Trincomalee – Home to Sri Lanka’s best beaches

Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s east coast is my new favourite beach.  There are more dramatic bays, and seaside spots serving tastier margaritas, but something about Trincomalee’s beaches hit my sweet spot.

 

What makes it my favourite beach?  It’s raw, rustic and the first cheap, sunny, beautiful place that I’ve been to in a long time where the locals aren’t trying to peddle their wares.  Its people are wonderful, architecture charming, history fascinating and it ticks every box that I love to tick when I’m travelling…

 

Tamil fisherman overlooking Trincomalee Beach

Tamil fisherman overlooking the Indian Ocean at Trincomalee Beach

 

The People of Trincomalee

Trincomalee is one of those South Asian places where a mishmash of cultures all share the same ramshackle city block.  It’s one of the main centres for Sri Lanka’s Hindu Tamils, but the Buddhist Sinhalese and jelabea-wearing Moors also make up a sizeable share of the population.

 

Like the rest of Sri Lanka, we were bombarded with infectious smiles from locals; yet nowhere on the island did we find the people warmer and more hospitable.  Almost everyone, from the local kids to the sun-blackened fisherman, called out a ‘hello’ and held an open palm in our direction; the most genuinely hospitable people I’ve met since the Sudanese on the Nile River.  Just wandering through the sandy lanes we received numerous offers of dinner giving us the opportunity to sample some homemade Tamil cuisine.

Trincomalee Tamil man at his beachside shack

The proud owner of a beachside shack in Trincomalee

Tamil Fisherman at Trincomalee Beach

A Tamil fisherman on a Beach at Trincomalee

Trincomalee locals down a beachside lane

Trincomalee locals down a beachside lane

Cows on the beach at Trincomalee

Cows on the beach at Trincomalee

A Tamil family in Trincomalee

A Tamil family in Trincomalee

Trincomalee Scenery & Architecture

The city of Trincomalee is as colourful as its people.  From almost any spot you can catch a glimpse of the azure-blue Indian Ocean, framed with sweeping arches of white powdery sand.

 

There are a scattering of churches, mosques and Hindu and Buddhist statues and temples throughout the city; the most dramatic being the Hindu Kandasamy Kovil, perched 130 metres up on the edge of the headland overlooking the Bay of Bengal.  Just down the hill and straddling two stunning beaches is Fort Fredrick.  Its massive stone walls were originally constructed in1623 by the Portuguese before being captured and ceded countless times over the next 172 years, swapping between the Dutch, French and British.

 

Historic and religious buildings aside, it’s the crumbling, unpolished colonial houses and shacks on the edge of sandy lanes that really make Trincomalee charming.

 

Fishing boats on the beach in front of Fort Fredrick

Fishing boats on the beach in front of Fort Fredrick

Grand old doors by the beach in Trincomalee

Grand old doors by the beach in Trincomalee

A typical lane in Trincomalee leading down to the beach

A typical lane in Trincomalee leading down to the beach

Kandasamy Kovil Temple overlooking the Bay of Bengal

Kandasamy Kovil Temple overlooking the Bay of Bengal

A beachside temple in Trincomalee

A beachside temple in Trincomalee

Trincomalee’s 2,500 Year History

There are references to Sri Lankan kings, Trincomalee and its sea port as far back as 500BC.

 

No one in Trinco is too shy to announce that Trincomalee habour is one of the finest in the world. There are just four natural harbours larger and it is the only harbour on the Indian Ocean that’s possible to enter in any weather, by any type of craft.  This, and its strategic location on the ocean route between Europe and Asia, was undoubtedly what drew sea-faring explorers such as Marco Polo, Ptolemy and Chinese sea traders since ancient times.  With the exception of the Spaniards, all the European martitime colonists had their day in Trincomalee.

 

During World War II, it became the East Asia naval base for the British Royal Navy and Dutch submarines after the fall of Singapore.

 

In recent years, Trincomalee was one of the regions worst affected by Sri Lanka’s civil war and was out of bounds for tourists.  There are still signs that things haven’t always been peaceful – the occasional armed, but unthreatening soldier, checkpoints and random spots with barbed wire.  But it keeps it interesting and means it’s not yet too overrun with tourists.

 

The city of Trincomalee with the harbour behind it

The city of Trincomalee with the harbour behind it

Soldiers keeping an eye on things.  Although they looked scary with their guns, the Trincomalee soldiers were unthreatening

Soldiers keeping an eye on things. Although they looked scary with their guns, the Trincomalee soldiers were unthreatening

Looking out to Dutch Bay from the 390-year old Fort Frederick

Looking out to Dutch Bay from the 390-year old Fort Frederick

 

Trincomalee is a world away from the hazy air and crowded subways of Shanghai, and most cities for that matter.  If the rawness of Trincomalee town isn’t your bag, Uppuveli Beach and Nilaveli to the north is a wonderful spot to wind down, lap up the Indian Ocean and sip mango shakes.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

 

Click for photos of crumbling colonial homes, bars and the beach at Dutch Bay, Trincomalee Click for more photos around the Trincomalee area: Uppuveli Beach and Nilaveli Beach
Click for photos of crumbling colonial homes, bars and the beach at Dutch Bay, Trincomalee Click for more photos around the Trincomalee area: Uppuveli Beach and Nilaveli Beach

8 Responses to “Trincomalee – Home to Sri Lanka’s best beaches”

  • Chris Devonshire-Ellis:

    Very cool, the east coast of Sri Lanka is beautiful. Turtles and Blue Whale watching, loads of birds, great seafood….I’m looking at buying a couple of acres and doing up an old bungalow there. Retirement as a coconut farmer!

  • The photo “A Tamil family in Trincomalee’ is so funny, especially the dress of the man in your right hand.O(∩_∩)Osexy….
    By the way, thanks for your invitation, next time should be our turn.

  • Amelia:

    Gorgeous pictures! Thank you. Can you email me and let me know how Royal is? I knew him years ago, and he is one of my heroes. So glad he is still happy in Trin.

    • Royal is certainly a character Amelia; he adds even more colour to Trinco. He has befriended many of Trinco’s interesting residents from world-renowned artists to monks and seems pretty content just peddling around on his bike enjoying the place.

  • Elon:

    Can you recommend a good bungalow on the beach ?

    • I thought the best beach in the area to stay is Uppuveli for general relaxing and good living, but make sure you explore Trinco town as it is interesting and really friendly. Accommodation in Uppuveli ranges from the plush Chaaya Blue Resort ($100-$200/night depending on season) to a beachfront room in a shack for $10/night – to get there take a tuktuk to Shivas Beach Resort and it’s the humble little shack next door on the Trinco town side.

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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!


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