Beach side living amidst local communities
Negombo is vibrant coastal town close to the Bandaranaike International Airport. It is the second largest city in the Western province after Colombo (situated approximately 35 km north of Colombo). It is well known for its fisheries, cathedrals, market places, eateries and beach stip. It is a renowned tourist attraction owing to these reasons.
The name “Negombo” was first used by the Portuguese. The Sinhala name for Negombo, “M?gamuva” means cluster of bees. According to popular folktale, it is believed that a swarm of bees settled on a boat, and the place was named where the boat was pulled ashore.
Around the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arabs (Moors) who dominated the East-West trade routes, settled in Negombo and started trading in cinnamon. In the early 1500s the Portuguese seized the coastal areas as well as the cinnamon trade from the Moors and built a fort for protection. The Dutch managed to overthrow the Portuguese in 1644 and improved the fort and developed the town further. The British gained the town in 1796.
Many local Karavas converted to Catholicism during the Portuguese rule. As a result, the majority in Negombo and surrounding coastal areas are now Catholics. Negombo possesses an old world charm with many Portuguese-era Catholic churches and forts. It is fondly nicknamed ‘little Rome’ due to the numerous Catholic churches and Roman Catholic residents.The affable natives are well accustomed to visitors, so one does not have to worry about being gawked at constantly.
Attractions in Negombo
If you are ever in Negombo it would be inexcusable not to visit the following attractions.
The Main Fish Market
The Negombo Fish Market (Fishing Village) also known as the “Lellama” by the locals is located across the lagoon bridge, near the Old Dutch Gate. The large open air fish market is the second largest in the country. You will witness fishermen in hundreds of boats bringing in their days catch. The best time to visit the fish market is at dawn, around 6:00 am to really understand the magnitude of the operation. The abundance of seafood is awe inspiring. The Negombo fish market is not for the faint-hearted since it is a slippery and smelly affair but is well worth the effort. Some folks even offer tours of the market, just be sure to approach the genuine ones.
The Dutch Canal
A canal created right in the midst of the city’s lagoon, the Dutch canal is one of the most picturesque landmarks of Negombo. As per history, the canal is a creation of the Portuguese in the 17th century, after which the Dutch made some modifications and used it as a supply route during their administration. The canal is still being used. It runs across the town and is hundred kilometers long. A visitor can take a tour of the canal through a boat or a bicycle ride. To get the most of this Negombo attraction sign up for a canal or river tour which further enlightens various features of this very alluring attraction. Most of the tour guides speak English, so communication is not an obstacle.
The Muthurajawela Marsh
Known as the ‘Swamp of Royal Treasure’, Muthurajawela borders the Negombo Lagoon to the south and Kelani River to the north. The one and a half hour boat ride takes you along the Dutch Canal, through the marsh onto the lagoon. Along the way you will be able to capture images of water monitors, crocodiles, monkeys and a host of other fish, reptiles, birds and small mammals. The marsh houses a large variety of flora and fauna. About 192 flora and 209 fauna, excluding 102 species of birds have been discovered. It is also a residence for 40 different species of fish. The Muthurajawela marsh was declared sanctuary by the government in 1996 due to its vast biodiversity. Visitors are assisted by the Muthurajawela marsh centre. The centre educates people about the importance of Muthurajawela. The staff at Muthurajawela marsh centre is available every day except Monday; from 7.00 a.m to 6.00 p.m. A boat ride service is provided for visitors to travel through the marsh and lagoon. The center offers well-trained guides. You will not only be able to travel on water, but even walk on the land and view the natural greenery. Early mornings or evenings are the best times to view, Muthurajawela. Late mornings and afternoons should be avoided due to the harsh tropical sun.
The Angurukaramulla Temple
Located east of the town centre (near Harishchandra College), the Angurukaramulla Temple, with its 6m-long reclining Buddha statue is worth seeing. Three-wheelers are the most popular mode of transportation. You are greeted by a very characteristic dragon face at the entrance, only to intrigue you further in the temple’s insights. The interiors are also notable of ancient murals. To make things further interesting, there is also a three-hundred-year-old library concealed in thick moss here. In case you are interested in the kings of Sri Lanka from a bygone era, you will get a lot of information about them at this temple.
St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church is one of the larger cathedrals in Sri Lanka. Considering that the majority of the town’s population is Roman Catholic it comes as no surprise that it is quite an important building in the city. The architecture is majestic. The fading pink chamber of St Mary’s Church, in the town centre, has some astonishing religious ceiling paintings covering the nave. It is known as “Mahaweediya Palliya” in the Sinhala language and is quite easy to locate.
The Old Dutch Fort
This is a structure that goes back to Sri Lanka’s colonial days when the nation was once under the rule of the Portuguese and then the Dutch. The city was encircled by an earth wall. Eventually , he landmass on which the Old Dutch Fort Gate was constructed was regularly washed by the sea. Close to the seafront near the lagoon mouth are the ruins of the old Dutch fort, which has a fine gateway inscribed with the date 1678. The Dutch Fort is now part of the local prison. You can easily walk from the Negombo bus station or hotel area to reach the fort.
Even though it doesn’t match up to the splendor of most Sri Lankan beaches, Negombo’s beach, which stretches north from the town right along the hotel strip is quite pleasant enough for a good stroll. The best time to visit this beach would be either early morning or evenings. If you visit in the mornings, you are likely to see some fishermen at work. While this is great sight to experience, it also makes for a brilliant photo opportunity. The beach is dotted with several hotels. You can rent a chair for a minimal fee.