For pristine beaches, a rich culture, and some of the best food in the country, head to Sri Lanka’s unspoiled east coast
Words Romy van den Broeke
Sri Lanka’s history is a turbulent one. Years of civil war and environmental disasters could have left the country in dire straits, and while the political situation is far from stable – corruption is still a problem and cultural tensions run high – the fascinating history, ecological abundance, and beauty of the island has kept it on numerous travel hotlists.
In recent years, the country has become a top destination, but rocky terrains and little investment in the east coast means that foreign feet have rarely strayed far from the country’s capital, Colombo. Typical travelling routes don’t venture far from the lush, culturally rich region of Kandy in the Central Province, where the ancient monarchy once ruled, and Galle in the southwest, which offers a stellar combination of seaside bliss and an opulent cultural heritage. Sure, these destinations are beautiful and make for a wonderful travelling experience, but there is more to Sri Lanka, and it lies on the east coast.
Sri Lanka’s civil war, a battle that spanned 25 years, divided the country, seeing the east coast abandoned by all economic and touristic infrastructures after being left devastated by intense fighting between the Tamils and Sinhalese. With its largely Tamil and Muslim population, the east coast fell into what seemed like a state of disrepair. Tourism was shot, and with it the influx of money brought to the region by foreign investment diminished. Since the war finally ended in 2009, venture in the province has gradually improved and reconstruction is well under way. A glut of new resorts is under development along the area’s most desirable stretch of coastline, Pasikudah Bay. One of the first to open here was five-star resort Sun Aqua Pasikudah at the end of 2014.
Getting to the hotel isn’t as easy as it is to get to hotels on the western province, so hopping on a seaplane when you arrive in Colombo is probably your best bet, taking in some of the most breathtaking views over the undulating landscape.
Arriving in Batticaloa you will see bullet-riddled shacks and collateral damage from the shattering 2004 tsunami. These remains offer a harrowing insight into the hard reality people in this territory faced during the conflict. A quick 20-minute drive from the seaplane reservoir and you’re at the resort, enjoying a warm Sri Lankan welcome.
The main building is surrounded by private villas, which all sit facing the azure Indian Ocean. Each building houses a large bed, private outside area and al fresco bathroom area, with some even boasting their own plunge pools. If you’re lucky enough to bag one of these, be sure to take a magical midnight dip for a spot of stargazing.
The grounds are home to a gym and beauty salon, the holistic Sun Aqua Spa, and a large granite swimming pool which faces onto the beach. The long stretch of golden sand boasts the longest shallow coastline on the island of Sri Lanka and shares the same water as the neighbouring Maldives – so you know you’re in good company.
Another big draw at Sun Aqua Pasikudah is the food. Gourmet cuisine from around the world is available (you can have eggs benedict for breakfast, for example) but it’s the traditional Sri Lankan cuisine you want to save your appetite for. Local ingredients are used where possible, with many grown in the hotel’s gardens.
There are five dining options: our favourites are Latitude for all-day casual al fresco dining, and the Pavilion, which houses a glass-enclosed wine cellar and is ideal for a private celebratory dinner. The lunchtime buffet at the former is quite something – expect a spread of spicy Sri Lankan curries, enormous prawns, roti, dhal, gotu kola mallung (a salad of chillies, ginger, shallots and freshly grated coconut), eggplant moju (deep-fried aubergine with chilli, mustard seeds, cloves and ginger), all finished with bowls of exotic fresh fruit.
While the resort offers plenty of activities to keep you entertained for well over a week – scuba diving, volleyball, eating and lying in the sun are just some of the activities you can partake in – a trip to the local sights is well worth pulling yourself away from the sun lounger and frozen strawberry daiquiris for. A must-do is an excursion to the Maduru Oya National Park, where you’ll likely spot everything from wild boars and water buffalo to the enormous Sri Lankan elephant.
Another expedition worth considering is a trip to Dambana to visit the last remaining tribe of Sri Lanka’s indigenous people, the Vedda (which translates as “hunter” in Tamil). While there’s not much to see other than the villagers going about their everyday tasks, there is also a museum with more details about their culture.
The service, style and attention to details at Sun Aqua is exceptional, so while you’ll discover a whole new world, with it will be all the luxury comforts you could hope for. A trip to remember indeed.