Bellanwila Bird Sanctuary: A Quiet Refuge

Bellanwila is a safe haven for birds and an unique experience for visitors!

If the gentle chirp of birds is the perfect morning alarm clock, Bellanwila is the place to go!

Mornings in the Bellanwila Bird Sanctuary—also known as the Bellanwila—Attidiya Bird Sanctuary is sure to be one exciting and colorful affair! Home to over one hundred and fifty species of birds, as well as several species of butterflies and fish, you might wake up to birds looking for food in your bedroom!

Although Bellanwila is a fragment of a once-extensive marshland in Colombo, it still remains a key attraction in the area. It provides a home for a rich and diverse bird life and is also within proximity of one of Sri Lanka’s largest and most beautiful natural lakes: Bolgoda Lake. Amongst a heavy population of rare and endemic birds, Bellanwila has made new residents: crocodiles, fishing cats, jackals, and water monitor lizards have been sighted in the area.

Things to Do

Birdwatching

Bellanwila is home to over a hundred species of birds, you will have lots of work to do, birdwatchers! Keep a special eye out for rare species, which include the Indian darter, the yellow bittern, the Indian pond heron, the brown-headed barbet, and cattle egrets. Do not be afraid to book a bird watching tour even if you are not an expert or afraid this trip is not for you. During the tour you will learn a lot about nature, history of Sri Lanka and all the amazing animals who also live in the sanctuary!

Duration: More than 3 hours

Cost: Prices depend on number of people, starting around RS 4000 per person

Opening Hours: 6 am to 6:30 pm

Location: Bellanwila Sanctuary, Boralesgamuwa

Wildlife Spotting

Apart from birds, other insects and animals inhabit the sanctuary. Does not come as a surprise that this sanctuary has a rich flora and fauna as well. While visiting the sanctuary, you can have the opportunity to see many reptiles, insects, butterflies and mammals as well. On some lucky days you might even see an elephant herd moving through the park. Since this park is not overly crowded with tourist and Jeep tours, you will have a good chance to see many animals and experience the beauty of nature as well.

Marsh Walk

If you are unfamiliar with marshlands, these are wetlands which are populated with grass types and wet plants rather than trees. The sanctuary has many trails that are popularly used, starting near the Information Center at Attidiya, through the marsh, next to the Bolgoda canal, and then to the opposite side of the park. Unfortunately the footpaths are not well maintained, so make sure to bring shoes or boots which you wouldn’t mind getting dirty. If you wish you can even hire a guide to take you on a tour and learn more about the history of the sanctuary.

Bolgoda Lake

This beautiful and large lake is only 15 minutes away from the  Bellanwila Bird Sanctuary. It is home to mangrove jack, wild barramundi, and other species that are perfect for in-shore angling. Since it is a very popular destination, you can enjoy a great boat tour on the lake and various water activities, such as kayaking and paddle boarding or jet ski rides. On the boat tour you can also explore the tiny inner islands on the lake.

Duration: More than 3 hours

Cost: Prices depend on the activity

Opening Hours: 6 am to 9:30 pm

Location: Bolgoda Lake, Moratuwa

How to get there: Take a local bus or taxi from Colombo

Viewing Tower

If you take the footpaths among the marshland in the sanctuary, halfway you can climb to the top of a watchtower to observe the whole park from a different angle. This watchtower allows the travelers to see far beyond the trail and even image what birds can see! It also allows you to have a quick break or have a long and quiet birdwatching. The place also has a good view of Adam’s Peak in the distance. An exciting place to enjoy the scenery and the beauty of nature!

Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya

One of the most venerated Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, many devotees flock to worship the sacred Bo tree here. Legends says that any child who walks under the shade of the sacred Bodhi tree found there will never fail in life. This Bodhi tree is believed to be one of the thirty two saplings planted in Anuradhapura’s Mahameghavahana. The statue of Lord Buddha is right in front of the tree. Every year in late August or early September the colorful festival of Esala brings hundreds of devotees to the temple complex. Make sure to check out the wonderful buildings and statues! The colors will also mesmerize you.

