Negombo, a lively city located on the western coast of Sri Lanka, is a place that effortlessly brings together the tranquility of beach life with the richness of Sri Lankan culture. The city, which is one of the largest in the country, is often the first or last stop for travelers due to its close proximity to the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake.
However, Negombo is so much more than just a stopover destination. It's a vibrant city with exciting things to see, do, and explore. Here are the top 10 experiences in Negombo that every traveler must seek out.
Explore the Negombo Lagoon
The Negombo Lagoon is a large estuarine body of water fed by several small rivers and a canal. It is separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land, part of which is a beautiful sandy beach. The lagoon is an excellent place to witness the biodiversity of the region and understand the local fishing industry.
A boat ride on the lagoon allows you to observe traditional fishing techniques, such as the use of "oru" canoes and the "ja-kotu" method. The lagoon is surrounded by mangroves, marshes, and a variety of bird species, creating an incredible experience and some mesmerizing photographic opportunities.
The Negombo lagoon's serenity is enhanced at sunset, when the sky turns into a painting of brilliant hues, reflecting on the calm waters. It also plays a crucial role in the city's economy, providing a livelihood to many local families.
Visit the Negombo Fish Market
The Negombo Fish Market, known locally as "Lellama," is a bustling center of activity, especially in the early morning hours. Here, the day begins early, with fishermen returning from the sea with their night's catch.
One of the largest fish markets in the country, the market is a hive of activity, with vendors shouting prices and buyers inspecting the fish for freshness. It's an authentic experience where you can witness a wide variety of seafood, from small mackerels and sardines to large marlins.
The market offers a unique chance to witness the daily life of the local fishing community and to understand the scale of the fishing industry in Negombo. Be prepared for strong smells and a lot of hustle-bustle. For the best experience, visit early in the morning when the catch is fresh, and the market is most lively.
Discover Dutch Colonial Architecture
Negombo's history as a Dutch trading post is evident in its architecture. The Dutch Canal, or "Hamilton Canal," was once a supply route for the Dutch administration, and today, it offers picturesque boat rides. Along the canal, you'll witness the daily life of locals, which makes for some great photos.
Another notable architectural site is the Dutch Fort, built in the 17th century and now used as a prison. While the fort itself isn't open for visitors, its impressive structure is a sight to behold.
The Dutch Clock Tower, another piece of colonial architecture, is situated near the Old Dutch Gate and adds to the city's historical charm.
Visit the St. Mary's Church
St. Mary's Church is an iconic structure in Negombo, standing tall with its neo-gothic architecture. Constructed over a period of 50 years, the church is one of the largest and most famous churches in Sri Lanka.
The inside of the church is adorned with beautiful frescoes and intricate woodwork, adding to its grandeur. With its large columns and detailed paintings, the church offers a serene environment where you can relax and experience a spiritual atmosphere. The church holds regular mass, but visitors are welcome at any time.
Enjoy the Negombo Beach
Negombo is known for its long stretch of golden sandy beach. The beach is an ideal spot to relax and soak in the sun. The beachside is dotted with plenty of restaurants and bars where you can enjoy a delicious meal or a refreshing drink while watching the waves roll in gently onto the shore.
For the more adventurous, there are water sports like jet skiing and banana boat rides. The clear waters are perfect for swimming, and the beach is generally safe for families with kids. As evening approaches, you'll be treated to a stunning display of colors as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean. For a unique experience, join a beachside yoga or meditation session.
Visit the Angurukaramulla Temple
The Angurukaramulla Temple, also known as the Bodhirajarama Maha Viharaya, is an iconic Buddhist temple in Negombo. With a history of more than 300 years, the temple is famous for its 6-meter-long reclining Buddha statue, one of the longest in Sri Lanka. The temple entrance is marked by a dragon's mouth.
Inside, the temple is filled with intricate murals and carvings depicting various episodes from Buddha's life and Jataka tales. There is also a sacred "Bo" tree within the temple premises. The temple is a place of worship, meditation, and learning, providing a serene environment to understand Buddhist philosophy.
Exploring the Muthurajawela Wetlands
The Muthurajawela Wetlands, translating to "Swamp of Royal Treasure," is a unique ecosystem spanning over 3,000 hectares. This wetland is recognized as a sanctuary due to its high biodiversity. Home to 102 species of birds, several species of butterflies, and numerous types of fish, reptiles, and mammals, the wetland is a paradise for nature lovers and birdwatchers.
The marsh hosts numerous plants, including mangroves, reeds, and medicinal herbs. A guided boat tour through the marsh is the best way to explore the rich flora and fauna of the wetlands and also learn about its ecological significance.
Diving and Snorkeling Adventures
With the warm waters of the Indian Ocean lapping at its shores, Negombo offers excellent opportunities for diving and snorkeling.
The Barracuda Reef is a popular diving spot, home to a variety of marine life, including reef fish, coral formations, and even the occasional reef shark. For those interested in wreck diving, the 100-year-old shipwreck "Taprobane" lies just off the coast. Negombo has several diving schools offering PADI-certified courses for beginners and advanced divers.
If you prefer snorkeling, the shallow waters around the beaches are perfect, with visibility allowing you to explore the vibrant underwater world.
Sampling Local Cuisine
Negombo's food scene is a delightful blend of traditional Sri Lankan cuisine with a significant influence from the fishing industry. Negombo is renowned for its seafood, and you can try dishes like crab curry, devilled prawns, or the famous Sri Lankan fish curry. The local cuisine is rich in flavors, with spices like fenugreek, turmeric, pandan leaves, and coconut used generously.
Street food options like kottu roti, a type of chopped flatbread stir-fried with eggs, vegetables, and meat or seafood, are a must-try. Remember to try a nice hot cup of Ceylon tea, world-famous for its superior quality.
Shopping at Main Street
Discover a shopper's paradise on Negombo's Main Street, where a variety of shops offer stylish clothing, accessories, handicrafts, and souvenirs. Locally made products like Ceylon tea, batik fabric, and handmade lacework are popular items to buy. You can also find shops selling precious gemstones, jewelry, ceramics, and spices.
Negombo is more than just a gateway to Sri Lanka; it's a magical destination in its own right, a place where you can start your journey into the heart and soul of this beautiful island nation. The magic of Negombo lies in its ability to offer a slice of Sri Lanka's diverse attractions in one place, making it an amazing city that's not just worth a quick visit but a longer stay.