After being isolated for long periods during the Civil War and battered by the 200 tsunami, the East Coast is welcoming visitors once again. Although the scars of both still remain, the area is now in the midst of a revival. The tourism potential of its beautiful coastline has been recognized, and major plans are underway to improve the infrastructure. Along with exploring unspoiled beaches and jungle-covered ruins, visitors can enjoy whale-watching, wreck-diving and surfing.
Located in the dry zone, the East Coast is one of Sri Lanka’s most ethnically diverse areas, with a mix of Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil communities. Most of the area’s population resides in towns and small fishing villages along the coastline, while places inland remain less developed and sparsely populated. The principal town on the East Coast is Trincomalee, which shaped much of the area’s early history. Famous for its deep-water natural harbor, the town was the island’s trading hub during the Anuradhapura and Polannaruwa eras until the Colonial times.
The East began to decline when trade was diverted to the new ports at Galle and then at Colombo. The area’s fortunes further diminished when it found itself enmeshed in the violent struggles between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army during the civil War. The war ended in 2009, and since then much of the East Coast has opened up to tourists. The area is now peaceful, although there is a still a military presence in many of its towns and villages.
Most visitors come here for the idyllic stretches of sand, such as the beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli as well as those of Passekudah and Kalkudah. However, surfing enthusiasts head for Arugam Bay, which offers the best surf in the country. Inland, the countryside is largely wild and home to several national parks, of which Kumana is a particular draw for birdwatchers. The area around Maduru Oya National Park is where the original inhabitants of the island, the Veddahs, still try to maintain their traditional way of life.
EXPLORING THE EAST
The East Coast is home to beautiful beaches and is also considered to be one of the best places in Sri Lanka for surfing. Trincomalee, the capital of the province, is famed for its impressive natural harbor, but the majority of visitors base themselves at the peaceful beaches afford superb opportunities for snorkeling, sport fishing and whale-watching. Further down the coast, Batticaloa offers one of the island’s best wreck-dives to the HMS Hermes that lies off its shores. A short distance north stretch the formerly war-torn beaches of Passekudah and Kalkudah, which are now experiencing a resurgence in popularity among tourists. The surfing hotspot of Arumugam Bay, at the southern end of the coastline, offers the best waves and also serves as a good base for trips to the Lahugala and Kumana national parks as well as the Kudumbigala Hermitage. more
Although public transport is easily available in the East, visitors looking for a quicker means of transportation are advised to hire a car and a driver to get around. Road conditions are slowly improving across the area and there are plans to build new routes to cut journey times. Buses travel regularly to, as well as along, the coast, train services run to both Trincomalee and Batticaloa, but visitors will have to change at Gal Oya, if travelling between two towns. Note that travelling south of Panama can still be difficult, as the road here is in poor condition. The towns of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Arugam Bay are all compact enough to walk around. However, visitors will need to rent a three-wheeler to explore further afield.