Sitting in well-irrigated valleys between Adam’s Peak and Sinharaja Forest Reserve, busy Ratnapura (‘City of Gems’ in Sanskrit) is a famous trading centre for the area’s ancient wealth of gem stones. The region’s wet and humid climate encourages the formation of riverbeds, which are the perfect environment for gem stones to develop.
There are several ‘gem museums’ that contain modest displays on gem lore, along with less-than-modest showrooms where you’re encouraged to purchase ‘local’ gems at ‘local’ prices.
The outskirts of town are dotted with gem mines and, although none cater specifically to tourists, most guesthouses can arrange visits.
You can also observe gem merchants selling their wares along Saviya St northeast of the clock tower. The biggest local gem market, however, convenes most mornings (poya full-moon days being an exception) in Newitigala, a 40-minute drive away. Both markets are usually over by 3pm.
Another reason to visit Ratnapura is that it’s the take-off point for one of the oldest routes up Adam’s Peak. Peak-baggers and pilgrims pick up the Gilimalai pilgrimage route from the road head at Carney Estate, 15km, or one hour, away from Ratnapura by bus. It takes six to eight hours to reach the top of the peak, and five to seven hours to descend.