The beach towns of Hikkaduwa, Galle, Unawatuna and Mirissa provide a great introduction to the traveler-friendly country of Sri Lanka. Although the accommodation and food in the Southern Province are a bit more pricey than the hill country and Cultural Triangle, the good nature of the people and the laid back atmosphere make up for the higher costs.
After landing in Colombo, our first stop was Hikkaduwa. Previously a hippie haven, it has since been taken over by tourists and offers decent surfing and SCUBA diving (the latter being what drew us there). There are a few dive shops in town, and all of them offer the same fixed rate for single dives – $35USD including gear. Poseidon Diving Station seemed to be the most legitimate so we went with them. We still had to trade out our dive gear a few times before we were satisfied that we’d met all the safety requirements that go with diving sixty feet under water. The staff were responsive and replaced our regulators and tanks promptly, but their equipment might be due for an upgrade. In all honesty, we didn’t really feel safe diving after so many equipment malfunctions.
After thirty minutes on the sea we dove down to the remains of the SS Conch. A British oil tanker that sank in the year 1903, the Conch dropped to the sea floor after hitting a reef and breaking into two. Diving near the wreck wasn’t the best, as there were strong currents and the visibility was low. But the massive boilers from the ship are still intact and they’re quite a sight. The dive lasted for only 35 minutes since we used a lot of oxygen fighting the currents, and we both experienced seasickness for the first time once we got back on the boat.
Even though it wasn’t our favorite place to dive, it’s not hard to pass a couple of days in Hikkaduwa just watching surfers and swimming off the wide white-sand beach.
A well-preserved piece of colonial and Sri Lankan history, Galle Fort is a picturesque spot at the southwest corner of Sri Lanka.
Originally built by the Portuguese in the 16th century to defend Galle, the fort was ceded to the Dutch in the seventeenth century before control finally went to the British when they fully colonized Sri Lanka in 1796.
It doesn’t take long to familiarize yourself with the streets that crisscross the Fort. It’s a major tourist attraction, as evidenced by the many tour buses that park alongside the walls. But the bulk of the traffic remains outside in the main city of Galle, making it all the more pleasant.
As far as beaches go, Galle Fort doesn’t have much to offer. There’s a small strip of sand near the lighthouse, but it seems to be used mostly by the local Muslim residents (not the place for sunbathing in a bikini). There must be other swimming holes outside the Fort, but we didn’t venture that far out during our short stay.
In Part Two we’ll take you to Unawatuna and Mirissa, some of our favorite places on the island!