This post will show you the Sri Lanka West Coast from Colombo to Kalpitiya. After exploring temples of Central Colombo we will drive to Negombo to watch fishermen at work and fish being dried outdoors on the hot ground.
The idyllic Kalpitiya Peninsula in the north has white-sand beaches on both sides, backed by coconut palms that they also use for making house roofs. We stayed in a blue and white villa with a coconut leaf roof, partly outdoors and sleeping inside mosquito nets.
Buddhas facing urban development in a Colombo temple
We were touring the coast with a car and a driver that we had for our whole stay in Sri Lanka. If you want to know how we did that check out my post What to See in Sri Lanka. The West Coast is where we started our trip after landing in Colombo where the main airport is. This is what most travelers do so this post will give you ideas on what to do on your first days in Sri Lanka.
Our Colombo to Kalpitiya Drive on the Map
This Sri Lanka West Coast map shows our 175 km drive from Colombo to Kalpitiya. In fact we started 6 km south of Colombo where our first night hotel was located. I will show the hotel in this post. After exploring a little bit of Colombo we took the slower coastal road to Negombo and on to Kalpitiya Peninsula a couple of hours further north.
Alternatively you can take the motorway straight to Negombo but I would say small roads are better. You will get the real touch of Sri Lanka beginning from your first days when passing through local villages that follow each other up to Negombo. You will also get a feeling of the busy traffic that is so typical of Sri Lanka.
Traffic on the Sri Lanka West Coast, from Colombo to Kalpitiya
After Negombo you will suddenly dive into the countryside and see more open farmland. Coconut palms, pretty lakes and temples of all main religions of Sri Lanka. Kalpitiya Peninsula again has some more villages – and lots of cows on the road. You will see it later.
Sri Lanka West Coast traffic
February 4, the National Day of Sri Lanka
Colombo originally was not on our travel itinerary but since we were bound to drive though it we asked our driver show us some sights. No problem he replied, but we needed to start early to get there before the crowds.
It was Sunday and Sri Lanka’s National Day, February 4. The country was going to celebrate its 70 years independence after the British left in 1948 and all politicians and crowds of Sri Lankans were gathering to Central Colombo later during the day.
So we set off from our hotel at 9 a.m. and this is what we saw in Central Colombo:
Independence Memorial Hall and statue of the first Sri Lanka Prime Minister
Massive stone lions around Prime Minister statue
No crowds yet but it will be!
Independence Memorial Hall
Apparently no Memorial Hall festivities yet so we left towards South Beira Lake in the city center. The lake is green and has a small island in the middle, and a beautiful Buddhist shrine.
South Beira Lake and Seema Malaka
Central Colombo: South Beira Lake
This is the Seema Malaka Buddhist temple, located on a small island but connected to the lakeshore by a walkway so getting there was super easy, we just paid a small fee and took off our shoes.
It’s a rule that you always enter Buddhist temples barefoot. That is not a problem – in the morning. But in the afternoon the sun heats the ground simply too hot to walk on. However after visiting a certain number of temples we got used to our soles burning and the hot ground almost felt good.
Seema Malaka and South Beira Lake
Seema Malaka has a lot of similar Buddha statues and most of them are golden, except these ones sitting outside and looking towards the city. The stone statues are really massive and there is a long row of them as well:
Seema Malaka stone Buddhas
Golden Buddhas in a row
A closer view of golden Buddhas
Buddhas and prayer ribbons
Like all Buddhist temples the temple island has a bo tree. Bo tree is what Buddha was sitting below when he got enlightenment in India and a first branch of the tree was imported to Sri Lanka. Here you can see a Buddha looking at his bo tree on the temple courtyard:
Seema Malaka Buddha and bo tree
Prayer ribbons hanging in a tree
Gate statue of Colombo temple island
Traditions and modern time meet in Colombo
We sat down in the car and enjoyed air-conditioning. Driver Mac allowed us one more Colombo sight before driving on: the Buddhist Gangaramaya Temple almost next door to Seema Malaka. That was a really large temple complex on a shady side street, controversially right within the modern city.
What we first liked in the Gangaramaya temple complex were some small details like these wild courtyard flowers:
Gangaramaya Temple courtyard details
Temple flower growing in tree
Gangaramaya Temple inner courtyard and bo tree
Some more temple flowers
But what about the temple itself? Whoever planned it had been given free hands to mix Buddhist and Indian styles. Or what do you think about the wall decorations in the shrine’s main image house (see below)?
Entrance to the image house, Gangaramaya Temple
Inside the image house we found walls filled with artwork, both wood carvings and paintings and the painter had not saved the least in using all colors:
Wall carvings in image house
Another image house statue
A couple of photos on the exterior that, too, is ornamental:
Exterior decoration of Gangaramaya Temple
Gangaramaya Temple visitors and courtyard
It’s a custom that temples also include a temple elephant. In addition elephant tusks are used as decorative elements:
Buddhas and elephant tusks
Buddhas without elephant tusks
One more temple highlight was this collection of Buddha statues and small dagobas, all in stone:
Stone Buddhas and dagobas, Gangaramaya Temple
But we had to say goodbye to this modern city hidden temple and the statues. We picked our shoes and went on.
