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The backpacker gateway to Sri Lanka : Negombo, Western Province

Negombo is a small laid back fishing village located around 8km from the Katunayake International airport (CMB) which is the main gateway to Sri Lanka. Negombo is fast becoming the main backpacker entry and exit point owing to it’s close proximity to the airport and the fact that it’s a lot more affordable as compared to the capital city of Colombo.

To reach the beach town of Negombo from Katunayake airport, travellers have four options. The first is to take a private taxi. This is the fastest and also the costliest way to reach your homestay or hotel. The second option is to walk out of the airport and then take a Tuktuk (auto-rickshaw) which is actually the best way to reach since after a long flight, it’s just a lot more convenient and costs half of what the taxi will.

The third option is to walk out of the airport and then onto the road and to the bus station. From the bus station, you’ll get plenty of buses which will take you to Negombo bus stand. This is the most economical way to reach the beach town. Only thing is that it will involve around a kilometre of walking. The fourth and final option is once you get a local Sri Lanka sim from the airport, download an app called Pick me. So pick me is their Sri Lankan based taxi service app which is extremely useful and the most economical way to get from the airport to Negombo.

Once in the town of Negombo, the beach area is roughly 2.5 km away and is an ideal place to set up base while in the town. You’ll get a glimpse of the Indian Ocean the minute you leave the town central area and head towards the coastal belt with vast stretches of coconut trees.

The first thing you’ll notice as you enter the coastal area is the Catholic influence which dominates the region. With plenty of churches, chapel s and a lot of street art depicting the life of Jesus and extracts from the Bible.

An extremely good thing about Negombo is that all the residents are extremely friendly and helpful. People out here in this beach town will go out of their way to help and even if they don’t know the language they will try their best by asking someone who can bridge the language barrier and help you.

Being a tourist dominated town, 90% of the people you will interact with can speak or understand English. So getting around is extremely easy and hassle-free.

Most travel blogs and sites say that Negombo has nothing to offer and that’s pretty much pertaining to the tourist aspect of things. From the traveller (backpacker) point of view, there are tonnes of things to do.

To explore Negombo

travellers have an option of either renting a Tuktuk for a day, hiring a scooter or a cycle (if you can ride in the heat then go ahead ) and exploring on foot is the last option.  Taking a Tuktuk to explore the place is the best option since the tuk-tuk driver doubles up as a guide and will take you around the town without much stress.

The main attractions around the town include the churches some built by the Dutch which are located on top of small hills locks and will give you a fantastic view of the Indian Ocean.  The next stop is the Buddhist Pagoda which is an excellent place to look at from the outside to enter the main temple it’s a mandatory donation if LKR 1000, the spice gardens where indirect sales are made from the time you enter the place.

Negombo fish market, which can be divided into two parts – the dried fish market where you’ll see them lay the fish on dry sacks to dry them in the direct sunlight, this dried fish is later sold to make pickles and other Sri Lanka traditional dishes.  The fresh fish market is a place where you’ll get to see gigantic crabs, shrimps, sharks, tuna and the odd dolphin if you are lucky. The best time to go to the market is early morning between 5:00-6:00 HRS.

A few of must-do things while in Negombo include spending an evening at the beach to watch the sky change colours and the sun dip into the Indian Ocean. The beach is a long sandy coastline which is rocky at one end and sandy at the other.  A great place to take a dip in the water to cool off from the extreme heat.

Another interesting thing to do is to take a boat ride into the lagoons which are located not too far away from the beach. These canals were built by the Dutch to help navigate through the town and are still used by the finishing community. Majority of the fishing community lives along the banks of these canals.

The lagoon boat ride is best started at 16:00 HRS and includes a host of water activities which includes swimming in the backwater lagoon to catching some crabs and even having fruits on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  It’s actually a lot of fun and something which is highly recommended while in Negombo.

While at Negombo in the evenings’ post sundown, the beach road comes to life with tonnes of beach shacks and other small eateries offering everything from burgers, pizzas to Sri Lankan rice and curry ( a must-try ) to kottu (their local dish) and even coffee shops and sushi parlours. You’ll be surprised by how much this place has to offer from the food aspect.

Being so close to the coast means the seafood options are in plenty from Jumbo crabs, shrimps, lobster, calamari and even the staple tuna. If you’re a seafood fan then Negombo is heaven for you.

Since Negombo is usually the place where most travellers end their journey around Sri Lanka the shopping options are in plenty. Along the same beach road, you’ll find tons of shopping options. From souvenirs, to guide books and even beach clothes and surfboards you can buy everything you need at Negombo. To be honest this is actually the perfect place to shop.

Being such a tourist-friendly town money exchange options and ATMs are in plenty, so you don’t need to worry or stress about this aspect while travelling to Negombo.  The town has excellent cell phone connectivity and complete 4G connect even while on the lagoon boat ride you’ll get seamless internet connection in the Indian Ocean.

Accommodation options in Negombo are in plenty similar to the eating options. From backpacker hostels and guest houses to homestays for the experience seekers and even the luxury star hotels along the beach. This beach town has something for everyone.

The place is extremely safe and makes for an excellent destination to start or end your trip or somethings both. It’s better than Colombo since the entire part of being haggled into a tourist trap is pretty much avoided.

The best time to visit Negombo is during the dry months from October to May.  With November to March is the best season.

Negombo is a place which is a must-stop for everyone at least for a night. It’s the perfect blend of Sri Lanka and since it’s so close to the airport, it’s a must-do while on your trip to this island country.

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