Sun, Sand and Sea

The bountiful sea life has given rise to a rich fishing culture.

The tear drop shaped island of Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean just off the southern tip of India and is blessed with over 100 miles of coastline. With its golden sandy beaches, azure blue waters and warm tropical climate, Sri Lanka is a year-round destination for holidaymakers seeking sun, sand and sea. Many of the islands top resorts are located along pristine beach fronts and from stunning oceanic viewpoints providing luxurious retreats with amazing settings.

The beaches along the west coast and south coast stretches from the south of Colombo in Mount Lavinia and continues through Wadduwa, Beruwala, Bentota, Hikkaduwa on the west coast to Galle, Unawatuna, Thalpe, Weligama, Mirissa, Tangalle and Hambantota along the south coast. These palm-fringed sandy beaches allure travelers from all parts of the world who are seeking some down time to enjoy the sun, sea and sand. The pattern of the monsoons plays a big part in when and where you should best enjoy a beach stay and the south coast along with the west coast is best visited during the months between November through to April once the south-west monsoon has receded.

The east coast comes into its own while the rest of Sri Lanka is experiencing monsoonal rains. Influenced by the north-east monsoon, the best period to enjoy a beach stay, weather wise would be from April through to September. The eastern and northern beaches extends northwards in a gentle arc from Arugam Bay and ends at Kuchchaveli which is approximately 275 kilometers along the eastern coast. These stunning, pristine beaches with its wide stretches of white sand with turquoise blue waters are akin to a setting from a picture post card. With minimal disturbance from development, there are charming bays and secret coves, as well as deep natural harbors, quiet lagoons and extensive underwater coral gardens teaming with marine life which are sure to take ones breath away. The best beaches along the east coast include Nilaveli, Kuchchaveli, Marble Beach and the Dead Man's Cove with its magnificent harbor, reaching towards the North of Trincomalee. Protected by an offshore reef, the shallow waters and white sandy beaches around Passekudah and Kalkudah are a haven for beach goers and provide ideal conditions for sea swimming for children and adults alike. There is a fine collection of boutique and star class beach resorts in Trincomalee and Passekudah.

Not known to many, Sri Lanka is a hidden gem for underwater exploration with world class wreck diving, pristine coral reefs and a rich abundance of marine life and aquatic eco-systems. Although the full extent of the biodiversity in Sri Lanka's oceans are yet to be assessed, 200 species of hard corals, 28 species of marine mammals and 5 species of marine turtles have been recorded in these waters. Scientists estimate that up to 900 species of reef fish may also be found. There are also some excellent wreck dives which can be explored off Mount Lavinia south of Colombo and in Trincomalee and Batticaloa off the east coast. There are a number of shallow reefs teaming with vividly coloured corals and reef fish in the Bar Reef Sanctuary off Kalpitiya and off the Pigeon Island Marine Sanctuary near Trincomalee providing ideal conditions for snorkelling. The Blue Whale, the largest animal to have inhabited our planet is resident in these waters and can be seen from Mirissa in the south and Trincomalee on the east coast along with large pods of resident Spinner Dolphins.

The bountiful sea life has given rise to a rich fishing culture. Some of the best sea food can be tasted in Sri Lanka, from delicious fish such as mullet, snapper and seer fish, to succulent lobsters and crab. The gentle oceans are an open playground for a host of watersports. Surfing beaches with Activities such as surfing are great in Arugam Bay and in the southern coast from Hikkaduwa through to Matara.

Sheltered by a lagoon, the calm waters in the mouth of the Bentota River make it an ideal year-round destination for water sports. Activities such as jet skiing, water skiing, banana boat rides, wind surfing and kite surfing can be included for adults and children alike. Kalpitiya on the north-west coast is considered as one of the best places in the world for kite surfing with ideal wind conditions. Angling enthusiasts have the option of chartering a boat and heading out to sea, where game fish such as Marlin, Baracuda and Tuna are abundant.

Hikkaduwa along with Arugam Bay in the east coast is recognized as one of the island's top surfer towns. Hikkaduwa has four popular surf breaks and conditions are best for surfing between November through to April while at Arugam Bay, where international surfing competitions are regularly held, the season spans form April through to September. The stretch of beaches along the south coast from Weligama through to Matara have in recent times emerged as a popular option for surfers. There are a number of surf schools across the country with instructors teaching beginners how to surf and where surf boards of all sizes can be rented locally.

