Most visitors to Sri Lanka would have heard of Mirissa, Ella, Weligama, Colombo or Kandy; these famous destinations in Sri Lanka receive the lion’s share of visitors, but if it’s your first time to Sri Lanka you should know that despite its relatively small size there are a ton of things to do and see around the island.
For those seeking a lesser-known destination that is not on the typical 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary, look into visiting Kalpitiya! It is a hub for adventure sports and receives far fewer visitors than places like Sigiriya or Unawatuna, and could be a fantastic destination for anyone looking for an off-the-beaten-track experience in Sri Lanka. Here’s what you need to know about Kalpitiya before you go.
Quick tips for traveling to Sri Lanka
- Visa requirements: Most visitors will need to apply for a Sri Lanka e-visa (except for nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles) but this is easily done online via the official e-visa website. I don’t recommend getting the visa-on-arrival in Sri Lanka because there are often long lines and you can only pay in cash.
- Currency: The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR), and the exchange rate varies from approximately 165-180 LKR: 1 USD. There are plenty of places to exchange money in Sri Lanka, and there are also ATMs in major cities – I recommend using Bank of Ceylon or Sampath Bank ATMs as they often accept foreign-issued ATM cards.
- Staying connected: Local SIM cards and data packages can be purchased at the airport in the arrivals area (after you pick up your luggage).
- Getting around: The easiest way to travel around Sri Lanka is by car, especially if you are short on time. Most hotels can help you to book 1-way transfer your next destination, and I recommend asking them at least a day in advance though last-minute transportation arrangements are fairly common as well.
- Dress code: Sri Lankan society is still relatively modest and conservative. In general, there is no need to cover your shoulders or knees (unless you are visiting a temple), but you should be mindful of your attire as it is not acceptable to walk around town shirtless or in a bikini.
- Tipping: In general there is no need to tip if your hotel or restaurant has included a service charge. However, a small tip is always appreciated by people in the service industry and tuk tuk drivers.
- Where to stay: There are a plethora of hotel options suiting every budget – click here for some of the best boutique and luxury hotels to stay at in Sri Lanka.
Where is Kalpitiya in Sri Lanka?
Kalpitiya is located in the Puttalam district approximately 4 hours by car north of Colombo. It is bordered by Puttalam lagoon and Dutch Bay on one side and the Gulf of Mannar on the other, which makes it a very popular destination for people who love water sports like kite surfing, wind surfing, kayaking and jet skiing.
An airport taxi from Bandaranaike International Airport to Kalpitiya costs approximately 10,000 LKR, or there are buses and trains to Puttalam from Colombo.
Is it worth visiting Kalpitiya?
One of the things you should know about visiting Sri Lanka is that it is very time consuming to travel around the island. For first-time visitors to Sri Lanka or those who are short on time Kalpitiya may not be an obvious destination and it is understandable to skip Kalpitiya for destinations in the Cultural Triangle or the beaches along the south coast.
As it is a developing tourism destination there are fewer restaurants and bars for tourists, and you will need to arrange some sort of transportation (tuk tuk, scooter or car) to get around from place to place. If you are looking for a hub of activity, night markets, parties and so on then Kalpitiya may not be right for you.
Personally, I recommend visiting Kalpitiya if you want to learn to kite surf, if you are planning on heading north towards Jaffna, if you have more than 2 to 3 weeks in Sri Lanka or if it is not your first time to the island. If you are looking for a quiet vacation and understand that facilities may be different from what is available in established tourist towns then you are in a better position to make the most of your time in Kalpitiya.
You might also like: 12 things you should know before traveling to Sri Lanka
The best time to visit Kalpitiya
The best season to visit Kalpitiya is between May to September (kitesurfing season) and November to February (winter kitesurfing season and dolphin watching season). Outside of these two seasons Kalpitiya can be quieter than usual (and some guesthouses and restaurants may even shut for the off-peak season), and the weather might be more humid and sticky.
