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Sri Lanka, the Land of Delights 

Sri Lanka Holidays

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Must Visit Locations

Ratnapura (meaning city of Gems) in luxuriantly verdant, gently hilly landscape

A replica of Aukana Buddha statue, Maha Sumana Saman Dewale, Trekking and Bird Watching
Ceylon Sapphires, Rubies, Moonstones, Beryl, Zircon, Garnet & Quartz.
Gem pits, Gem market, Tea & Rubber plantations in the hills, Paddy fields in the plains

Ratanapura or Rathnapura (Sinhala: city of Gems), the Mecca of Gem mining, cutting, processing and trading in Sri Lanka, the legendary city with the greatest concentration of gems on earth has made Sri Lanka one of the top five gem-bearing nations in the world. The long-established industry of precious stone at Ratanapura produces rubies, sapphires, white, yellow, pink, orange, purple and blue star sapphires, ruby and star ruby, cat's eye, topaz, amethyst, moonstone, aquamarine, tourmaline, garnet, zircon, spinel and alexandrite.

Ratanapura of which, Divaguha cave as narrated by Mahawamsa the great historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, gave shelter to Gauthama Buddha and 500 monks following the visit of the Supremely Enlightened Being to the Adam's Peek Sri Pada; Ratanapura that unearthed the great ruby, as narrated by Marco Polo, with which biblical King Solomon, the builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem wooed Queen Sheba of Marib, Yemen; Ratanapura, the city that tolerated and gave sanctuary to Blessed Joseph Vaz the Apostle of Ceylon during the 17th century when he visited Ratanapura as a part of his apostolic mission to Sabaragamuwa, today is a vibrant with trade of gems and agriculture and Sri Lanka tourism

Ratanapura in the Sabaragamuwa province of wet zone (area of higher rainfall with south-western monsoon: 4000 to 5000 mm) is the centre of a number of richly watered valleys between Adam's Peak & Lion King (Sinharaja) Tropical Rain Forest. Ratanapura, a pleasingly verdant, slightly hilly landscape with its high rainfall figures is a flourishing agricultural region that has Paddy, Tea & Rubber plantations spread across the mountainous regions surrounding the city. Tea grown in the district of Ratanapura is called low-country Ceylon Tea. Many delicious fruits like mango and papaya and vegetables are grown in the district.

Ratanapura, a convenient transportation hub for the excursions to Sri Lanka Holidays Sinharaja rain forest (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Kitulgala (White water rafting at the rapids on the River Kelani ganga), Uda Walawe National Park (Large herds of elephants at the reservoir) especially popular among Nature, Adventure and Wildlife tourists, is located 101 km south east of Colombo, in a valley, 21 meters above the sea-level on River Kalu Ganga that originates at Mount Sri Pada Adam's Peak also called Samanala Kanda (Sinhala: Butterfly Mountain)

Ratanapura's gems, as narrated in the, Mahavansa, great historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, once adorned the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba (a sacred Buddhist relic chamber) built in the 2nd century at Anuradhapura, an ancient Sri Lankan capital of North Central Sri Lanka. According to, the lord Buddha himself is said to have come to Sri Lanka from India to settle a dispute between two kings, Chulodara and Mahodara, over a throne of gems.

City of Ratnapura, Ratnapura district, Sabaragamuwa province, South western zone (wet zone) is located 101 km (63 miles) from Colombo in the south-western part of Sri Lanka's wet zone, on the outskirts of the hill country, in the valley of the Kalu Ganga. A hill topped by a Portuguese fort dominates the town. Ratnapura district is the centre of a number of richly watered valleys between Adam's Peak & Lion King (Sinharaja) Tropical Rain Forest.

Traditional start of the pilgrimage to Mount Sri Pada (Adam's Peak)
Ratnapura is the traditional start of the toughest pilgrimages up to Adam's Peak, & this is reputed to be the best place for views of the sacred mountain. The route from Hatton is easier, Hatton being at a higher elevation.

The town
The town has fine views of Adam's Peak on the eastern horizon & is surrounded by thickly forested hills. The old Fort above the clock tower, currently under renovation, offers good views. The town has a famous daily gem market, the bazaar of the region's ancient wealth of gemstones.

Gem trade
Gem pits surround the town. Most of the large-scale gem businessmen of Sri Lanka together with foreign gem traders operate from Ratnapura to trade in international market. Major export markets are USA, Thailand, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Italy, UK, Singapore & Malaysia. Ratnapura's famous sapphires in a wide range of colours - white, yellow, pink, orange, purple & blue - found in Ratnapura is marketed with a brand name: Ceylon Sapphires.

Working gem mines
In the district of Ratnapura there are more than 200 working gem mines. The mines are around 100 ft (30 m) deep, each with a series of interconnecting tunnels. The process of mining is same as the in the ancient times with the exception of water pumps & diesel powered power generators. Although there aren't any gem mines catering for the visits of tourist visits, we can arrange for all of you to walk inside a mine. First hand experience of seeing the manual process of miners digging, washing & sifting the stones will definitely turn out be a memorable one.

