Sri Lanka’s East Coast is far away but it has the island’s best beaches and friendliest locals. The east also has some beautiful beach resorts that make a perfect setting for a relaxed, peaceful holiday.
Not many tourists have found this piece of paradise in the east so you can easily find a beach for yourself and spend lazy days watching ocean waves, just doing nothing.
We spent a few days on Sri Lanka’s East Coast trying resort life, and we really liked it. No tourists, no crowds, just us and the smiling locals. East Coast is what the old Sri Lanka used to be.
Sri Lanka’s East Coast: selfie with smiling locals
One of Sri Lanka’s East Coast beaches
East: a New Travel Destination
Why haven’t the crowds found the east yet? Since the east has for decades and for hundreds of years been isolated from the rest of the island.
First there was no proper road and then the long civil war that hit the east very hard. And there was the 2004 tsunami that destroyed what was left. So Sri Lanka’s East Coast has suffered a lot and for long time periods.
But now Sri Lanka’s east is developing again. New hotels and resorts are built on the sandy coastline and locals that left abroad now return home and invest their money.
And the young look positively into the future. Sri Lanka’s East Coast welcomes tourists with excitement.
East Coast looking into the future
Sri Lanka’s East Coast on the Map
Here you can see the central part of Sri Lanka’s East Coast on the map, with our driving route from Trincomalee to Passekudah. To see the whole coast, zoom out the map.
The East Coast faces the Indian Ocean and is backed by jungle on the mountain side.
How to Get to Sri Lanka’s East Coast
How did we get to this remote coastline? We got there by car:
Taking a car and driver to Sri Lanka’s East Coast
In Sri Lanka you can do something you probably wouldn’t do in Europe: in Sri Lanka you can rent a car with a driver. Think about just relaxing on the back seat without concerns about driving and traffic. And you don’t even have to pay a fortune for the luxury!
So the local travel agent Connaissance de Ceylan planned our trip and arranged our car and driver.
There are of course other ways too to get across the island. You can take a bus or train. Here is a train bringing travelers to Sri Lanka’s east:
Train to Sri Lanka’s East Coast
And there are more ways to travel… These people are on the way east as well. Not a bad way either but we wanted more comfort.
More ways of traveling to Sri Lanka’s East Coast
And then after all driving: the coast and Trincomalee! And the Indian Ocean!
Indian Ocean and Trincomalee beach!
Fishermen at work, Trincomalee
Trincomalee is the capital of the east and the island’s third biggest city. It’s much more a local than a tourist city.
Fishermen set sail from the sandy beach right in the city. The beach is called Dutch Bay and it’s both a beach and a fishing harbor.
Brightly painted fishing boats line the Dutch Bay and if you see someone swim they are most probably locals.
Fishing boats lining the Dutch Bay of Trincomalee
An old outrigger canoe
Traditional canoes on the sand
Dutch Bay, Trincomalee
Old Port of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa
It’s hard to believe the Trincomalee you can see now has been big and famous, not only in Sri Lanka but globally. – There is another, bigger harbor on the lagoon side and that used to be the whole island’s main port.
That was in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa eras. And not only that, Trincomalee also was the main port in Sri Lanka for the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British – until the Galle and Colombo ports were built. So Trincomalee was totally forgotten and now we only have these fishermen.
Yet the European invaders left their fort that still exists and stands there after the centuries, civil war and tsunami.
Fort Frederick, Trincomalee
But the fishermen, how do they prepare the fish they catch? They salt, hang and sell it.
This is how they do in Sri Lanka, they dry and eat fish. Just like our Lapland people hang and dry reindeer meat.
But I don’t like dried fish, I always tried to avoid eating dry fish wherever I went in Sri Lanka. It is hard and salty, maybe sometimes ok if it’s a small fish. But these big ones, they are nice to look at but I don’t want to see them on my plate:
Dried fish in Trincomalee
Shop for dried fish, Trincomalee harbor
More dried fish hanging, Trincomalee harbor
Sri Lanka’s East Coast is quite different from the west. And its people are different. The east is a mix of Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim people so there’s a wide range of religions as well.
Trincomalee has a famous Hindu temple that makes the city a holy site for Hindus, and other religions have their own worship places too:
Christian church, Trincomalee
An east coast mosque
A typical Trincomalee home
Beach Villages: Nilaveli and Uppuveli
Uppuveli village, Sri Lanka’s East Coast
Most tourists don’t stay in Trincomalee though, they head up the coast to the small villages of Uppuveli and Nilaveli. Both have long sandy beaches and some accommodation, ranging from budget to luxury.
Nilaveli beach is the wider and longer of these two. Nilaveli hotels are located in a coconut forest and they are not directly by the main road while in Uppuveli everything is closer to the highway.
Both villages are still authentic and quite undeveloped but there are the basic services.
