Mid-2020, Condé Nast Traveller published a listing of the “Best beaches in the world”, and coming in at number three was Sri Lanka’s Hiriketiya beach, with Benguerra Island of Mozambique and Playa Paraiso of Cuba coming in at first and second, respectively.
The publication talked about beaches that have remained incredibly beautiful and often crowd-free despite their obvious appeal, shunning away the typical sandy spots dotted with sun umbrellas and gaggles of tourists.
Hririketiya is of course the famous bay most Lankans are familiar with, a shining star in the southern coast. The horseshoe bay is a popular spot, and in pre-Covid days, come December to April, the place would be crawling with tourists and locals alike.
Considering that it has been some time since Condé Nast announced Hiriketiya’s glamour to the world, we took a look at its current status in these pandemic times. We spoke to a couple of locals situated right in the middle of the Bay, Udara Alahapperuma, the owner of Blue Beach Paradise, and K.H. Nilanga, who manages Peace bar – both establishments which used to enjoy frequent foot traffic when times were different.
Udara shared with us a little bit about what makes Hiriketiya special, stating that due to the Bay’s unique shape, it has the ability to provide for a wide range of surfers. This is because of its horse shoe shape – the midpoint is perfect for beginners, with shallow waters, softer waves and no rocks to catch your fall, and ideal for getting your sea-legs. As for the more experienced surfers, the bay offers something for both left- and right-handed surfers, as both left and right waves can be accessed from the two ends of the bay.
Hiriketiya beach also boasts some greenery; it’s got that sweet spot where the jungle meets the sea, and according to Udara, it’s certainly one of the prettiest beaches you will come across in Sri Lanka, especially considering all the contrasting green, the beach and of course the vast blue, deepening in color before your eyes due to the bay structure. He said that they often get people coming in for a photo op, attempting to capture the incredibly deep pink sunsets.
Nilanga too echoed Udara’s sentiment. He added that what most people may not know despite the Bay’s popularity is that Hiriketiya is probably one of the smallest beaches on the Southern coast. He said the stretch is limited, and this has worked in their favour, as it has offered up a cozy community feel for families with little children to come and enjoy a meal on the beach.
However, he said, what people may not realise is that when they do come down to Hiriketiya beach, they do most of their chilling on Pihimbiya beach, which is just only 300m past the bay, and it is a long beach that is part of Hiriketiya beach. That is where you can endlessly stroll, and when the sun goes down they all make their way back to the Bay to enjoy the company of the community that gathers there.
He said that this is somewhat the reason why Hiriketiya sees a lot of foreign visitors, due to the variety it offers, adding that while you have the long beach on your left, you will have the Hummanaya Blowhole at the other end – the only known blowhole in Sri Lanka, and is considered to be the second-largest blowhole in the world.
Talking about the current status of their beautiful bay however, both Udara and Nilanga said that things have been bleak; usually this would mark the tourist season and they would not have a moment to themselves, but these days they would be lucky if 100 people gather on a long weekend.
Udara said that while he keeps his place open, there’s really no heart behind their operations anymore, considering the challenges they face with the lack of visitors. Nilanga’s Peace bar has been closed for some time now, having suffered the effects of the pandemic. The duo shared that while the attempts that are being made by the Government may be lacking, they will appreciate any effort taken by authorities to encourage travelling to Sri Lanka.