Surfer’s Paradise

The most popular 'Surf Point' which breaks at the headland is in front of Arugam Bay

Sri Lanka is a surfer’s paradise offering golden sandy beaches, warm water and some great waves attracting beginners to skilled surfers alike from around the world. Arugam Bay, which is tucked away in the south-east corner of the island and surrounded by jungle is rated as one of the top ten surf spots in the world. The most popular 'Surf Point' which breaks at the headland is in front of Arugam Bay is mainly suitable for body surfing and for beginners while the Pottuvil Point situated on a deserted beach area North of Arugam Bay is better suited for the seasoned surfers. Crocodile Rock is another challenging surf point, where the waves of up to 5– 6 feet and a 400 metre 'ride' in a secluded beach, which makes this a “mecca” to surfers. Surf boards can easily be rented from the town and basic surfing lessons for beginners can be organized. Seasoned surfers, who know these waves very well, come back each year to experience the thrilling waves and the relatively secluded beaches. Arugam Bay is best visited during the months of May through to September for surfing.

There are also a number of good surf spots along the west and south coast where the season runs from November through to April, providing a 10 month window for surfing in the island. Hikkaduwa is the most popular surfer town in this region, which is popularly dubbed as “Hikka”. The best surf spot is Wewala and the area is known as Narigama is provides ideal conditions for body surfing. There are also a number of excellent surfing beaches along the southern stretch in protected bays such as Kabalana, Midigama, Weligama, Mirissa and Matara. Given, the close proximity to Colombo, these towns are very popular for beach goers and surfers alike and there are a number of guest houses, beach villas, boutique hotels and star class resorts all through this stretch of golden beaches. There are a number of surf ships, where gear as well as clothing can be sourced.


The Kitesurfing capital

Kitesurfing is a surface water sport that combines aspects from wake boarding, wind surfing, surfing, paragliding, skate boarding and gymnastics is a very popular extreme sport and adventure activity. The kitesurfer harnesses wind power with a large power kite which propels across the water on a kiteboard which is similar to a small surfboard. Kitesurfing has become increasingly popular off Kalpitiya in the north-west of Sri Lanka where seasonally there are ideal wind speeds which average around 18-20 knots.

There are over a dozen spots in this area with flatwater, waves and lagoons to choose from. The main window for kite surfing is during the period of the south-west monsoon from May through to October which provides the best wind speeds. During the winter months, the wind speeds are at its optimal in the afternoons. Kalpitiya is a peninsula which as the Indian ocean to the west, which is ideal for free-ride and wave riding while the vast expanses of the Kalpitiya lagoon to the east is more suited to beginners and freestylers. The Puttalam lagoon is great for downwind trips in the flatwater. There are professional certified operators who accommodate this sport for beginners and experts alike. All IKO certified the instructors have years of experience and a fierce passion for the outdoors.

Water Sports along the Bentota River

Bentota is renown for its golden sandy beaches and a popular destination for beach goers year round. Sheltered by a lagoon, the calm waters in the mouth of the Bentota River also make it an ideal year-round destination for water sports. Windsurfing is an exhilarating sport where beginners and experts alike can be trained under licensed VDMS instructors to master the art. Water skiing is another adrenaline inducing sport which can be enjoyed in this area, with certified instructors available at all times to ensure safety. One of the most popular activities is Jet skiing, which is similar to riding a motor bike but ones in-fact in the water. High tech equipment will ensure safety and a thrilling ride. For families with children, banana boat rides are very popular. Scenic boat rides allow you to explore the rich mangrove habitats which are abundant in birdlife. Angling enthusiasts have the option of chartering a boat and heading out to sea, where game fish such as Marlin, Baracuda and Tuna are abundant.

Whale and Dolphin Watching

The wonder of Sri Lanka's natural heritage begins with its rich oceans and these waters are a haven for marine mammals. These can be divided into main categories- Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises and Dugongs. Marine mammals unlike fish are warm-blooded mammals, which breathe air and produce live young who feed on the mother's milk. They feed primarily on different types of fish depending on the species, also on zooplankton and some species such as Orca prey on other marine mammals.

There are 28 species of marine mammals in Sri Lanka, including six species of great whales. The whales known as "Thalmaha" in Sinhalese are the leviathans of the deep are among the largest animals on earth. There are two primary varieties of whales which are toothed which as the name suggest has teeth, and baleen whales which have long bristle like growths on their upper jaw instead of teeth which they use to gather zooplankton such as Krill and sieve out the water before swallowing. Whales breathe air and hence come up to the surface to breathe, before diving, which provides a small window to observe these animals, where after a few sessions of breaths they would dive deep with their tail lifted high in the air. The "waterfall" effect of a lifted tail fluke is the highlight of a sighting.

