka’s contains about 24 wildlife reserves, these are home to a wide range of native species such as elephants, leopard, sloth bear, the unique small loris, a verity of deer, the purple faced leaf monkey, the endangered wild boar, porcupines and ant-eaters. Reptiles include vipers and marsh and estuarine crocodiles. Among many amphibians endemic to the country are the Nanophyrys frogs in the hills. Most of the fish are river or marsh dwelling- the trout, introduced by the British are found in the cool streams of the Horton plains.

All wildlife reserves are for the protection of wildlife and plants though the categories differ. There are few “Strict Nature Reserves” (Ritigala, Hakgala), which are set aside for research work only. “National Parks” managed by Department of wildlife conservation are open to visitation. The largest National Parks are Ruhuna-Yala, Gal-oya, Uda Walawe, Wilpattu, Minneriya-Girithale, Horton Plains and Wasgomuwa. “Nature Reserves” provide suitable habitats for wildlife by allow limited human activity, while “Sanctuaries” allow human activities (eg. Khalle Pallekele Sanctuary).

Forests managed by Forest department also attract ecotourists. These forests include Sinharaja world heritage site (which is also man and biosphere site), Kithulgala Forest Reserve, Knuckles forest range and the highland peak wilderness and Adams Peak.

Bird Sanctuaries

Sri Lanka also an ornithologist’s paradise with over 250 resident species, mostly found in the wet zone. The Kumana sanctuary in the southeast, and Bundala (famous for flamingoes), Kalametiya and Weerawila sanctuaries between Tissamaharama and Hambantota in the south, all with lagoons are the principal bird sanctuaries

Bellanwila-Attidiya sanctuary close to Colombo and Kurulu-kele Vegetation in Kegalle are also some other bird watching areas.

Other sites of interest

Yagirala Forest and Field Research station – Rain forest situated in Kalutara district and part of the forest is managed by Department of Forestry and Environment Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. This is used for field activities of forestry students and for research, and can be reserved for visitors and visiting foreign students and researchers (more details….).Waterfalls – The island is blessed with 103 rivers and streams radiating from the central hills, rushing down rocky precipices forming a number of roaring waterfalls of various shapes and heights, all ending up loosing the momentum at the Indian Ocean. Some of the most picturesque waterfalls include Diyaluma, St. Claires, Devon falls and Bopath Ella.

Wetlands – These are unique ecosystems with numerous bird life some with mangrove vegetation. eg. Muthurajawela mangroves, Negombo mangrove ecosystem, madu ganga and Bolgoda Lake.

Botanical Gardens – There are three botanical gardens in Sri Lanka: Peradeniya,
Hakgala and Gampaha- Henerathgoda.

Zoological Gardens – Dehiwala zoo is one of the most attractive in Asia. The 15 ha of undulating ground is beautifully laid out with shrubs, flowering trees and plants, orchids, lakes and fountains. There are over 2000 animals include large collection of birds, elephants, sloth bear, leopard, civets, and other small cats, many kinds of lizard, crocodiles and snakes. Lions, tigers, jaguars, black panthers, and many exotic species such as hippopotami, rhinos, giraffes and kangaroos. The aquarium has over 500 species of fish.

Museums – The National Museum in Colombo 7, set in an elegant white Neoclassical building and opened in 1877. It has a large collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, porcelain and Kandyan regalia.
The Natural History Museum is just behind the National Museum. Exhibits here include stuffed leopards, pickled snakes and presentations of the islands ecology and biodiversity.
The regular meetings of Young Biologists’ Association are held in the third floor of the Natural History Museum building.

Elephant orphanages – Pinnewala Elephant orphanage is one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions. Pinnewala is home to the world’s most largest troupe of captive elephants, from dignified elderly to the cutest of babies.