Goats crossing the highway
Cow on the roadside, Nilaveli
Nilaveli Beach Resorts
Nilaveli has a few beach hotels along the sandy coastline, a bit hard to find in the coconut forest, but there they are, facing the sea.
We came to Sri Lanka’s East Coast for the fine beaches. And we wanted to test what beach resort life is like – and here in the coconut forest was our first resort, the Pigeon Island Beach Resort.
Basically when we travel we want to drive around and see places, but sometimes it’s fun just to take it easy for a while. Spend a day just doing nothing, staring at the sea or reading a good book. Sri Lanka’s East Coast is the place for that and this was our first hotel:
Pigeon Island Resort
Pigeon Island Resort, Nilaveli
A beach resort couldn’t be better located. Pigeon Island Resort is right on one of Sri Lanka’s best and widest beaches, the 4 km long Nilaveli Beach, backed by a lush jungle. There is some distance to the main road so you don’t hear the traffic.
We really needed this kind of resort after the exhausting drive. We wanted to relax and take in the Indian Ocean atmosphere. This place met our needs, it was very relaxing, quiet and nice – just us, the sun, the waves and the jungle birds.
The pool, just for the two of us
And the pool: we had it to ourselves. There were not many other guests at daytime and most of them were on the beach. But at dusk it changed as tour groups arrived. Bus loads of tourists touring the island came and stayed the night and they all left in the early morning.
So dinner time was very busy and the daytime was peaceful.
Pigeon Island Resort pool, Nilaveli
Tropical East Coast nature
Wave-gazing on Nilaveli beach
One of our Sri Lanka dreams was to stop, sit and enjoy the sun and the ocean – and now this dream came true. Driving 1600 km in two weeks and seeing most of a country is a top thing to do but in between you need a break.
Clas was wave-gazing and wondering how they made these coconut parasols and how long they will last. I was more in the tropical ocean waters and looking at the palms and the jungle from that perspective.
Nilaveli Beach is a perfect beach, and this section of it was – just for us!
Coconut leaf sun shade
Pigeon Island National Park
The National Park of Pigeon Island is just offshore and we could take a boat tri and see the famous corals. No – we want to stay in this place!
Trincomalee is some 15 km south but we saw it already.
What more should I think about before falling asleep: the dinner will be in three hours and there will be live Sri Lankan music.
Our room was very good. First of all there was a huge balcony with jungle views and we had private stairs down to the where the pool was. And the room: it was huge too and the bathroom was big enough for both of us at the same time :).
Our balcony had forest, pool and ocean views
Our Pigeon Island Resort room and bathroom
So this was the first of the three east coast resort hotels we tried, a bit older one but very nice and cozy: Pigeon Island Resort
But we also tried a newly built resort in the same area. That was Trinco Blu in Uppuveli.
Trinco Blu by Cinnamon
Trinco Blu by Cinnamon, Uppuveli
We left south and stopped at Uppuveli. Just briefly, having lunch at Trinco Blu. They specialize in a tasting buffet lunch and our driver said we should try the Trinco Blu lunch.
That really was a good one, we sat in the main restaurant that was open to the sea. You can see the restaurant and my picks from their dessert table below.
The other photos show the Trinco Blu pool that we didn’t try. But the pool looks inviting and the beach is just behind. Such a peace here too, and such a harmony.
Trinco Blu by Cinnamon pool
Buffet lunch of Trinco Blu by Cinnamon
This was just a brief stop but what we saw we liked. Trinco Blue, too, looks like a good choice for a Sri Lanka east coast beach vacation.
Trincomalee to Passekudah
Fishermen taking in their nets
Sri Lanka’s East Coast is a land of rural coastline with occasional fishing villages. Painted boats and fishing nets, all in colors.
East coast’s Tamil people like strong colors and so do the fish, they like the colored nets. It takes many men to take in the night’s catch.
East coast fishing nets
Fishing nets on sand
Fishing boats in many colors
A seaside lagoon
A traditional Sri Lankan outrigger canoe
Fishing boat on the lagoon shore
And here again, they dry the fish in the tropical sunlight and sell their catch on the roadside. This is what the villages are basically like.
Fishermen working with their catch
Fish drying on nets
Typical East Coast village view
Since much of the coastline and all roads were destroyed in the 2004 tsunami there is lots of rebuilding going on. The roads are in a bad condition and need more repairing.
Road workers at work
Locals in a village
East Coast home
Goat on the highway
Other main sources of income are farming and cattle raising. That means roadside rice fields and cows and bufffaloes on the road.
Buffaloes eating grass
A Sri Lankan buffalo owner
Some more buffaloes
This man is bathing in the river, with his cows. Cows of course have to be washed at times.
Rice fields and cows bathing in the river
A smiling cow owner
Presenting my cows
Sri Lanka’s east coast: Passekudah Bay
The drive from Trincomalee to Passekudah is not long but knowing the road conditions and the amount we stopped it’s a miracle it only took half a day.
