Negombo, a small beach town sitting close to Bandaranaike International Airport and home to a dizzying array of high-end hotels, is the perfect spot to spend the last hours of anyone’s visit to Sri Lanka. Some people use Negombo as a base for their entire Sri Lankan trip. The beach is not as picturesque as some, but the fine sands run for several kilometres up the coast and are filled with activity.
We arrived just in time to walk along the beach before the final glorious sunset of our trip bathed us in golden light. All along the sand were traditional Sri Lankan fishing boats, sails fully extended to dry in the sun after a day’s hard fishing. As the sun sank into the ocean, the beach began to fill with local families, kids played cricket, others jumped in the water, couples smooched. It was a lot of fun.
The many upmarket hotels along the beach with bars offering ring-side seats over the ocean, make it seem rude not to have a sundowner or two. It was the perfect way to start our last night. Back in Galle earlier in the day, we’d left the comfort of our hotel before sunrise to take a tuk-tuk along the coast to find one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic sights, stilt fishermen.
We’d seen stilts along the south coast, but never any fishermen. Our hotel owner told us we had to get there early, so we hatched a plan to find the fishermen and spend the rest of the morning on one of Sri Lanka’s finest beaches, Unawatuna. Our luck held and we finally found the fishermen, and some who were returning home with their catch stopped to talk.
Stilt fishing does not look comfortable, but for those with a sense of balance it’s undoubtedly a good way to catch fish. Today, this traditional means of supplementing diets also supplements incomes with tourist dollars. Tipping for photos seems common, but these early morning fishermen were also there to catch fish for real. Soon we were back in the tuk-tuk and heading for breakfast.
Unawatuna beach is touristy, but in the early morning we had it to ourselves. Even by lunchtime there were only a few people to spoil our delusions of being castaways. We found an open beachside cafe, ordered food and went for a swim. In recent years, Unawatuna has been the victim of heavy development, a shame as our memories are of a beautiful and relaxed beach backed by palms.
Back in Negombo, we started the final few hours of our trip with a morning walk along the beach. It was now much quieter, all the fun and energy of the previous evening had given way to a deserted beach and views of the fishing boats out at sea. Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so we walked to a spot where the boats were landing their catch in a hubbub of activity.
WIth its traditional catamaran fishing boats, this is a working beach, and all the more interesting for it. We ate breakfast while gazing out to sea. Negombo was once an important colonial port town, and major source of cinnamon, but we had no time to visit the old Dutch fort and other historic sites. Sadly, our time was up and all that would have to wait for another trip.