The east coast of Sri Lanka is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and best diving spots in the entire Indian subcontinent. Only accessible by sea, they’re also relatively deserted – for the time being, at least.
Sri Lanka has suffered more than its fair share of disasters in the past few years – the 2004 tsunami, a long and brutal civil war and, most recently, the terrorist attacks in Colombo in 2019. With the country now considered lower risk, Sri Lanka is beckoning visitors back and tourists are heeding the call, bringing with them a much-needed return to normality and prosperity for the islanders.
For the most part, the focus is firmly on the easily accessible areas of the west – palm-fringed Negombo, just a short drive from bustling Colombo, and Galle, with its old-world charm and mighty fort.
The other side of the island, on the other hand, remains comparatively deserted. The infrastructure simply isn’t there yet, but passengers on board one of travel company G Adventure’s east-coast cruises get the chance to experience Sri Lanka’s sleepier but far more magical side.
To get to our starting point in Trincomalee’s Dutch Bay takes five hours from Colombo and the dusty roads we bump along are typical of the ones that weave along the coast here.
Our 53-foot catamaran with a crew of four has four double cabins. They’re just comfortable enough for two, although in reality I spend very little time below deck. The boat is packed with watersports equipment – snorkelling gear, two paddleboards and a kayak – and within hours of sailing out of Dutch Bay we’re throwing ourselves into the bath-warm water, playing with all the equipment as we try out a few wobbly laps around the boat.
It’s pretty much how we spend the next seven days, switching between spontaneous dips in the sea and equally spontaneous forays ashore. Downtime is spent on the rear deck, playing Uno with the crew or wildlife-spotting. A bell signifies it’s time to gather at the table for another delicious meal prepared by Indunil, the head chef. Some of my most memorable moments are those I spend in his cramped kitchen galley, jabbing elbows and laughing as he teaches me how to cook local dishes such as idiyappam, a Sri Lankan delicacy made from rice and resembling a ball of tangled wool.
Our exploration of Sri Lanka’s east coast will take us north from Trincomalee to Kuchchaveli, before we loop back and head south to Pasikudah, where we will turn around and go back to our starting point.
The joy of the itinerary is its flexibility. If we see a particularly beautiful beach, we jump in the RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and explore it. At Kuchchaveli, we sit on the empty coastline and watch a dozen local fishermen haul in their catch, standing one behind the other on the hot, soft sand. Their colourful clothing billows in the wind as they drag in the net, oblivious to our presence, their focus entirely on the task in hand, their only aid a traditional song with a rhythm that perfectly matches the pattern of yanks required to pull their catch in.