Selective Six: must-do dive sites in Sri Lanka
25th July 2013 | by Martin
Sri Lanka is prized for its wildlife, cramming 14 thriving National Parks into a little less territory than Ireland. Take the superb coastal waters into account and you have the consummate nature-lovers’ paradise, with diving that rivals the Maldives.
Leather Coral Reef - great for beginners
Only 14 metres deep, off Sri Lanka’s east coast at Vakarai, this pristine reef is calm and wonderfully scenic, with a thriving and colourful population of fish and anemones. Best from May through October, the east coast remains largely uncrowded and unexplored, with undamaged reefs in calm seas offering ideal diving for budding enthusiasts. Spot bright Bengali Snappers, ungainly Rock Cod and sleek silver-skinned Trevally amongst numerous coral species and anemones. The luxurious Uga Bay resort is very close.
British Sergeant - world class wreck
Built in 1922 as a steam-powered oil tanker for the British Royal Navy, the British Sergeant was missing for years after a catastrophic Japanese bombing raid sank five Allied ships near Sri Lanka in April 1942. Divers recently identified her lying, at 24 metres deep, off the island’s east coast near Kayankerni. At 122 metres long she’s only half the size the smallest modern tankers, but is nonetheless a huge wreck and an impressive sight, broken in two and circled by shoals of Blue Striped Snapper. Part of the hull has collapsed to create a large cavern through which you can drift and examine the thrilling interior.
Taprobane East Wreck - simply beautiful
Diving off Sri Lanka’s west coast is best between November and May, and Colombo in particular is so blessed with fantastic diving that it was tempting just to include “Colombo” as one of these recommendations. But that would be cheating, so from a smorgasbord of superb wrecks and reefs we’ve chosen this perfect little barge, an unidentified but truly stunning wreck dive. Two hours out of Colombo and 30 metres deep, this is definitely for divers with open water training, but it completely justifies any prior investment. The upright barge sits peacefully on the white sandy seabed in quiet clear waters, covered in colourful organisms. Expect Stingray, Napoleon Fish, Red Lions and vast shoals of glassfish amongst the abundant life here.
Gorgonian Gardens - unique reef
Also off Colombo, just 20 minutes boat trip to the South Gale Reef, this thriving colony of Gorgonian sea fans makes for a beautiful and unique dive, but at 35 metres with strong currents it should only be attempted by experienced, confident divers. The fans grow in an area of flat seabed, and make for quite a mystical experience, looking down over the underwater forest of wafting fans that range from tiny to several feet high, with hundreds of Triggerfish busy amongst them.
Great Basses - experienced divers only
Basses Reef, 10 kilometres off the south-east coast of Sri Lanka, is the island’s final frontier against the vastness of Indian Ocean and currents which swirl unchallenged between the Antarctic and South East Asia.
Let’s take a moment to admire them in action in this satellite animation, courtesy of NASA...
And now imagine yourself slipping beneath the ocean to experience some of Sri Lanka’s finest diving, with wrecks, caves, overhangs - all manner of terrain to explore, populated with hundreds of species. It’s only a shallow reef, but the currents are very strong, so this is not one for beginners. Dive between mid-March and mid-April only - between the monsoons - and expect magnificent Giant Trevally, Pompanos, shoals of Spadefish, Goatfish, swooping Eagle Rays, and the White Tip Shark has been known to make an appearance.
HMS Hermes - once in a lifetime technical wreck
Back on the east coast, 60 minutes out of Batticaloa, the splendid HMS Hermes lies submerged, with guns still visible, at just over 50 metres. Built in 1912 as the world’s first aircraft carrier, the steam-powered ship went down during the same air-raid that sank the Sergeant, and is now a haven for Black Coral, Giant Trevally, Mangrove Jacks, Dog Tooth Tuna, Chevron Barracuda, jellyfish, Marble Ray, whales in the distance - the list goes on. The Hermes is a technical dive that requires lengthy decompression stops, not to mention navigating the huge wreck with its unexploded ordnance, but she’s is an unmissable opportunity for any experienced diver.
If you're thinking of a diving holiday to Sri Lanka, get in touch, or give one of our Sri Lanka Destination Specialists a call on +44 (0) 1273 670 001.