Duration: 1-2 hours

Cost: Free of charge

Opening Hours: 6 am to 5 pm

Location: Dehiwala Rd, Boralesgamuwa

How to get there: Take a local bus or taxi from Colombo

Website: http://www.bellanwila.org/

Pepiliyana Sunethradevi Pirivena

This spiritual and historical monument was built by the great warrior king, King Parakramabahu VI, in honor of his mother, Queen Sunethradevi. It has an image house where a Buddha statue, a dagaba, devala, library, and pirivena (a school for studying Buddhism) can be found. This site has spiritual elements, romantic legends and important historical factors. Make sure to talk to locals or hire a guide when visiting this place! Pepiliyana Sunethradevi Pirivena will truly amaze you!

National Zoological Garden

Also known as the Dehiwala Zoo, the National Zoological Garden started out as a center of private animal collection, but eventually became a zoo for animal breeding, conservation, welfare, research, and education. Today, a rich and diverse flora and fauna thrive in the twenty six-acre area. You can visit tigers, elephants, monkeys and various birds in the Zoo. If you visit the welcome centre or their website, you can donate to the Zoo to keep the animals in good health!

Duration: 1-2 hours

Cost: Rs 2500 per person, Rs 1250 for children

Opening Hours: 8:30 am to 6 pm

Location: Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha | Dehiwala, Colombo

How to get there: Take a local bus or taxi from Colombo

Website: http://nationalzoo.gov.lk/zoo/

Balapokuna Purana Viharaya

This temple is built on high ground off Kirulapone. It’s considered to be one of Colombo’s highest points. A natural pond within the temple premises gave it its name, and is believed to home the deity Dadimunda. Once called the “Bata Pokuna”, the name was derived from the Sinhala word “Bata” meaning soldiers or sentries. It has been associated with miracles and legends, such as there is a secret ancient underground tunnel underneath the temple which connects to Kottle. Take a hike up and experience the magic and beauty!

Duration: 1-2 hours

Cost: Free of charge

Opening Hours: 8:30 am to 6 pm

Location: Balapokuna Vihara Mawatha, Colombo

How to get there: Take a taxi

Dress Code

Because Sri Lanka is a highly religious and spiritual place there are a few dress codes you should follow. Colombo is one of the most visited places on the whole island, with thousands of tourists each day, but locals still appreciate the rules being followed. Do not wear shorts or tank tops, especially when visiting temples and sacred sites. Knee length trousers or skirts with short sleeve shirts are great options. You will also need to take your shoes off when entering into temples, but do not worry, there are designated employees who keep an eye on your footwear! Please remember to take off your hat when entering into a store or a restaurant. Beachwear and light dresses are okay on the shore, but do not leave the beach in your bikinis.  With just a few adjustments you can be respectful towards the locals and still enjoy your time! Make sure to take a light jacket or a sweater with you, because early mornings and late nights could get cold.

Getting In and Around

Bellanwila Sanctuary is located on the west coastal region of Sri Lanka, just 10 km south of Colombo. Because it is easily accessible through Colombo, you can take a train, a local bus, taxis and lately even Uber to the sanctuary. 

Colombo: Colombo is 10 km north of Bellanwila Sanctuary. You can take a local bus to reach it in 30 minutes. For a quick arrival take a taxi or an a tuk tuk to the sanctuary.

Negombo: Negombo is 45 km away from the Sanctuary, just above Colombo. Take an hourly train or a bus which goes every two hours to Colombo, then transfer to a local transportation or to a taxi to reach Bellanwila in 2 hours. Via taxi or private car you can be there in 1 hour.

Conclusion

Bellanwila is yet another premier place for tourists to stop at! This gentle bird sanctuary is one-of-a-kind because you can self explore. Wander through the lush green trails of the marsh, or find your way to Bolgoda lake, one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful lakes. While you’re hiking through the marshland, keep an eye out for the viewing tower, which gives you a fantastic view. When you’re done, don’t forget to stop at the National Zoological Gardens, a government run, twenty-six acre animal habitat that promotes conservation, education, and research. There are ancient temples to explore as well, so put your history lovers hat on.

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