Gangaramaya temple plants and statue
Gangaramaya temple, Sri Lanka
More about Colombo
Sunday morning in Colombo was a relaxing experience but otherwise the city is crowded, noisy and chaotic which we saw later, on the way back to the airport. A lot of traffic and people rushing in all directions, markets, bazaars, trains, buses and tuk tuks packed with people.
Colombo is a mixture of cultures and building styles. First came the Muslims that built their trading port in Colombo, conveniently located along their east-west trading route, then came the Portuguese that added a fort and later on the British added a harbor. The Colmobo of today is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and the political capital is the pretty unknown Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte located east of Colombo.
But what else is there for a tourist in Colombo? There is the huge Viharamaha Devi Park with a shining Buddha statue:
Viharamaha Devi Park Buddha statue
And there is a new theater and concert hall that more looks like a stadium:
Colombo theater and concert hall
The old colonial town hall looks like the U.S. Capitol or White House, white and shining in the tropical sun:
Town Hall of Colombo
And above all, there are tuk tuks, red, green, black, everywhere and in all colors:
Colombo tuk tuks
And – since Colombo is gateway to Sri Lanka, there is a good choice of hotels. Most tourists stay here a night or two before going on an island tour or to West or South Coast tourist resorts.
Where to Stay in Colombo
Hotel Mirage Colombo, Sri Lanka
After landing we stayed our first night south of downtown Colombo. It was an oceanside hotel, Mirage Colombo, with an outdoor pool up on the second floor and a splendid ocean beach in front, behind a road and a railway line that were easy to cross.
As we arrived after sunset and left early morning we didn’t have time to use those facilities, we only dined, had our breakfast and slept away our sleepless night spent on the plane and in an airport lounge. The room was good and so was the buffet with both Sri Lankan and international dishes.
This hotel really made us feel at home, far away in Asia: the first people we met were a bus group of Norwegian travelers heading to a Sri Lanka tour. Their group leader told me about travel in Sri Lanka and explained local habits, all in Swedish!
You can find more information on our first Sri Lanka hotel on the Hotel Mirage Colombo website.
Fishermen at work, Negombo Lagoon
Negombo is the north end of the tourist-oriented West Coast that in the south begins at Hikkaduwa. This coastal strip has hundreds of hotels along the sandy shoreline and is yet a living Sri Lankan area. In Negombo fishermen catch fish in the Indian Ocean and repair their nets on the sheltered lagoon. This man is one of them, working in the center of Negombo.
Negombo lagoon is what you first see when landing in Sri Lanka, the airport is just behind it. No wonder tourists choose to stay in Negombo, at least a night or two before heading inland to where the sights are. But these fishermen don’t care, they go on doing their work.
Preparing for a fishing trip
Negombo village lies between the lagoon and the ocean. It looks like a very typical Sri Lankan village, except that there are the tourist stalls, hotels and souvenirs. Some views of the village:
Lagoon seen from Negombo village
Nebgombo main thoroughfare
On the ocean side Negombo has a huge fish market, normally busy but pretty empty on Sundays:
Negombo fish market
Fresh tuna fish
Fish market bustle
What about fresh shrimps?
Or a Pepsi?
Where does all this fish come from? The fishermen we saw on the lagoon side catch it in the Incian Ocean. They bring the fish to the hot sand dunes on the Ocean side where they dry it. They salt the fish and leave it in the strong sunlight for a couple of days.
These women are are busy sorting drying fish and turning the fish where needed.
Negombo fish market women at work
Neatly sorted drying fish
Fish in equator sunlight
Even if birds don’t take salted fish drying fish needs to be protected:
Drying fish in shelter
Learning how dried fish is being prepared we started to feel hungry, but maybe not fish for lunch this time. Instead we took our car again and went for a hotel lunch.
Driving from Colombo to Kalpitiya: our car with driver
Lunch at Negombo Hotel
We took a buffet lunch right on Negombo Beach, in the Goldi Sands Hotel. I didn’t really think about using hotel lunches before, it was our travel agency that found it out for us. Hotel lunches on the road in countries like Sri Lanka instead of simple roadside eateries definitely is a good idea. Hotel lunches also offer you an air conditioned and relaxing break.
We sat a long while gazing at the beach and as always I first remembered my camera when we had almost finished and it was dessert time.
Sri Lanka West Coast beach: Negombo beach
I felt I could stay here the rest of the day, on soft Negombo sands or maybe by the pool. What could be a better way to spend Sri Lanka’s National Day than enjoying what the country’s nature offers? But there was another beach and pool to come and we were looking forward to that. Our destination was Kalpitiya and the magnificent Villa Kalpitiya that you will see after a while.
Goldi Sands Hotel pool, Negombo
But this hotel too looked very good in all respects and the buffet lunch was delicious. And we drank a lot of sparkling water which you need to do in a hot climate. Sparkling or not, you need water.
