One of the most exciting adventures in Sri Lanka is undoubtedly that of underwater diving. The coasts of Sri Lanka have an abundant business and tourism thriving on snorkeling and scuba diving facilities. Now, when we are talking about exciting places and activities related to sea diving, we’ll need to consider the weather conditions of Sri Lanka as well. Now, if you have read my blog detailing the weather patterns over different places and times of the year in Sri Lanka, you might be better acquainted with the things I’ll be discussing onwards. However, even if you haven’t, no worries, I’ll make sure to keep it simple. Of course, if you want to understand the intricacies a bit more, feel free to check it out.
Generally speaking, most of the mainstream, popular beaches in Sri Lanka are along its west coast, but the eastern coast also has its fair share of beautiful beaches nonetheless. What you should know is that, if you are visiting a west coast beach, the best time for your visit would be between November to March. On the other hand, the most opportune time to visit the east coast beaches would be between May to October. The respective coasts experience storms during the remaining months; thus, underwater activities and surfing are, well, not recommended. Listed below are top 7 snorkeling places in Sri Lanka.
Hikkaduwa, the one place where everything seems to be about water. I have written a detailed blog post solely devoted to Hikkaduwa itself. Also, when I looked it up on the Internet as well, Hikkaduwa is one of the most recurring names that come up consistently. And it is quite understandable as well. In my personal opinion, if you are well suited to the environment here and find a good, affordable hotel to stay in (again, kindly refer to my blog for further details), one does not have to visit any other coastal city of Sri Lanka, for water sports at least. In all sincerity, Hikkaduwa has it all. PADI diving centers, a beach replete with coral reefs, tropical fish and mild waves suitable enough for both professional divers and novices. The depths aren’t too deep at the various diving points. Two of the popular diving spots are Hikkaduwa Gala and Barracuda Point. There are at least six to eight other great diving spots here in Hikkaduwa as well.
The winner of 2018’s Travellers’ Choice Award by TripAdvisor, Mirissa Beach is one of the hottest places to visit. I’ve written a short piece on Mirissa in my blog on Best Beaches in Sri Lanka; do give it a read, or at least, just the part about Mirissa Beach. Mirissa has whale watching (whale of many types: blue whale, sperm whales, etc.), diving, snorkeling, and scuba diving. It has around five or six diving spots that I know of. One of the famous swimming training centers, apart from the full PADI centers, is the Poseidon Diving Centre. As I’ve mentioned in my blog on beaches, Mirissa is heavily visited by tourists throughout the year, and since it is not very long, the crescent-shaped beach gets crowded during heavy seasons. So, if you are the type that wants a calm and quiet environment, best not to visit during the April to September months or any holiday season, because Mirissa is rife with night parties and bonfires at these times of the year.
Kirinda is a small town down the south-east coast of Sri Lanka. You might have heard the “Great Basses” wreck or the “Little & Great Basses” reefs out there along the Kirinda beach. These diving spots are famous for a reason. And they are one of several reasons which contribute to the fame in which Kirinda partakes for a considerable amount. Plus, if you’re a Buddhist, you’re in luck. There is a Buddhist shrine here in Kirinda as well. Then again, there are Buddhist shrines all over Sri Lanka. Anyways, back to snorkeling and scuba. A word about diving centers though. Here, I have good news and bad news. Which should I roll out first? The bad news? The bad one is that there is no dedicated diving center in Kirinda. Disappointed? Don’t be. The good news is that you can still travel or swim to Kirinda, with the assistance of diving centers of Hikkaduwa or Mirissa, which routinely take tourists and divers over to Kirinda. The Kirinda reef’s fame has also been mentioned in a famous book titled “The Treasure of the Reef” by Arthur C. Clarke, who also made our Kirinda as his diving base for sea exploration.
Now coming to Weligama. It is a small town village located nearly 30 km from the city of Galle. If you happen to be visiting Galle nearby and need to take a break from the awesome history of Galle, feel free to come over at Weligama to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of Weligama as well. Weligama is also locally known as the “Sandy Village”. I’m pretty sure you can guess as to the etymology of the name. At Weligama, snorkeling and scuba are ideal, however, the catamaran rides are worth mentioning here. If you ask me, the ride in itself is a hell of a kind experience at the sea. Of course, for the more enthusiastic lovers of the sea, nobody is going to stop them from exploring the sea by snorkel or by scuba. Since Weligama offers these services for both expert divers and amateur swimmers, it is also an ideal place to visit for water activities. Before moving on, I’d like to mention here, again, that the best time to visit Weligama is from November to April.
5. Trincomalee and its ‘Celebrities’
The district of Trincomalee, also “Trinco” for locals, is another spectacular place along the north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Trinco is famous for a number of amazing beach spots, its ‘celebrities’ so to say, most notably Pigeon Island, Nilavelli and Uppaveli. For most divers, Nilaveli is a must. The same can be said for Pigeon Island. If you do love to snorkel in the water and happen to visit these areas or the vicinity, you really must check out the Pigeon Island. Also, there is a marine sanctuary located on Pigeon Island. Another quaint and unique spot for divers is the 18th-century relic, the shipwreck at Irakkandy.
Other than these, you can expect the usual ‘awesomazing’, absolutely stunning white sandy beaches and clear, turquoise waters. Again, the period of calm waters is between April to September (eastern beach, this one).
Winner of a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor as well as an honorary mention in my blog, the Passikudah is a heavenly location, a true aqua-paradise if ever there was one. Located near Tinco, Passikudah is an eastern beach and a highly developed one as well. Passikudah being developed is both a consequence of and a cause for, the high number of tourists visiting it in the summers. Needless to say, this is also one of those beaches that can get crowded at times. (If you want to know a bit about a sea which DOESN’T get crowded easily, scroll down to the Kalpitiya Beach). The Passikudah beach is shallow, making it ideal for novice swimmer and walking along in the shimmering cool waters. One can, of course, jump off a yacht directly and snorkel off in any direction, should they wish to. The famous diving and snorkeling spots for Passikudah include the Passikudah Reef, the Boiler Wreck and another famous British Sergeant wreck.
Here is a beach located on the west side of the ‘Indian Ocean Pearl’ (Sri Lanka, if you don’t know); a place with abundant natural beauty, but, for some reason, not much frequented by many tourists. For this very reason, Kalpitiya offers a serene atmosphere for those finding solace in solitude. Also, you should know that the largest coral reef of Sri Lanka, the ‘Bar Reef’ is accessible from here, only about an hour’s boat ride. The variety of marine species you get to see in the clear waters of Kalpitiya include sharks, turtles, and manta rays. Needless to say, it can be dangerous if you stray out too far into the sea while swimming because of these sea creatures. However, rest assured, there haven’t been very many accidents occurring in the sea of Kalpitiya. The underwater currents are usually moderate to mild. The monsoon season, of course, better be avoided. The best time to visit this beach actually is within a narrow window, that of November to early May.
So that wraps up our discussion of the top 7 snorkeling places of Sri Lanka. If you think I left out any beach that should have been in the top 7 (in other words, you know a beach which is better than any of the ones I mentioned), feel free to let me know in the comments. I’m sure there must be more than one opinion on the countless facets of the blue waters of Sri Lanka.