Kalpitiya: Hype to Reality

Mar 29 2024.

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With my photography buddy Shah and the driver, we set off to Kalpitiya, a town at the end of a forty-three-kilometer peninsula. The lagoon on one side and the sea on the other, it is a lovely drive. Thousands of Christians are heading to Kalpitya for the annual St. Anne’s Church festival. It’s now near the end of the dolphin and whale watching season and there are quite a few young adventure-budget foreign tourists still about. In fact, in February this year, the area had over nine thousand visitors. The local wild donkeys greet us, sadly their numbers are dropping. Some people say they are being slaughtered for meat. We visit the Kalpitiya Fort, dating back to 1676.

As I don’t have my passport, the friendly well-spoken navy officer, who reminds me of “the laughing policeman” gives us an escort to take us around. The site was occupied by the Sri Lankan Navy. He makes it very clear that there is no cost to come in and no tipping the guide. We are escorted by a navy cadet. (The navy has subsequently moved out of the fort) There is little information about the fort on the site and whilst the outer walls are in reasonable condition most of the interior buildings are dilapidated. This includes a Portuguese church. It was quite a surprise to see three blue whale skeletons on the parapet wall. One was enormous, sadly they were all baking in the hot sun. We do drop into the old Dutch church, noted for its outstanding pillars and tombstones. On to a local lunch in the Governor's House, now the Rest House, it's worth the stop. Typical when touring the country with our driver, he has gone on a walkabout, phone off. Has to be “beer time “ but in this town it's difficult.

So back to the Rest House for a thirst quencher to stop us baking in the heat. We head for the lagoon and visit a friend’s place, Arasi Resort. With hints of Arabic design in an idyllic setting. This area is heaving during the windsurfing months of the year starting in April. The best windsurfing on the island is here in Kalpitiya. Up early we are dolphin watching and the boat is booked. We track the boatman who spins some lies about getting navy tickets. It’s true he needs it but we know the navy unit is open from 6 am. He then rings us up and says can we come to the beach. Originally, he was picking us up at the lagoon hotel. Shah decides by the time we get out to see, the best light for the dolphin photos will be over.

Another early morning and we cross the lagoon by boat to Wilpattu Game Park, in my view the best park in Sri Lanka. It’s essential to take two boats as the return trip can sometimes be choppy. It is hard not to fall in love with this area, it feels so remote, with amazing empty beaches, and so much blue with a lagoon and sea, amidst the white salt pans. To help attract investors and tourists into the area over a decade ago we launched “Kalpitiya Hype”, the first live musical event in this part of Sri Lanka.

We operated the event next to the lagoon and we even had the dance and singing Kaffirs to perform. They are descendants of sixteen-century slaves, labourers and soldiers, originally from Mozambique. Most of the attendees to Kalpitiya Hype had never been to this amazing location, its sunsets and beaches. They enjoy the music way into the morning hours. Kalpitiya needs no hype it’s a paradise for many. This unique area of Sri Lanka is now fully on the map for tourists, local and international.


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