Trading gems in open bazaar
Clock tower is a fascinating place to visit in the early morning. We can enjoy the scene of hundreds of people buying & selling gems. The genuine gem merchants allow the buyers to have the authenticity of the gems verified at the government run State Gem Corporation, Colombo or at a private yet government certified gem valuation agency prior to the transaction. Although people seem to trade gems all over town, there are certain areas that specialize in uncut & unpolished stones, polished stones, cut stones, while other street will only deal in star sapphires or cats' eyes.

The National Museum
This museum exhibits a collection of pre-historic fossils of elephants, rhinoceroses & hippopotamuses found in gem pits from the Balangoda area. Also displayed are stuffed animals & snakes in jars. There are items of local art & culture such as musical instruments, masks, jewellery, textiles & flags, gems, fabrics & jewellery on display too.

Private Gem Museums
Private museums tend to be primarily retail outlets for gems but at the same time demonstrate the craft of gem polishing. Raw stones being cut & polished in these museums.

Gemmological Museum
This private museum has an interesting collection of gems & precious minerals. There are mining-related exhibits including a model of a pit. The museums' rare elephant pearl is priceless. Gaja Mutu (Elephant pearls) are found only in the tusks of Gaja Mutu tusker elephants of Saddantha (penis as well as the tail & trunk of the elephant touches the ground) caste.

Trekking & bird watching
The area surrounding the town is a popular trekking destination and a good place for bird watching.

Bopath Ella waterfall
It's one thing to bath, swim in the stream below the waterfall or simply sit on the stream bed, with a bottles of beer & plates of boiled, salted & spiced Tapioca & water flowing at you breast level, but it's quite another thing to succumb to the temptation of scaling the cliff from a flank of the waterfall to get to the top. Too slippery, too risky. No. No go.

Big Buddha statue
Further afield from old fort is a big Buddha statue, built by a wealthy young gem merchant, on a hill behind the Rest House. There's a full-size replica of the Aukana Buddha statue at the Gnanasiha Tapowana Vihara, on top of a hill overlooking the town; you can walk to it through Pompakelle Forest Park. About 8km from town, at Kosgala, are some caves.

Massive curtain wall of the central highlands to the north
Driving up to Gillimale from the bridge gives you a chance to see the massive curtain wall of the central highlands to the north, Ratnapura being located at the ridge.

The area surrounding Gillimale are rich in flowers, one of the most notable being the Vesak Orchid which takes its name from the month of Vesak (May) in which it flowers.

Maha Saman Devale (Shrine)
"The Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura is very impressive - the grandest in size and setting of all the devales I have seen. Approached up long stone steps flanked by dug out boats on either side (ready for the annual goods) one senses at once that one is entering a place of myths and legends and style and historic Importance. Here a king at war must have been a king indeed and the palatial walauwas in the province seem a right and proper architectural support to the central place of worship of its people. The devale compound is bound by a low, tiled and windowed, wall within which its space is ordered and emphasised by pavilion roofs, culminating in a three tiered tower at one point, with two other deeply eaved shrine roofs for balance on the vast flat quadrangle. The impression is of triangular weight airborne on carved pillars on a flat sandy expanse, glimpsed through ever changing frames as one walks through the cloisters."
Barbara Sansoni

Dedication of the Maha Saman shrine
The shrine was dedicated to God Maha Sumana Saman, one of the four guardian deities (Sakra, Saman, Natha & Upulvan) of the island. One of the oldest routes up Adam's peak (guardian of which also is God Saman) the Gillimali Road, starts from the splendid Maha Saman Devale complex, 4km west of the city. It's a handsome temple, with a series of broad courtyards & whitewashed buildings in the Kandyan style, with some Portuguese influence. The major festival here is Perahera procession on Esala poya. Being held in the same period (July/August) as the great gorgeous Kandy perahera, the Saman Devale perahera procession is not known internationally.

Built & rebuilt by the Sinhalese kings, then destroyed by the Portuguese, again rescued & rebuilt by a Sinhalese king.

The shrine, Saman Devale was first built by King (Pandita) Parakramabahu the 2nd in 1270 AD. The handsome devale & stupa was rebuilt by Parakrambahu the 4th in the 15th century but then unfortunately destroyed by the Portuguese & a church was constructed on top of it in 1618. King Rajasinhe the 2nd who defeated the Portuguese & rescued Ratnapura had the Portuguese church razed to the ground and the Saman Devale shrine rebuilt in the beginning of 17th century. Interesting features include the remains of a Portuguese fort. On the temple wall is a Portuguese soldier sculpted in stone while a slab bearing their coat of arms was also found here.