The largest of whales is the Blue Whale which is recorded to grow to lengths exceeding 90 feet. The "Blues" off Sri Lankan waters are slightly smaller with lengths up to 70-75 feet, and is speculated to be unique subspecies. In no means are they small and easily dwarf the boats in these waters. Being a baleen whales it's fascinating how the largest animal on earth feeds on one of the smallest. Krill are small crustaceans which are found in large numbers in the ocean. The blue whale will take in a large mouthful of Krill and water, and use the baleen to sieve out the water and leave the krill which it will subsequently swallow. These animals have been found to be resident in Sri Lankan waters, and seen during season (when the waters are calm from November-April) of the coast of Mirissa and Weligama. During the rest of the year the waters off Trincomalee are good for seeing these giants.

Similar in appearance to the Blue Whale is the Bryde's Whale. Smaller in size from 40-50 feet in length, and more streamlined, these whales are not seen as often as the Blue's. They can be identified easily with their sickle like long dorsal fin and the three distinct ridges on top of its head.

During certain times of the year (namely between March and April) one might be lucky to witness a floating armada of Sperm Whales. The largest toothed animal in the world the mighty beasts are seen moving through Sri Lankan waters. Sometimes called the "Elephants of the Sea" due to the nature of the herds, these unique creatures have a distinct square head. Widely hunted for many years for their blubber (fat) and the special material known as Spermaceti (located inside its head), they have recovered from the brink of extinction. They are the world's deepest divers where they dive between 300-800m and sometimes even 1-2 Kilometers in search of food. Such dives can last more than an hour. Sperm Whales feed on several species, notably the giant squid, but also the colossal squid, octopuses, and fish like demersal rays, but their diet is mainly medium-sized squid.

The waters off Sri Lanka are also home to many species of dolphins and porpoises. The most numerous and interesting are the Spinner Dolphins which are found in superpods that number a few thousand individuals. Found quite commonly across the waters of Sri Lanka, they are best witnessed in Kalpitiya where they are seen in large numbers. Displaying amazing feats of acrobatics, these playful and cheery whales are often seen hurling themselves in the air, spinning wildly before dropping back into the water. Their actions and antics are sure to bring a smile to anyone's face.

The oceans are also home to one of the greatest predators on this earth. The Killer Whale or Orca is in-fact the largest species of dolphin. Growing to over 30 feet these "wolves of the sea" hunt in small to medium sized pods which number from 5 – 20 individuals. Transient Orca which roam the Indian Ocean are intermittently encountered in Sri Lankan waters, where they hunt for marine mammals such as dolphins as well as other whales including the larger Blue and Sperm Whales. Other species such as Risso Dolphin, False Killer Whales, Piliot Whales, Bottlenose Dolphin and Indo Pacific Hump Backed Dolphin are seen from time to time, but are rare visitors.

The Indo-pacific Humpback Dolphin also known as the Pink Dolphin although rare is believed to be resident with sightings occurring in the Puttalam and Kalpitiya lagoon.

There is yet another mysterious marine mammal found off Sri Lankan waters, known as the Dugong. Dugongs inhabit Sri Lanka's Northwest coast, including Kalpitiya, the Bar Reef Sanctuary, and the Puttlam Lagoon; areas of abundant sea grass and mangrove forests. The dugong is a primarily herbivorous bottom feeder, dependent on plants from the sea floors of shallow coastal areas for subsistence. When sea grass is scarce, the dugong will supplement its diet with algae, sea squirts, shellfish, and jellyfish. Very rarely seen, these gentle mammals are under threat from humans who hunt them for their meat.

The whale and dolphin watching season is dependent on the pattern of the monsoonal rains. During the north-east monsoon, marine mammal watching is best off Kalpitiya and Mirissa between the months of November through to April. During the south-west monsoon, Trincomalee on the east coast offers the best opportunities for whale and dolphin watching from April through to September. Whale watching can be combined with beach stays and are typically half-day excursions from the mainland.

Deep Sea Fishing

The nutrient rich waters off Sri Lanka are ideal for angling and are abundant in a variety of fish species. Groupers, Snappers and Bonefish can be found close to the coast while further out you can encounter Barracuda, Jackfish, Trevally Tuna and Indian Mackerel. Sailfish and Marlin are found in deeper waters. Occasionally you may encounter small pods of Spinner Dolphins during your fishing trip. Professional sport fishing tours are run from the coast from leading beach resorts and marine recreation centres on a speed boat where all necessary fishing equipment is provided. The morning hours are the best for angling when the sea conditions can expect to be the calmest. Deep sea fishing excursions are run off the west coast from Negombo, Bentota, Hikkaduwa and Mirissa, which is seasonal and runs from the months of November through to April when the south-west monsoon has receded. Between the months of March through to September, deep sea fishing excursions can be arranged from Trincomalee and Passekudah on the east coast.

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