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There is only one town that can boast of some of the best surfing waves in Sri Lanka, a long stretch of beach packed with restaurants serving fresh seafood, an equally long stretch of souvenir shops for the serious shopper, and guesthouses and hotels galore, from the cheap and cheerful to star-class. The name of the place is Hikkaduwa, and there is no other resort on the island like it.

The foreign influx began in the mid-19th century, when ‘picnic parties’ were regularly held here and it became a stopping place for the Galle to Colombo stagecoach. The second influx came in the 1960s, when American and Australian surfers discovered the waves here and at Arugam Bay on the east coast. Soon the town became a surfing paradise, attracting not only surfers but fun-seeking visitors of all types.

The best period for surfing is November to April, as it is for diving and snorkelling, for the visibility is good. There are a number of excellent wreck dives, including the Shell-owned SS Conch, the world’s first oil tanker, sunk in 1903. The Hikkaduwa Marine Sanctuary, established in 1988, ensures the underwater world is accessible to all whether they can dive or not. Snorkelling in the shallow waters 200m off shore is possible, and although the corals are dead in places you still come across a number of brightly-coloured fish as you float a few metres above. The less adventurous can always take a glass-bottomed boat ride, though this is environmentally questionable.

Clothes are tailored here to western tastes and in western sizes. Jewellery is of the more understated silver type with beautiful semi-precious stones. There are dozens of souvenir shops with items such as masks, puppets, musical instruments, batiks and paintings.

There a several places of interest to visit in the area around Hikkaduwa. The Gangarama Maha Viharaya is filled with the lifetime work of one artist depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. The Dodanduwa Lagoon and Telwatte Bird Sanctuary provide a wealth of fauna, flora and spectacular scenery. And only 9km inland from Hikkaduwa you are already entering the totally different world of tea plantations.

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