October 2014


Winter is coming!
October 2014




Last of the monsoon seas, Ahangama

Words and Photography Nishan Perera and Naren Gunasekera


As the last monsoon storms lash Sri Lanka's south coast, the parting clouds and bright sunshine reveal a rugged yet serenely beautiful coastline. Rolling swells crash upon sandy beaches and rocky headlands after a long journey across the Indian Ocean. Popular beach resorts are quiet and tourists are few and far as the low season comes to an end.But change is on its way as the coast and its inhabitants prepare for a busy winter season. 


Thousands of holidaymakers are expected to visit these beaches, many escaping the cold weather of more northerly latitudes in search of tropical nirvana. The sea, rough for almost six months during the monsoon season will soon mellow down as if in anticipation of those travelling thousands of miles seeking sun, sea and surf. Angry waves give way to calm turquoise waters shimmering in the sun with the occasional wave breaking over an offshore coral reef.


The south coast of Sri Lanka is a series of scalloped palm fringed bays and miles of golden beaches. Classic scenes of outrigger canoes, stilt fishermen and swaying palms have become quintessential images of Sri Lanka, adorning guidebooks, postcards and tourism brochures. It has been the ‘go-to' destination for beachgoers visiting Sri Lanka for many decades and with the steady growth the tourism industry is gearing up for the upcoming winter season. Early signs are encouraging with many hotels already booked for the peak holiday season from mid December to mid January.


The beach resorts and villages along the south coast offer a variety of attractions, activities and accommodation options catering to varying budgets and interests. Good transportation networks ensure easy travel between popular coastal towns as well as easy access to Colombo and the international airport. Sandy, sun drenched beaches litter the coastline but Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Mirissa remain the most popular due to the availability of accommodation options and activities.


Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna are the favoured destination of younger travellers as they offer the best nightlife. Quieter stretches of beach provide a relaxed getaway for those looking to get away from the crowds. Tangalle has long established itself as the place to go if you are looking for peace and tranquillity, and many luxury villas have taken hold in the area. The coast between Galle and Talpe is also heavily populated by high end properties.


The Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is great for a day of exploring with many historical buildings, a maritime museum, and quirky cafes providing interesting pit stops. For responsible eco-tourism the village of Kahandamodara is the place to go. This area has several small eco-lodges and family run guesthouses that provide an affordable, nature-based travel experience. Not just eco resorts by name, they take their green credentials very seriously utilising local materials for construction, sourcing local ingredients for food, and hiring local labour ensuring that the benefits of tourism are shared with the local community.


The south coast offers a lot of exciting activities. Whale watching is one of the most popular excursions and Mirissa has established itself as a hub for world class blue whale sightings. Fishing charters are available and water sports such as kayaking, windsurfing and jet-skiing can be undertaken in places such as Bentota. The south coast has excellent surfing with many uncrowded surf breaks hidden away in quiet bays and coves. The coastal stretch from Ahangama to Weligama is the best known, the former for fast reef breaks and the latter for easy beach breaks.


Surf camps are growing in popularity and several have been established along the coast. Scuba diving is another popular activity from November to April. Hikkaduwa is the most popular location but good diving can be found right along the coast from Mount Lavinia to Dickwella.


With a long maritime history and abundance of shipwrecks, Sri Lanka is gaining a reputation for excellent wreck diving and many new dive destinations are emerging as a result. Spas, yoga and wellness resorts are growing in popularity and many properties are beginning to cater to this growing market.

As the new winter season dawns the south coast of Sri Lanka looks set to provide visitors with a fresh new experience while retaining the charm, beauty and hospitality that it first became renowned for.
In an increasingly competitive global travel market Sri Lanka is moving forward to improve facilities and services to cater to discerning and informed travellers. Right along the coast, properties ranging from up market boutique hotels to budget eco-resorts and surf camps are gearing up for the upcoming winter season. The southwest monsoon takes its toll on buildings and equipment, and people are now busy with renovations to ensure that everything is attractive and running well before the first guests arrive.


Small beachside cafés, boarded up during the monsoon, suddenly come to life spreading their tables on the beach and inviting tourists to enjoy a plate of fresh grilled seafood or a tropical fruit smoothie. Water sports and dive operators are busy acquiring new equipment and repairing their boats.


Of course a fresh coat of paint, new rooms, and new equipment are only part of the equation. Good service is essential in ensuring customer satisfaction and many hotels conduct formal training programmes for existing and temporary seasonal staff that they recruit during high season.


New developments are taking place to cope with increasing demand. All along the coast bare plots are being transformed into new hotels as well as small locally owned guesthouses. High atop the hills of Mirissa and overlooking the stunning Weligama Bay, a boutique property is emerging from a hillside, with private villas and plunge pools catering to high end tourists. World renowned architects and international developers are focusing on this area bringing the country some much awaited international exposure.


As the new winter season dawns the south coast of Sri Lanka looks set to provide visitors with a fresh new experience while retaining the charm, beauty and hospitality that it first became renowned for. No longer just a destination for sun worshippers, Sri Lanka is fast transforming itself into a diverse destination offering something for everyone.

 

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    Dondra lighthouse, southernmost point of Sri Lanka

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    Stilt fishermen in Koggala (BT Images)

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    Indulgence on the south coast

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    Tropical breakfast with a view

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    View from the Galle Fort rampart

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    Gathering roofing materials to build an eco resort near Kahandamodara

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    Whale watching conducted by the Sri Lanka Navy

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    Sunset over beach near Tangalle

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    Breakers roll in at Dondra Head

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    Fishing boats anchor in Weligama Bay

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    Surf shop and library in Hikkaduwa

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    A day's work for a boat operator

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    Preparing weight belts at a dive shop

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