Sri Lanka’s north-east coast is an eclectic mix of vast golden sands punctuated by tiny fishing villages. The coastline is backed by gangly coconut palms stretching up to the sky or sticking out diagonally across the beach. Cows roam freely, and herds of goats wander along the sands before trudging in-land past dusty fields where kids gather to play cricket or volleyball. Inland, buffalo stand sentry and huge round hay bales are stacked on the back of ageing tractors, ready to be transported around Sri Lanka’s agricultural heartland. Due to a troubled recent history, including civil war and tsunami, this part of Sri Lanka remains relatively untouched by modernisation and tourism, and the striking town of Trincomalee, set along a long gently curving bay, acts as the perfect gateway to visit some of the country’s best beaches. Just to it’s north, the village of Nilaveli lays claim to a stunning beach and with Uppuveli, and it’s small but excellent selection of cafes and restaurants close by, it’s a fantastic stop on any Sri Lanka itinerary, particularly when monsoon season is in full swing in the south.
We were looking for some chilled beach time and our accommodation fitted the bill perfectly. Set alongside a near deserted stretch of Nilaveli beach, where you are more likely to share the sand with a wandering cow or local fisherman, we had a simple but elegant room with a huge bathroom, large veranda and, much to the kids delight, an inviting outdoor shower. With just seven rooms in total we felt well looked after, without the constant attention you receive from larger resorts. Our room was separate from the main building, with one room next door and direct access to the swimming pool. Sand filled pathways, lit at night by lanterns tied to bamboo posts, led directly to the beach via a small garden. Open shacks thatched with coconut leaves provided shaded seating throughout the garden, a great spot to grab a drink or bite as you made the tough decision between more beach time or a dip in the pool. The place was designed by a renowned local artist and the rustic charm he has inspired is a perfect fit for Sri Lanka's beautiful laidback north-east coast. We had four full days to relax here and, whilst the beach is the main draw, the nearby town of Trincomalee offers something a little different. Here are our north east coast highlights with kids.
- Koneswaram Temple is a medieval Hindu temple dedicated to God Shiva (destroyer of evil). The temple is situated at the peak of Konesar Malai, overlooking the Indian Ocean and Trincomalee Harbour and coastline. You access the temple through Fort Fredrick, originally built by the Portuguese in the early 1600s, but subsequently taken by the Dutch and then British. The Sri Lankan Army now occupy much of the Fort, but you can walk around the pretty grounds past cannons and artillery placed just inside the crumbling fort walls, and alongside a number of spotted deer, who have made an unlikely home here. We made our way up to the temple, past a host of pretty stalls, selling hats and bags, Sri Lankan sweets and fruit baskets bought to be left as offerings in the temple. It's a lively, energising atmosphere and we even spotted several deer on the way up, and groups of monkeys scrounging for titbits and left overs. The children loved the brightly coloured artwork of the Hindu temple and admired all the wishing coins, wrapped in cloth and tied in a bow around the wishing tree. After an explore we picked a ramshackle fruit juice bar and enjoyed a fresh passion fruit juice over-looking Trincomalee bay curving gently into the distance below.
- Pigeon Island: An ever present on the horizon from our Nilaveli beach base, Pigeon Island is an enticing day trip. A national park of its own, the rocky outcrop, with coral covered coves, hidden rockpools and a forested centre is well worth an explore. It's the marine life that really draws the crowds, with shallow reef easily accessible from shore. The reef is home to multi-coloured corals and hundreds of reef fish, including black tipped reef shark and turtles. We took an early boat and were rewarded with plenty of free water to don our flippers, masks and snorkel, and have a browse. We tag-teamed with the kids, after an early fail trying to take our 5-year-old out to some slightly deeper, fish-rich waters. The rewards were easy and almost instantaneous as neon green wrasse and purple-blue parrot fish clustered around vibrant coral and hazy blue jellyfish in search of food. We had to keep our snorkelling forays relatively short due to the kids, but plenty of people spotted turtles and we had several fin glimpses of three large reef sharks, swimming around ten metres from shore. The kids were too young to snorkel and a little freaked out by the tens of jellyfish bobbing in the shallow waters. They did however love spotting familiar shapes amongst the coral, a rhinoceros head and tree branch were two highlights, and we took them for a great little paddle through shallows and over boulders to a tiny beach, stopping en-route to point and look at the colourful fish swimming around our ankles. After around an hour or so it got very busy, and, as the island itself is tiny, with no amenities, you couldn't help but feel a little hemmed in. There is also extensive damage to the reef because of increasing visitor numbers and boats. There are large areas in the shallows cordoned off as they attempt to re-establish live coral-which is good to see. We'd recommend taking one of the first boats, something that our ground team will be happy to arrange, and for the first hour or so you'll have a little slice of stunning marine life all to yourself.
- Marble beach (about 15km south of Trincomalee) is a gorgeous cove, which on a clear day, shimmers like marble (hence the name). Run by the air force, there is a very small entrance fee and a resort at the northern end of the cove, with a restaurant that members of the public can use. We did...the food was lovely but service incredibly slow! However, the sea is crystal clear, calm and very shallow, making it perfect for those with young children and a great distraction when waiting for food! We spent most of our time at the southern end, enjoying equally clear, calm waters but sharing the experience with hundreds of Sri Lankan nationals. It's a very popular holiday destination for local families and the atmosphere was incredible. A group of boys sat on the rocks playing drums, whilst multi-generational families splashed around in the shallows. It's worth noting that the facilities here are very basic, but its a wonderful place to enjoy the sun and sand with the locals.
- Uppuveli is really a northern extension of Trincomalee town but feels like a separate village. There’s a great selection of cafés and restaurants offering delicious traditional dishes like fish curry’s and fresh coconut sambal, through to modern takes on smoothies, juices and lunchtime snacks. We particularly enjoyed the tasty juices served up in giant lightbulbs at Café on 18th.
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