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…
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 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.
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.
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|