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Madu Ganga River Safari – 47 KMS

The estuary of the Madu Ganga river is a complex coastal eco system of mangroves and islands. It may be one of the last remaining tracts of pristine mangrove forests in Sri Lanka.

A boat trip is a wonderful way of seeing some of the hundreds of species of plants and animals - monkeys eat fruit in the trees, a water monitor lizard glides slowly through the water, and cormorants, egrets and kingfishers wait patiently on the banks, eyeing the water for prey.

There are around 64 islands in the river and lagoon, from a tiny speck housing a deserted shrine to one housing 250 families connected to the mainland with a very long footbridge.

You can visit an island with a Buddhist monastery, where the friendly young monks will show you a 150-year-old book made of palm leaves and how they cook on cinnamon wood on an open fire.

The main occupations of the local inhabitants are producing cinnamon and prawn fishing - if you take the trip in the early evening you will see the fishermen in their canoes lighting lanterns to attract the shellfish into their traps.

Length of trip : 1.5 – 2 hours

Moonstone mine – Meetiyagoda – 54 KMS

Sri Lanka is famous for its gems, one of which is the moonstone. This pale blue, almost transparent, stone is a type of feldspar known as adularia – the way the stone shimmers when it moves is known as adularescence.

At Meetiyagoda you can see how the stones are actually mined. The miners climb down a 10-metre-deep shaft on a frame made of strong coconut wood. A machine pumps out water, but all the digging is done by hand.

The buckets of soil that are wound regularly to the surface yield around 50-100 rough moonstones a day, though not all of them are saleable quality.

The small adjoining factory cuts, polishes and sets the stones into more glamorous jewellery. In the saleroom you can see some beautiful examples of their art, along with other gems like topaz, garnets,tiger eye and tourmaline.

Open: 9am – 6pm daily

Brief Gardens – Bentota – 37 KMS

Ten kilometres inland from Bentota is the Brief Garden. A barely controlled riot of a garden out of The Jungle Book, the grounds are a lovely place to get lost. The house, which used to be the home of Bevis Bawa, brother of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, has an eclectic range of artwork on display – from homoerotic sculpture to a wonderful mural of Sri Lankan life in the style of Marc Chagall

Through clever planting and screening, you are led through a series of tableaux and views, nooks and bowers. Statues and artwork are dotted throughout, as well as in the minimalist house. Many are Bawa's own work, while the Australian artist Donald Friend is also well represented

Open : 10 am – 5 pm

Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery – 39 KMS

Kosgoda is famous for its sea turtle conservation project operated by the Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka. It was established in 1988 to protect Sri Lanka's turtles from extinction Since then it has released about 3.5 million baby turtles into the wild.

The hatchery pays fishermen for eggs that they collect at night along the long sandy beach. Although October to April is the main laying season, some eggs (mostly green turtles) can be found at Kosgoda throughout the year.

The hatchery buries the eggs in sand, and when they hatch around 50 days later the baby turtles are released into the sea at night. Only about one in 1,000 turtles survives to maturity.

Kosgoda turtle hatchery also has tanks for injured or disabled turtles, including albino turtles that would not survive in the wild

Open: 9am – 5pm daily