Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is the east coast of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's east coast "has good reason to feel optimistic about the future," said Henry Wismayer at The Washington Post. Twelve years ago, a tsunami devastated the region, claiming more than 40,000 lives. Reminders of that natural disaster — and of the island's decades-long civil war — haven't entirely vanished. But with the war over and redevelopment of roads and resorts advancing, the east is finally opening to tourism, offering a "beguiling" alternative to the more popular southwest coast. My family and I recently explored the lesser-known shore, traveling by car from the wild coast of Kuchchaveli south to Arugam Bay. Everywhere we went, we sensed "an air of resurrection."
After a hot, seven-hour drive from the airport in Colombo, "we started with something indulgent." Jungle Beach is the only hotel in Kuchchaveli, but given the property's shaded pool and airy cabanas, "this presented little hardship." The resort "felt like a place barely reclaimed from the nature that surrounded it." Mouse deer roamed the grounds, while birds swooped down to lance fish in poolside ponds abloom with lotus flowers. When Tamil New Year arrived, we headed farther south, and were surprised to encounter so many Tamil revelers also enjoying the coast for the first time. At Kanniya, they doused one another with buckets of warm water from the natural hot springs. Outside Trincomalee, thousands thronged a holy coastal promontory known as Swami Rock.
Passikudah, in contrast with that timeless attraction, "felt like a place in flux." Resorts for foreign tourists have begun cropping up, but on the beach at dusk, local families "bombarded us with contagious smiles," and women in saris embraced our children as we snapped photos. Arugam Bay has long welcomed tourism: Its rip-curl waves have drawn surfers since the 1960s. There, we spent our mornings in the shade and our afternoons seeking adventure while squeezed into the back of a three-wheeled tuk tuk. Turning inland, we saw wild elephants bathing in shimmering lagoons, and crocodiles lurking among the lily pads in the huge reservoirs built by Sinhalese kings.