The most crowd of tourists I saw in my travel through Sri Lanka were at the beaches. And since my travel was in February the southern stretch from Negombo all the way to Tangalle is thronged by tourists. And unlike India at almost all beaches there were hardly any locals visiting. The Eastern beaches the best time to visit is from April and yes February the sea was very rough although there was more or less good crowd at Trincomale. So heres a post on a little more on the places I visited.
On a sidenote I am not a surfer, diver or for that matter a good swimmer either. So I stuck to the beaches which are touristy and did not explore the off beaten beaches except at Galle.
The beaches are thronged by tourists so innumerable options for stay on the entire stretch from resorts, hotels, homestays and hostels. Some of them are right on the beach (ie backyard of the place opens onto the beach). So if you get a good price this would be the best option instead of staying inside the town and then walking down to the beach everytime. There is not much to be done in the town area except at Galle, so you are on the beach more or less the entire time.
The restaurants at the beach have recliners which you can rent. Relax with a book or your phone, enjoy your drinks, get into the sea play with the waves and do this all over again, thats it. And of course sunsets, each one of them have been special for me. The food at these restaurants are priced pretty high as compared to the eateries just across the road away from the beach, but then dinning by the sea with the sound of the waves is one of the experiences to be had at the beach at least for me.
Mirrisa : My exploration of the southern region was after visiting the Yala National Park. From Tissamaharama which was my base for Yala, any bus going towards Colombo would get me to Mirrisa. However found the frequency of buses to Mattara high, so took a bus to Mattara and from there to Mirissa. I hung out mostly at the Mirissa Beach. The sea was very calm and you could really walk deep into the sea and enjoy the waves. On one side of the Beach there is a small hill you can climb up for great views.
My main todo at Mirissa was Whale watching. I was very lucky at Kalpittya to have met the huge pod of dolphins so was all excited to greet the whales so to say. Many boat companies you can choose from for whale watching and also supposedly you get deals just at the beach. However I booked through Raja & the Whales as their reviews were good and mainly I had read that they dont chase the whales, it will cost you 6000LKR. They pick you up at the hotel, very professional folks and very prompt, we were more or less the first boat out on the sea. There are seats on the lower deck, on the upper deck you just sit on the cushion laid out on the floor. Unlucky for me it rained and the sea was very rough. But we kept going hanging on the rails of the upper deck excited everytime the guys who were watching out for the whales pointing out to the spout of water from the breathing of the whales seen at a distance. You can see the whales on the surface of the water only for a few minutes when they surface to breath and then you basically wait for the next 15-20 mins for them to resurface. So was very glad I chose this company as they really seemed to know what they were doing and not just arbitrarily chasing after the whales everytime we spotted one and more or less they would maneuver the boat around the area the next sighting possibly would be. Another one of those memorable experiences to watch the whale swim alongside the boat. The most memorable being a sighting of pair of whales (which I was told was very rare) with one of them swim right towards the boat and WOW it was a sight. On the way back spent some time sighting a small pod of dolphins. The local fisherman follow these pods of dolphins as they get a better catch of fish by following them.
Galle : This is also on the Colombo route so getting here from Mirrisa is very easy. Aany bus towards Colobo, Hikkaduwa will get you to Galle. Here I was staying a little away fro the main town at Pitiwella Beach. This is a pretty big strecth of beach with only tourists staying around the place using it, so was not very crowded. The sea is pretty shallow and was fun playing with the waves with almost the whole beach to yourself. The best sunset of my Sri Lanka trip with the entire sky catching fire.
Pitiwella beach, fisherman with their catch for the day
The Galle town has the Dutch fort to visit with the lighthouse, dutch church, museums and the old Dutch buildings most of which are now hotels. A quaint old little dutch town to explore walking down the lanes admiring the buildings. Lots of shopping places so best place to pick up souvenirs. Walking on the fort walls at the seaside is a must do here with sitting down here waiting for the sun to set. Enjoyed this time chatting with folks from France and Netherland who were also enjoying the view. A late afternoon and evening can be spent in this part of Galle. The Galle beach is also very closeby.
The famous Lighthouse at Galle
Sunset at Galle town as seen from the fort walls
As I was walking around the Galle old town streets saw a man selling fruits in a cart. The rambutan fruit which he had was familiar as we get this at least in South India. He called this leechi, but for us in India leechi is a different fruit almost similar looking and found these days much more in abundance especially in the month of May-June.
The other fruit he had was mangosteen, this I was seeing for the first time. And this is a must try, very yummy and priced pretty high. But I was able to buy just one piece for tasting and then had to buy one more because it was so tasty.
Hikkaduwa : As you move towards Hikkaduwa you can see the sea getting more rocky. This area is very good for coral sightings (ie if you snorkell) and also waves are pretty rough so lots of surfers around. Buses plying to Colombo will get you to the town. Hikkaduwa beach is very small with lots of corals around. Closeby Narigama Beach is a very long stretch with many resorts, homestays and restaurants right on the beach. The waves were very rough here and no way could I really get into the sea so instead chilled out enjoying the antics of the large number of surfers in the waves.
