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East Coast

Snapshot
Sri Lanka’s remote and picturesque East Coast extends from Trincomalee and Pasikudah in the North East, to Batticaloa and Ampara towards the east central region and, finally, Arugam Bay in the south east. The sun-kissed beaches and exotic marine life of Trincomalee; the island’s best surfing beaches in Arugam Bay - famously known as one of 10 best surf spots in the world; 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 waiting to be explored. The best time to visit the East Coast is from March to about September when the seas are in season, although out of season also has its rewards. Surfing season in Arugam Bay is from about June to August.
Don’t Miss
Palm fringed beaches of Trincomalee
Whale and dolphin-watching expeditions off the coast of Trinco
Ancient Koneswaram Hindu Kovil in Trinco
Breathtaking views of the Trincomalee harbour – the world’s largest natural harbour.
Snorkelling, scuba diving and catamaran sailing in Pasikudah
The 17C Dutch Fort, lagoons and waterways of Batticaloa
The jungles of Gal Oya National Park in Amapra where wild elephants roam free
A visit to the indigenous Vedda community in Gal Oya
Surfing in the laid-back beach settlement of Arugam Bay
Jungle trek to the ancient ruins of Kudimbigala in Pottuvil
Jeep safari into Kumana National Park
Ancient Buddhist rock sculptures of Maligavila
Colorful Hindu kovils and mosques scattered along the coast
Sri Lanka Map
Photo Gallery
Video Gallery

Getting There
The A15 coast road that extends from Trincomalee in the north east to Arugam Bay in the south east was fully developed in 2012. Before this period, the towns along the East Coast were linked by a series of ferries that villagers took to cross the many lagoons that dotted the coast. Although time consuming, the ferries added to the charming and unhurried way of life in this region. The ferries have now given way to extended bridges and well developed roads, making the region easier to explore.

Trincomalee can also be reached on the A6 route via the Cultural Triangle town of Habarana. Pasikudah Bay, located about an hour south of Trincomalee, can also be reached from Habarana via Polonnaruwa on the A11. Those wanting to avoid road travel and transfer directly from Colombo to Trincomalee or Pasikudah have the option of taking a Cinnamon Air flight that will reach the east coast within 45 minutes.

Arugam Bay can be reached from the southern highlands (Badulla, Ella, Haputale) and the South Coast via Buttala and Wellawaya. Arugam Bay is 320 kms from the capital city of Colombo and the direct journey on the A4 route is a long and tiring one which takes about 8 hours. It is best done either with a stop in Haputale or, for those wanting to avoid the more winding parts towards Beragala on the A4, it is recommended to cut across Uda Walawe and Tanamalwilla. Nature lovers might wish to stay overnight in Uda Walawe game park.

Useful drive times
Trincomalee & Pasikudah: Colombo to Habarana (4 hours); Habarana to Trincomalee (2.5 hours); Polonnaruwa to Pasikudah (1.5 hours); Trincomalee to Pasikudah (1.5 hours); Pasikudah to Arugam Bay (3.5 hours).

Batticaloa & Ampara: Pasikudah to Batticaloa (one hour); Baticaloa to Arugam Bay (2.5 hours). Ella to Gal Oya (2.5 hours); Southern Coast to Gal Oya (2.5 hours).

Arugam Bay: Trincomalee to Arugam Bay (5 hours); Pasikudah to Arugam Bay (3.5 hours); Haputale to Arugam Bay (3 hours); Yala to Arugam Bay (4.5 hours); Arugam Bay to Gal Oya (2.5 hours).

Historical Background
Trincomalee, referred to as `Trinco’, is blessed with beautiful beaches and the worlds deepest and largest natural harbour. Trinco has been the envy of many a colonial power which has 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 established as a naval base by the British 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 B.C. ruled by King Kavantissa. Excavated ruins including ancient temples, rock inscriptions and caves in Deegawapi, Ampara are now protected by the Department of Archeology. The Deegawapi Archeological museum exhibits ancient stone, metal, terracotta findings within this area.

Sri Lanka’s East Coast has a multi-ethnic population consisting of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities with a predominantly Muslim population towards the central and southern areas. A vibrant multi-cultural heritage, rituals and way of life makes this a fascinating area to explore.

