North-West Coast | Regions of Sri Lanka | Red Dot Tours

North West Coast

The coastal towns just north of Colombo including Negombo, Kalpitiya, and Mannar – famous for cinnamon, spices, and pearls - have attracted traders from the world over for centuries. In more recent history, the Portuguese and Dutch settled in this region and their cultural, religious and architectural influences still remain. The remote coastal towns to the far north, Kalpitiya and Mannar, remain untouched by mass tourism. As a result of the close proximity to the international airport, Negombo, with its long stretches of sandy beaches, has become a popular beach resort. Stretching along the North West coast and inland up to Kurunagala, Aanamaduwa and Wilpattu, this region has a varied and enchanting landscape - tranquil lagoons that meet the turquoise seas; scattered little islands off the coast; dry arid wilderness to lush green paddyfields; Palmyrah trees and Coconut plantations. The seas off the coast of Kalpitiya are home to dolphins and whales while Mannar is a haven for exotic migrant birds during the season from October to March.
Don’t Miss
Secluded palm-fringed beaches of Alankuda
Shimmering waters of Negombo’s lagoon as it merges with the Indian Ocean
Negombo’s catamarans with their bellowing sails
Dutch canals, colonial churches and forts of the north west
Birds and monitor lizards of Muthurajawella
Whales and dolphin spotting off the coast of Kalpitiya
Flocks of pink flamingos in Mannar during the birding season
Wilpattu’s elusive leopard and sloth bear
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Getting There
The north-west coast beginning from Negombo is easily reached from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake. Negombo is slightly more than an hour north of the capital, Colombo. North of Negombo is Kalpitiya and Puttalam. Turning inland on the Puttalam to Anuradhapura A12 route, the Wilpattu National Park and the coastal town of Mannar can be accessed. Useful drive times: 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); Colombo to Wilpattu (3.5 hours); Wilpattu to Mannar (2.5 hours).

Historical Background
Kurunegala, capital of the north-west province, was a 12th century capital of the Sinhala kings then known as Panduwasnuwara. The coastal towns just north of Colombo, including Negombo, Marawila, Chilaw, Kalpitiya, Puttalam and Mannar, rich with cinnamon & spices, have attracted traders from Arabia, Asia and the West as far back as the 5th century. Many of those traders settled in the area, including the Portuguese and Dutch in more recent history. Today, many communities from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds lead peaceful lives along the north-west coast.

The influences of the Portuguese and Dutch are notable right along the coast from Negombo to Mannar. A century’s old network of canals developed by the Dutch, linking Colombo’s seaport to Negombo, still function as active waterways and can be explored by boat, or by cycling or walking along sections of the path. Several 17C Catholic churches and ruins of Forts are found in these coastal towns. Sri Lanka’s largest salt-water wetlands, the Muthurajawella marshes, lie south of the Negombo lagoon. Coral reefs offer much for marine enthusiasts with an array of exotic tropical fish, and the deep sea off the Gulf of Mannar in Kalpitiya is home to dolphins, whales, stingrays and several species of Marine turtles. Bird watching is rewarding in Mannar during the migrant season when flamingos and numerous other birds in their thousands line the lagoons and waterways. North east of Puttalam is the beautiful Wilpattu National Park providing natural habitats for a variety of ‘big game’ including leopards, elephants, water buffalo and many species of birds. Kurunegala, situated amidst several gigantic rocky outcrops, is of historical significance and its archeological ruins can be visited en route to the Cultural Triangle.

Negombo offers a range of beach accommodation to suit any budget. The characterful Ice Bear, a beachside guest house situated in the heart of Negombo, will appeal to those looking for basic but imaginative guest house accommodation. At the top end of the market are the three Jetwing properties – Beach, Sea and Blue. These hotels have brought five-star standards to Negombo and is a boon for upmarket clients wanting a convenient stay near the airport. Set on the secluded beaches of Alankuda in the Kalpitiya peninsula are Bar Reef Resort, Palagama Beach and Udekki – all offering laid back, beach side relaxation. The Palmyrah House on the Island of Mannar offers comfortable accommodation and an ideal destination for bird watching. Located inland are Mudhouse and Cadjan Earth – both secluded eco-retreats set on acres of wilderness in Aanamaduwa. In close proximity to Wilpattu National Park, guests have an option of staying at Palpatha and Aanawila – both rustic eco-retreats or enjoy an adventurous camping experience with Leopard Safaris or Kulu Safaris.

