In the district of Gampaha on the Western coast of Sri Lanka is situated the panoramic city of Negombo. It is the largest city in the Western Province and the fourth largest city in the island after Colombo, Kandy, and Jaffna. Negombo extends for approximately 30 square kilometers in area and occupies a remarkable position considering its social, economic, and geographical layout. Referring to politics, Negombo is administered under a Municipal Council that looks into the affairs of its population of over 128,000. This city where nothing is lacking has become a major attraction to tourists.The Portuguese called the city “Meegamuwa” which denotes “the hive of bees” filled with honey. The story behind this is believed to be one when queen ‘Vihara Maha Devi’ was pregnant with King Dutugemunu and had a strong yearning for bee honey. Her husband, King Kavantissa sent out his army in search of bee honey. After a long search, the troops arrived in Negombo and found a massive bee-hive built in a canoe that lay on the beach, thus giving the city its name “Mee-Gomuwa”. The city is situated just about 02 meters higher above mean sea level and occupies a prominent place for its traditional fishing industry and busy fish markets as well as its sandy beaches. The tropical rainforest climate brings the South West Monsoon rains from May to August and again from October to January. The normal temperature varies between 24 C0 to 20 C0 with temperatures rising from February until the end of April.
The history of Negombo goes back to the times when Muslim Arabs (Moors) first arrived to buy spices, especially cinnamon and other valuable goods. During those times wild cinnamon grew abundantly in the Negombo area and its suburbs and Negombo Cinnamon was believed to be “the best cinnamon upon the earth.”. For many centuries and even during the colonial era Negombo attracted traders from different parts of the world who sought after the best cinnamon in the world. It was the moors that monopolized the cinnamon trade but later on, the Portuguese who invaded the island drove away from the moors, built a fortress in Negombo, and took over the cinnamon trade to export this valuable spice to Europe. The Portuguese re-organized the production and maintenance of cinnamon and held the monopoly of the cinnamon trade for more than a century. Negombo was the leading cinnamon center during the time.
Later however with the decline of the Portuguese, the cinnamon trade began to fade away mainly due to the hostility of the Kandyan Kingdom, the negligence of the colonial governments as well as China coming up as a rival cinnamon producer to the world.
The majority of the population along the coast of Negombo speaks the Tamil language and this population is believed to be migrants from Tuttukudiya of India. The main occupation of the people living along the coast is fishing. By the time sunset, these fishermen go out into the sea in their sailboats to catch prawns. They return with their harvest of prawns and other small fish to sell the harvest placed on small wooden tables alongside roads, the night lit up with their kerosene oil lamps. While the whole world is asleep, other fishermen wake up as early as 2 O’clock at dawn and set out into the sea in their outboard-motor boats to earn their daily living. They are used to encountering any type of weather – unbearable cold, rough seas, heavy rains with thunder and lightning. By 7.00 in the morning, they race back to the shore to join the competition of selling the fish they caught in the midst of much hardship.
Upon landing on the shore the family members begin to sort the fish entangled in the nets and are immediately sold wholesale or retail to the traders who have already gathered to purchase fish. Some wives pack the caught fish into cane baskets and walk around the village selling the fish carrying the basket on their heads.
This is the traditional method of fishing that goes back for centuries. In addition to this method, there are others who go deep sea fishing in multi-day fishing vessels. A crew of about 10 paid employees is hired to this task. Before they set out, sufficient stocks of gasoline, rice, vegetables, medicines, spices, and provisions, drinking water to last until they return, deep freezers to stock the large fish they catch as well as telecommunicating equipment are loaded into the large boat. This is deep sea fishing. The large fish are stored in deep freezers and the small ones are dried to be sold as dried fish. There is a high demand for multi-day fishing boats because fish-exporting companies readily buy large fish for export to other countries. At such times when the large fish-harvest is low and small fish-harvest is high, the fishermen and their families dry the fish in the sun and when drying is completed, the dried fish is sold wholesale to traders who travel interior into the country to sell dried fish for large profits.
It is a pleasant sight worth seeing the fisherman and the women of Kuttiduwa, a tiny hamlet situated on the beach itself, drying small fish on the sea beach in the morning hours.
The heart of Negombo is the lagoon, really a spectacular sight. It extends from Negombo up to the Ja-Ela area. The river named ‘Attanagam Oya’ running close to Katunayake International Airport finally falls into this lagoon. Moreover, sea-planes flying to various locations within the island, takes off and lands at Attanagam Oya. The largest marsh land in Sri Lanka is situated around the Negombo lagoon. 22 species of mammals, 40 species of rare fishes, 16 species of lizards as well as 102 varieties of rare plants are found in the surrounding areas. The lagoon is surrounded by dark green mangrove swamps growing naturally along the edge of the lagoon that magnifies the beauty the lagoon. This is a location where a wide variety of water birds and animals to a total of 190 species of wildlife and a variety of uncommon birds survive.
Muthurajawela, which means the paddy land that supplied rice to the ancient kings of Sri Lanka, is situated in the south of the Negombo lagoon, is a large marshy land covering an area of 6000 hectares including the lagoon. This can be said to be a treasure of a wet-land almost adjoining Negombo lagoon. In year 1999 it was declared a sanctuary by the government due to its bio-diversity. Rich in fauna with 192 species including varieties of butterflies , fish, crocodiles and monitor-lizards as well as the python, the largest snake of Sri Lanka have made this sanctuary their home. 209 species of flora including mangroves and uncommon medicinal plants grow in this wilderness. Muthurajawela is very popular among tourists who tour the marsh for sightseeing in guided hired boats. The increasing population has resulted in earth-filling a part of Muthurajawela from Ja-Ela and Kerawalapitya area where people have built houses on this sanctuary due to lack of space in these congested areas.
