Off the southwest coast of India lies a much overlooked island nation, slowly making its mark on the diving world. From reefs to wrecks to the historic sights in between, Sri Lanka is becoming a new must-see destination for divers and adventurers alike. Sri Lanka can truly be visited any time of year, but depending on the season you choose, some parts of the island will be dive destinations due to the two monsoon seasons the nation undergoes. Between October and April is the west/south coast season for diving and April to November is the east coast’s time to shine.
The cultural capital of Sri Lanka and also a bustling port. Maybe ships pass through the waters around…and maybe ships have sunk in the process. Thus, Colombo’s fame for wreck diving. There are 15 wrecks accessible to recreational divers. Most between 20-40m in depth. Some are quite far from shore and are best accessible by day boat or liveaboard, but some are right off shore and a 15-minute boat ride away. There aren’t many reefs in the area, but the wrecks tend to attract an abundance of life. Both macro and the occasional whale shark can be seen, so you won’t be bored no matter what your diving passion.
Hikkaduwa is maybe the most famous dive city in Sri Lanka. The locals will tell you that the reefs there are world-class. There are a few wrecks to choose from in “Hikka” as well as the reefs. Hikkaduwa is a popular tourist destination because of this, and there are many options of accommodation to choose from. It’s much more of a beginner friendly environment than Colombo because of the shallow sites, protection from currents and greater visibility.
Galle is an old Portugese/Dutch fort town in the southwest of Sri Lanka. Off the coast lies another area full of shipwrecks. Ships ages range from the 1800s to modern day ships sunk in the 2000s. Diving is possible all along the southern coast extending into Matara, an educational hub of the country.
Trincomalee is where most of the dive shops in Hikkaduwa migrate during the West Coast monsoons. A protected harbour, it is actually diveable year round, but very few shops stay open before March or after October. In “Trinco”, you can see sharks, dolphins, sperm whales, and even blue whales when in season. There are nice reefs and a marine protected area (Pigeon Island) very popular among tourists and locals alike.
Kayankerni / Passikudah
The Kayankerni reefs are the best protected in Sri Lanka. During of the long-lasting civil war, fishermen could not get their boats out into the water to fish, and the reefs thrived under unintentional protection. In 2009, the war ended (thankfully) and there is now some dynamite fishing in the area, but overall the reefs are some of the healthiest I’ve ever seen. There is an abundance of reef fish, schooling in huge numbers and even some endemic species only seen in this particular area of the Bay of Bengal.
There are also two shipwrecks available for recreational divers. The British Sergeant – a WWII tanker bombed while retreating to Trincomalee harbour, and the Lady McCullum – a smaller supply ship which ran aground during a storm in the early 1920s. Both are teeming with life and history.
A bit further out toward Batticaloa, the HMS Hermes (pictured below) sits at 50m. She is the world’s first aircraft carrier, sunk at the same time as the British Sergeant and two other ships. One of which was never found. The Hermes is a world class dive, but is only accessible to tech divers.
Sri Lanka is surprisingly easy to navigate on a wide spectrum of budgets. Trains and busses span the country and are extremely affordable. You can also hire a private driver for some or all of your trip. This could be useful if you want to take some time between dives and check out the National Parks for elephants, leopards, sloth bears or peacocks. Or you could go to see the ancient ruins that are sprinkled throughout the interior.
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