Boasting a rich history with precious stones that goes all the way back to the 1st century BC, Ratnapura, located around 3 ½ hours away from Colombo, is a unique city that still lives up to its old traditions of being the ‘City of Gems’ that has propelled the Sri Lankan gem trade to monumental heights. Surrounded by the lush green countryside, which is filled with paddy fields and waterfalls on one side and the sacred Adam’s Peak, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Udawalawe National Park on the other, Ratnapura is a kaleidoscopic wonder of the Paradise Island.

Top Reason to Visit

Although overlooked by many a traveller, Ratnapura is a unique city possessing features that may not be seen in any other places in Sri Lanka, thus making it the top reason to visit the city. The main feature in question is the gem mines that unearth precious and semi - precious gem stones that are renowned throughout the world for its rarity. There are of course other features too, such as being a base for safaris and nature excursions, along with partaking in an arduous climb up sacred Adam’s Peak. However, it is the rare gem stones in the place that take the top spot.

While You’re There

My precious:

A majority of the world’s most famed precious stones, namely, the ‘Blue Belle’ sapphire, the ‘Star of India’ that adorns the British Crown and, more recently, the largest blue star sapphire in the world have all been found as a result of the mining of gems in Sri Lanka. It might come as quite a shock to many, but all of these priceless gems have all been found in the Ratnapura region, thus making it the premier place to find gems of unique features and value. There are a number of gemological museums and gem mines that can be visited to understand the process of cutting and polishing of the stones. The ideal place to understand and purchase gems is the Gemological museum in Ehelepola Mawatha, since all the stones are genuine and totally worth the money spent. You could also try and bargain at the biggest local gem market at Newitigala (quite far from the town centre) and bag yourself some exclusive stones.

Lush green countryside and great excursions lie ahead:

A lesser known feature of the ‘City of Gems’ is that it also serves to be a ‘City of lush greenery and agriculture’ too due to its outskirts being dotted with green paddy fields, along with many waterfalls like the Bopath Ella Falls and Katugas Falls that prove to be idyllic settings to reminisce about life’s simples pleasures. Moreover, the close proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the ‘Elephant Gathering’ Udawalawe National Park have made it the perfect base camp to experience ‘paradise’ in the Paradise Island.

A king’s pathway (Adams peak):

Apart from being a base camp for wildlife and nature excursions, Ratnapura boasts of one of the more difficult routes to the sacred Adam’s Peak that houses a sacred footprint (Father Adam, according to the Abrahamic religions, Lord Buddha as believed by the Buddhists and Shiva by Hindus). Possessing around 2,000 steps more than the mostly used Hatton route, it certainly is quite the climb even for the fit traveller. Regardless of difficulty, you will always see pilgrims, young and old, flocking to the town to rest up and take the arduous climb up the mountain during the months from December to April. It is also believed that this was the pathway that the ancient kings of Sri Lanka utilized.

Prosperity in diversity:

Another defining feature of the city is the diversity of the society that resides within the boundaries. This can be seen with the many temples, churches and mosques in the area. One such notable temple is the Maha Saman Devalaya dedicated to the Buddhist deity named Saman and is responsible for hosting quite a pageantry in the form of a ‘perahera’ (procession) during the Esala Poya (full moon day) that occurs between the months of July and August. Moreover, the diversity and origins of the city can be further understood in the Ratnapura National Museum too, showcasing some interesting artifacts and exhibits that tell an interesting story.

Insider Advice

Travel: Getting about in the city of gems would not be much of a problem for anyone, since there is a host of tuk-tuks and busses. Should you choose to opt for a tuk-tuk, just make sure they possess a meter. If they do not possess one, they could overcharge for your trip.

Weather: Ratnapura almost always experiences hot and humid weather conditions all year round, however, the months of January and February prove to be quite bearable as the temperature drops down to around 27°C, along with bearable humidity.

Money: It is highly advisable that you carry cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, LKR 50s and LKR 100s for your daily essentials, since all shops do not necessarily accept credit and debit cards, apart from the supermarkets.

Clothing: It is best to be clad in modest, comfortable clothing, since the society in Ratnapura is strongly connected to conservative traditions of Buddhism.

Safety: The city is actually quite safe and friendly to many outsiders. However, it is still best to be on guard, especially with your personal belongings.

Meals and refreshments: Dining options are quite limited and are scattered throughout the city, but most guesthouses and hotels do have restaurants.

Gems: There are many gem merchants around the city claiming to sell authentic and unique precious stones, however, do be careful as some of them are fakes. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you purchase gems from shops that have been approved by the local authorities.

All in all, Ratnapura is a place that should not be neglected by anyone due to its centrality in producing some of the world’s most notable gems, along with being an important location to partake in some great excursions and also a location that showcases great diversity in society.

Title image by: Sathira Weerasinghe
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