We had heard Passekudah Bay is an amazing place, yet it surprised us. This place is like a paradise! 2 km of soft sand and shallow waters, and again no people, no crowds, nobody at all on these fine beaches. Can’t wait getting into the water.
Walking along Passekudah Bay, Sri Lanka
Passekudah Bay used to be sheltered by offshore coral reefs but a lot of corals have disappeared, partly torn down by the tsunami and partly by people. It is a huge disaster but they are now planting the corals again. It needs a lot of work and one day the reef will be back where it was.
The tsunami destroyed everything here including buildings and rebuilding started in 2011. New hotels now appear on the shoreline. The first of them was Maalu Maalu which means fish fish. We were staying in the fish hotel and that’s why I put my fish dress on.
Today there are a dozen resorts in all, all with beach access.
Maalu Maalu Resort beach in Passekudah
Where to Stay: Maalu Maalu Resort
Maalu Maalu Resort, Passekudah
Maalu Maalu Resort looks like a Sri Lankan fishing village. Hotel buildings with their coconut leaf roofs and wooden walls look older than they are, yet they were built in 2011.
I really like this style and everything in the place and it makes me think about an Indian Ocean island and that’s exactly where we are. This is the kind of place many people dream of but don’t know where to find it.
A fishing village on poles, built on the sand. Coconut groves around and a stone’s throw to the Indian Ocean.
Walkway to the beach
This grey boardwalk shows you the way to the beach. The wood is too hot to walk on as is the sand next to it – our paradise island is in the tropics and it’s so hot here…
And did I mention the pool? The pool has the same tropical water temperature as the ocean and you don’t feel cold entering the water. Too hard to decide where to go first, beach of pool?
Pool or beach, which one to choose?
Maalu Maalu Resort pool
Most guests are staying around the pool. So we took sunbeds and found a shelter. If you get thirsty there is a bar with fresh coconuts on the table – a bar made of an old wooden boat.
Pool bar: fishing boat with coconut roof
We normally don’t spend our days in a resort without going anywhere but Sri Lanka’s east coast is different. Every single detail in Maalu Maalu needs that we look at it so we have to stay and not leave…. and we only left the resort to walk up and down the 2 km beach.
Walking to the ocean beach
Sun chairs and the beach
Fresh flowers in water bowl, changed each morning
Staying in a Fishing Hut
Our room was in a chalet built on poles and we were staying upstairs. Garden view, pool view and sea view, our balcony had it all. And sofas.
Our Maalu Maalu fishing hut
The exterior looked traditional a bit worn out but at the inside it was all modern. The room had all you need for a relaxing stay: good air conditioning, no mosquitoes inside nor outside, lots of space for luggage and changing clothes, a big bathroom and a sunny shower area.
Our Maalu Maalu Resort room
Hoppers and Crayfish
The restaurant had an exceptionally good service and great meals, we mostly had two or three waiters around us and they genuinely seemed to like serving us.
Sri Lankan hopper for breakfast
This is a part of my breakfast: fruits, pastries and a hopper with egg and pepper. The chef fries it at request in a deep iron pan. So good!
Lunch with sparkling water
And too soon after breakfast it was lunch time and then the dinner. Simply too much but sometimes you need this kind of things. At home you couldn’t eat this amount and sit this long at the table three times a day – but this is holiday…
But where do these fresh fruits and vegetables come from? And the fish and the lobsters? The fish comes from here, less than 1 km from the resort:
Fishermen leaving the shore
Village fishermen leave to the sea at sunset and return when the sun rises.
They push their boats into the sea, set light in their lamps, throw their nets in the deep waters and start their night shift. In the morning they return with their catch, fresh fish, lobsters and giant crayfish. And we enjoy them. Hard work which I can appreciate after they explained it to us.
Passekudah Bay fishing boats
Candlelight dinner on Sri Lanka’s East Coast
The friendly locals work at night and we instead dine crayfish on the soft sands.
You hardly see the crayfish nor the curries you add to it but I can tell you it tastes so good. The crayfish here is at least hundred times the size of the ones we catch in our lake back home. And they add at least hundred times more spices. In Sri Lanka it’s an art how they use spices.
Beach bar evening drink after sunset
You can find the Maalu Maalu website here: Theme Resorts, Maalu Maalu
Someone had drawn this heart in the sand and I shared it to my dear ones at home, wishing they could join us here, right now:
Wish you were here
Back home, and can’t help dreaming back to the tropics and to Sri Lanka’s east coast.
Wishing I wash there…
Our Sri Lanka Road Trip Continues
Sri Lanka’s East Coast was a part of our Sri Lanka two week itinerary which you can see on the map.
After Passekudah Bay we turned inland and back to the Cultural Triangle. Happy and relaxed after a few resort days and ready for new sights.
More on our Sri Lanka Round Trip on the trip main page.