November 2016


Eternal Bentota: Sri Lanka's quintessential resort town
November 2016




Ventura Beach, Bentota

Words and Photography: David Blacker


For me, the very name Bentota conjures up feelings of childish excitement and anticipation; of sleepless nights waiting for the dawn. It was almost as good as Christmas. From family picnics to the beach to youthful day trips, Bentota was the place to go.


Easily accessible by road or rail from Colombo, Bentota was one of Sri Lanka's first purpose-built holiday resorts. Located on the west coast, less then 70km south of Colombo, it is squeezed between the encircling marshes and waterways of the Bentara Ganga on one side, and the Indian Ocean on the other. In 1969, the government launched the Bentota National Holiday Resort, a project to develop the area by opening up land for large hotels, designating areas for the making and showcasing of traditional handicrafts, building a dedicated waste and water management plant, and generally organising tourism.

Located: west coast, less than 70km south of Colombo
Travlel Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours from Colombo on the Expressway


Today, Bentota's stupendously beautiful Ventura Beach on the seaward side of the 3km spit dividing the sea from the river, is dominated by large resort hotels, many dating back to the early 1970s. At the northern end of the beach, where the peninsula is just a couple of hundred metres across, many of these hotels have access to both the river and the sea, making them ideal regardless of the seasons. Anyone looking for cosier, more budget-oriented guest houses and villas will have to look further inland, but there are no shortage of these, many lining the banks of the Bentara Ganga, further upstream.

Watersports
For those interested in a bit of adrenaline in the blood, the hotels close to the river's mouth are centres for water skiing, jet skiing, windsurfing, and even spectacular helicopter tours of the coast.


Ventura Beach is easily one of the best on the west coast, and can be bravely compared to other legendary beaches across the world, over 200m wide in places during the northern hemisphere winter, which is the best time to visit. A long gentle curve of gold, with rocky headlands at both ends, the beach is often busy at the weekends. Foreign tourists are matched in numbers by Sri Lankans visiting just for the day or a long weekend.


During the season, the waves are moderate and the seas shallow for a considerable distance out from the beach. The barrier reefs that protect Sri Lanka's west coast offer snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities off Bentota, particularly around Canoe Rock. Boats go out regularly, if you don't fancy a long swim, and dive expeditions are run by certified professionals.

Two Gardens
Just inland of Bentota, between the coast and the Southern Expressway is Brief, the picturesque landscaped garden of the late artist Bevis Bawa. The bungalow offers amazing views of the garden and the hills beyond, and features paintings and sculptures by Bawa himself, as well as visiting artists such as Donald Friend. Further south, close to Haburugala, on one of the lakes formed by the Bentara, sits Lunuganga, a country house and garden created by Bevis’ brother Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most iconic architect, and one of the best known masters of Tropical Modernism. Both Brief and Lunuganga warrant a visit by anyone traveling to Bentota.


Upstream of the road and rail bridges connecting Bentota to Aluthgama, things are quieter, and one can hire a small boat for peaceful fishing, or to explore the mangrove jungles that line the Bentara Ganga's banks. A two or three hour boat trip in the early morning, or just before sundown, is a great way to get a look at the birds and reptiles that inhabit this marshland. Something special to look for are the mugger crocodiles, their numbers now swelled by successful conservation, and their populations spreading further downstream.


If all this activity seems a wee bit too strenuous, one of Bentota's most fun attractions is still that of doing nothing, lazing in the sun or in the shade of the many coconut trees.

  • image01
  • image01
    image01

    Little nooks invite you to contemplate the meaning of life, or just have a drink

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Traditional outrigger fishing canoe

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    As the evening tide comes in, the surfers go out

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A rocky headland divides Ventura Beach from the Bentara Ganga

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Two Gardens
    Just Inland Of Bentota, Between The Coast And The Southern Expressway Is Brief, The Picturesque Landscaped Garden Of The Late Artist Bevis Bawa. The Bungalow Offers Amazing Views Of The Garden And The Hills Beyond, And Features Paintings And Sculptures By Bawa Himself, As Well As Visiting Artists Such As Donald Friend. Further South, Close To Haburugala, On One Of The Lakes Formed By The Bentara, Sits Lunuganga, A Country House And Garden Created By Bevis' Brother Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s Most Iconic Architect, And One Of The Best Known Masters Of Tropical Modernism. Both Brief And Lunuganga Warrant A Visit By Anyone Traveling To Bentota

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A Dutch style house by the Bentara

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A young kingfisher

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Great cormorant

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A young crocodile lurks in the mangroves

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    An oriental darter swoops in to land in the water

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A small boat is the ideal way to explore the mangroves

    Prev Next