Some of the delights of a Sri Lankan beach
Where beaches are concerned you will be spoilt for choice in Sri Lanka. Beaches totalling 1,340km fringe the island, from the long-established tourist destinations of the southern coast, to the vast beaches of the deep south, and the less-visited expanses of the north and east. No matter what time of the year, you can find a beach that is in season and just waiting to welcome you to its warm sands.
The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest. Occupying an area of 73.6 million square kilometres between Africa, Asia, Australia and Antarctica, and amounting to approximately 20% of the earth’s water surface, the Indian Ocean includes the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Malacca, and the Mozambique Channel. The Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India is one of the ocean’s shallowest parts.
The Indian Ocean is affected by the north-east monsoon from December until April and the south-west monsoon from June to October, giving Sri Lanka two tourist seasons, one on the west coast and the other on the east coast. During monsoon time, when visibility is often reduced to 60m, the sea is usually rough. Sometimes the colour of the ocean changes from its recognizable turquoise to a bottle green and navy blue, depending on the intensity of the clouds above. When the sunshine breaks out, azure tones appear as the angry clouds chase over the sea making it a patchwork quilt of colour. In season, though, the sea is bright blue and crystal clear.
A wide coral reef largely surrounds Sri Lanka’s coastline making it ideal for diving. An underwater journey into the Indian Ocean rewards you with glimpses of a totally different world, full of astounding colour and life. Home to a variety of tropical fish and coral reefs, the ocean waters also lay claim to some historic wrecks that offer exploration opportunities. The more laid-back activity of snorkelling is a popular past-time in many southern coastal areas, particularly the Hikkaduwa Marine Sanctuary, and on the east coast around Pigeon Island off Nilaveli, near Trincomalee. Marine life to be seen includes big fish such as barracuda, whale shark, tuna as well as four species of turtle.
The gentle swell of the Indian Ocean waves offer great opportunities for surfing. There are first-class waves in Arugam Bay on the east coast, and along the south coast at Hikkaduwa and Mirissa. However, in other places the calm water of the Indian Ocean just laps onto the sandy shore, such as at Unawatuna, near Galle, and Nilaveli, making them safe for swimming and especially good for families with young children.
Wind-surfing can be enjoyed at many places along the coastline from Negombo to Tangalle. Bentota is the unofficial water-sports capital of the island because aside from its rolling surf and beautiful sandy beaches, it also has a river where beginners can gain experience before heading into the ocean. Trincomalee on the east coast offers a fantastic alternative for wind-surfers when the south-west monsoon brings strong winds and rough seas.
In Negombo and Hikkaduwa, the increasingly popular thrill-seeking sports of wake-boarding and kite-surfing are beginning to take off.
Finally, please remember to respect the Indian Ocean at all times. Always beware of the strong currents that often run parallel to the coast. Newcomers to the island should remember that it is rare to find a lifeguard at the beach in Sri Lanka or any flags indicating safe places for swimming. Less confident swimmers should ask a local for their advice or just test the waters carefully and make sure someone knows you have gone out for a swim or dive.
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List of beaches in Sri Lanka