Batticaloa is a stunning city located on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. This travel guide aims to equip you with all the essential information you need to explore Batticaloa, whether you're interested in outdoor adventures, keen to dive into the local culture, or simply looking to unwind. Read on to discover what makes this city a must-visit location when traveling in Sri Lanka.
One of the most prominent cities on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, Batticaloa is a city that offers a blend of cultural and natural attractions. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean on one side and several lagoons, the most notable being the Batticaloa Lagoon on the other. These water bodies not only add to the scenic beauty of the area but also make it a significant ecological zone, teeming with stunning species of flora and fauna.
The city's geographical features include flat coastal plains and beautiful sandy beaches, perfect for leisurely strolls or water sports. Inland, you'll find agricultural areas where local farmers grow crops like paddy, corn, and sugarcane. These landscapes offer visitors the opportunity to explore rural life and perhaps even participate in some farming activities if they're interested.
The population of Batticaloa is diverse, primarily comprising Tamils, followed by Muslims, and a smaller Sinhalese community. This multicultural mix is reflected in the city’s vibrant culture, festivals, and daily life. Whether it's the local food, religious practices, or festivals, the influence of various communities is evident, making Batticaloa a fascinating place to experience Sri Lanka's cultural diversity. The city is large enough to offer a variety of attractions and activities but small enough to explore comfortably.
History of Batticaloa
The history of Batticaloa is both rich and complex, shaped by various powers that have ruled over the area through the centuries. Before European colonization, it served as a significant center for trade and commerce. Local resources like spices and gems attracted traders from as far as Rome and China.
When the Portuguese arrived in the early 17th century, Batticaloa became a critical point in their quest for control over the island's maritime routes. The Portuguese constructed forts and churches, converting many locals to Catholicism. Their rule continued until the Dutch arrived in 1638 and took control of the area. The Dutch fortified the existing structures and implemented their legal and administrative systems. They were primarily focused on trade, particularly the export of local spices and elephants.
The British succeeded the Dutch in the late 18th century, capturing Batticaloa as part of their expansion across Sri Lanka. Under British rule, Batticaloa developed significantly in terms of infrastructure and public services. The British established schools and administrative offices, further consolidating the city as an administrative center for the eastern region. During this period, English law and education became prevalent, leaving a lasting impact that is still evident today. Batticaloa also became a hub for missionary activities, which contributed to its educational development.
After Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, Batticaloa continued to be a significant administrative and trade center. However, it also became a focal point during the civil war, which lasted till 2009. The war had a significant impact on the area, affecting its economy and social fabric. After the war ended, Batticaloa was rebuilt, turning it into the vibrant city it is today.
Attractions and Things to Do
The Batticaloa Lagoon serves as one of the primary attractions for nature lovers. Stretching over 56 km, the lagoon is separated from the Indian Ocean by a thin strip of land. A boat ride on the lagoon not only provides stunning views but also an educational experience. Local guides can point out various species of birds, like pelicans and cormorants, that inhabit the area. For those interested in fishing, many operators offer the option to join local fishermen for a hands-on experience, complete with traditional fishing methods unique to this region.
The Kallady Bridge is a must-visit, especially for those who find themselves in Batticaloa during the full moon nights between April and September. During this period, a phenomenon known as the "singing fish" can be heard. Local lore suggests that the musical sounds, best heard when placing an oar into the water, come from a certain species of fish. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has both baffled and fascinated visitors and scientists alike. Besides the auditory spectacle, the bridge offers excellent spots for photography, capturing the beauty of the lagoon and the setting sun.
Beaches: Pasikudah and Kalkudah
Pasikudah Beach is famous for one of the longest stretches of shallow reefs in the world. The water is very shallow and goes out as far as 150 meters, making it an ideal spot to try snorkeling. Kalkudah Beach, on the other hand, provides a more secluded experience. While both beaches offer standard water sports like jet-skiing and windsurfing, Kalkudah's quieter atmosphere makes it more suitable for activities like beachcombing and sunbathing. Lifeguard services are generally available, especially in Pasikudah, adding an extra layer of safety for families with children.
Old Dutch Fort
The Old Dutch Fort stands as a significant historical landmark, originally built by the Portuguese in 1628 and later captured and renovated by the Dutch in 1638. The fort is made of granite and coral and includes an ancient church. While walking along the ramparts, visitors can observe the old canons still lying around, which were used during the colonial periods. There's also a small museum within the premises that showcases artifacts from the Dutch colonial period, offering more context and information.