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 in these areas is well underway with renewed efforts at rebuilding lives and regaining the glory of this beautiful region making it once again an appealing holiday destination.

Sights
Trincomalee: Sri Lanka’s equivalent to the Maldives, Trinco’s never-ending white sandy beaches, coral islands and shimmering blue seas, is distinctly different from the coastal areas of the rest of the island. Bask in the sun on the secluded beaches of Uppuveli, Nilaveli & Kuchchaveli located north of Trinco 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 the Konewswaram Kovil & Swami Rock situated on a rock outcrop.

Pasikudah: Located south of Trinco, Pasikudah and Kalkudah are fishing villages that were at one time, popular beach destinations similar to Hikkaduwa in the south. Up until the early 1980s, small beach shack cafes and guesthouses lined the shores of Kalkudah. The area went through much hardship during the war. Following 2009, Pasikudah Bay was developed into a more upmarket beach destination. Now several boutique hotels line the bay and offer a range of watersports from jet skiing to catamaran sailing. It is not only the beaches that are attractive in this area. Take a bicycle ride inland and discover the tranquil lagoons, paddy fields and fishing villages of Pasikudah and Kalkudah. Bird watching in Vakarai lagoon located about 45 minutes north of Pasikudah is rewarding.

Batticaloa & Ampara: One hour south of Pasikudah is Batticaloa, a bustling coastal town which is a halfway point on route to Arugam Bay. Visit Batticaloa’s 17C Dutch Fort; the local Market on Lady Manning Drive where villagers sell their home grown vegetables and fruits; go bird watching by the Batticaloa Lagoon or stroll on Kalladi Beach. Travelling further south, you reach the district of Ampara – an area dotted with lush green paddy fields, Palmyrah trees and tranquil lagoons. Explore the jungles of Gal Oya National Park edged by the Senanayake Samudraya - one of the country’s largest lakes which is scattered with small islands. The park is inhabited by herds of elephants, water buffalo, deer, crocodile and numerous species of birds. There are also a few settlements of Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants – the Veddas in the Gal Oya area. Visit the Vedda community and learn of their way of life.

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. The local community is a particularly chilled-out and welcoming one where travellers and locals mingle contentedly. Arugam Bay offers high-class surfing (the best on the island) and deserted beaches. Surfing season is from about mid-May to August when the swells are high and the wave breaks are thrilling. It is not all about the sun and surf in this area. Visit ancient ruins and rock sculptures dating back centuries; go on a jeep safari and explore the jungles of Lahugala National Park and Yala East National Park (also known as Kumana National Park).

Accommodation
Trincomalee: Chaaya Blu, located just north of Trinco town in the village of Uppuveli, offers mid-range accommodation by the sea. The hotel has a comprehensive watersports centre that conducts PADI-certified diving courses, snorkelling, whale and dolphin spotting excursions, jet skiing and surfing. Nilaveli Beach Hotel located north of Uppuveli, offers comfortable a/c rooms. Relax on the pristine white sands of Nilaveli situated just by Pigeon Island - an excellent site for snorkelling. Anilana Nilaveli, opened in 2014 is an upmarket beach hotel offering accommodation in pool chalets and luxurious rooms. Jungle Beach located in Kuchcheveli 30 minutes north of Trinco town, is a classy eco-retreat set on 10 acres of shrub jungle leading to a secluded bay. Accommodation at Jungle Beach is in 48 luxurious cabins thatched with Illuk grass and immersed in nature.

Pasikudah Bay: There are several upmarket resorts fronting the Pasikudah Bay including Uga Bay, Amaya Beach and Anilana Pasikudah. The mid-range Maalu Maalu Resort & Spa opened in June 2011 was the first beach resort to be developed on the bay after the dawning of peace in 2009. The resort is designed along the lines of a `wadiya’ or fishing village with the public spaces and accommodation in the form of eco-friendly timber chalets with thatched roofs. Amethyst Resort, also on the bay, offers value for money accommodation by the sea.

