One of the top 10 beaches in Asia according to the list compiled for Forbes Best Beaches in Asia Awards 2010, Bentota, which is found next to Beruwala, is a great place for family holidays. Five star holiday resorts flank the beach front and the Bentota River winds its way through the area. However it’s not only famous for its pristine beaches but also a number of exciting water sports such as windsurfing, para-sailing and jet skiing. Thrilling river safaris along the river grant visitors access to cinnamon plantations, nature resorts and temples which are further inland.
Just across the Bentota Bridge over the River Bentara also called “River Bentota” is the coastal town of Bentota. Bentota is a very pretty rural area, the greenery of the landscape is especially striking. Most of the areas are well shaded and sheltered by tall trees with the coconut palm trees dominating the landscape.
Bentota National Holiday Resort Complex
Bentota National Holiday Resort Complex, constructed to a design by architect Geoffrey Bawa in the 1970s, occupies the strip of land between the Galle Road and the Colombo-Galle-Matara railway track, is home to a range of luxury hotels, shopping arcade Railway station, Post office, Bank, shopping Arcade, a Tourist Information Centre and other stalls providing services to the holiday makers. Since the establishment of the complex, it has been expanded to cater to the growing demands of the increased tourist traffic to Bentota. The shopping arcade houses a chain of shops selling drums, masks and handmade lace. The open air theater regularly stage-mange shows of folk and mask dancing.
Bentota Lagoon and River Bentara
River Bentara, the legendary river at Bentota flows into the Indian Ocean forming a lagoon at the last section of the river. River Bentara and lagoon set up the widest array of water sports among all the beach resorts of Sri Lanka, i.e. Jet-ski, Windsurf, Parasail or enjoy a Romantic river safari.
Madu Ganga River Safari
The estuary of the Madu Ganga river is a complex coastal ecosystem of mangroves and islands. It may be one of the last remaining tracts of pristine mangrove forests in Sri Lanka.
A boat trip is a wonderful way of seeing some of the hundreds of species of plants and animals,monkeys eat fruit in the trees, a water monitor lizard glides slowly through the water, and cormorants, egrets and kingfishers wait patiently on the banks, eyeing the water for prey.
There are around 64 islands in the river and lagoon, from a tiny speck housing a deserted shrine to one housing 250 families connected to the mainland with a very long footbridge.
You can visit an island with a Buddhist monastery, where the friendly young monks will show you a 150-year-old book made of palm leaves and how they cook on cinnamon wood on an open fire.
The main occupations of the local inhabitants are producing cinnamon and prawn fishing. If you take the trip in the evening you will see the fishermen in their canoes lighting lanterns to attract the shellfish into their traps.
Sri Lanka is famous for its gems, one of which is the moonstone. This pale blue, almost transparent, stone is a type of feldspar known as adularia – the way the stone shimmers when it moves is known as adularescence.
At Meetiyagoda you can see how the stones are actually mined. The miners climb down a 10-metre-deep shaft on a frame made of strong coconut wood. A machine pumps out water, but all the digging is done by hand.
The buckets of soil that are wound regularly to the surface yield around 50-100 rough moonstones a day, though not all of them are saleable quality.
The small adjoining factory cuts, polishes and sets the stones into more glamorous jewellery. In the saleroom you can see some beautiful examples of their art, along with other gems like topaz, garnets, tiger eye and tourmaline.
On the northern end of the Resort is the Bentota estuary formed by the broad Bentara River that flows into the Indian Ocean.
Bentota Bay Beach
Bentota Bay Beach that lies sandwiched between the turquoise waters of the sea and the lagoon is endowed with a stunning landscape of greenery and exceptional recreational facilities. Bentota is the most popular location for romantic weddings, it witnesses hundreds of weddings of locals as well as the foreigners year in, year out. Bentota is also an attraction of honeymooning couples, once again to Sri Lankans as well as to the foreigners. At the northern end of the beach, is the long and narrow estuary called “Paradise Island”. At the southern end is the pristine palm fringed broad beach.
Sri Lanka’s most popular beach affords all the opportunities to the water sport enthusiasts to enjoy with swimming, body-surfing, diving and a range of water sports at the river and lagoon as well as on the Bentota Beach.
Diving at Bentota Beach
The waters are usually delightfully warm, a range of scuba diving and snorkeling stores in the vicinity, the majority operated by industry certified professionals holding the PADI certification provide equipment, assistance and guidance to the diving enthusiasts. Bentota is a true dream destination for the die-hard divers.
Bentota‘s principal dive site is Canoe Rock, where you will find sandy areas as well as sections with coral formations. Divers have the option of diving from a boat or straight from the shore, with the former being more popular and perhaps more exciting. A night dive is a good option for the enthusiast who craves adventure. Crucially, the majority of diving operators take supplies of pure oxygen with them to counter the risk of decompression.
Take a short boat trip offshore to dive over the coral reefs, grab a snorkel and mask to paddle your way through tropical fish, or take advantage of the lively breezes on the west coast from December to March to windsurf. If speed is one of those cravings of yours, then Bentota offers jet-ski and Water-ski opportunities on the lagoon.
Shopping at Bentota
Bentota town as well as the Shopping Arcade located within the Bentota National Holiday Resort Complex feature a plethora of shops and stores that enthusiastically engage in trading a wide variety of stuff Batik, traditional masks and handicrafts, hats and clothes, brassware and wooden ornaments, semi-precious and precious gems of Sri Lanka are at the front line.
Induruwa located immediately south of Bentota with its offshore reef is another safe swimming beach.
Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery
Kosgoda Beach located 8 km south of Induruwa beach is home to a community based turtle hatchery and turtle watching project set up by the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) in association with Wildlife Department of Sri Lanka. There are only 7 species of marine turtles in existence and Sri Lanka is visited by five of them, i.e. the Green Turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, the Loggerhead and the Olive Ridley.
Galapatha Buddhist Temple
The historic Galapatha Raja Maha Vihare Buddhist temple at Bentota contains stone inscriptions, stone carvings, pillars, ponds and troughs from the medieval period.
Lunuganga was Geoffrey Bawa’s (the internationally renowned Sri Lankan architect) own estate, where he experimented with his ideas about space, light and scale for nearly 50 years.
When he bought the land in 1948 it was a rubber plantation on a peninsula jutting out into a lake. Over the years, Bawa painstakingly reshaped the land and the vegetation to fulfill his vision, in one case slicing off the top of a hill to improve his view of the lake.
Don’t expect a riot of flowers planted in neat borders. This is essentially a series of outdoor rooms with cleverly framed vistas a Buddhist stupa on a hilltop, an artfully placed Grecian statue.
Bawa continued to change and experiment with the spaces and structures throughout his life until his final illness in 1998. On his death in 2003 the garden was left to the Lunuganga Trust and is now open to the public.
Brief Garden is designed in a concept similar to that Japanese gardens. It is a creation of late Bevis Bawa (brother of Geoffrey Bawa), a famous landscape artist. The estate, which was formerly a rubber plantation, today is a combination of a garden and open-air museum. Many sculptures by Bevis and other artists can be seen at this magnificent eco-park spreading over 5 acres.