An enchanting Christmas escape…
Whether you are looking for excitement, relaxation or discovery, Sri Lanka is the ideal destination for a Christmas break. Retreat to quiet, golden beaches with a cocktail in hand; explore old colonial-period buildings and the ruins of long-abandoned temples; trek through the wilderness surrounded by birds and butterflies, or visit a national park in search of Sri Lanka’s elusive leopard and sloth bear.
Christmas is a very popular time to visit Sri Lanka – the hill country, Kandy, Galle and the south coast are booked up months in advance and will be bustling with tourists come December. However, for those still seeking to escape to the island for a festive break, there are many other beautiful parts of the island to be explored, such as the north-west coast, Jaffna and the untouched east. Whether you are seeking a lively atmosphere, utter escapism or complete tranquillity – however you want to spend the holiday season, you can find it in Sri Lanka.
This blog – the first in a series of three – picks out our favourite three locations in the north-west. It is an area of the island that is not frequented very often by tourists, but also enjoys the plus points of peak season – great weather, and calm waters ideal for swimming and whale and dolphin watching. The north-west coast boasts exhilarating water-sports and stunning colonial-period architecture, and is particularly suitable for families.
Negombo is a youthful coastal town positioned approximately an hour north of Sri Lanka’s capital city. Known for its laidback beach bars and lively atmosphere, Negombo also boasts beautiful old architecture, mainly in the form of colonial churches. The town was an important port during the colonial periods – in the late 17th century the Dutch built a network of canals, over 100km in length, that were used to transport valuable cinnamon and other spices from the inland plantations to the coast. A photographer’s paradise, from the gaudy, chaotic festivals erupting on the streets to the bleached, beached and beautiful Oruva outrigger canoe catamarans. These driftwood sculptures have been used for centuries and are a key part of the fishing industry, which is the beating heart of Negombo – rise at dawn and watch the fishermen delivering their catch to the bustling, early-morning markets.
It might be situated just a few kilometres from the airport but this seventeen-room boutique property is far from being a transit hotel. Nestled amongst acres of stunning gardens, this 200-year-old manor house is the most ancient wallawwa in the entire province and still maintains many elements of its original architecture. The bedrooms are positioned around a central courtyard pool and the interiors are a blend of traditional décor and modern comforts. A sanctuary of serenity and style, The Wallawwa offers exquisite food, extensive spa facilities and is wonderfully convenient for both the airport and Negombo, which is just a thirty minute drive away.
Another vibrant coastal location, Kalpitiya is a beach town situated at the tip of a small strip of land on the north-west coast. Well-known for being a fantastic spot for water-sports, this is area is particularly good for kite-surfing and windsurfing due its close proximity to the ocean and the Kalpitiya Lagoon. It is home to a 17th century Dutch fort and church, stunning beaches and offers travellers the opportunity to see Blue Whales, Sperm Whales and the acrobatic Spinner Dolphins within a fifteen-minute boat ride.
Bar Reef Resort
Bar Reef Resort is an eco-resort set on a private beach stretch in the rural fishing village of Alankuda. Set amidst swaying palms, this property is utterly tranquil and has an enchanting rustic feel. Six mud cabanas and two larger villas stand either side of a central avenue which is dotted with periwinkle flowers and lit with gas lamps at night. There is a large salt-water infinity pool fronting the property, shadowed by a majestic ambalama, which appears to blend straight into the ocean beyond. This swimming pool is illuminated at night with lights in the shape of star constellations, making for a magical evening dip. Beach living at its most classic, this property will charm you.
This little-known part of the country is stunning, rural and varied. Little has changed since the ancestors of the Sinhalese people first arrived over 3,000 years ago: old rock temples are scattered through the wilderness, as are small village communities who live simple, traditional lifestyles, sometimes with no electricity. The area is famous for its picturesque lagoons, and the ancient tanks that were built during the Anuradhapura period as a way of storing monsoon rainwater to be used for paddy irrigation later in the year. Wilpattu, Sri Lanka’s largest national park, also lies in this area. Explore your surroundings by bicycle, stopping off to visit half-hidden temples (such as Mulegama) or take a dip in one of the tanks.
Leave the stresses and strains of the modern world firmly behind by entering into the idyllic, romantic world of The Mudhouse, a unique property set amidst 60 acres of untamed jungle wilderness close by to the remote village of Puttalam. Flanked by historic rock temples and extensive lily-strewn lakes populated by buffalo and many birds, The Mudhouse offers complete tranquillity: there is no electricity and accommodation takes the form of elegantly designed wattle-and-daub dwellings with traditionally thatched roofs, separated to offer maximum privacy. Wash in the well and eat traditional rice and curry cooked over a hearth. The attention to detail here is second to none.
See Spinner Dolphins and Blue Whales
Accompanied by an experienced naturalist, take the thirty-minute boat ride from Kalpitiya beach out into deeper ocean waters. Before long you will be surrounded by spinner dolphins leaping and spiralling into the air – sometimes up to 300 can be seen together at one time. Blue whales also travel through these waters, and between December and March there is a high likelihood of seeing these mighty creatures at incredibly close range.
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu is one of Sri Lanka’s largest and oldest parks and arguably one of the most spectacular. Dense scrub jungle and dry-zone forest opens onto small lakes surrounded by grassy plains, and there is also a coastal border where you can see the remains of Queen Kuweni’s palace which is thought to date from ancient times. Wilpattu is frequented much less than some of the more commercial parks in the island, such as Yala – you may not even see anyone else during your safari. Wilpattu not only boasts leopards and sloth bears, but also a wealth of other wildlife including elephants, spotted deer, barking deer, sambar, wild boar, water buffalo and mugger crocodiles. There are also abundant species of endemic and migratory birds, as well as several types of butterfly.
The Kalpitiya Lagoon, sand banks, remote islets, reef and the ocean provide kitesurfing spots in the north-west region. Windsurfing on the island was first started in Negombo and is possible on inland lagoons and lakes here. Negombo and Kalpitiya are also both excellent sites for scuba diving. Negombo has two separate diving sites, and Kalpitiya’s Bar Reef is riddled with mysterious nooks and crevices. Spot many types of fish, turtles, Moray Eels and sting rays.
For more information on the north-west coast, or to plan your customized Christmas tour of Sri Lanka, contact one of our friendly travel consultants or take a look at our website.