Sri Lanka has it all – verdant jungle, bustling cities and pristine beaches. However most tourists don’t venture far from the capital city of Colombo and the neighbouring southern areas. Sri Lanka’s less built up east coast offers a peaceful yet vibrant retreat from the bustling capital city. taking a tour of Sri Lanka’s East Coast is the best way to experience this frontier region.
The area is only just starting to come into its own as a tourist destination. We recommend to get in quick and the best way to get around is by booking a private tour. That way you can experience the wide range of sights and activities on offer without worrying about the logistics.
The places described below showcase just how picturesque and diverse this lesser known side of Sri Lanka can be.
Arugam Bay is the quintessential relaxed beach town. Along the shores colourful fishing boats are lined up ready to go out in the mornings. Rustic beach bars face azure waves and provide a great vantage point for watching the sun either rise or set. Surfers both native and foreign make Arugam Bay their home during the summer months, when the surf is at its best. In fact, this stretch of coast is supposedly the best surf spot on the island and even further afield.
Lessons are available for all skill levels, and can be easily arranged through a private tour operator. The multicultural yet close-knit hippie community makes Arugam Bay the perfect place for some R&R if you have booked in a lot of activities during the rest of your trip. While soaking up the sun on the beach you might notice the white dome of Muhudu Maha Viharaya temple nestled among the sand dunes. For the more adventurous traveller, hiking 45 minutes to Kudumbigala monastery will be rewarded with magnificent jungle views.
One thing is for certain – Arugam Bay’s unique vibe can only be fully appreciated in person.
The town of Trincomalee (or Trinco, as the locals call it) holds huge appeal for beach hoppers and culture lovers alike. It is one of Asia’s oldest cities, with a rich history spanning over two thousand years. Present day visitors can expect to see remnants of its seven different colonial occupations, like the Dutch Fort, alongside traditional monuments such as the clifftop Koneswaram Temple. If history isn’t really your thing, Trinco has plenty of stunning white sand beaches along its coastline.
The two most popular are Nilaveli and Uppuveli, both easily reachable by foot from the town itself. When it comes to eating out, Trinco offers several options. Fernando’s is a classic cool beachfront bar that’s perfect for drinks and Instagram, but for the best authentic food head to Rice n’ Curry. Their nightly buffet is not only delicious, it also won’t put a dent in your budget.
Pigeon Island National Park is one of only two marine national parks in Sri Lanka. Situated just off the coast from Trincomalee, it is supposedly the best diving territory on Sri Lanka’s eastern coast. The coral reefs grow mainly in shallow and crystal-clear water. We recommend that you definitely should consider booking a snorkelling trip as part of a privately led tour. This plan of action is also preferable because these kinds of tours are more likely to be eco-conscious and promote sustainable practices. Unfortunately the reefs in this area have suffered from careless tourists walking on the coral and wearing damaging sunscreen. The marine biodiversity is spectacular and can be enjoyed without damaging the ecosystem. Angelfish, sea turtles, blacktip sharks and blue-spotted rays are just some of the species you could see for yourself!
The star attraction of this bustling town is the weekly market. Each week, vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables haggle over prices with each other. Bandarawela is notoriously busy and hectic compared to some places on the eastern coast. It’s best to consider arranging accommodation in advance through a private tour operator. It is worth the extra effort of making the journey here though, because it makes the perfect base camp for exploring the fascinating sights nearby. For example, the Dowa Rock Temple (home to a four metre tall carved Buddha) is less than four kilometres away. Ravana Ella Falls and Ella Gap are two magnificent natural attractions that are also easily accessible from the town. Are you looking for respite from the humid seaside air? The climate is comparatively mild and pleasant due to Bandarawela’s hilly location.
Gal Oya National Park
Who knew Sri Lanka is a thriving safari destination? Gal Oya National Park sits nestled in the heart of eastern Sri Lanka. This water filled park is home to thriving populations of leopards, elephants and crocodiles, as well as hundreds of bird species. Despite its incredible wildlife, the park is relatively untouched by tourism. As of now there is only one choice when it comes to staying here – Gal Oya Lodge. You will be hosted in delightful traditional bungalows fitted with modern amenities and mountain-facing terraces. A dedicated team of staff and guides works to ensure the total satisfaction of visitors. Spending a couple of days simultaneously in luxury and in the wilderness is the perfect way to round off your tailor made tour!