Muthurajawela: A Marshland Sanctuary

Muthurajawela is truly a place for natural wonders and treasure hunt!

Sri Lanka has many natural wonders, but none so intriguing as the Muthurajawela Marshland, or swamp of royal treasure, where history states ancient kings hid their treasures. Grab a map and go to Muthurajawela to find out for yourself! The Muthurajawela marshland is located on the coast, just south of Negombo. The name literally means swamp of royal treasure in Sinhalese. Today, it could also refer to the wide array of birdlife it protects. The wash of the salty tide and the mix of the ocean with fresh water creates a special ecosystem perfect for birds and reptiles. Including crocodiles and Sri Lanka’s largest snake, the green python. Over one hundred different species of birds can be found in the park, including the revered heron and egret. The Muthurajawela Sanctuary also contains exotic examples of many different mangrove trees and other flora, including endemic species. Due to its convenient location, Muthurajawela is easily accessible.

Things to Do

Birdwatching

Muthurajawela marshland is the ideal place for birdwatching! Over a hundred species are found here, and some of them are native to Muthurajawela. The brahminy kite, cormorants and terns are commonly spotted. The fertile vegetation of Muthurajawela supports birds with perfect nesting and breeding areas. You can book bird watching trips for half day or for full day. Make sure to mention to your guide if you are particularly interested in some birds so you can focus on that!

Duration: 2-3 hours

Cost: Prices starting at $13 USD per person

Transportation from Colombo Airport: 15 minutes with taxi or tuk tuk

Opening Hours: 7 am to 6 pm

Location: Colombo Road, Muthurajawela Marsh, Negombo, Sri Lanka

Website: http://www.srilankadaytours.com/excursions/birding/bird-watching-muthurajawela-new.html

Boat Cruise

Boat cruises are available near the Visitors Centre. The path of the cruise takes you around the marsh within two or three hours. The journey starts from the Hamilton canal and heads toward the Negombo lagoon. After that, it goes under Pamunugama Bridge and turns to Dandugama Oya over the margin of the Muthurajawela marsh. Don’t be surprised if the boat is slow-moving. The roar of the engine would disturb the wetlands resident species. Enjoying riding under the mangrove canopies, and keep an eye out for animals!

Duration: 2-3 hours

Cost: Rs 1800 per person

Transportation from Colombo Airport: 15 minutes with taxi or tuk tuk

Opening Hours: 9 am to 5 pm

Location: No.76/1, St.Joseph Mawatha, Eththukala, Negombo 11500, Sri Lanka

Website: http://sarathboattours.com/

Hamilton Canal

The Hamilton Canal, or also commonly known as the Dutch Canal is a 14.5 km long canal connecting Puttalam to Colombo, passing through Negombo. The Hamilton canal was built in 1804 by the British and was named after a government agent, Mr. Gavin Hamilton. When built, it was mainly used to drain salt water from the Muthurajawela marsh and transport goods between cities. It is also known that there was a similar type of canal connecting Negombo and Colombo, and there are even mentions for this in the 8th century. How amazing is that!

St. Lucia’s Cathedral

St. Lucia’s is one of the largest of fifteen Roman Catholic cathedrals in Sri Lanka. The interior has been precisely maintained. Clean, white, and teak arches dominate the interior architecture. Wood-carved confessionals line the walls, and image of a saints fill the inside. This is one holy structure you don’t want to miss. This is truly a gem in the Sri Lanka! Make sure to check it out and you can also attend a mass on Sundays.

Duration: 1-2 hours

Cost: You may donate to the temple

Transportation from Colombo Airport: 15 minutes with taxi or tuk tuk

Opening Hours: 9 am to 8 pm

Location: St. Lucia’s Cathedral, Colombo 01300, Sri Lanka

Sunday mass hours: 5:30 am and 6 pm

Mangrove Habitat

Muthurajawela is one of the greatest mangrove swamps in Sri Lanka. The mangrove habitat at Muthurajawela is rich with endemic mangroves, which are known as a great nesting and breeding place for aquatic birds. In some areas, mangroves cover the sky, shading you with a lush, green canopy that reveals only hints of sky. You can take a boat tour down the swamp where you can see lots of birds, various trees and animals. You might even have the chance to see a python! Make sure to stay safe and do not bother the animals.

Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil

The design of this temple is very unique for Sri Lanka—it’s made entirely of granite! It’s named after a patriot, who lost their life during the independence struggle in Sri Lanka. Amazing Hindu architecture can be found in the temple with carved pillars and carvings in the outer granite walls. The temple is built so the rays of the sun enter the main area only once in a year. Visit this wonderful temple to experience rich history and religion, and explore the beauty of the gold statutes and decorative elements.  You can also listen to the chants and music during prayers late evening. Do not forget to feed the cows in the cowshed before you leave!

