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Negombo Travel Guide: 87 reviews and 194 photos

January, 2007

I was only in Negombo for the day, and by accident. The airline had overbooked my 7:30 am flight, and the next one didn’t leave until 6:30 pm, so they sent me to a hotel to wait. Which happened to be an upscale hotel in the major beach resort area of Negombo.

It’s amazing, like walking into a postcard of a tropical island. We hired a catamaran for an hour on the water (I don’t think I’ve ever seen water this color before). There are some aggressive hawkers on the beach selling beads, cloth, trinkets, etc, but they didn’t come inside resort grounds, and a nap under palm trees listening to the waves was undisturbed. The hotel was lovely, too.

I only saw the town driving through, but it looked fine – a lot of hotels, restaurants, the kinds of things you’d expect to surround resorts.

September, 2007

Because of that one partial day, when I needed a couple of days away from Chennai on short notice I came back. First impressions have been mostly confirmed, and haven’t been contradicted, but naturally it’s more complex than that.

First, I hadn’t seen the town of Negombo, I’d seen the roads leading to the beach resorts. The town is a regular small town, with a main street of stores a bit flashier than you’d think, about 3 blocks long, and a lot of side streets with mostly well-kept houses with flower boxes and the occasional larger gardened plot. There are a few ruins from the times of Portuguese and Dutch settlement and trading days, and a lot of Catholic churches and remembrances (read: statues you can pray to, in the old Buddhist/modern Hindu style) in glass cases on street corners. There are what look to be gems of small eateries, guesthouses, and cafes on the side streets – I was only here for two days, so I’ll have to let someone else find out whether they actually are gems.

Second, I hadn’t had any time to look around, and, more importantly, to talk to people. People here are friendly almost beyond reason. Yes, some have ulterior motives that could cost you dear, but it isn’t most people, and those who do are so nice about it it almost doesn’t matter. (Note, “almost.”)

Negombo is an old tourist destination, maybe now in decline – according to the books it’s not as flashy as southern beach destinations (sadly made more popular since the new beginnings of hostilities), and not as pristine as eastern beach destinations (sadly made more pristine since 12/2004). I got the sense that tourists at the resorts here don’t often leave them, and in fact my beach hotel reminded me of the old Catskills holiday resorts in its self-containment. I saw a few foreigners in town, but not as many as I thought there would be based on the numbers I heard.

I had it independently confirmed that the majority of the tourists coming here are German, Dutch, and English, with some Swiss and Russians, mostly as part of a packaged tour. German is surprisingly widely spoken, even though most people initially address tourists in English (at least they did me, and it turned out most of them thought I was German). There are a couple of restaurants one the beach hotel strip under German or Swiss management, and I saw a lot of signs for rentals and tours in German. I had longer and more interesting conversations with several people in German when their English broke down.

It seemed like a very large area of town smelled like fish. Fishing is a major industry here, and the morning fish market (auction, actually) is in all the guidebooks (I’m not sure why, it’s the livelihood for some very poor people, not really “local color”), so it’s to be expected, I guess. The extra-strong smell during my weekend could have been the way the wind was blowing, and the beach resort strip was not affected.

Come to think of it, the beach resort strip didn’t even smell like ocean, which is kind of unsettling in retrospect.

The only bad thing I saw was, in town, proportionally more dogs starving and diseased-unto-death than I’ve seen anywhere else, ever. (About one in three. Anyone who has read my Puppy page will understand why I saw this so clearly.) One person told me this has come about since the tsunami, and that everything has changed – weather (hotter, more humid, less predictable), people (more fixated on money), animals (dying of disease in the streets)…. I don’t know. Long before I see crows tearing apart a fresh carcass on Main Street I’m inclined to try to do something about it – if not for the animals, then for the public health issues the humans are going to face in, I’m guessing, about six months time. Apparently people here aren’t so inclined.

As far as the changes in people go, nine months ago I wasn’t ever approached with an aggressive “money money,” and this time I was several times, and even by a few who clearly weren’t hurting for food or the latest clothing. The beach vendors were as friendly and chatty as before, although I saw visible dejection when I declined, which I don’t remember seeing last time. Two tuk-tuk drivers did their spiel and followed up with a perfect sing-song “no thanks” before I could respond at all.

September might not be the best time to visit. The monsoon is just ending then, and when I was there the weather was more variable than usual, but very humid regardless of the variation. Not as hot degree-wise as India, but heavy, heavy sweating weather. The Indian Ocean was rough, with respectable waves and a deadly undertow – so no swimming in the ocean and no catamaran launches from the beach – and the water wasn’t the same spectacular color. The clouds were spectacular, though, which means the sunsets were too.

  • Last visit to Negombo: Sep 2007
  • Intro Updated Sep 18, 2007
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tayloretc

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