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Detached from southern India, Sri Lanka is an island country. Bordered by water, its territory offers a great ecological richness. Along the coast from Jaffna to Matara, you will discover religious, wildlife and marine sanctuaries. It will become clear to you why men settled on the coast as the sea has so much to offer them. In order to preserve this natural environment, you will be able to call upon local Sri Lankan actors involved in sustainable tourism.

Jaffna, a City with a Troubled Past

The West Coast tour starts in the North of Sri Lanka with the city of Jaffna. Located on a peninsula, the city used to be the capital of an independent kingdom: the Kingdom of Jaffna. Its founder was certainly Kulasekara Singai Aryan. He was part of the Hindu dynasty Ârya Chakravarti. Since its creation in the 13th century, the city has been colonized by Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers.

The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Temple by Gane Kumaraswamy – Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

The richness of its history can be felt in the architectural diversity made of religious monuments and colonial buildings. The most outstanding religious shrine is the Hindu temple Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. Founded in 948 A.D., it has been constantly evolving through the various kings and rulers of the kingdom. Every year, it hosts a religious festival that lasts 25 days. Among the most popular and colorful events is the Ther Thiruvila float procession. The Portuguese invasion spared the ruins of the Jaffna kingdom. Portuguese merchants left the city a fort dating from the 17th century. 

Jaffna Fort – Pixabay
Ruins of the Kingdom of Jaffna by Anton Croos – Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Jaffna is a city with very few tourists. Its borders completely reopened in 2015. For 30 years, it hosted an ethnic conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese. So what could be more immersive than a stroll in the heart of the fish markets and bazaars to truly enjoy the atmosphere of Jaffna? The city is famous for the quality and diversity of its mangoes. You will be able to taste them at the Jaffna market.

Wilpattu, the Refuge for Endangered Species

Willu-pattu means Land of Lakes, and for good reason. Wilpattu National Park boasts about a hundred natural lakes. To protect its natural assets, Wilpattu was recognized as one of the first national parks in the country. The great diversity of the park’s landscapes brings a great diversity of fauna and flora. It harbors 31 species of mammals, including endangered species. Among them, the elephant of Sri Lanka, the sloth bear and the leopard. Since 2008, the Sri Lanka leopard is listed as an endangered species.

Eléphanteau du Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Elephant by Steve Garvie – Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0
Ours paresseux du Sri Lanka
Sloth bear by Sandhillcrane – Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Léopard du Sri Lanka
Leopard in the heart of Wilpattu by Gerard Mendis – Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Anjali Watson, a Sri Lankan environmentalist, launched the Leopard Project in 2000. In 2004, she founded the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust. The aim of this project is to identify wildlife areas where leopards can move around safely. Their survival is threatened by habitat fragmentation and poaching. Safaris are organized throughout the year to visit the park. Thus tourism contributes to the preservation of these endangered species.

Kalpitiya, a Paradise for Sports Enthusiasts and Marine Wildlife

It is its landscape that makes Kalpitiya the best place for kitesurfing. It is made up of 14 islands that face a lagoon on one side and create a great variety of scenery on the other. This incredible environment creates a cocoon for the lovers of water activities. The reefs, salt marshes, mangroves are home to many species of fish and shellfish. 

In order to preserve this marine fauna, the government has put in place a master plan to develop tourism in a sustainable way. Coastal waters are home to several species of dolphins, whales, turtles and dugongs.

Dugong broutant le fond marin
Dugong by Julien Willem – Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The dugong is an endangered herbivorous marine mammal in Sri Lanka and worldwide. There are only 40,000 animals left. It is also called sea cow because it grazes on seagrass beds. While searching for food, it brews the sea bed. Thus, it contributes to their floristic and faunistic expansion. Their dependence on seagrass beds means that they feed near coastal areas. These areas are often impacted by human activities, making them vulnerable.

Negombo, a Fisherman City

Fishing is the lung of the town of Negombo. It passed on to us our current catamarans. The word was born from the association of two words in Tamil language, kattu (link) and maram (tree). At the time, it designated the boats of the Sri Lankan fishermen. Created after the war to revive tourism, the fish market is a must-see.

Poissons séchants sur la plage de Neogombo, Sri Lanka
Drying benches © Olalalanka
Étals de poissons à Negombo
Fish stalls © Olalalanka
Le village de pécheurs de Negombo
Negombo Beach © Olalalanka

The market runs in full swing in the morning. The fishermen’s boats take over the whole beach. Once on land, the fish can be found on the stalls and drying benches. Let the sale begin. The sea provides a multitude of fish with various smells and colors. Total immersion! To really take in the town, there is nothing better than to get in a Tuk Tuk. And to let yourself be driven around by the local guides.

Matara, the City of Origin

According to the Mahavamsa, the first Indians to reach the island settled in the Matara region. The ancient kings built many religious buildings including a sacred temple in the heart of the city. It is today dedicated to the Buddhist cult. The city was ruled in turn by the Portuguese and the Dutch, which has marked the architecture. The Dondra Head Lighthouse was built by the Dutch. It is one of the highest lighthouses in Southeast Asia. In Sri Lanka, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful and oldest ones. Its name Dondra means “City of the Gods” in the local Sinhalese language. The lighthouse was built with materials imported from England, Scotland and Cornwall. The granite rock that gives it its white appearance was shipped over the ocean. 

And to perfectly complete our tour, here is a little anecdote… the Dondra lighthouse is located at the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka. And next to Jaffna is located the Point Pedro which is the most northern!

This walk along the west coast of Sri Lanka was enriched by anecdotes and photographs from the Sri Lankan agencies Aloka Sanna and Olalalanka.
Kalutatra Bodhiya Temple © Aloka Sanna

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