After 8 glorious days in Arugam Bay, our next stop was Nilaveli Beach, about 15km north of Trincomalee, a port city on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. This area of Sri Lanka, comprising of Trincomalee and the two coastal resorts of Uppuveli and Nilaveli, is much less developed than other popular parts of the island (namely the south and west coasts).
During the Sri Lankan civil war, Nivaveli, Uppuveli and Trincomalee – as an important strategic harbour and a Tamil area of the island – became pretty much off-limits to tourism. Then in 2004 the tsunami hit, leaving 35,000 Sri Lankans dead and displaced a further half million, mostly along this eastern part of Sri Lanka. Whatever infrastructure was there before the war, was swept away, and only after the civil war ended in 2009 did the country really properly open up to tourism.
Uppeveli is the closest resort to Trincomalee, just a few minutes in a tuk-tuk from the station, and is certainly more developed than Nilaveli. It’s just enough so that there are a couple of spots to eat, a few more activities on offer etc. Nilaveli on the other hand, has a bigger beach, which is arguably nicer, and for now remains relatively untouched. We chose to spend our time at Nilaveli. In 2018 I’m guessing this is as close as you’ll get to what backpacking in South East Asia would have been like in the 80s.
I guess the only downside to being in such a remote and secluded little area, is the only thing you have in walking distance are other hotels, the beach and the very tiny town of Nilaveli. So you really need to be in the mood to just relax, and hopefully you like the food where you’re staying!
You won’t find any little shops or restaurants really in Nilaveli, and certainly no one haggling you on the beach. The downside (or upside depending on your perspective) to this, is that beach restaurants haven’t really arrived in Nilaveli. Being a food lover, I was initially longing for the holiday fun of testing out different restaurants each day, but equally I came to appreciate the lack of development and how untouched the area is. We did find one little spot we loved – Memo’s Cafe. Memo’s also offers accomodation, but I can highly recommend his cafe for any meal of the day – we had both breakfast and dinner there and loved it. Beautifully furnished with a laid-back vibe and yummy Italian inspired food.
In this sense, if you’re worried about getting cabin fever it’s a good idea to rent a motorbike so you can scoot around to different beaches and restaurants. We took the occasional tuk-tuk, but otherwise just had some serious time to decompress, work our way through multiple books and discuss the pros and cons of eating a buffet for dinner and/or breakfast each day.
Taking a short boat trip across to Pigeon Island is one of the popular things to do when staying in Nilaveli for the chance to spot turtles, colourful fish and blacktip reef sharks.
Although the snorkelling is meant to be decent, after further research it seems the local reef is dying. This is largely because of the tsunami, but also isn’t being helped by the stress tourism places on a reef. Also, being Australian and having the Great Barrier Reef can make you a bit reticent to spend a lot of money seeing other reefs. But most of all I saw a jellyfish in the water. End of story. I don’t go swimming where I see jellyfish.
As an alternative, we woke very early one morning to go dolphin and whale watching. The whale season in the region runs from March until August. Whilst we weren’t lucky enough to spot the majestic blue whale, we saw multiple pods of dolphins leaping, playing and swimming in the early morning light. It was truly magical. This area is home to many types of dolphins, most prominent among them, the Spinner dolphin.
Our skipper then took us around the Trinco coast showing us the old Portuguese fort and the Koneswaram Temple overlooking the sea.
Hotel wise there are a lot of budget options, and a few really special places. We stayed at the Nilaveli Beach Hotel which is one of the earliest hotels in the area, having opened in 1974 (pre-civil war). The hotel has lovely grounds, comprising of sprawling, shady groves with hammocks and a gorgeous pool area, as well as a beautiful stretch of beach, with views across to Pigeon Island. Nilaveli Beach Hotel has 23 deluxe rooms and 22 standard rooms. During peak season (May – early September), the food is served as a buffet, though there is a beach bar if you prefer à la carte.
WHERE TO STAY IN NILAVELI
- C Beyond Nilaveli
- Amanta Beach
- Memo’s Beach Cabanas
- Nilaveli Beach Resort
- Or a little further up the coast and for some proper luxury – Jungle Beach by Uga Escapes