Batticaloa is home to several beautiful Hindu temples and Islamic mosques. The Thiruchendur Murugan temple is particularly noteworthy, adorned with intricate carvings and traditional Hindu architecture. It is busiest during the annual festival dedicated to Lord Murugan, usually taking place in February or March. For those interested in Islamic architecture, the Jamius Salam Jummah Masjid mosque is a must-visit. Built in 1924, the mosque is an architectural gem with domes and minarets that showcase traditional Islamic designs.
For those who want an adrenaline rush, Batticaloa offers several options. Cycling tours are a great way to explore the area. These tours often include stops at local attractions and hidden gems that are not commonly part of tourist routes. For trekking enthusiasts, the trails near Lady Manning Drive provide an excellent opportunity. These trails go through scenic landscapes, rural settings, and even coastal areas, offering a well-rounded view of the natural beauty in and around Batticaloa.
The different ethnicities in Batticaloa have created a vibrant mix of traditions, religious practices, and social customs. Religious diversity is evident in the array of Hindu temples, Islamic mosques, and Christian churches that coexist. Music and dance, particularly traditional Tamil forms, are integral to the cultural experience often featured during religious and social events. Tamil is the most commonly spoken language, but English and Sinhala are also understood, particularly in business and tourist-focused areas.
Shopping and Souvenirs
Shopping in Batticaloa offers a unique experience that captures the essence of its diverse culture. While the city lacks large shopping malls, it boasts local markets and specialized shops that offer authentic goods. Visitors can find vibrant saris and traditional Tamil clothing in textile shops, while handicraft stores offer a range of intricately designed wooden carvings, pottery, and woven items. Batik clothing is another popular buy, available in specialty shops that feature both traditional and modern designs.
Food and Cuisine
Food in Batticaloa offers a unique blend of flavors that caters to a variety of palates. The city's coastal location makes seafood a staple, with dishes such as crab curry and fish biryani being popular choices. The culinary scene is also enriched by the contributions from the Muslim community, evident in the form of meat-heavy dishes like beef curry and mutton biryani. Spices play an essential role in local cooking, adding layers of flavor to both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. From casual eateries to more refined restaurants, the food in Batticaloa is a celebration of its diverse culture, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in experiencing the essence of local Sri Lankan cuisine.
Accommodation in Batticaloa offers a range of options to suit various budgets and preferences. Travelers can choose from simple guesthouses with basic amenities to more upscale options that offer additional facilities like swimming pools and on-site restaurants. Given the city's coastal location, many accommodations offer scenic views of the lagoon or the ocean, adding to the overall experience.
Location and How to Get There
Getting to Batticaloa is relatively straightforward, with multiple modes of transport available. The city is well-connected by road, and buses run frequently from major cities like Colombo and Kandy.
The journey by bus takes approximately 7-8 hours from Colombo. For those who prefer a quicker option, domestic flights to Batticaloa are available, landing at the Batticaloa Airport, situated around 1 km from the city center.
Train services are also available, though this method is generally slower. Private taxis and car rentals are other convenient but more expensive options for reaching Batticaloa.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Batticaloa is from May to September, during the dry season. The weather is sunny and less humid, ideal for outdoor activities and exploring the city. This period also aligns with local festivals, offering a cultural experience. The monsoon season from October to January is wetter but offers a lush landscape.
Tips and Advice
- Public Transport: Buses and tuk-tuks are common means of transport within the city. Always negotiate tuk-tuk fares in advance.
- Safety: Batticaloa is generally safe, but always exercise basic caution. Avoid walking alone late at night in unfamiliar areas.
- Local Etiquette: Respect local customs and religious practices, especially when visiting temples or mosques. Dress modestly in such places.
- Weather Preparedness: If traveling during the monsoon season, carry rain gear. Sunscreen and hats are essential for the dry months.
- Currency: Always carry some cash, as not all places accept cards, especially in smaller establishments and remote areas.
- Cultural Sensitivity: Photography in religious or culturally sensitive areas may require permission. Always ask before taking photos.
From its magnificent lagoon to its beautiful beaches, this coastal city offers a remarkable experience for travelers. It is an exceptional destination for those seeking both relaxation and outdoor adventure and will surely leave a lasting impression.