God Maha Sumana Saman
During Buddha's first visit to Lanka, prince of the Devas tribe (other pre-historic tribes of Lanka being Yakka & Naga) Mahasumana of the Sumanakuta mountain (Adam's Peak) attained the first fruit of path (Sovan or Sotapatti Phala-a stream entrant) of Nirvana (permanent release from the cycle of suffering of birth & rebirth by virtue of merits demerits, virtues & vices). At the request of the Prince Sumana Saman for an object for veneration, Buddha offered him a lock of hair from his head. The bluish black lock of hair was enshrined in the Mahiyangana Stupa, the first stupa constructed in Lanka. Mahiyanaga stupa is the only dagoba built in the Buddhist world during the life time of Buddha.

At the last visit of Buddha to the island, at the request of Prince Sumana Saman, Buddha left his footprint at the summit of the Mount Sumanakuta. Following his death, Prince Sumana Saman became a god (another being, a resplendent one, in another world & definitely, infinitely inferior to Buddha) by the name God Maha Sumana Saman.

God Maha Sumana Saman is depicted crowned & bejewelled & holding a lotus flower in his right hand & accompanied by a white elephant.

Ancient Sinhalese chronicles proclaim guardianship of Lanka was entrusted to four gods Sakra, Saman, Natha & Upulvan. God Saman is also the guardian of Mount Sri Pada (Adam's Peak). The deities have temporal power, but no spiritual attributes, which only the triple gems, Buddha, Dhamma (the Buddhist doctrine) & the Sangha (the order of monks) have.

Contrary to the Buddhist doctrine (salvation is only by way of right conduct - four noble truths & eight fold path) the Buddhists of Lanka have formed a habit of first paying obeisance at Buddhist temples & then flocking to the shrines of the gods. The reason being, unlike Buddha in his state of Nirvana, the gods dispense favours & boons. It is said even the staunch critics such as Illustrious Buddhist monk venerable Vidagama Maithreya of Sri Lanka had acknowledged the worldly power of the deities.

God Maha Sumana Saman is depicted in human form accompanied by a white elephant, the ancient bulldozer & bulldog of Lanka, the great noble beast of royal & Buddhist significance, in the background of Sri Pada (Adam's Peak). The resplendent god, a divine being in every sense of the word, holds a red lotus, a flower of Sinhalese Buddhist significance. His noble beast too holds a red lotus.

Pre-historic caves
Discoveries of pre-historic animal bones as well as of a variety of stone tools have made it clear that the area is probably one of the first sites to have been occupied by humans in Sri Lanka

Pompakelle Forest park lies behind the Rest house. There are walking trails through this lush forest.

Kalawathi Holiday & Health Resort
The tranquil Hotel Kalawathi is kitted out with antique furniture. Its main showpiece is an extensive rare herb garden. Try herbal baths made from indigenous species. There's a vegetable garden too.

Rathnaloka Tour Inns
This is an upmarket hotel built by a gem magnate. There's a large garden, an inviting pool & attentive service. Deluxe rooms. A good restaurant. Rooms have air-con & hot water.

Rest house
Rest House has the best site in the town, right on top of the hill that dominates Ratnapura. The Colonial rooms are large. The place has heaps of charms with its spacious veranda, bar & grassy garden

Excursions from Ratapura
Ratnapura is a very convenient base for a day trip to Lion King (Sinharaja) Tropical Rain Forest as well as to Uda Walawe National Park.

Routes to/from Ratnapura too are scenic to the hilt.

1. Ella / Haputale / Belihul Oya (Central Highlands) / Ratnapura route descend through abundantly beautiful scenery
From Haputale the main road goes past the Stassen Bio Planataion, to reach Beragala 10km) where it connects to the main road to Colombo which winds & hugs the southern rim of the highlands. West of Beragala is some of the most rugged scenery in Sri Lanka. Walls of Black rocks tower above the road towards Belihul Oya & much of the route is very windy with many blind bends to the boot. Let's switch off the CD player & concentrate on the wheel.

(Travelling east from Beragala, the fine views through the Haputale Gap continue, & the road leads through a marvellous area of flora-teak, rubber, pepper, cacao & coffee trees - to Koslande and past Diyaluma waterfall to Wellawaya & to south coast.)

2. Lion King (Sinharaja) Tropical Rain Forest (WHS) / Deniyaya / Rakwana / Ratnapura
This is a scenic main road. Rakwana offers panoramic views across the plains of Uda Walwe National Park (reservoir, reserve, elephants), with the escarpment of the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary (19207ha part of the Central Massif is recommended to the listing of World heritage Sites) where Adam's Peak is located in the north. From Rakwana the road reaches a southern spur of the hill (& tea) country before Pelmadulla, an important junction town between Ratnapura & Haputale.

3. Ratnapura / Avissawella / Colombo

4. Ratnapura / /Kalawana / Matugama / Bentota Beach Resort

5. Ella / Beragala / Balangoda / Pelmadulla / Ratnnapura

6. Ratnapura / Aheliyagoda / Dehiowita / Kitulagala

7. Ratnapura / Pelmadulla / Embilipitiya/ Tissamaharama

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Photo Gallery

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Ratnapura Landscape

Gem Mines

Gem Miners

Buddha Statue in Ratnapura

Maha Saman Devale

The National Museum

Bopath Ella Waterfall

Island of Gems

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