The East Coast has to offer some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, unspoilt and pristine, extending from Arugam Bay in the South to the Nilaveli beach in the North. Although scarred by close to three decades of conflict, the East has not lost its allure to its die-hard fans, and its crystal clear waters, wide white sandy beaches and stunning coral reefs make the East a haven for diving enthusiasts and sun worshippers. Arugam Bay is one of the world’s best surfing destinations and fanatics have never stopped visiting even during times of conflict. The East Coast was badly hit by the Asian tsunami in 2004 with the bulk of the deaths in the island being registered from here, but nevertheless, with the security situation now improving things are looking up for the East and the destination is poised to boom and achieve its full potential.
Must Do List
- Whale watching off the coast of Trinco
- Panoramic views of the Indian Ocean from Swami Rock
- Astounding beaches of Nilaveli
- Surfing in Arugam Bay
- Natural hot springs in Kanniya
- Ancient ruins in Ampara
East Coast – In Focus
Although not as well known as the Cultural Triangle, Ampara in the southern part of the East Coast has a rich history dating back to 3 BC. At this time the region was within the domain of the Ruhuna Kingdom and ruins of temples and ancient caves with rock inscriptions have been unearthed by archaeologists. Trincomalee, further to the North has the world’s biggest natural deep water harbour and was used as a trading point in early times. Pitched battles have been fought over Trincomalee beginning with the Portuguese in the 17th Century, followed by the Dutch and the British who all realised its strategic importance. Britain later went on to establish a naval base here during the Second World War and the Port is still in use today by the Sri Lanka Navy.
The East Coast is predominantly hot and dry with an average temperature of 30°C and relative humidity of 70%. Chances of sunburn are high with prolonged exposure so carry plenty of sun-block and guard against sunstroke by using a sun hat. The North-East monsoon between November and February brings torrential rains during this period and temperatures drop slightly at this time of year.
The two main areas of interest on the East Coast are Trincomalee and Arugam Bay. Trincomalee is reached through Polonnaruwa and Arugam Bay is arrived at from Moneragala. Journeys to these destinations are long and tiring and a stop in between is highly recommended. As the East Coast lies in what was once a conflict zone, expect tight security and frequent checkpoints which could further add to travelling time.
Colombo to Nuwara Eliya – 6-7 hours
Kandy to Nuwara Eliya – 4 hours
Colombo to Haputale via Ratnapura – 5 hours
Bandarawela to Ella – 1 hour
Accommodation – Hotels in/around East Coast – Click
Due to security concerns in the past it has not been possible for leisure companies to operate and setup hotels to exploit the stunning beauty of its beaches. However, the Nilaveli Beach Hotel which is an old favourite has remained opened throughout and offers the best accommodation to travellers to the region. A handful of budget guesthouses are also available within the Trincomalee town, but offer few facilities. Arugam Bay has numerous beach front guest houses that offer basic facilities.
Shopping opportunities are minimal on the East coast, but all major towns have minimum facilities like grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and Internet cafe’s. The fish markets are interesting places to visit and have a look around and see the plentiful riches brought in from the eastern seaboard.
Attractions & Event
Located in Trincomalee, the Koneswaram Temple was constructed by King Kulokoddan in the 3rd Kaliyugaya, and consists of 1000 columns, according to an inscription found on the doorway to the Fortress this Temple. It was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th Century when they threw all the columns off Swami Rock into the sea below. Much later, three bronze statues found among the columns in the sea were brought up by divers and are now kept in a modern temple at the same site within the Dutch Fort in Trincomalee.
Dutch Fort Trincomalee
In 1624 the Portuguese completed the construction of the Fort in Trincomalee after destroying the Koneswaram Temple on Swami Rock. Originally the Fort had only three Bastions but when it was captured by the Dutch in 1639 it was abandoned, and later re-fortified in 1675 and named Fort Fedrick. In 1795 the British captured it after a four day bombardment and it became the first possession of the British in Sri Lanka.
Described by some as the finest beach on the East Coast this 15 kilometer stretch of beach extends from Uppuveli which is 5km from Trincomalee to Nilaveli which is 15km away. With crystal clear blue water and white beaches, Nilaveli beach is a very popular destination amongst sun worshippers. Pigeon Island, which lies 2km off the coast of Nilaveli is great for diving, snorkeling and sea bathing.
15km from Trincomalee off the Trincomalee-Horowpothana road lies the ancient Velgam Vehera temple dating back to 2 AD. Hindu’s know it as the Natanar Kovil, and in 992 AD the invading Chola’s from India who were enemies of the Buddhist faith destroyed the temple. It was later rebuilt with contributions and donations of the very people that destroyed it, restoring it as Buddhist Temple.
This group of seven natural hot springs lies off the Anuradhapura-Trincomalee road in Kanniya. The hot springs are of varying temperatures and have tall walls built to separate them from each other and shorter bounding walls have been built around the springs to create wells so that the water can be used for bathing. The water from the wells is considered therapeutic and the use of them is controlled by the adjoining Mari Aman Kovil which holds the lease for the them.
Located 45km from Trincomalee, this is one of the best monuments on the East Coast of Sri Lanka. The ancient monument’s history dates back to 7AD when a Chinese pilgrim wrote that he saw two stupas at the site in which hair relics were placed. In the 1980s archaeologists uncovered under a stone slab near the Vatadage 31 Buddha images, 11 Bodhisattva images and a casket. The upper part of this monument forms the dagoba and the lower part is carved with Dhyana Buddhas.
Surfing in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is renowned as one of the world’s best surfing destinations, with a unique mixing of offshore currents and the constant onshore winds providing consistent surf year round. With the easing of security restrictions in the Eastern Province in the last few years, Arugam Bay has once again turned into the surfing hotspot that it was and features many international surfing competitions annually.
Located on the Polonnaruwa-Trincomalee road, the Kantale Tank is an ancient reservoir built by King Aggabodhi II (604-614 AD) covering an extent of 3,750 hectares. Constructed for the irrigation of crops in this arid region, its source of water is the Mahaweli River, the longest in the island, which flows out to the sea at Trincomalee. The Kantale tank supports a thriving inland fishing industry and has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA )by BirdlifeInternational in recognition of the large populations of water-birds and birds of prey it supports. Large herd of elephants also visit the shores of the tank to cool off and have a drink in the evening from the surrounding jungle.