March 26, 2024

The 10 best travel experiences in and around Galle, Ahangama and Weligama

While Southern Sri Lanka is known for its stunning coastline fringed with swaying coconut palms—along with adventure sports like surfing—there’s more to the South than its beaches. The region houses tea gardens (yes, you heard it right!), dense jungles with roaring cascades, paddy fields where peacocks roam, and slow-living villages with century-old cottage industries. Much of the island’s spices and herbs grow and flourish here, while generational artists work meticulously to keep their crafts alive. By the rugged shoreline, you’ll find fishermen on stilts, a decade-old practice, while the surrounding ocean is home to whales, dolphins and other marine life. So here are the 10 best travel experiences in and around Galle, Ahangama and Weligama beyond the South’s sunkissed shores.

 

Whale watching in Mirissa

The blue whale is the world’s biggest animal—an adult can grow up to 30m long and weigh more than 40 elephants combined. From October to April every year, these majestic creatures migrate from the cold waters of the South Pole to the warm tropical waters near Sri Lanka for breeding. The coastal town of Mirissa, just 11km south of Cape Weligama, is one of the country’s best places to spot them. If you are lucky, you’ll also get a chance to see sperm whales, fin whales and dolphins—even some occasional killer whales or whale sharks. Remember to go with an ethical tour operator who is mindful of our oceans and the beautiful marine life that surrounds us. 

 

Cinnamon tour in Sri Lanka

The world’s best cinnamon—often called the ‘Ceylon Cinnamon–comes from Sri Lanka, and it’s lighter, brighter and more flavourful than the supermarket-frequented cassia, which is often low in quality. It’s also a beloved spice that flavours and scents many Sri Lankan dishes, like the island’s coconut-based creamy dals. Even today, the process of making Ceylon Cinnamon is entirely handmade and is a skill passed down through generations. Southern Sri Lanka, particularly the inland villages, is known for their cinnamon, so this is a great place to see how generational peelers go about their business. During a tour, you’ll also get to taste some cinnamon tea and walk through a cinnamon plantation.

 

Virgin White Tea Tour

Sri Lanka’s central highlands are synonymous with the world-famous Ceylon Tea, but it’s not the only region in the island where tea grows and thrives. A 30-minute ride north of Cape Weligama is the Handunugoda Tea Estate, where tea grows close to the breezy, salty, sunny southern shoreline. Here, you’ll find Virgin White Tea, a type of tea that is completely untouched by humans and is loosely rooted in an ancient Chinese ritual of tea picking where virgins wearing delicate silk gloves cut tea leaves using gold scissors. At Handungoda, before the day begins, you’ll see women fine-plucking the best of tea leaves using gold-coloured scissors—this ensures that tea buds are never harmed. Once plucked, these buds dry in the filtered sunlight before they are packed. You can tour the estate with owner Herman Gunarathne or one of their knowledgeable guides.

A quirky tea fact: On a good day, a tea plucker usually collects 30kg of tea, but the women at Handungoda will only meticulously collect 160g.

 

Traditional mask making 

If you are into cultural experiences, throw in a fun mask carving experience, where you can watch and learn how to transform simple blocks of wood into colourful, vibrant, detailed masks. While it’s quite intriguing to see the process behind these masks, they are also tied to Sri Lanka’s nuanced belief system. The masks are often attributed to certain devils and supernatural beings that often appear in the island’s folklore. The nearby towns and villages of Galle, like the beach town of Ambalangoda, have a long tradition of mask making, which is often used to perform folk dramas and healing rituals in Sri Lanka. 

 

Pottery experience with generational village artisans

Before tourism took over, the south coast was home to small, quiet villages where local communities embraced the slow rhythm of life—each of these villages was known for a craft they had mastered for generations. The village of Kumablagama, a 10-minute walk from Cape Weligama, is one of those communities popular for their exceptional pottery. Even today, you’ll see skilled potters with families and students in their workshops giving life to new earthenware, or mending cracked crockery. During a tour, you’ll usually learn the basics of pottery making from a master artisan with a chance to get behind the wheel and make your own creation. 

 

Kithul treacle, toddy and jaggery experience

While Southern Sri Lanka is known for its sprawling beaches and rocky seawater pools, the deep south is equally alluring with rice paddies paving the way to thick, dense tropical rainforests. In the jungles in the South, you’ll find the kithul palm tree or the fishtail palm, which boasts a massive cluster of flowers. Generational tappers climb these tall palms that are about 40m high and make sharp cuts at the base of the flower. A pot or a jute sack is then tied to collect the sap that trickles down. The fresh, filtered sap quickly turns into a mildly alcoholic drink called toddy, a local favourite. 

Then, the sap is boiled down to a thick, honey-like, dark brown liquid called treacle or peni. This earthy, smokey sweet syrup with umami notes pairs well with many things, but traditionally, Sri Lankans drizzle a bit of treacle over village buffalo curd, a favourite lunchtime dessert. The treacle is further boiled down to make jaggery, sweet blocks of palm sugar. 

 

Batik making

Batik is a wax-resist dyeing technique applied to fabric to create beautiful designs. Its origins are murky, but a common belief is that batik came to Sri Lanka from Indonesia. It was a cottage industry for many years, but batik has recently taken root in Sri Lankan pop culture and is often championed by upmarket designers to create exquisite cotton, silk and satin garments. Creating batik fabrics with intricate drawings and patterns can take days, weeks or even months and is done by skilled artisans. Jezima Mohamed, a veteran batik artist in Sri Lanka, runs her small boutique and workshop at home in Matara, a 40-minute drive south of Cape Weligama, and it’s perhaps the best place to get a taste of this traditional craft.    

 

Traditional jewellery making in Galle Fort

Centuries ago, Galle was a seaport frequented by traders from across the world. Some of them, mostly from Arab countries, settled down inside the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort before European colonial powers arrived in Sri Lanka—most of them were spice and gem merchants. Today, you’ll still see dozens of small gem and jewellery boutiques tucked away inside the fort’s lanes, crafting their own unique pieces. All this makes Galle Fort a great place to learn the art of jewellery making and see a fun, new demonstration of how jewellery is crafted from precious stones and silver.

 

Touring an organic farm

Only a 12-minute drive north of Cape Weligama is the Midigama Fruit Farm, a village-based organic eco garden. You’ll have the chance to join some of their guided farm tours that include the farm’s sustainable farming methods, like the raised-bred cropping used to grow radish, beet and cabbage. Guests can also learn more about their beekeeping practices, compost preparation, cattle farm and a water conservation pond. Don’t miss their organic kitchen, which uses traditional Sri Lankan food cooked in clay pots over an earthen fire, similar to how it was done in village homes in the past. Everything here is cooked using the farm’s produce, so it’s also a great place for lunch.

 

Beeralu (bobbin lace) making 

This form of lace weaving runs back to the 16th-century Portuguese rule—the name “beeralu” is derived from the Portuguese term “birlo” and is believed to be tied to the Malay community who arrived in Sri Lanka during the colonial rule. Many centuries ago, village women would work on weaving designs for royal families, who would cherish beeralu textiles. Weavers first sketch the pattern on graph paper, which is then pinpointed with bobbin pins and wrapped around a cushioned pillow. They would then meticulously braid several threads to create an exquisite lace design. Today, this intricate form of lace weaving is a dying art, while a handful of artisans across Southern Sri Lankan villages are trying to keep this traditional cottage industry alive. 

 

Written by Zinara Rathnayake