The North West coast extending from Negombo up to Puttalam and has a varied landscape offering many attractions. Beginning with the stretch of beach known as the Golden Mile in Negombo, moving further North takes you past the inland wetlands and placid lagoons where birdlife abounds. Some of the best dolphin watching in the island can be had off the coast of Kalpitiya, which lies on a spit of land running parallel to the main land mass enclosing the Puttalam lagoon. Negombo’s location close to the airport sees it being frequently used as a staging point for excursions into other parts of the country and is also the most convenient place to either begin or end your visit to Sri Lanka.
Must Do List
- Wide sandy beach of Negombo
- Morning fish auction at the Negombo market
- Boat ride over the Negombo lagoon
- Birdlife in the Muthrajawella Marshes
- Bird sanctuary at Anavilundawa
- Whale and dolphin watching off Kalpitiya coast
- Dutch Canal and churches along the coastal belt
North West Coast – In Focus
The North West coast in ancient times was a centre for the growing of spices, especially cinnamon, and this saw Arab, Chinese and Roman traders visit the coastal towns from as far back as the 5th Century. Near Kurunegala the capital of the North Western province, lies Panduwasnuwara which in the 12th Century was a temporary capital of King Parakramabahu I, with an identified collection of ruins confirming this fact. From the 16th Century onwards with the colonisation first by the Portuguese and then the Dutch, the coastal towns of Negombo, Chilaw and Kalpitiya saw the construction of forts around which these cities were built. During the Dutch era, a canal connecting Colombo and Puttalam was built with an astoundingly accurate gradient for the time of a one inch drop to the mile. Used for the easy transport of goods it is commonly called the Dutch Canal but was renamed the Hamilton Canal under the British, who further improved the existing waterway. The population of the region is diverse with the majority being Catholics as a result of the missions and churches established by both the Portuguese and the Dutch.
The North-West coast is warmer than other coastal regions in the country, with daytime temperatures between 25°C and 33°C. Evenings are cooler and a constant on-shore breeze is mostly warm and dry. Rainfall occurs predominantly during the South-West monsoon from May to August, with the North-East monsoon from November to February bringing rainfall to areas North of Negombo.
The main town on the North-West coast, Negombo is a short drive away from the Bandaranaike International Airport and lies on the Colombo-Puttalam road and its proximity to the airport makes it commonly used as a point to start or end a visit to the island. Kurunegala, further inland links the North West coast with the Cultural Triangle and the hill country by way of Kandy.
International Airport to Negombo – 20 minutes
Colombo to Kalpitiya – 3 hours
Negombo to Kurunegala – 2 hours
Negombo to Habarana – 4 hours
Negombo to Kandy – 3.5 hours
Negombo is by far the most developed town in the North West region and has a variety of accommodation options to reflect this. Jetwing Beach is the most luxurious hotel North of Colombo on the coast, offering an unforgettable seaside experience and Jetwing Ayurveda Pavillions is an oasis of calm in Negombo providing tailor made wellness packages. A host of other very reasonably priced hotels are available and Negombo’s numerous guesthouses run by individual owners are sometimes the best way to see traditional Sri Lankan life. Just to the North of Negombo the award winning Ranweli Holiday Village offers cabana style accommodation in an eco-based environment of a mangrove forest. Further North on the Kalpitiya Peninsula, Alankuda is another eco-based property on the pristine coast and is becoming a popular attraction, as is the Mud House which is a rustic property located in Anamaduwa in the interior of the region.
Negombo offers the best shopping in North West region, being a very popular resort. Along the famous “Golden Mile” along which most of the best hotels little shops line the street selling a variety of curios, jewellery and colourful handlooms, batiks and other clothing items. If you have the opportunity to do your own cooking, then a visit to the Negombo fish market is a must, where you can pick up the freshest of seafood straight off the boat at the morning fish auction. Shopping is very limited outside of Negombo but the road that leads further North has little kiosks by the roadside selling fresh fruit and vegetables from home gardens.
Attractions & Events
Negombo is a famous fishing town North of Colombo with a rich colonial history and is a very popular tourist resort. The Dutch constructed a Fort in Negombo, and the Dutch Canal which was built for the transport of goods between Colombo and Chilaw also runs through the town. The canal is a hive of activity to this day with fishermen traveling up and down it in their gaily-painted boats. Numerous hotels lie along the beach offering standards of accommodation to suit any budget. From November to April diving facilities are available through a number of licensed PADI instructors. The street along the beach where the majority of the hotels are located comes alive at night with souvenir shops, restaurants and bars providing plenty of entertainment and action.
Muthurajawela Wetland Sanctuary
The Muthurajawela Wetland is a 2,000 hectare swathe of marshland lying on the coastal region stretching from Colombo to Negombo. Declared a sanctuary for its unique environment of mangrove forests and array of flora and fauna it is home to a number of endemic species. Visitors can take a boat ride to experience the wetland or explore the marshes on nature trails to see its rich bio-diversity. The Muthurajawela Wetland has 40 percent of the island’s vertebrates and is a bird watchers paradise and common sightings include Cormorants, Storks, Bee-eaters, Kingfishers, Grey Herons, Purple Coots, Little Green Herons, Yellow Bitterns, Black Bitterns, Moorhens and White-breasted Waterhens.
One of the holiest Hindu Temples in the country, Munneswaram Kovil is located near Chilaw, 80km from Colombo, and has a history dating back from the time of Ravana who is supposed to have paid homage at this temple. A colourful festival is held annually in July or August where fire walking can be witnessed and the festival ends with a water-cutting ceremony.
The Padeniya Budhist Temple lies on the Puttalam-Kurunegala road and although most of the present monuments date to the early Kandyan Period, legend states that Theraputhathbhya, a Paladin of King Dutugemunu (161 – 137 BC) became a Buddhist monk and lived here making it possible to go back as far as its history dates back to 3 BC. The temple has wooden pillars in the shrine room with woodcarvings of wrestlers, animals, female figures and various other designs similar to the Embekke Devala. A unique feature seen here is the raised plinth, filled with sand leveled for writing the letters of script to teach students. Four large octagonal stone pillars from the ancient dagobas are also found at the site.
Yapahuwa is located off the Kurunegala-Anuradhapura road and was in the 13th Century the capital of Sri Lanka. Built by King Bhuvanekabahu I (1272-1284 AD) on a huge boulder 300 feet high, its most impressive feature is a Cambodian style stairway leading up to the remains of the palace. Friezes of jubilant musicians, dancers and drummers decorate the staircase and the porch above them. Styled on the Sigiriya Rock Fortress but not built on the summit, its construction comprises two semi-circular walls, two moats and a mud moat to protect the royal complex. Other sites to be seen are the beautiful stone window – the best available in the country, old paintings in the cave temple and the remains of the Tooth Relic Temple. A small site museum also exhibits more than 1300 Chinese coins and pottery.
Wilpattu National Park
Declared as a National Park in 1938, the Wilpattu National Park is the largest in the country, covering an extent of 131,694 hectares. Vegetation varies greatly and the transition from thick jungle to open scrubland and windswept dunes of the coastal belt happening within minutes. A unique feature of this Park is that it has a large number of villus (lakes) where you can watch wildlife and many species of birds. Leopards and herds of wild elephant are the most famous animals in this Park. Other sightings you can expect are Spotted Deer, Sambhur, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Wild Buffalo, Sloth Bear, Mongoose, Crocodile and Peacocks.