Sri Lanka’s picturesque East Coast is enjoying a renaissance. The sun-kissed beaches and exotic marine life of Trincomalee; the world-renowned surfing beaches in Arugam Bay; Batticaloa’s tranquil lagoons and waterways; the wild elephants of Gal Oya National Park in Ampara; and a vibrant multi-ethnic cultural heritage all make this a fascinating region which has come alive again for tourists. The best East coast weather is from March to September, although out of season also has its rewards. Surfing season in Arugam Bay is from about June to August.
The A15 coast road now extends from Trincomalee in the north east to Arugam Bay in the south east. Old ferry services have now given way to extended bridges. Trinco can also be reached on the A6 route via Habarana. Pasikudah Bay, an hour south of Trinco, can also be reached from Habarana via Polonnaruwa. Arugam Bay can be reached from the southern highlands and the South Coast via Buttala and Wellawaya. Allow eight hours from Colombo.
Trincomalee, referred to as `Trinco’, is blessed with the world’s deepest and largest natural harbour. Colonial powers battled for this strategic port beginning with the Portuguese in the 17C, followed by the Dutch and the British. During World War II, Trincomalee was a British naval base and still continues to be used by the Sri Lankan Navy.
The history of the central and south east region dates back to the ancient Ruhunu Kingdom of the 3C BC. The Deegawapi Archeological museum exhibits findings of this period. This beautiful region has undergone much hardship in the past as a result of 26-years of terrorism waged by the LTTE as well as the devastating Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. Terrorism was eradicated from the island in 2009. Recovery is well underway, making it once again an appealing holiday destination.
Trincomalee has several small shops and markets as well as a few internet cafes and banks. For local handicrafts made of Palmyrah Palm, head to Batticaloa which is about an hour south of Pasikudah. Browse the Batticaloa market on Lady Manning Drive for fresh seafood, homegrown vegetables and fruits. Arugam Bay’s main strip has several internet cafes, surf shops, wayside clothing shops selling beach shorts to batik t-shirts, grocery shops, a Food City where you can buy toiletries, soft drinks, bottled water; two banks, a pharmacy and post office.
Whale & Dolphin spotting in Trinco: The East Coast season for whale and dolphin spotting is from about March to September.
Surfing in Arugam Bay: Listed as one of 10 best surf spots in the world, Arugam Bay comes alive each July and August which is the surfing season. The UK Pro-Surfing Association’s Sri Lanka Surf Championships are held each year in Arugam Bay in July.
Sri Lanka’s east coast comes into its own while the rest of the island is experiencing monsoonal rains. The best weather is from April to September, with the monsoon running from October until January. Sri Lanka is affected by two separate monsoons which generally means that there is usually good weather somewhere. Essentially the main south-west (“yala”) monsoon brings rain to the west and south-west coasts and hill country largely between May and July. The less severe north-east (“maha”) monsoon hits the east coast – including the cultural triangle – predominantly from November to January. There is also an inter-monsoonal period of unsettled weather preceding the Maha monsoon in October during which heavy rainfall can occur anywhere across the island.
Arugam Bay: Arugam Bay is Sri Lanka at its most escapist. The relatively isolated beaches and a simple, laid-back lifestyle, away from the main tourist haunts, have many devotees. A’ Bay offers high-class surfing (the best on the island) and deserted beaches. Surfing season is from about mid-May to August. Go on a jeep safari and explore the jungles of Lahugala National Park.
Batticaloa & Ampara: Visit Batticaloa’s 17C Dutch Fort, go bird watching by the lagoon or stroll on Kalladi Beach. Travelling further south, you reach Ampara – dotted with lush green paddy fields, Palmyrah trees and tranquil lagoons.
Gal Oya National Park: An extensive wildlife sanctuary edged by a lake that is inhabited by herds of elephants, water buffalo, deer and crocodile. Go on a boat safari.
Kumana National Park: The swamp lakes of Kumana, also known as Yala East National Park, are nesting sites for water birds from June onwards. The jungles are also home to wild elephants, buffalo and deer. Often the endangered marine turtles come ashore to nest on secluded beaches. The main entrance to Kumana is in Okanda, south of Arugam Bay. Best time to visit is at dawn and late afternoon.
Maligawila Buddha statues: Situated south of Monaragala en route to Pottuvil, the Maligavila Buddha is the largest freestanding image of Lord Buddha in Sri Lanka. Carved out of a single block of limestone, this statue was discovered in fragments and restored in 1980.
Pasikudah: Pasikudah and Kalkudah are fast recovering their popularity in the 1980s as a beach destination but with a more upmarket feel. Now several boutique hotels line the bay and offer a range of watersports from jet skiing to catamaran sailing. Take a bicycle ride inland. Bird watching in Vakarai lagoon about 45 minutes north.
Trincomalee: Sri Lanka’s equivalent to the Maldives, Trinco’s never-ending white sandy beaches, coral islands and shimmering blue seas are distinctly different from the coastal areas of the rest of the island. Bask in the sun on the secluded beaches of Uppuveli, Nilaveli & Kuchchaveli to the north of town. Discover the magnificent marine life around Pigeon Island or go on a dolphin and whale-watching excursion into the deep seas. Trincomalee’s natural harbour – considered to be the finest in the world, can be viewed from Fort Frederick. Past Fort Frederick is Swami Rock also referred to as ‘Lover’s Leap’.