It was my first time in the country, and all I wanted to do was to surf the waters! I only had a few days in the beautiful island country of Sri Lanka, and after a quick search on the best place to go surfing (for beginners) in early November — the small southwest coastal town of Weligama came up on the list. So that was where I was headed!
Surfing in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, located in the Indian Ocean, is an island country famous for its beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, tea plantations, beautiful landscapes, friendly people, delicious food… and the reason why I was in the country — amazing surf, especially for beginners like me! Often intertwined with India, Sri Lanka is in fact a country of its own; with its own history, culture, and traditions.
There are two main areas to experience Sri Lanka’s waves — the west side between November and April, and the east between May and October. As I was visiting between the two seasons, I opted to travel towards the southern part of the island (on the western coast), as it is said to have some of the best beginner surf beaches. I was looking for sandy-bottomed breaks, consistent swells and kind currents to practice and brush up on my basics.
Getting to Weligama
I decided to head to Weligama by train. And boy, was it an unforgettable experience — one that I really wouldn’t mind doing again because well, Sri Lanka is pretty famous for its unique train rides. Express trains from the Fort Colombo Train Station in the capital leaves to the end station of Matara in the South of Sri Lanka about 4 times daily — somewhere along the hours of 6am, 8am, 10am and 3pm (Do click here for exact timings). I decided to head to Weligama as early as I could, so I went to the train station at about 7.30am to catch the next train. 2nd class tickets (highest available class) cost Rs230~US$1.2 per way, and have slightly better seating.
My Train Experience
The Fort Colombo Train Station was jam-packed with locals, but the ticket counter was easy to spot as it is located just outside the station. The man at the counter told me which platform to wait at so upon entry into the station, I immediately made my way over. Once there however, it was difficult trying to figure out which train to catch! Every few minutes a different train arrives at the platform, and most were filled up to the brim. Even though the station loud-speaker gave train information, it was hard to hear above all the hustle and bustle on the platform. I was a little confused at first, and pretty worried that I’d miss my train.
I guess in the end I didn’t really have to worry, because as soon as my train arrived, I kinda knew it was the one. It was less packed, with proper seating — and there was a guy going around gathering all the foreigners and directing them into one of the 2nd class carriages. He asked for a tip in the end, but I didn’t mind giving it to him for lessening my troubles. The train is extremely old school (the rickety-rackety kind), dark and stuffy (so I had my window open the entire way); but after a while, I got used to the loud clanking sounds and the constant vibration. The journey took 4 hours (with a few stops along the way), and I was accompanied by beautiful views of the coast, the jungles and the small towns.
The Coastal Town of Weligama
The town of Weligama is located in the Matara District in Southern Sri Lanka. Its name translates to ‘Sandy Village’ — which I think is pretty apt as it is lined by a beautiful 2km sandy beach nestled within a huge bay. The main town centre of Weligama is best described as a sleepy fishing village in a disorganized mess — but walk further down towards the beach and the chaos turns into a rustic yet charming seaside environment.
Weligama is steeped in history — which can be seen from the ladies weaving laces by the village houses, and the stilts (a cross bar attached to a single pole) planted in the sea-bed along the beach. The beach used to be famous for the stilt fishermen who perched on top of these stilts to catch fish — but judging from the many colorful wooden fishing boats along the beach now, stilt fishing is probably hardly practiced anymore. However, I was told that some locals would happily volunteer to pose for a picture on top of the available stilts — for a fee.
But of course, Weligama is most famous for its surfs.
Accommodations at Neo Bay Hotel
While searching for my accommodations in Weligama, I only had three criteria — clean, comfortable, and next to the beach. I am so glad to have found Neo Bay Hotel (Book with AGODA). We stayed in the chalet with balcony for about US$60 a night, inclusive of breakfast every morning. The room (and toilet) was spacious and well-kept, and the bed came complete with mosquito netting to keep away all those bugs that come around at night.
