The East Coast: An Introduction

Sri Lanka's east coast, off limits until recently because of the war, is much touted as an undeveloped tropical beach heaven. It's certainly a tropical beach heaven, at least between April and September - but more hotels are under construction. That said, this is definitely an excellent time to visit and take advantage of the new high quality accommodation while the beaches are still relatively undeveloped.

The closest resort to the Cultural Triangle and Kandy is Passekudah which promises fantastic sands, diving and relatively little development. Also well located is Trincomalee, the main city along this stretch of coast, and one of the island's main Tamil-speaking communities. The city's famous Koneswaram Temple is Hindu, unlike many of the temples you'll visit in the Cultural Triangle, and is perched on a rocky coastal outcrop above the city. A beautiful spot with an ancient history, the elaborate temple contains shrines to Vishnu, Ganesh, Murukan and Ambal-Shakti. The Ther Chariot Festival is celebrated here during April, and lasts for 21 days, during which Hindus come to pray, make offerings, and peruse the stalls set up around the temple to sell food, pottery and religious paraphernalia.

Other attractions include the old Dutch fort by the harbour, and hot springs just outside the town, but the most universally attractive aspect of Trincomalee has to be its tree-lined beaches, which are beautifully clean, fluffy and golden, with shallow waters that are excellent for swimming. The surrounding waters are also well-known for great surfing, whale watching and fishing, with trips leaving from the harbour on a regular basis.

Nilavali, just to the north of Trincomalee, offers miles of broad golden sand with a few hotels tucked away in the trees, with the shore getting a little rockier as you head north towards the Kokkilai Bird Sanctuary - not Sri Lanka's most spectacular national park, but the area is interesting for its Tamil history. The sands continue as you head north, while to the south you'll find Passekudah and further still the well known surfer's paradise of Arugam Bay. Perhaps the most built-up of Sri Lanka's east coast resorts, it's still very laid back here, especially compared to the majority of Asia's coastal resorts. A popular backpacker-spot, the main beach here is not always very clean, since it's used by the local fishing fleet, but you only need to head a few minutes either way to find excellent beaches, especially if you're a surfer.

Nearby Lahugala Sanctuary is a small but important habitat for elephants and endemic bird species, while Immediately to the south you'll find two of Sri Lanka's most impressive national parks - Yala, famous for its leopards, and Uda Walawe, which is home to over 500 elephants.

Typical Sri Lankan fishing boat

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  • Population: 20.5 million
  • Capital: Colombo
  • Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee
  • Language: Sinhalese, Tamil
  • Religion: Buddhism
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