Scuba diving in Sri Lanka: A guide for adventure travellers
Sri Lanka is home to a stunning coastline. The scenery only becomes more beautiful underwater. Just right off the coasts of Sri Lanka, you can dive deep into the Indian Ocean where the breathtaking underwater world – with shoals of vibrant fishes, colorful corals, and abandoned shipwrecks – unravel in front of your eyes. Popular for several water sports, Sri Lanka is also one of the best places in Asia for scuba diving. With plenty of dive spots around the island, scuba diving in Sri Lanka is a must-do during your visit to the island nation.
The 1585-kilometer-long island-wide coastline calls home to dense mangrove ecosystems, wide sandy beaches, stunning shores dotted with rocky outcrops and multiple reefs. From schoals of colorful small fish hiding in the fringed reefs right off the coast to hazy sea anemone, pods of spinning dolphins and the marvelous blue whale – the largest animal to ever grace our planet – the mysterious world beneath the aqua blue ocean is awe-inspiring.
Deep inside the remote grasslands of Sri Lanka – where the lush central highlands are located – tiny water springs cascade down moss-clad rocky paths to create streams saturated with nutrients. Fed by monsoon rains throughout the year, these tiny streams turn into large, lively rivers, offering a breeding home to many varieties of fish. Abundant in aquatic life, river-fed coastal seas are rich in biodiversity and thus, create a wonderful mysterious world for explorers and scuba divers.
A tropical island, monsoon winds change its directions throughout the year in Sri Lanka, resulting in two major, alternative coastal monsoon seasons. When one coast is sunny and bright, the other experiences torrential downpours. As a reason, the best time for scuba diving in Sri Lanka varies vastly according to the region.
December to March is the best time to visit the western and southern coast for scuba diving in Sri Lanka. If you are visiting the island from May to September, head to the eastern shores. From October through April, it is the West coast where you find the best dive spots, with Kappalady reef being one of the favorite spots for scuba diving in Sri Lanka. During the three-decades-long civil war, access to the dive sites around Kappalady and Kalpitiya was restricted by the Navy. As a reason, up until now, these dive sites remained in tact. It’s only today the pristine coral reefs are getting the world’s attention as astonishing scuba diving spots in Sri Lanka.
With just two dive centres operating in the entire region of Kalpitiya, divers – without being disturbed – can explore the marvels of the underwater world. The dive sites of Kalpitiya and Kappaldy sit 15 km far from one another on an extensive reef system bordering the North Western coastline and which hosts some of the best suba diving sites in Sri Lanka. Kappaldy is a coastal village in its still authentic charme. From October to April, the calm northwestern seas in front of Kappalady and Kalpitiya offer picture-worthy underwater scenery.
Kappalady Reef boasts of a rugged rocky formation, which attracts a vast variety of sea life throughout the year. In Kappalady Reef, one can see morays, stingrays, large garupas, and lobsters. Coastal edges are home to schools of tuna and barracudas sweeping across the choppy waters. Divers can also expect sights of colourful fishes and snails of the Indian Ocean.
Kappalady Reef has recently been discovered and is one of the most chosen scuba diving sites in the Kalpitiya area. It's easily accessible from Elements Resort at the Kappalady beach. Elements Beach & Nature Resort closely collaborates with the two dive schools in Kalpitiya.
Bar Reed is the largest reef sanctuary around the island. It used to be one of the best diving spot in Sri Lanka - however since 2016 coral on the reef has gradually bleached. The fish are staying though and with its over 280 species of fish it is still a good site to dive - however it is quite far to reach and so you will spend approximately 1 hour to get there. Often, diving begins from two to eight meters and goes as deep as 20 meters in certain locations.
Easy to reach Kappalady is the Talawila reef – famous as the home of St’ Anne’s Church an important place for Christian worshipers – sits next to the village of Kappalady. A quick trip from Elements Resort, you find another one of the great scuba diving spots in Sri Lanka - Talawila reef - with fantastic underwater scenery with numerous cracks between big boulders full of rich fish-life.
Nearby, mangrove-clad Kalpitiya Peninsula boasts of several other stunning dive sites. Here, 14 small inhabited and uninhabited islands are scattered across the ocean. Elements Resort is also organizing day cruises combined with kite safaris to some of these islands, whereas some of them are yet to be discovered as dive sites in Sri Lanka.
The calmer ocean waters are the year round home of large pods of playful shoals of dolphins – especially spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and the seldom spotting of light grey Risso’s dolphins. They share their habitat with their larger cousins, the whales! From the giant blue whales to sperm whales and Bryde’s whales, all these marine giants call the sea around the Kappalady reef their home at times throughout the year. They mainly show up from October through April. If you encounter them you will be struck by awe! Diving with whales in Sri Lanka could be done, however for now it is a wish for the future.
If you want to spend time in Colombo – Sri Lanka’s commercial capital – there’s a diving school in the city. Back in the past, there were plenty of shipwrecks in Colombo, dating back to the early days of seafaring, trading and colonial period. For history buffs, this offers a unique perspective underwater.
In November the south coast clears and awaits weary travellers with wide-open sandbanks creating inviting vistas. Going further south from Colombo you will find plenty of easy-going beach hamlets. Along the south coast, Hikkaduwa and Mirissa are two of the best places for scuba diving in Sri Lanka. There you also find some ot the longest established diving schools in Sri Lanka.
The stretch from Trincomale to Passikuda on the East Coast is another great area for scuba diving in Sri Lanka. Especially these two spots along with pigeon island are the hub for divers and snorkeling enthusiasts along the east coast. The Pigeon Island Marine Life Sanctuary is best to visit from Teincomale. Rich in beautiful coral reefs, plenty of coloured fishes, anemone and nudibranch, the little island is often frequented by snorkelers and scuba divers alike. If you are an advanced diver you can head out to dive the wreck of Irakkandy near Trincomalee coast to make your trip unique.
Further down the eastern coast to Batticaloa lays the wreck of the legendary warship HMS Hermes. A must for those who are looking to mix history into your scuba diving trip in Sri Lanka. This was the first purpose-built aircraft carrier in the world.
Apart from these scuba diving spots in Sri Lanka, deep down in the south coast, Taprobane Reefs also offer a fascinating insight into the underwater world. Here, coral domes, large in size, sit next to plenty other sea plants. Schools of tiny fish swim past the corals and plants, shying away from the occasional diver. It’s also home to plenty of rays!
A scuba diving center is in the making at Elements Resort! We closely collaborate with dive schools in the region to bring you the best scuba diving experience in Sri Lanka.
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