Contact information of Goldi Sands Hotel, Negombo
Negombo to Kalpitiya
Drive from Colombo to Kalpitiya, rice fields
After Negombo we finally got to the countryside which was what we came to this country for! Pure, green nature all the way on roadsides: rice fields and coconut plantations. We now passed less villages but all villages we went through had a temple or church, or many of them. And the West Coast temples are so beautiful!
From Colombo to Kaliptiya, coconut plantations
West Coast temples: a Hindu temple
Hindu temple peackock
Hindu temple monkey
West Coast temples: a Christian church
West Coast temple, a Buddhist shrine
Hindu temple: elephant heads
Hindu or maybe Buddhist shrine?
Kalpitiya palms and beach
Then we reached the peninsula! Kalpitiya Peninsula is a long, narrow strip of land between the Indian Ocean and Puttalam Lagoon. Unspoilt, white, sheltered beaches backed by coconut groves, wherever you look and on both sides of the road. Why did we get here first now?
Cow in traffic, Kalpitiya
And first now we are meeting cows, a lot of them, on rice fields, between coconut trees and on the roads. The walk without chains and don’t care about cars and they just stop where they want. But we are on holiday and there’s no reason to hurry…
Cows on the road!
Kalpitiya cow in equator sunlight
Kalpitiya villages have a slow tempo compared to more developed areas. You can tell these people love their peninsula, their palms, beaches and cows and they can take it easy! Kalpitiya is a perfect tourist destination and still almost undiscovered. So good that we came the long way from Colombo to Kalpitiya!
Kalpitiya village life
Tuk tuk parked on the roadside, Kalpitiya
A biking man and his load
Street food stall
Kalpitiya Side Roads
Tuk tuk on a Kalpitiya road
Finding our accommodation was not so easy. Not even our driver had been to this specific place before and we got a bit lost on the bumpy dirt roads that were not the least planned for cars.
So we were driving very slowly and to save the car getting off and walking outside the car where it was the most bumpy – and all tuk tuks did it much better! Probably the locals already know where the worst holes are.
Dirt road in Kalpitiya
Cow fence, Kalpitiya
Cows by the lagoon
Fishing huts used for drying salt
Kalpitya fisherman with his nets
Sorting out fishing nets
Then finally we found the right place. We followed these white roadside stones – to our booked accommodation the Villa Kalpitiya. What a villa!
Road to the Villa Kalpitiya
The Villa Kalpityia
It was not a hotel but rather a country house, cottage or villa, but so different from what we normally have in my country and in our climate.
Blue and green window shutters, thatched palm roof made of local materials, outdoor living and dining rooms, a sandy garden with a pool and a sandy beach. What more can you demand, we had found a little paradise.
Our colorful window shutters
The Villa Kalpitiya pool
Pool backed by white wall
A house with coconut leaf roof
Coconut leaf roof and bougainvilleas
Just planted temple flower
Our young hosts Theresa and Udayang were so nice, they met us with a smile and prepared our coffee, dinner and breakfast in their outdoor kitchen and served us to the long table – where we sat alone, with our driver since we happened to be the only guests that particular night.
They had planted temple flowers in the hot sand, you can see one of the plants above.
Our host couple Theresa and Udayang
Open dining room and view to beach
View from upstairs lobby
What about our room then? All rooms were like in a side building, with doors to a sandy patio. Unlike the public areas our room had all four walls which made me happy. There was a roof too, but all construction was very airy and there was no way to prevent mosquitos from coming in. In addition the bathroom had no roof where the shower was – so the bathroom was partly outdoors.
Knowing what mosquitoes spread in tropics I was so worried but there were the solutions: proper evening clothing, mosquito spray and above all mosquito nets. These solutions totally saved us from those hungry insects.
I never tried a mosquito net before and was worried if I can sleep at all but I managed it and would certainly do it again. Next summer going to my country cottage in Finland I’ll bring a mosquito net and sleep well.
Villa Kalpitiya rooms
Night spent inside mosquito nets
Bathroom with both natural and man made rain shower
Pool at sunset
Pool with lights on
We only stayed one night in the Villa Kalpitiya but it’s a place where I definitely would like to stay longer. This is a little paradise on earth and so different from what usual hotels are like. More information on the place on their Facebook page: The Villa Kalpitiya
Our Sri Lanka Round Trip
Our 175 km drive from Colombo to Kalpitiya was the initial section on our Sri Lanka round trip.
To travel around the tropical island of Sri Lanka we used a car and a driver and the total trip duration was two weeks. You can see our whole travel itinerary on this map:
To see what the highlights of Sri Lanka are and how we arranged our trip check out my Sri Lanka main post: What to See in Sri Lanka.
Next Post: Touring Sri Lanka’s Ancient Cities
In my next post our journey will continue to the jungles. We will see Central Sri Lanka and explore the country’s ancient capitals. Touring Sri Lanka’s Ancient Cities
A dagoba, Sri Lanka’s ancient cities