Batticaloa & Ampara: Batticaloa can be experienced on route and doesn’t require an overnight stay. Accommodation here is basic but, there are a couple of good restaurants offering local cuisine – especially Batticaloa style crab curry, which makes it a worthwhile lunch stop. Travelling inland from the coastal village of Kalmunai is Gal Oya Lodge located off the Ampara to Bibile road. This eco-retreat was opened in 2014 and is a welcome addition to the area where comfortable accommodation is hard to find. Edged by the extensive Gal Oya National Park, the Senanayake Lake and surrounded by picturesque mountains, the Gal Oya Lodge is perfect for wildlife enthusiasts.

Arugam Bay: There are several small beachside guesthouses and home stays along the bay. Red Dot recommends the Kottukal Beach House - a four bedroom boutique villa fronting a pristine stretch of beach in Pottuvil, just 4 kms north of Arugam Bay. The Stardust Hotel, situated at the beginning of the bay, also offers accommodation in standard rooms with sea views and a separate villa with two apartments. Towards the centre of Arugam Bay, there is Hideaway, a laid-back holiday retreat with individual chalets set amidst a flowering garden; and the Danish Villa which has comfortable a/c bedrooms that can be booked by the room. Kudakalliya is an eco-retreat located on an isolated bay just south of Arugam Bay close to Crocodile Rock. Edged on one side by a winding river and mangroves where wild elephants and monkeys can be spotted, Kudakalliya is well suited for nature lovers.

Food & Drink
Trincomalee: Chaaya Blu serves Sri Lankan and international cuisine buffet style for breakfast, lunch and dinner at their main restaurant. The speciality seafood restaurant by the beach, offers a range of fresh seafood dishes, especially crab, prepared to your liking. The Nilaveli Beach Hotel has an indoor restaurant that serves a set menu of Sri Lankan and western dishes and is laid out in buffet style. The poolside garden restaurant, opening out to the sea, has an a la carte menu and serves a range of light snacks and seafood specialties. Both Chaaya Blu and Nilaveli Beach Hotel organises beach BBQs on Saturday nights under a starlit sky.

Pasikudah: For authentic home-made local cuisine, dine at the New Land Resthouse & Restaurant on the Main Road in Kalkudah. All the hotels on the bay including Maalu Maalu Resort & Spa, Uga Bay, Amethyst Resort, Amaya Beach, and Anilana Pasikudah serves a range of seafood specialties, Sri Lankan and international cuisine.

Batticaloa: Hotel East Lagoon located off the main A15 road way close to the Kalladi Bridge, is a convenient lunch stop while passing through. For an authentic rice and curry meal with Batticaloa crab curry, head to the Sunshine Tomato Family restaurant located right in the heart of Batticaloa town.

Arugam Bay: Walk along Arugam Bay’s main strip and there are several small eateries serving excellent spicy Rotis. For snacks and desserts try Café del Mar or Geckos (has delicious home made ice creams, breads, and cookies). Hideaway has one of the best restaurants in town serving delicious Sri Lankan dishes and fusion cuisine with Asian and Mediterranean influences prepared with organic vegetables and fresh seafood; Siam View Hotel serves authentic Thai cuisine and western dishes; and the Stardust Hotel serves excellent western cuisine amidst an atmospheric setting overlooking the sea. Mambos located close to Surf Point, serves light meals and drinks. Mambos come alive on Saturdays nights with music and dancing.

Shopping
Trincomalee: Trinco town has several small shops and markets where drinks, groceries and basic personal care products can be purchased as well as a few internet cafes and banks. Fresh seafood can be purchased directly from the fishing boats in the mornings as they come ashore after a night of fishing.

Batticaloa: For local handicrafts made of Palmyrah Palm which is found in abundance in this region, head to Batticaloa which is about an hour south of Pasikudah. Colourful handloom sarongs, bags, baskets and hats made from the Palmyrah palm are hand made by the local villagers and available for sale at the government handicrafts centres in Batticaloa. Browse the Battcaloa market on Lady Manning Drive for fresh seafood, home grown vegetables and fruits.

Arugam Bay: The main strip has several internet cafes, surf shops where surf boards can be hired (some even provide surfing lessons); few wayside clothing shops selling beach shorts to batik t-shirts (similar to Hikkaduwa); few grocery shops and a Food City where you can buy toiletries, soft drinks, bottled water; two banks, a pharmacy and post office. Fresh seafood can be purchased directly from the fishing boats in the mornings as they come ashore after a night of fishing.

