Nestled among verdant hills at the southwestern corner of the hill country, RATNAPURA (literally “City of Gems”) is famous for its precious stones, which have been mined here in extraordinary quantities since antiquity. Naturally, the town makes a big deal of this, with plenty of touts offering trips to gem mines and stones for sale, though unless you have a specialist interest in gemology, this alone isn’t really a sufficient reason to visit the place. If you are interested in learning more, your guesthouse or touts in town may be able to arrange a visit to a working mine. Ratna Gems Halt also run a convenient trip combining a visit to a gem mine, gem museum and Saviya Street, and even run a ten-day gem-cutting course if the subject really grabs your imagination.
Ratnapura does have other attractions, however. The town makes a possible base for visits to Sinharaja and Uda Walawe national parks; trips to both involve a long (4hr+) return drive, making for a big day, but this does avoid the considerable bother of getting to Deniyaya, Kudawa or Embilipitiya. Several guesthouses in town can arrange trips: the going rate for a minivan or jeep is around $50–60 to Sinharaja and $60–70 to Uda Walawe – try Travellers Halt guesthouse or Ratna Gems Halt. Ratnapura is also the starting point for an alternative ascent of Adam’s Peak, though it’s significantly longer and tougher than the route up from Dalhousie. The path starts from the village of Palabaddale, from where it’s a climb of five to seven hours to the summit. Buses run to Palabaddale via Gilimale during the pilgrimage season.
Ratnapura also has the distinction of being one of the wettest places in Sri Lanka, with an annual rainfall sometimes exceeding four metres – and even when it’s not raining, the climate is usually humid and sticky.