The charm of Sri Lanka’s south coast, which I first experienced 34 years ago, has not dimmed with time. It remains as stunning and unique now as it was then.
Offering pumping surf, rich marine life, a rural culture complete with the iconic pole-fishermen, the world famous Galle Fort and mile after mile of honey-coloured beaches, the 150km coastline between Galle and Tissamaharama is one of Asia’s most exciting and delightful seaside experiences.
Its near-deserted beaches are quite remarkable, making it particularly impressive for those looking to escape Asia’s busier shorelines and more commercial tourist hot spots. Ever-expanding international tourist numbers have changed the face of so many previously quiet, under-visited beach destinations, as highlighted in my recent blog posting on Boracay Island, Philippines.
In contrast, with the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and cessation of the 2009 civil war, today’s south coast Ceylonese oceanfront is still dominated by traditional fishing communities living a centuries’ old existence founded on coconut and rice farming. Buddhism is the most prevalent religion, with a mixture of temples and sea-facing Buddhas looking out towards the rolling sea-breakers as if craning a neck to keep up with the latest surf report.
The tsunami-stopping ramparts of Galle Fort, which gaze down across the town’s famous cricket ground, act as a sentry post to a string of easterly paradisiacal beaches, such as Unawatuna, Habaraduwa, Weligama, Mirissa and Tangalla.
These lush palm-fringed beaches have hardly changed since my first visit over three decades ago. Unawatuna beach for example, which was previously just a steep sandy bay dominated by dipping palms, has even now only picked up a small tarmac coastal road behind a relatively underdeveloped array of shops, bars and cafes. A far cry from the modern seaside developments in nearby destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia.
As these photos (taken over the last couple of weeks) show, the isolation of such crystal-clear blue surf beaches is endearing. Small surf schools and smatterings of sun-seeking tourists mix with the local fishermen’s casting poles and tables for drying fish. Equally endearing is the balance between the plentiful fish stalls and in contrast, small-scale turtle hatchery protection programmes.
I highly recommend staying for as long as you can. Maximise on some of Asia’s most delightful beaches, while staying at one of Nomadic Thoughts’ impressive boutique hotels or villas, available year-round.
Looking out across the southern Indian Ocean, the sunrise comes up over the beach palms to your left. And sundowners are supped as the metronomic red sunset gives way to an inky blue, star-studded night sky, over to your right.
Get out there… you’ll soon get the hang of things.