Hikkaduwa Coral Gardens

Back in the 1970s, Hikkaduwa was Sri Lanka’s bona fide hippie hangout. Today the town is firmly on the tourist trail – a typical beach destination for a budget holiday, which comprises lazing on the sand and soaking up the sun. Hikkaduwa is also popular with young, independent travelers who are drawn to the nightlife and surf. The area boasts four popular surf breaks; conditions for surfing are best from November to April. There is also a range of other activities that can be enjoyed here, such as diving, snorkeling, visiting the nearby turtle hatchery or taking a boat trip on Hikkaduwa Lagoon, situated just east of the town.

The Coral Sanctuary, at the northern end of the beach, has been an attraction for generations, and was declared a national park in 2002. Unfortunately, it has been a victim of the elements as well as of its own success.

The coral reef was badly affected by bleaching in 1998 and was damaged further by debris from the 2004 tsunami. Over the years it has also been ravaged by pollution, dynamite fishing, harvesting of the coral for lime and by people walking on the reef. Although most of the coral is now dead, there are certain areas where it is beginning to recover. Visitors can observe the coral from a glass-bottomed boat trips are offered everywhere in Hikkaduwa but these are largely unregulated and the boats can damage if they bump against it. A better way to explore the reef is to go snorkeling. It is a delight to spot colorful tropical fish and the occasional turtle, but keep an eye out for the hordes of boats drifting on the water above.

To the north of Hikkaduwa, at Telwatta, there is an evocative Tsunami Museum. Photographs of the disaster and exhibits on the subsequent reconstruction efforts are on display here.

Although a lively town, Hikkaduwa bears signs of rife and unchecked development. An unbroken succession of shops, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses are sandwiched between the busy main road and the beach, which erosion has reduced to a narrow strip of sand. However, newer and relatively pristine tourist destinations, such as Wewala, Narigama, Thiranagama, and Dodanduwa, have cropped up south of the town. Things are quieter and more spread out in this places and it is possible to find restaurants and accommodation options to suit all budgets.

Diving in Hikkaduwa

One of Sri Lanka’s most popular dive destinations, Hikkaduwa has a good range of dive sites. Some, such as off Coral Gardens offer swim-through caves and valleys that can be explored. Tropical fish abound but the real reason go underwater is to see the red and orange coral. Diving the rock formations at Kirala Gala, about a mile offshore, can also be very rewarding with its stunning coral and an abundance of fish such as wrasse, anglefish, parrotfish and trigger fish. It is however a deep dive at 40 m (131 ft) and is only open to experienced divers. There are also a number of shipwrecks that can be explored, such as The Earl of Shaftesbury, a 19th century sailing ship and SS Conch, an oil tanker that sank in 1903. Diving conditions are best from November to May and there are plenty of dive schools to choose from. more