Food & Drink
Negombo by night has a vibrant atmosphere with a scattering of bars and cafes. Fresh sea food is a specialty along the North West coast. Varieties of fish, jumbo prawns, lagoon and sea crab cooked in red hot curries, western style or grilled on a sizzling BBQ spit is served at hotels, guesthouses and small beachside cafes.

Those cooking independently can buy fresh seafood straight from the fishing boats as they come ashore in the mornings. Negombo’s fish auction at the harbour is also worth a look. Negombo, Kalpitiiya and Mannar have a few grocery stores, pharmacies and banks.

From December to April, hundreds of Dolphins can be seen off the shores of Kalpitiya. Observed in pods, these Dolphins often swim alongside the boats and frolic in the seas – a thrilling site for children and adults alike. The giant blue whale is another occasional visitor. Migrant birding season in Mannar is from October to March when flamingos and other water birds in their hundreds line the lagoons and waterways. In August each year a colourful perehara (pageant) including fire walking takes place in Chilaw, organised by the Munneswaram Kovil.
Colonial architecture
The Portuguese and Dutch settlers in the 17th/18th centuries were intent on introducing Christianity to these coastal villages. As a result, the coast is scattered with several colonial period churches. Ruins of the Negombo Fort, the five bastion Fort of Kalpitiya, and Mannar Fort built during the colonial period still remains.
Dutch Canals
An old network of canals covering about 130 kms, developed by the Dutch for transporting spices, link Colombo’s seaport to the north-west coastal towns and still function as active waterways. Canal paths winding through the villages can be explored by bicycle.
Water Sports in Negombo
Watersports in Negombo are centred on the lagoon, although they are not as extensive as, say, in Bentota or Mirrissa further south. The watersports centre at The Beach can advise, as well as provide equipment and coaching.
Fishing in Negombo
Old fishing crafts such as the `oruwa’ or catamaran with its bellowing sails, are used by Negombo’s fisherman and is characteristic to this part of the island. The majestic view of the catamarans as it sets sails into the sunset is a wonderful sight. Visit a fishing village along the coast, join a fisherman as he sets sail for his day’s catch, or visit the early morning fish auction on the beach.
Deep sea diving
Diving in the North West seas is possible from December to April. Diving sites are divided into two sections in Negombo – closer dive sites which are within about 8kms from the shore and the further site - also known as the `Third Reef’ which is about 22 kms from the shore. Numerous species of fish, marine turtles, Moray Eels, sting rays can be spotted.
Kitesurfing in Kalpitiya
The Kalpitiya lagoon, sand banks, remote islets, reef, and the ocean provide ideal kitesurfing spots in the North West region. The best season for kitesurfing is from May to December. Red Dot partners with Kitesurfing Lanka for this activity. [More].
Muthurajawela Marshes
The Muthurajawela Marshes are situated just south of Negombo and covers an area of approximately 6,000 hectares inclusive of the Negombo lagoon. The daily high tide brings in seawater from the ocean into the wetland. Continuous mixing of these two waters over thousands of years, has led to a brackish, integrated coastal ecosystem that is biologically diverse and teeming with life. A variety of mangroves and other types of flora including medicinal plants; numerous types of birds, butterflies and fish, some of which are endemic, are found in the Muthurajawela marshes. Crocodiles, monitor lizards, and Sri Lanka’s largest snake – the Python, is also found here.
Birding in Mannar
Bird watching is utterly rewarding in Mannar during the migrant birding season from October to March. Visit the Giant’s Tank Sanctuary just 15 minutes away from Mannar. Birds can be observed here from the tank bund which is by the road side. The Mannar and Vankalai Sanctuary - declared a Ramsar site, is good for spotting many species of waders and pink Flamingos.
Wilpattu National Park
Covering an area of 131,000 hectares that stretches from the Northwestern coast to the north-central province, the Wilpattu National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest wildlife parks. Wilpattu’s varying natural habitats - coastal belt, natural lakes (villus), cliff tops, scrublands, open grasslands and dense forest – consists of numerous species of animals. Many of the 'big game' found in Sri Lanka including elephant, sloth bear, water buffalo, spotted dear and leopard can be seen here. The coastal belt and natural lakes attract many species of birds such as painted storks, white ibis, open bills, Whistling teals, spoonbills, cormorants and kingfishers as well as water monitors and mugger crocodiles. Situated away from the common tourist routs, Wilpattu is unspoilt and can be enjoyed in tranquil seclusion.

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