The Hamilton Canal is yet another highlight of Negombo. Running through the middle of the city for a distance of 130 kilometers it was constructed by the Dutch to transport cargo along the canal from long distances to Colombo from where they exported cinnamon and other spices, salt, coconut, arecanut, timber and other cargo loaded in Padda Boats (“Paruwa” in Sinhalese). Tourists can enjoy the experience of a boat tour in the canal from Ettukala to Waikkala villages, viewing the sights on both banks of the canal to see different varieties of birds, monitor-lizards and such other small animals. The visitors may also watch ‘Toddy-Tappers’ on the top of coconut trees attending to the task of producing toddy for drinking and for the manufacture of vinegar and liquor. They may also taste some sweet fresh toddy when the tapper climbs down the coconut tree. The boat ride along the canal may take about 03 hours.
The old fortress situated between the beach and the lagoon was built by Portuguese in 1672. It is yet another place for tourists to visit. It is said that this fortress was built to face enemy attacks of the Dutch who invaded the island after the Portuguese. Now it has been converted into a remand prison but the old structure still remains. In the morning you may see the multi-day-fishing vessels of the fishermen anchored in the lagoon nearby the fortress.
In the close proximity of this fortress is the ancient Anglican Church perched on the top a little hill and the ancient clock tower nearby standing proudly for many years. The fisheries jetty for motor boats of the fishermen is seen near the bridge that connects the town to the road leading to Ja-Ela via Pamunugama.
The famous St. Mary’s Church of Grand Street is only about 200 meters away from the old fortress. Built in the style of a cathedral, the frescoes painted on the ceiling belong to the colonial era and draws the attention of the locals and foreigners who appreciate artwork
The tourist-zone of Negombo is located along the sandy beach in Ettukala area. Tourist businesses, hospitality services, taxis and all necessary facilities are available for tourists. Among them, the Beach Park occupies a prominent place. It is used by both, the tourists as well as the locals who come to the Beach Park to enjoy the evening with their families or to watch a musical entertainment show. Weekends draw huge crowds that come to the beach from distant places. They may watch the breathtaking view of the setting sun against the red sky or go fishing or take a boat ride up to the sunken ship which is quite an experience.
Plush tourist hotels stand proudly all along the beach and on the other side of the road are the restaurants and guest houses, boutiques and stores selling jewellery, batiks, wood carving items and even a few indigenous medical centres for a tourist to have a herbal massage or a herbal sauna bath.
Curving inland from Duwa village, “Moru Wala” is a popular and safe bathing spot in Negombo. It is somewhat like a swimming pool where the water is dark blue still and only about 02 meters deep.
Ideal one day-tours for visitors from Negombo are to places such as Kalpitiya, Wilpattu Game Sanctuary, the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, Kandy the hill capital, Galle the Southern capital, Dambulla and the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, the wonder ancient kingdom with its world renowned frescoes, mirror wall and the ruins of the palace on the top of Sigiriya rock.
Tourists who intend to open up business in Sri Lanka prefer to choose Negombo to launch their businesses mainly for the reason that nothing is lacking for their business and it is quite convenient for them to view the beauty of this enchanting island. It may be because Katunayake International Airport and the Free Trade Zone are only a 10-12 minutes drive from Negombo and for easy access to the expressway to Colombo because the capital city is only 35 k.m. away. As many factories are within the Katunayake Free Trade Zone which are foreign investments, many youth in and around Negombo have acquired employment opportunities close to their homes.
Negombo has a multi-racial and a multi religious population. Being a fishing centre in the country, the majority of the population is Catholics. Catholic churches are found in every village of Negombo which is nick named as the “Little Rome”. However there are a large number of Buddhists living there and several famous Buddhist Temples can be seen. The majority of the Tamil-speaking population are Muslims and Hindus. Yet there is large percentage of Tamils who are Catholics. The mostly spoken language is Sinhala both by Buddhists and Catholics. It is remarkable that the entire population of Negombo, despite the differences in race or religion, live in harmony. The Buddhists celebrate Christmas with Catholics and Catholics join the Buddhists in Vesak and Poson celebrations. The same applies to other communities. The Temple of Angurukaramulla which is in the close proximity of the Negombo Municipal Council is very popular tourist attraction as well as for the locals. Buddhists devotees and school children visit the temple to venerate, appreciate and study the architecture and artwork of numerous statues, sculptures and the drawings. It is remarkable the Chief Buddhist Priest of the temple takes tourists in and around the temple describing everything in the native language of the visitors.
All in all, Negombo is one of the most attractive tourist centres in the island of Sri Lanka. It is popular for its convenient location with easy access to the capital city of Colombo, the airport and to any other city for sightseeing. This beach resort, lacking in nothing, offers a wonderful and a memorable holiday for a visitor with opportunities for relaxation, swimming, several water sports, fishing, sea bathing and sun bathing or hikes on the silver beaches or under shade of green coconut groves or boat rides to the many tiny islands in Negombo lagoon and in surrounding areas. Taste delicious food of your choice – Sri Lankan, Western, Eastern, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or fresh sea food. Go around and discover Negombo, enjoy Sri Lankan hospitality during your holiday and take pleasant memories home.
We welcome you to Negombo!