Events
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 and is promoted by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Tourism and Sri Lankan Airlines. Over 45 local and foreign contestants from the UK, South Africa, Australia, and Japan participate at this much-anticipated event.
Activities
Trincomalee:

Fort Frederick

High above on a rock outcrop in Trinco staring into the Indian Ocean is Fort Frederick. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1624, this Fort was used by subsequent colonial powers as a naval base. Currently the Fort is used as barracks by the Sri Lankan Navy, but visitors are permitted to pass through to visit the Koneswaram Kovil a Hindu Kovil located at the end of the spit.
Koneswaram Kovil & Swami Rock
Past Fort Frederick is Swami Rock also refereed to as 'Lover's leap' – a shear cliff which is about 350 feet above sea level and looks straight down into the ocean below. It is said that the name `Lovers Leap’ was coined after an incident involving a Dutch Officer's daughter who had leapt into the sea at this point following a broken love affair. At the end of the spit which leads to the pinnacle of the rock, stands the newly built Konesvaram Kovil. The original ancient Hindu Kovil that stood here is said to have been destroyed by the Portuguese. At dusk each day, poojas (religious services) are conducted here. The views of Trincomalee’s natural harbour and the Indian Ocean are magnificent from here.
Swimming & snorkelling in Trinco
The beautiful white sandy beaches north of Trincomalee in Nilaveli & Uppuveli stretch for miles and is safe for swimming during the season from May to October. The coral reef around Pigeon Island, located a short boat ride offshore from Nilaveli is ideal for snorkelling.
Pigeon Island
Consisting of two small islands covering an extent of off the coast of Nilaveli in Trincomalee, is a protected National Park under the Department of Wildlife & Conservation. A breeding site for Blue Rock Pigeon, these islands are surrounded by coral reefs and soft coral which are ideal for snorkeling. The Pigeon islands are only a short boat ride off the coast in Nilaveli.
Whale and dolphin spotting
The waters around Trincomalee are inhabited by dolphins and whales including the gigantic Blue Whales, Bryde’s Whale and the Sperm Whale as well as spinner and bottle nosed dolphins have been spotted here. Whale and dolphin spotting excursions are offered during the season from May to October when the waters are sufficiently calm to go into the deep seas.


Pasikudah:
Boating and Snorkelling in Pasekudah Bay
Join a fisherman on his catamaran and wade through the turquoise waters of Pasekudah Bay. Visit the nearby uninhabited coral island and spend a few hours snorkelling. The coral reef that surrounds this island is home to colourful coral gardens and exotic species of reef fish.
Birding in Vakarai Lagoon
Located about 45 minutes north of Pasikudah Bay is the village of Vakarai scattered with mangrove lined lagoons. Take a canoe ride along the tranquil lagoons where numerous species of birds can be spotted.



Batticaloa & Ampara
Batticaloa town
Spend a morning’s excursion in Batticaloa which is about an hour south of Pasikudah. Interesting activities include a visit the 17C Dutch Fort bordered on two sides by a lagoon and the Indian Ocean; the Batticaloa Market on Lady Manning Drive; shopping for colourful handloom sarongs, baskets and hats made from the Palmyrah palm by the local villagers; and a visit to a colourful Kovil especially during a sacred pooja which is accompanied by chanting and drumming.
Gal Oya National Park
An extensive wildlife sanctuary edged by a lake that is inhabited by herds of elephants, water buffalo, deer, crocodile and numerous species of birds. Go on a boat safari along the lake and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a wild elephant swimming along side to get to the islands.
Visit to the indigenous Vedda community in Gal Oya
Go on a guided nature trail with a chieftain from the Vedda village. The Veddas – Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants have repeatedly been forced to choose between assimilating into the surrounding mainstream cultures or to retreat into a shrinking forest habitat. The few remaining Vedda communities are determined that their way of life will continue into future generations and still retain much of their distinctive cultural identity, indigenous language, traditional lifestyles, and occupations including hunting, honey gathering and chena cultivation.


