Sri Lanka - Getting to know Sri Lanka's West Coast
If you're flying to Sri Lanka you'll be landing in Colombo, on the island's west coast. It's a small city and often overlooked, but we always recommend a couple of days there if you can spare it. Powered by an obsessive love of cricket and excellent street food, the town has some good shopping and provides a nice introduction to the country. That said, Sri Lanka's west coast is better known for its beach resorts than its urban thrills; its shoreline is brimming with gorgeous sand and, further north, spectacular wilderness.
Best beach resorts
- To Colombo's south, Bentota - one of the island's most established beach resorts, but still recovering from the tsunami - offers golden sands but sometimes unswimmable waters, depending on the season. Come here between December and April for the best weather.
- The area's watersports are excellent, and there's plenty of beauty to explore here, both natural and manmade. Just inland, placid Dedduwa Lake is surrounded by swampy forest and stilt huts, while the town itself is small, leafy and friendly, with plenty of world class hotels hidden away in the lush green surroundings. This is also a good place to come for spa treatments, with several hotels specialising in Ayurvedic treatments.
- You'll be spoilt for choice by the excellent beaches that line the coast from Galle to Colombo, although there are plenty to recommend just north of Colombo, too. Negombo is another sparkling beach with an excellent track record in hospitality - an old hand, if you will, when it comes to offering beach holidays on Sri Lanka, and decades ahead of its colleagues on the east coast.
- Twenty miles north, Maravila is more secluded, surrounded by coconut plantations, yet with good watersports facilities, including diving and kite-surfing, and the chance to watch the island's famous 'toddy tappers' in action. Toddy is a traditional Asian alcohol made from palm sap, which is harvested by the 'tappers', who rope-walk from palm to palm, collecting their sap.
Wilpattu National Park
Even further north, public beach gives way to Wilpattu National Park and its wild coastline. The park offers an excellent chance of seeing leopards and often elephants, alongside an interesting variety of smaller creatures, who thrive around the park's 'villu', a unique geographical feature where small rainwater lakes form during rainy season and provide Wilpattu's population with water long after neighbouring areas have succumbed to the dry season.
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If you tire of the coast, famous Adam's Peak is a few hours drive inland from Colombo. Here, a holy footprint - made by Buddha, Krishna or Christ - depending on one's faith, is enshrined at the top of the conical peak which rises high above the flat plain that surrounds it. This is a major and very active pilgrimage site, with both faithful and curious making the 2-4 hour trek up the mountain path to pay their respects and take in the glorious view at the top. It gets busy here during pilgrim season; our advice is to stay in a hotel at the foot of the mountain and get up very early - early enough to reach the peak by dawn, which is, in our opinion at least, when the view is most inspiring.