An unbroken string of tiny towns and hotels stretches out to the east of Galle. The busy road which hugs the coastline passes through Unawatuna, Dalawela, Thalpe, Habaraduwa, Midigama, one right after the other; each offering tourists an insane number of places to stay and things to do.
On our way to the beach village of Unawatuna, just a few kilometers up the coast from Galle, we saw a sign that read “Unawatuna: Tourist Paradise!” Which just goes to prove what we’ve been saying all along — Sri Lankans have a hilarious and darkly ironic sense of humor! Unawatuna, paradise for tourists. Ha! That’s a good one.
East of Tangalla, a barren landscape sits in the middle of an otherwise heavily forested area. Dark red soil and an utter lack of trees are the hallmarks of Ussangoda, a region thought to have been hit by an ancient meteor. It’s hard to imagine another explanation for this strange anomaly of nature.
We arrived in Tangalla with mixed emotions. Now on the southern coast, we were undeniably in the final stretch of our tour through Sri Lanka. There was still a lot to see — the attractions of the country’s southern extreme are considerable — but our journey’s approaching end was tangible for the first time. Still, we’d only have a few days in Tangalla, a small town which occupies some of the island’s most beautiful coastline and offers a number of memorable excursions. No time for moping.
A laid-back village on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay is one of the best places in the world for surfing, and has been a favorite of the long-term community for decades. Thanks to the steady presence of chilled-out expats, the town has a cool, low-key vibe which we’ve not seen anywhere else on the island. Great restaurants serving a variety of cuisine, comfy beach-side lodging, hip lounges, a happy mix of foreigners and locals… and of course, incredible waves.
Nilaveli Beach, about fifteen kilometers north of Trinco, was once one of eastern Sri Lanka’s favorite destinations. But then the twin catastrophes of Civil War and tsunami came along. The devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami left 35,000 Sri Lankans dead and displaced a further half million, mostly along the eastern coast. Nilaveli has spent the last few years in recovery mode and, if our short visit was any indication, it’s ready to welcome visitors back.
A gorgeous stretch of beach just a few kilometers north of the city, Uppaveli was our home during the week we spent in Trincomalee. A chain of hotels lines the coast, but we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. After trips to action-packed cities like Kandy and Jaffna, a little sun, sand and solitude was exactly what we needed.
The twenty-kilometer ride took over an hour to complete, and we were dropped off in a dusty town with one store and three people. Now, just an easy mile-long hike separated us from the crystal blue water and white sand of Casuarina Beach. On arriving, we were overjoyed — exactly as we had hoped for! A gorgeous stretch of sand extending for kilometers along the northern coast of the island, bordered by the shrubby Casuarina trees which lend the beach its name. We decided to escape local bathers, and walk towards the lighthouse on the northwestern tip of the island before sitting down: a plan that would be our undoing.