Duration: 1-2 hours

Cost: You may donate to the temple

Transportation from Colombo Airport: 15 minutes with taxi or tuk tuk

Opening Hours: 5 am to 8:30 pm

Location: Kotahena, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Muthurajawela Visitor Center

Located at the southern end of the Pamunugama road, next to the Hamilton Canal, is the Muthurajawela Visitor Center. Visit here to arrange a two-hour guided boat ride through the wetland, watch a twenty five minute video about the sanctuary’s fauna, and educational displays.  By booking a tour here you can learn a lot about culture, heritage and nature, including birds, reptiles, mammals and even butterflies. You are truly going to have a great time!

Where to Eat

The best place to eat when visiting Muthurajawela is Negombo, and dining options there ranges from local to extravagant. These are a few suggestions:

Lords

This restaurant is half dining area and half art gallery, giving clients a creative eating experience. It serves a fusion of western and eastern cuisines, prepared and presented superbly.

Alta Italia

This restaurant is a formal Italian-run dining area in a casual beach resort. It has a long menu of seafood grills, fresh pasta, thin-crust pizzas, and authentic risotto. Finish them up with their best wine and have a relaxing meal.

Bijuo

This is where you should be heading if you’re craving for something Swiss and German. Choose from an offer of fondue, seafood, heavy dishes and many others.

Rodeo

Famous for cocktails and great food, Rodeo sports a happy-go-lucky ambience with exotic music and dancing. Choose from a range of south Indian delicacies and scrumptious seafood.

Sunny Restaurant

Look for Grilled Tuna and amazing seafood at Sunny Restaurant. With a warm staff, the restaurant is a good place to have a laid back lunch or dinner.

Dress Code

There are certain important cultural standards in Sri Lanka which you should keep in mind while traveling. Sri Lanka is not a strict country, but culture and history is very important to the locals. To respect their heritage make sure to cover up your knees and shoulders when visiting sacred places and temples, even in St Lucia’s Cathedral, although it is a Roman Catholic church, you need to respect religion. Take off your hat when entering a restaurant or stores, it is disrespectful to do so. You can wear swimwear as you please on the beach, but put on some clothing when exiting the beach area. A light shirt and some capri trousers are great options, and do not forget to take a jacket or sweater with you for late and chilly evenings.

Getting In and Around

Muthurajawela National Park is located between Negombo and Colombo on the west coast of Sri Lanka.

Colombo:  Colombo is 24 km south of Muthurajawela National Park. You can take a local bus or the hourly train to Ragama then grab a tuk-tuk to reach the national park in less than an hours. Via taxi or a private car you can be there in 30 minutes.

Negombo: The entrance of the national park is 20 km south of Negombo. Grab a taxi or a tuk tuk to be there in less than 30 minutes!

Kandy: Kandy is 100 km away from the national park, in the central region of Sri Lanka. You can take a train or a bus to Negombo which goes every 4 hours, then transfer to a tuk tuk or a taxi to reach Muthurajawela National Park in 3 hours. Via taxi or a private car you can be there in 2 hours.

Ella: Ella is 225 km away from Muthurajawela National Park, in central Sri Lanka. Take a long distance bus or train to Colombo which goes once a day to reach the national park in 14 hours. Via taxi or private car you can be there in 6 hours.

Galle: Galle is 150 km away from the national park, on the south coast of the island. Take a direct and express train to Colombo which goes every 4 hours, then transfer to a local bus or tuk tuk to reach the national park in 3 hours. Via taxi or a private car you can be there in 2 hours.

Dambulla: Dambulla is 150 km north east of Muthurajawela National Park. Take the once a daily train to Ragama, then transfer to a tuk tuk to reach the national park in 6.5 hours. You can also take a long distance daily bus from Aukana to Negombo. Via taxi or private car you can be at the national park in 3 hours.

Sigiriya: Sigiriya is 160 km of Muthurajawela National Park, not far from Dambulla. You can take a local bus to Palugaswewa to transfer to the long distance daily train to Ragama. From Ragama you can take a tuk tuk or a taxi to the national park to be there in 7.5 hours.

Conclusion

Muthurajawela is a one-of-a-kind place to visit in Sri Lanka! Bird lovers and nature enthusiasts will get a taste of Sri Lankan cultural and wildlife that you can’t find in other National Parks. The beautiful marshlands—best toured by boat cruise—are a beautiful, tangled web of jungle scenery to explore. With hundreds of bird species, even endemic plant species, to see, there is so many unforgettable memories to make. When you need a break from all the fresh air and dense mangrove swamps, stop by St. Lucia’s Cathedral for a catholic mass, or the Muthurajawela Visitor Center for a little more education on the mangrove swamp. There are plenty of accommodations, both beach side or swamp side, to satisfy any taste. Be sure to stop by the local restaurants and enjoy your stay!

Updated by Teddy