Whether you are a tourist or a local, taking a leisurely boat ride along the banks of a scenic Sri Lankan river or canal is sure to be fun and exciting, no matter what age you are. It’s a wonderful way to relax, as you not only take in the sights and sounds of the natural habitat but also glide past remote rural villages, magnificent Buddhist temples, rubber plantations and farming communities cultivating fruits and vegetables. In addition, you may find it an educational experience ... following the historic routes through dense jungle, lush paddy fields and mangrove marshes once taken by spice traders of old.
Discover Life Afloat on Sri Lanka's Rivers and Canals
The Bentota River, or Benthara as it's also known, is located just a few kilometres away from the city of Bentota. The river is famous for its interesting flora and wildlife, the lush vegetation of the mangrove marshes, and the little fishing settlements that thrive along its banks. If you're lucky, you'll also get to stop and chat with a local farmer who will introduce you to a baby crocodile and show you how he weaves palm necklaces using coconut tree leaves.
Madu River Estuary
Located near the small town of Balapitiya along the Colombo Galle highway., the Madu River wetlands cover approximately 900 hectares and meander through huge mangrove forests, rubber plantations and stalls selling fish that live in the clean open waters of the lakes and reservoirs. A boat trip along the Madu River will take you past the Buddhist Kothduwa temple, standing on Kothduwa Island and home to a sacred fig tree that sprang from a cutting of the oldest living tree in the world with a known planting date, the 'Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi'.
Muthurajawela is a coastal wetland ecosystem located in the Gampaha District of the western province of Sri Lanka. The tropical coastal marshland is one of Sri Lanka's 12 priority wetlands because of its exceptional biodiversity. Consequently, a boat ride through the thick reeds, short grassland, shrubland and mangrove swamp is a very informative experience and is especially suitable for children. Apart from the different types of vegetation, you'll also learn about endemic birds and other species.
Kalu Ganga River
The Kalu Ganga River, one of the island's most well-known waterways, is an excellent vantage point from which to observe the plant life and animals of the southern shore, particularly at Kalutara. A cruise down the river is the best way to observe a variety of wildlife, from birds such as black bitterns (of the heron family) that nest in the reeds along the banks, and spot-billed pelicans flying above, to the various reptiles that swim in the water. The Edwardian Richmond Castle, a two-storey building with 16 rooms, sits on a hill on the bank near Kalutara too.
Hamilton Canal (or the Dutch Canal, as it is sometimes known) is part of an ancient canal system, a waterway that stretches for 14.5 kilometres and connects the town of Puttalam with the city of Colombo. It also passes through the city of Negombo and flows to the Maya Oya river, one of the largest watercourses in Sri Lanka. This relaxing canal cruise will take you past coastal fishing towns and churches that date back to the 17th century.
Lined with mangrove marshes, the Polwatta River opens into the Indian Ocean from the Polwathumodara estuary. The river is dotted with little islands, and in the middle, there is a fish breeding centre that provides information on the spawning cycle of local fish species. A laid-back cruise down this scenic wonder on the southern coast will bring you face to face with purple-faced leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, the elusive mugger crocodile, and birds such as cormorants, woodpeckers and kingfishers.
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