Forget Bentota and Hikkaduwa. Sri Lanka’s deep south is the next big thing. Here’s how to experience it.
Forget Bentota and Hikkaduwa. Sri Lanka’s deep south is the next big destination. Tangalle, on the southern coast (just three and a half hours from Colombo) is a small town with a bustling fishing port and is well known for its beautiful stretch of palm-fringed bays and coves. The name Tangalle means ‘projecting rock’, because long ago, the town was protected from the ocean by a long rocky slab that projected into the sea across the mouth of the bay. Here are eight ways to get acquainted with this lesser-explored region of Sri Lanka:
Luxe out Tucked into a coconut grove and bordering an arc of pristine white sand beach, Amanwella resort has thirty luxurious suites built on three different levels, with private plunge pools and terraces overlooking the Indian Ocean. The Australian architect who designed the resort with local hand-hewn stone and terracotta roof tiles was inspired by the clean vertical lines of Geoffrey Bawa , Sri Lanka’s most famous architect. There is nothing that separates you from the sea: the Bar, restaurant, swimming pool and cosy library all look out over the turquoise sea and endless coconut groves. Have a massage at the spa here and tuck in to Mediterranean and Asian fusion cuisine as you sip on a local beer or two. (www.amanresorts.com) Doubles from US$575 (Rs25,132)
Cruise through the mangroves Tangalle has some beautiful lagoons and mangroves where you can go on a river safari or kayak and spot weaverbirds and monkeys in the trees, storks and cranes along the banks, and water monitors in the shallows. Plan to wrap up just before dusk if you can, to witness the amazing sight of thousands of fruit bats descending on the trees. When you're done, get a snack at one of the many small restaurants on the nearby beaches.
Tuck into local fare Tangalle is a great place to eat traditional Sri Lankan food like rice and piquant curries, hoppers made from fermented rice batter with a dash of palm toddy and coconut milk, sea food and the famous street-food favourite Kottu paratha, which is diced chapattis pounded with spices, meat and vegetables. Don’t forget to taste local specialties like fiery coconut sambol and drink sweet King Coconut water. Indulge your sweet tooth too, with local desserts like thick buffalo curds that are sold in mud pots with local treacle made from the sap of a palm tree called Kitul, and Watalappam—steamed custard made from coconut milk and palm sugar spiced with cinnamon and cloves.
Visit the fishing harbour Tangalle once was a harbour for the Dutch and British fleets. Today it has a bustling fishing harbour (the first manmade one in Sri Lanka) where trawlers and boats land after days out at sea, with their swollen nets of fresh fish. Go early in the morning to see fish being auctioned, gutted and cut up.
Laze on the beach Tangalle’s beaches are meant for lounging. You share the beach only with small fishing boats and a few fishermen mending nets. The turtle-trampled sands are great for walking and sunbathing. Tangalle’s deserted beaches are where the turtles lay their eggs in the golden sand. If you want to see giant sea turtles coming ashore at night (January to July) to lay their eggs, then the beach of Rekawa is ideal. Tangalle has some great stretches of beaches like Marakolliya and Medaketiya, which are dotted with tiny shacks selling freshly-cooked local fish and curry.
Visit the Hoo Maniya blow hole Around seven kilometres from Tangalle, the village of Kudawala is home to the Hoo-maniya blowhole, whose name derived from the low, whistling sound it produces prior to spouting water. The blowhole is formed from a narrow fissure in the cliff, and is most impressive during the monsoon when the jets—churned to a dazzling whiteness—can go as high as 15m.
See the stilt fishermen On the way to Tangalle, around Kogalla, you will see Sri Lanka’s famous stilt fishermen perched on a vertical pole planted into the sand, holding the stilt with one hand and a fishing rod in the other. They catch small fish like herring with just a crude fishing pole and a hook with no bait. Many say that this originated after the Second World War when the fishermen had to contend with rocky beaches and found this method a good way to fish inside the deep waters. Of course with it now becoming such a popular tourist attraction, many of the wily fishermen ask for money before letting you photograph them.
Trek to the famous rock temple One of the best local trips from Tangalle is to the stunning rock monolith of Mulkirigala, 20km to the north, reached after a strenuous climb of a series of rock steps leading to natural caves with wall paintings and Buddha statues. One cave houses a library, where an important discovery was made in 1826 by a British administrator. He found some ancient palm-leaf manuscripts containing the key to translating the Mahawamsa, the Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka.
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