Sunset at Hikkaduwa Beach, boats from diving schools anchored
Sunset at Narigama Beach, long stretch of beach
The Seenigama Mudhu Viharaya is a good visit if you have the time. Its about 2.5kms from the town center. Any bus going towards Ambalanagoda will drop you off at the entrance. Colombo bound buses though take the same route will not stop here. There is a temple at the shore but the actual Vihara is a boat ride away on a small island with just this temple. The boat charges for locals is only 100LKR however for visitors they charge more, 500LKR, I got away after a lot of arguing paying 200LKR. Its a small little temple of local gods. The weirdest belief that I heard from the locals. People dont come here asking for forgiveness or blessings for themselves but to inflict pain and bad things on the person who you believe has wronged you. Maybe the only temple and god that actually punishes people. And the belief is very strong, I got this same story from more than one local. The offering rituals here was also quite different. As I was just enjoying the sea and waiting for the return boat ride spotted a turtle swimming closeby. Although you get only a glimpse of the turtle for a second when it put its head out to breath it was an added excitement to the temple visit.
Seenigama Mudhu Viharaya, Hikkaduwa
Bentota : This is also on the Colombo route so was very easy getting to the town. As compared to the other beach areas this town looks less touristy although there were many tourists at the beach. The beachside is a little away from the main road. The Bentota beach/Ventura beach is a very long stretch with mainly resorts and higher end hotels on the beach stretch. Very calm sea here the day I visited. Also there was a beach wedding at the Cinnamon hotel, not sure if the ceremony was Sri Lankan style, I caught the last end of this when there was a mini kandiyan dance performance as a part of the wedding.
Ventura Beach, Bentota
Apart from the sea the river Bentota Ganga is very wide and you can take a boat ride out to the mangroves. The boat bookings can usually be done through the place you are staying. The price for the boat rides vary based on the duration of the ride. I also did a Turtle hatchery tour. There are many such hatcheries around Hikkaduwa and Bentota but preferably read up on the reviews as some places they are not so considerate to the turtles. I had read about the Kasgoda Turtle sanctuary near Bentota being pretty good. Maybe my expectations were very high so initially was a little disappointed as the place is very very small. But they do have several turtles in small tanks, from a small sand pit where the eggs are let to hatch to babies just months old to turtles almost 3-4 years old and ready to be set free. Many volunteers helping out here and a good chat with one of them was very informative and made my trip a success. They had Olive Ridleys, Green Sea Turtle, Hawksbill and Loggerheads. The Loggerheads were a beauty. It was interesting to know that the temperature of the hatching area is what determines if the eggs hatch as male or female and its mostly female turtles in this part of the world. They were not setting go of any baby turtles into the sea that day I visited so could not be a part of that activity.
Boat ride through the mangroves, Bentota
Loggerhead, Olive Ridley and Green Turtle at Kasgoda Turtle Hatchery
That was my beaches at the South experience and of Sri Lanka with me heading to Negombo to catch a flight back home from Bentota. But let me also add Trincomale and Batticaloa on this post as this was also for the beaches and Eastern Sri Lanka experience. Arungam Bay which the other sort out place in east is supposedly a surfers paradise, with beautiful beaches, from April onwards when the sea is rough in the south and I did not go here.
The Eastern part is a little different from the other parts of Sri Lanka. One there seems to more Tamil influence with the Sri Lanka version of Tamil spoken more here. Secondly the landscape, the other parts more or less was like travelling through Kerala, while this part was like traveling through Tamil Nadu or even Karnataka for that matter. I didnt go North, but surely a different feel to the western, west central, central and southern part of Sri Lanka.
Trincomale : I traveled here after visiting Polonnaruwa. It would have been better to have taken the route of Polonnaruwa->Batticaloa->Trincomale->Kandy. However I could not cancel my hotel booking at Trincomale so had to head there. From Polonnaruwa no direct buses to Trincomale, took a bus to Habarana junction and from here many buses plying to Trinco.
Trincomale has two main beaches Uppuveli and Nillaveli, both of them very beautiful. The Pigeon island which is famous as a divers paradise is accessible from Nillaveli, post April. Also Nillaveli seemed to have more high end resorts and was a lot less crowded to Uppuvelli (atleast in February).
Uppuveli Beach, more or less all high end hotels here
Koneshwaram Temple along with the surrounding Dutch fort, Fort Federick is a good visit. No buses going to the Temple, so have to take a tuk-tuk uphill from the town center. A Siva temple, nothing significant to see of the temple but great views from the hilltop. Its a good peaceful and quite walk back through the fort area which is now actually a naval base. Many deer and peacocks can be seen resting along with the military folks going about their training. Old dutch buildings some in ruins along with the gates to the fort gives you great photoshots.
Federick fort and Koneswaram Temple, Trincomale
Batticaloa : This is a small town and good bus service from Trincomale to get here. I was here for just a night and had booked a small homestay near Navaladi Beach. Sea was very rough and not many tourists at all, had the beach most of the time to myself. It does not have any resorts or restaurants on the beach front, just a few homestays around the small stretch of land. As I took a tuk-tuk to the homestay I could see the devastation caused by the 2004 Tsunami and was told by the tuk-tuk driver that most buildings were swept away by the Tsunami and almost most of this stretch was rebuilt after the Tsunami.
Navaladi Beach, Batticoloa
Headed back to Kandy (Central Province) from here which I recently posted on and further down to the South Beaches.