Bentota stands as one of Sri Lanka's gems, a harmonious blend of coastal beauty and cultural heritage. As waves from the Indian Ocean gently kiss its shores and the Bentota River flows gracefully alongside, the town invites travelers to experience its tranquil beaches, rich history, and the adventures it holds within. This guide offers insights and information to help you navigate and truly experience the essence of Bentota.
Overview of Bentota
Bentota, located in the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, offers an inviting mix of natural allure and cultural depth. Positioned where the serene Bentota River meets the expansive Indian Ocean, the town holds a unique dual charm. Its picturesque beaches provide a tranquil backdrop, while the river offers a range of vibrant water activities. This balance of relaxation and adventure, coupled with its rich cultural touchpoints, has established Bentota as a top destination for many travelers, both local and international.
History of Bentota
The history of Bentota is deep-rooted and extends back several centuries. Ancient Sri Lankan scripts, including palm-leaf manuscripts, reference Bentota, known then as 'Ben-Tota' which translates to the port on the river bend. This name hints at its strategic importance as a riverine port.
Historically, its unique position—where the Bentota River meets the Indian Ocean—made it a significant trading post. Merchants from the hill country would bring down spices, gemstones, and traditional handicrafts, trading them for salt and fish with coastal communities. Over time, this trading activity enriched the cultural fabric of the area, bringing in influences from different parts of the island and even from international shores, as traders from Arab lands and later European colonists frequented the port.
Furthermore, during the colonial era, the Dutch recognized the strategic significance of Bentota. Evidence of their influence can still be seen in some of the architectural structures around the town, including remnants of fortifications and churches.
As years passed, Bentota transitioned from a pivotal trading hub to a sought-after tourist destination, but its rich history still resonates in the town's landmarks, culture, and the stories of its inhabitants.
Attractions and Things to Do in Bentota
Bentota Beach: One of the main draws, it offers golden sands and clear waters, ideal for relaxation and sunbathing.
Bentota River: Provides opportunities for boat rides and water sports, allowing visitors to explore the diverse flora and fauna of the region.
Lunuganga Estate: Once the home of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, this place now serves as a country estate with a beautifully landscaped garden.
Kosgoda Sea Turtle Hatchery: A conservation effort to save the endangered turtles, where visitors can learn about these creatures and even release baby turtles into the ocean.
Kande Viharaya Temple: A sacred Buddhist temple, it boasts a tall Buddha statue and offers insight into the spiritual practices of the region.
Where to Stay in Bentota
Bentota is well-equipped to cater to the diverse needs of its visitors when it comes to accommodation. Whether you're looking for a serene beachfront resort or a cozy inn closer to the town, there's something for everyone.
- Beachfront Resorts: These are typically the more upscale options, offering direct beach access, swimming pools, spa facilities, and in-house dining. Many have expansive grounds, allowing guests to enjoy nature, and offer rooms with ocean views.
- Riverfront Properties: For those looking to be closer to the river and the activities it offers, there are properties along the Bentota River. These often come with the opportunity to engage in water sports and boat rides.
- Guesthouses and Inns: For travelers on a tighter budget or those seeking a more local experience, numerous guesthouses and inns provide comfortable lodging. These are often family-run and offer a more intimate setting.
Cuisine and Dining
Bentota's culinary landscape mirrors the rich cultural tapestry of Sri Lanka. While the influence of traditional Sri Lankan cuisine is prominent, one can also find traces of international flavors, thanks to the town's history as a trading port and its contemporary status as a tourist hub.
- Seafood: Given its coastal location, fresh seafood is a staple. From prawns to crabs and a variety of fish, the methods of preparation range from traditional Sri Lankan spices to grilled options.
- Rice and Curry: This is a fundamental Sri Lankan meal, comprising rice served with a range of side dishes, including fish, meat, lentils, and local vegetables.
- Street Food: For those looking to sample local snacks, vendors often offer items like roti, samosas, and vadai. These are flavorful, quick bites that give insight into everyday Sri Lankan food culture.
Shopping in Bentota
While Bentota may not be a sprawling urban shopping center, it does offer its visitors a taste of local crafts, souvenirs, and products.
- Handicrafts: Local artisans showcase their skills through wood carvings, ceramic items, and handwoven textiles. These often depict traditional motifs and symbols, making them unique souvenirs.
- Jewelry: Without pointing to specific stores, Bentota has places where travelers can find jewelry, often inspired by Sri Lankan designs and sometimes using local gemstones.
- Tea and Spices: Given Sri Lanka's fame for its tea and spices, visitors should consider purchasing these. Several shops offer a variety of tea blends and an array of spices, both of which play a significant role in the island's history and economy.
Location and How to Get There
Bentota is about 65 kilometers south of Colombo. You can easily reach Bentota by train, bus or private vehicle.
- By Train: The coastal railway line, which traces the scenic edge of the country, directly connects the capital city, Colombo, to Bentota, offering travelers both efficiency and a visual treat.
- By Road: The Galle Road, one of Sri Lanka's primary routes, runs through Bentota, making it easily accessible for those traveling by bus or car.
Best Time to Visit
The ideal time to visit Bentota is between November and April. During these months, the weather is pleasant, and the chances of rain are minimal.
Tips and Advice
- Drink Bottled Water: Ensure you consume only sealed bottled water to avoid potential health issues.
- Use Mosquito Repellent: Protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially during the evening.
- Respect Local Customs: When visiting religious sites, dress modestly covering shoulders and knees.
- Negotiate Fares: Always discuss and agree on tuk-tuk or taxi fares before starting a trip.
- Stay Alert in Crowds: Safeguard your belongings in busy areas to prevent theft.
- Carry Small Notes of Money: Having smaller currency notes can make transactions smoother.
- Choose Busy Street Vendors: Opt for street food stalls that are popular for fresher offerings.
- Be Eco-Friendly: Minimize plastic usage and ensure proper disposal of waste.
- Seek Local Recommendations: Locals often provide the best advice on places worth visiting.
- Stay Updated on Weather Forecasts: Regularly check local weather predictions, especially during monsoon months, to plan activities accordingly.
Bentota seamlessly blends the serenity of its landscapes with the richness of its cultural heritage. As a jewel on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, it provides both solace for the soul and excitement for the adventurous spirit. As your journey in Bentota draws to a close, may the memories you've crafted here continue to inspire and resonate.