Arugam Bay:
Surfing in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is a popular haunt for surfers especially during the surfing season. There are several popular point breaks including Ullah Point, Pottuvil Point, Surf Point, Peanut Farm Point, Surf Point, and Crocodile Rock. Surf Point, which breaks at the headland in front of Arugam Bay, is suitable for body surfing and beginners; Pottuvil Point situated on a deserted beach north of Arugam Bay is more suitable for experienced surfers; and Crocodile Rock another challenging surf point is located south of Arugam Bay. Waves of up to five to six feet and up to a 400-metre ride, the relatively isolated beaches and simple, laid-back lifestyle, away from the main tourist haunts, are a major attraction to surfers.
Lahugala National Park
Bordering the main A4 route from Wellawaya to Arugam Bay, the Lahugala National Park covers over 1,554 hectares. This National Park was a favorite with elephants which used to converge in their hundred to Lahugala tank (lake) and the adjoining Kitulana tank. An elephant’s delicacy – a species of grass known as `Beru’ which only grows in these two tanks, was the main attraction for these wild elephants. Unfortunately, unchecked logging has reduced the forest cover here and the elephants inhabiting the park have reduced. Still small herds of elephants can be spotted here and if you’re lucky you may even see them from the main road. Lahugala is also home to monitor lizards, water buffalo and a variety of birds.
Kumana National Park
Kumana, also known as Yala East National Park covers an area of about 18,000 hectares. The villus (swamp lakes) of Kumana is nesting sites for water birds. During the nesting season which begins towards June, large colonies of pelican, spoonbills, herons, painted storks, and egrets can be spotted here. The jungles of Kumana are also home to wild elephants, buffalo and deer. Kumana is edged by the Indian Ocean. Often the endangered marine turtles come ashore to nest here on the secluded beaches. The main entrance to Kumana is located in Okanda which is south of Arugam Bay. Best time to visit is at dawn and late afternoon when the animals are easily spotted. A guide can be hired at the entrance gates.
Kudimbigala Forest Hermitage
Located south of Arugam Bay, the ancient Kudimbigala Forest Hermitage is spread over about 4,700 hectares of wilderness and dates back to the 1st century BC. Trek uphill over huge rock boulders, thick forest cover, past ancient meditation caves and temple ruins. Once you reach the peak, there is a white stupa and temple where pilgrims worship and bring in alms daily for the priests that live in this jungle. Take in the breathtaking views across the Eastern shore from here. The flora and fauna in Kudimbigala is fascinating with tall shady trees and knotted wines that drape on the rock boulders. Bird watching is also rewarding here with plenty of exotic birds that can be spotted along the way.
Magul Maha Vihara in Potuvil
Situated east of Lahugala National Park, the ancient ruins of the Magul Maha Vihara dates back to the 3C B.C. The ruins of an image house, dagoba, guard stones and moonstones can be seen.
Okanda Hindu Kovil
This is an ancient Hindu shrine located on top of the Okanda Mali rocky outcrop associated with ancient legends. This is an important resting place for Hindu pilgrims traveling on the 'Pada Yatra' (pilgrimage on foot) to Katragama. Pilgrims cleanse themselves here in the sacred natural pools on the rock.
Maligawila Buddha statues
Situated south of Monaragala en route to Pottuvil, the Maligavila Buddha statue dates back to the 7th century BC and is the largest freestanding image of Lord Buddha in Sri Lanka, reaching a height of about 14 metres. Carved out of a single piece block of limestone, this statue was discovered in fragments. In 1980 the statue was restored and raised back into its original upright position. This huge pinkish white Maligavila Buddha statue glistens in the tropical sun. A second statue depicting Bodhisattva in princely attire is located a short walk away. Much time can be spent here taking in the beautiful statues and the peaceful wilderness setting filled with birds and plenty of monkeys.
Buduruwagala's rock sculptures
The ancient rock sculptures at Buduruwagala are fascinating and are carved into a 70ft granite cliff. The sculptures are said to date back to the 8th century and consists of seven gigantic Buddhist figures from the Mahayana Buddhist doctrine. A grouping of six sculptures is situated on either side of a colossal image of Lord Buddha spanning a height of about 50ft. A short walk passed the Buduruwagala temple takes you to this awe inspiring, ancient rock sculptures set amidst the tranquil wilderness.
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