Located off the southeastern coast of india’s tamil region, the beautiful island-nation of sri lanka has a long maritime history and bright future. By James Warner; Photos By Thinkstock.
SRI LANKA WAS ONCE of great importance to the ancient Silk Road trade routes due to its deep harbours and geographic location until the end of the Second World War.
Formerly known as Serendib, Taprobane, and Ceylon, Sri Lanka sits on the edge of the Bay of Bengal. The rapidly growing port situated in the capital Colombo is conveniently located as an effective connection for cargo originating from and destined to East and South Asia, the Persian Gulf, Europe and Africa.
A blend of stunning landscapes, sandy beaches and captivating cultural heritage sites make Sri Lanka one of the few places in the world to offer so many unique experiences within such a compact location. Eight Unesco World Heritage Sites, 15 national parks showcasing an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies, and a culture that extends back to over 2,500 years lie within 1,330 kilometres of its pristine coastline. The food is wonderful, diving is quite popular and there’s surfing mainly on the east coast shores.
“One cannot cover all of the rich cultural heritage that Sri Lanka has to offer in a short period of time – there’s so much to see,” says Priyantha Perera, Sri Lanka agent at Asia Pacific Superyachts. “I have no doubt that any yacht visiting Sri Lanka will enjoy the trip.”
The island has seen a sudden burst in infrastructure and development within rural and urban areas following the civil war lasting just over 25 years, as Sri Lanka seeks to secure its place among the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Efforts to improve the country’s road network have been a priority with improved connectivity, particularly on rural roads, having significant impact socially and economically.
Upgrades and improvements to the country’s rail network are also having a huge positive impact on the lives of citizens around the island, along with modernisation of the electricity network – bringing power to 91% of households.
Internationally, port and airport development is essential for Sri Lanka to become a key transport and tourism hub in Asia. The completion of the Hambantota Port and the Colombo Southport Expansion will increase the capacity to take advantage of the country’s strategic location on the major international shipping lanes.
<b>PHOTO:</b> ASIA PACIFIC SUPERYACHT.
Commercial ports include Colombo, Hambanthota, Galle, Trincomalee, Kankesanturai and Point Pedro. Although Colombo is the premier port in the country, the present government policy for the development of regional ports is seeing rapid development of Point Pedro, Kankesanturai, Trincomalee, Galle and Hambanthota.
The only port that can provide mooring for pleasure yachts in Sri Lanka is Galle Harbour, located on the southwestern coast near the bottom tip of the island. Once the primary port, much of the international shipping traffic was switched to Colombo after the British colonial government constructed breakwaters in the harbour in the late 19th Century.
Space is limited at Galle however, and there are restrictions to be noted by would-be travellers. Currently there is no marina in the country that can accommodate boats of over 25m in length, so all larger yachts have to call into the commercial ports.
The Port of Colombo is mainly a commercial port catering for big containers and cargo ships. Visitors to Galle should bear in mind that movements in and out of the port take place only between 7am and 5pm.
When visiting Sri Lanka via yacht, it is compulsory for all yacht crew to obtain visas in advance. A 30-day visa can be granted online within 24 hours of the visa application being submitted. All boats calling into Sri Lanka are also required to appoint a local agent to complete their paperwork, as well as for any other requirements of the boat.
Some of the facilities at Galle were damaged in the tsunami back in 2004 and as demand and tourism increase, Perera says plans to increase capacity are in progress.
“With regard to future expansion, there are talks that in Galle they are planning to set up a marina that will accommodate the big boats, while the third phase of the Hambantota Port, which is located deep down in the Southern District and built by the Chinese, is also looking at constructing a cruise terminal and marina,” he says.
The proposed development to be carried out by the Sri Lankan Port Authority (SPLA) is expected to provide a state-of-the-art yacht marina to upgrade facilities for current visitors, as well as to attract more vessels.
SLPA say it expects to provide berthing facilities to passenger vessels of 300m in length and cargo vessels of 200m in length that have a depth of 10m and 10.9m, respectively. This will be achieved by constructing breakwaters to cover the effects of waves in the Galle Bay area.
The Sri Lankan government recently asked for expressions of interest from investors wishing to help fund the country’s marine tourism industry, and received a visit from two global companies to explore opportunities in the field. The State Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development, Dilip Wedaarachchi, recently met with management from Italian luxury yacht builder Benetti and Ocean Blue, an Indian yacht building and marina development company, to explore investment opportunities available to them.
The Sri Lankan marine industry association, the Boat Building Technology Improvement Institute (BTI), was approved as a full member of the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA). The ICOMIA Executive Committee made the decision in November at a meeting in Brussels.
Other than Galle Harbour, there a few other small locations where it is possible to dock a vessel and tour around this magical island. Since 2012, Sail Lanka Charter (SLC) has been operating mini marinas at various locations.
“The country barely has any places for sailing boats and small yachts to moor,” according to SLC. “We have been offering mooring places on our pontoons for local and visiting boat owners. In our main base, Mirissa, the mooring facilities are open throughout the year.”
Once you’ve found a suitable location to tether the yacht, there are a few things you won’t want to miss before setting sail for departure. In southern central Sri Lanka, close to the regional capital of Kandy, lies the beautiful Hill Country surrounded by small towns and villages.
By all accounts this natural gem offers a sense of serenity and beautiful tranquillity that can’t be beaten by many places. Those looking to explore this amazing place for more than one day can use Kandy as a base.
If you’re the sort of person who prefers a leisurely stroll rather than any vigorous physical exertion, then don’t let the name put you off as among the hills there are plenty of opportunities for an easy walk or bike ride through the tea fields.
For those looking to stretch their legs and reach higher ground in search of stunning views, the 7,359-foot (2,243m) Adam’s Peak is a necessity. One of Sri Lanka’s most important religious sites, the peak holds the sacred footprint of Gautama Buddha with the main pilgrimage season running from December to May.
To enjoy the most spectacular views of the surrounding countryside it is recommended that you try to reach the summit by sunrise, requiring a start time of 2-3am. The pilgrimage is a tough one at times as the route involves steep ascension. Remember to take warmer clothes, as the conditions at the peak are very much cooler than at ground level – don’t let the low-level heat fool you.
A number of luxury hotels provide a relaxing place to sample some of the produce of the tea fields – and of course a place to stay the night as well.
Golfers can enjoy teeing-off at the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, against the stunning backdrop of the surrounding hillside. The course is not recommended for beginners as it does pose a few challenges along the way. The club offers decent value for money, with an 18-hole round costing approximately US$30.
The best time to travel to the Hill Country is between December and March, as these months provide the driest conditions.