I’m sure not many of you have heard of Negombo. And if you have, it’s probably because you had to arrive at the Colombo airport and were looking for night stop options (any sort of accommodation) before continuing your journey somewhere else in Sri Lanka. Negombo is actually closer to the Bandaranaike Int’l Airport than Sri Lanka’s largest city, Colombo. Therefore, it makes for a more convenient option to spend the night.
But what is there to do in Negombo if you have more than a night to spend? Or even: Should you plan on spending more time in Negombo while you’re in Sri Lanka or is it not really worth it? Is it a good idea to organise a day trip there from nearby Colombo?
WHERE IS NEGOMBO?
C://Earth/Asia/South Asia/Sri Lanka/Western Province/Gampaha District/Negombo
WHAT IS NEGOMBO?
Negombo is Sri Lanka’s 4th largest city. It’s a major commercial hub and has a population of over 140.000. It’s famous for its fishing industry and its beautiful but not so clean beaches!It’s also known as Little Rome because of its many churches and large Catholic population.
I think there’s no such thing, as Negombo is not a destination featured in travel guides and finding useful information on what to do there is almost nonexistent. So, if there has to be something, then this should be:
– The Dutch Fort
– The lagoon
– CMB – Bandaranaike International Airport
WHAT TO DO IN NEGOMBO:
This is an one day itinerary around Negombo, which you can even split in 2 if you wanna spend 2 days there. It includes 10 things to see and do in Negombo. Let’s start:
1. Fish Market
This one will have to be the first stop of your itinerary, as it opens at 6am! Get ready for an authentic and really old local experience! If you’re there really early, you can even see the fishermen boats as they return from their fishing trip almost at the same time! Be prepared to haggle and get the freshest seafood there is! Or just observe the locals and how it’s done! Some of those fish you’ve never seen or heard before!
2. The Dutch Fort ruins
It’s actually called Negombo Fort, but people usually refer to it as the Dutch Fort. Constructed in 1672, it’s now mainly ruins of what’s left of it and a big portion of the site is used as a prison! The Gate and the Clock Tower are the 2 main beautiful remains of it.
Next to the fort you can find the picturesque Anglican Saint Stephen’s Church.
3. Hamilton Canal
The Dutch (mainly) and the British created a network of canals to facilitate the trade. The Hamilton Canal connects Negombo with Colombo. It is used mainly by fishermen and sometimes by boatmen who offer tours. We’ll get to that shortly!
There are no major sights along it, except for a few religious sites. However, it’s quiet and you can walk along it observing the locals and their every day life. And this includes the boatsmen and their traditional, colourful boats.
4. Negombo Lagoon (must do!)
From the Hamilton Canal or from around the lagoon itself you can find one of the boats that offer canal and lagoon tours. You can spend at least 1 hour riding along the waterways of the city and the big lagoon. If there is time, your unofficial guide will make a couple of stops, which include:
– walking in very shallow water (great photo opportunity!)
– visiting houses and see the primitive aquaculture ways the locals use
– see the wildlife and even feed monkeys!
In case you don’t have 1 hour or more to spare though, the boat ride itself is very rewarding if you wish to cool down from the hot climate of the city. Or just spot all these pretty, colourful boats around!
5. Saint Mary’s Church
The majority of the population of Negombo is Catholic since the colonial times. Thanks to mainly the Portuguese, there are some beautiful churches around, with St Mary’s Church being the biggest cathedral. There are over 20 churches, making Sri Lanka’s Little Rome the centre of the country’s Catholicism.
Take a look at the old frescoes on the ceiling and the alabaster statues of saints.
6. Saint Sebastian’s Church
Another beautiful church is the one dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Sebastian.
If you happen to visit on 20th January, there’s also an annual festival going on.
7. Main Street
Nothing spectacular here, but it’s the main shopping street of Negombo, so it gives an idea of the vibe of the city. And if you’re in the mood, you can spend time looking around to buy cheap things. Or not so cheap! Or just window shop! I find window shopping a cultural experience of its own in certain places!
8. Angurukaramulla Temple (must visit!)
What can I say about this sight?! In a predominantly Christian city, there’s a spectacular Buddhist temple that you have to visit! Its original name is Bodhirajarama Maha Viharaya, but everyone knows it by the name of the area it’s located in, Angurukaramulla.
From the outside it could pass for a theme park, as the main entrance to it is shaped after the mouth of a dragon! It’s quite photogenic though!
It’s not very big in size, but it’s been preserved very well, despite being 360 or so years old! Inside the temple you can find many murals, sculptures and paintings depicting religious teachings, local beliefs and scenes from the Mahavamsa. It’s all large in size and coloured vividly. There’s also a large Reclining Buddha.
Right next to the temple is the stupa and the remnants of a really old library.
9. A beautiful colonial mansion (must see!)
Right next to the Angurukaramulla Temple there is a gorgeous villa from the colonial times. The first time I visited it, it was abandoned, derelict and you could not access its interiors, even though there were signs of life inside, if you looked through the windows.
Last time I was there it was being restored. It will look very pretty when it’s finished, but it had this unique charm when it was abandoned that’s hard to describe! Or I’m just not being very objective because I love abandoned places!
10. What about any beaches?
Well… Sri Lanka has some amazing beaches and Negombo is no exception! Sort of! The beachfront of Negombo is beautiful, no doubt! It has all the ingredients to be so: golden sand and exotic plantation with many palm trees around and the occasional traditional fishing boat! It would make the perfect setting for your next jaw dropping Instagram shot or spontaneous snap on Snapchat! But one basic element is missing: The water is not clean, especially the closer you are to the city centre. There’s also a lot of rubbish around and the beachfront hasn’t been looked after. The scenery changes slightly if you move further from the fort and lagoon area, where the resorts are. Things there are better and you can even do water sports and enjoy the beach. Or even head to the Negombo Beach Park like the locals do!
But it’s a shame to visit an island like this and not experience the waterfront and the view to the Indian Ocean. So, I’d suggest walking on the sand between St Mary’s and St Sebastian’s churches and see what I’m talking about.
IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME:
– Visit one of the resorts. Jetwing Blue is the most popular one. You can dine, try different water sports and you can even dive to see the Kudapaduwa shipwreck and other coral reefs!
– Visit Sri Lanka’s largest city, Colombo
– Visit the Muthurajawela marshland.