What I liked most about Neo Bay Hotel was the extremely attentive and friendly staff. They made our stay comfortable and convenient, and was always around to lend a helping hand and offer recommendations. The manager, Nimesh, was always a phone call or message away; and was always all smiles whenever we meet him. The food served was excellent as well — we had our first proper meal in Sri Lanka at the restaurant, and we ordered a delicious meal of curry rice. I’d go as far as to say it was the best curry meal I had in the country. Breakfast was awesome too.
Places to Eat in Weligama
Despite being a small town, Weligama has many delicious places for an after-surf meal. When I travel, I usually love trying out the local cuisine — so most of the time I had the quintessential rice and curry. I had a few lovely meals at my hotel, the Neo Bay Hotel; and also dropped by one of the more popular local restaurants in town, the Meewitha Cool Spot Family Restaurant. Local food here is great, and I really enjoyed their curry rice too.
When you’re at the seaside, you gotta get in on the seafood! I had my share at the Weligama Fish Point — it is a whole row of seafood eateries propped up by the beach. Just choose any one shop, select your fish or seafood from a counter filled with the day’s catch, and they will cook it for you on the spot. There’s really nothing quite like having seafood and beer on the beach. Prices are reasonable too.
If you’re looking for something more international, there’s the Aloha Home and Kitchen Cafe, just across the road from the beach. I had a super delicious Tuna Burger and Hummus Platter on the bar-top facing the sea — and of course, some ice cold beer to go with it. And for those lazy between-surf times, there are small pop-up cafes and food trucks all along Weligama Beach — perfect for a quick snack.
Surf Board Rentals and Classes
The whole stretch of Weligama Beach is filled with surf shops and surf schools — so it is really hard to decide which one to go to. I spent some time walking up and down the entire length of the beach trying to decide where to rent my board from; and was approached by many of the locals trying to offer their services. They were nice though, and smiled and wished me a good day when I politely declined. In the end, I decided not be picky and settled on the shop that was nearest to my hotel — fittingly called ‘Surfers Paradise’. The owner was a cheery middle-aged gentleman, and he was assisted by two young boys who were always there to assist me with my board before and after my trip into sea.
Board rental in Weligama is either by hour or by day — and because I thought I’d be just chilling at the beach the entire time (and head in whenever I felt like it), I went for the daily rate at Rs.1000 (US$6). Hourly rates cost Rs.250 (US$1.5). The boards were not really in the best condition, but I guess it was good enough for a beginner like me!
Surfing in Weligama
And then it was just days and days of surfing. Surfing is what almost everyone does while in Weligama, especially the novice surfers and those wanting to learn. While I was there, I could see surfers catching the waves from every part of the beach. The waves are mild and mellow (though a little erratic sometimes), with slightly bigger peaks on the left and the right corners of the bay. I mainly stayed in the center, catching whitewaters, and the smaller waves. I much preferred that the current wasn’t too overpowering at these parts so I could somehow paddle out to sea; and because of the sparseness of people, I didn’t have to fight (or look out, or avoid) other surfers whenever I managed to spot my wave.
I wouldn’t know how to comment much about the surf conditions for the professionals or more experienced surfers — but I did see many surfers catching great waves; looking all slick, and graceful and cool. Ahhhh… maybe one day.
All in all, I had a great time in Weligama. It wasn’t just the wonderful surf experience, but the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere around the beach, the friendly people, the delicious food, the affordable prices. I loved waking up in the morning to the sound of the ocean from my balcony, and then walking out to the beach to see the fishermen coming in from the sea with their day’s catch. Their boats are so pretty — I really love how they have lovingly painted them in all sorts of colors and pictures.
I have to admit that I ended up spending most of my time just hanging around the area near my hotel (at the middle of the bay); and I’m sure there are more places to see and things to explore on either side of it. From time to time, the guys at the surf shop would tell me about the party night happening at the local Tiki Cliff Top Resto-Bar (apparently it has great views of the bay), but during my time there, I never made it that far. Perhaps that’s a sign for another visit to Weligama?