Where to stay in Kalpitiya
Wondering how many days to spend in Kalpitiya? Kitesurfers and those who are learning will want to stay no less than 1 week in Kalpitiya. For other visitors to Kalpitiya I recommend a few days at the beginning of your Sri Lanka itinerary – no more than 3 to 4 nights as this will give you enough time to go on a dolphin or whale-watching tour and even potentially on a wildlife safari to Wilpattu National Park.
We stayed at Blue Whale Resort, a quiet hotel with an on-site kite surfing school, pool, bar, restaurant and air-conditioned rooms. The staff were extremely friendly, and the rooms, though basic, were clean and spacious. The hot water was reliable and I appreciated the consistent wi-fi! Click here to check current rates at Blue Whale Resort, or check out some of the other highly-rated options in Kalpitiya here.
For even more Sri Lanka hotel recommendations, click here to see 20+ boutique and luxury properties that I recommend!
The best things to do in Kalpitiya
1. Go kitesurfing
This is a bit of a no-brainer, because Kalpitiya is consistently rated as one of the best places in the world for kitesurfing! The season runs from May to September, but you can also visit during the “winter” season from November/December to February – when we visited in early February there were nearly 100 kitesurfers in the shallow lagoon.
For those hoping to learn how to kitesurf, there are many schools available. However, unlike surfing where it’s possible to do a drop-in, one-off lesson on a whim, kitesurfing can take up to 10 days to learn the basics so you will need to set aside some time if you want to take it seriously. Prices tend to be fairly similar across the board, here is a pricing table for your reference.
2. Go dolphin and whale watching
Along with Mirissa on the south coast and Trincomalee on the east coast, Kalpitiya is one of the best places in Sri Lanka for dolphin and whale-watching. The continental shelf can be reached within a 45-minute to 1 hour speedboat ride, after which it’s possible to spot hundreds of spinner dolphins and if you’re lucky, whales, around the coast.
The best season to see dolphins in Kalpitiya is from about November to May when the sea is calmer in the mornings, but you need to get an early start (ideally, before 8 AM) to beat the other boats and get back to shore before 11 AM as the ocean becomes too rough.
6 people fit in a small motorboat, and tours cost approximately 25,000 LKR for the group. During our morning dolphin watching tour in Kalpitiya we were surrounded by hundreds of dolphins jumping, spinning and frolicking in the ocean. Our guide then pointed towards the horizon and said, “whale”, and of course I thought to myself, “as if”.
Lo and behold, a Bryde’s whale surfaced a few times right in front of us before the other boats had a chance to approach, and just as quickly as it appeared it swam off into the distance. Our guide said that they often see orcas as well, so if you’re looking to spot a whale your chances of seeing one off the shores of Kalpitiya is fairly high!
At this time it seems like there aren’t rigid dolphin or whale watching guidelines as the boats often speed towards pods of dolphins and occasionally even cross their paths, so I do strongly advise that you communicate with your guide ahead of time (via the hotel if necessary) that you would like for them to switch off engines when sailing near dolphins, and allow the dolphins to approach rather than the other way around. You should not corner wildlife – whether on land or in the open waters. To learn more about responsible dolphin and whale watching guidelines check out this article on dolphin watching in Hong Kong.
3. Tour the Dutch Fort
The fort in Kalpitiya dates back to the mid-17th century when it was a strategically important trading base for the Dutch East India Company. Unlike Galle Fort which was built by the Portuguese, the fort in Kalpitiya was built and primarily only used by the Dutch. When the Dutch left Sri Lanka they left the limestone and coral Kalpitiya Fort in ruins in an effort to dissuade the next colony from using it.
Today, the fort is used as a Naval training base so you cannot roam around the grounds freely. You will need to bring your passport and sign in at the main office, after which a dedicated navy officer will accompany you inside.
The officers only speak Sinhalese at this time so you should read up on the history ahead of time, but the tour itself is free and covers the ramparts of the turtle-shaped fort – there is even a skeleton of a beached whale on display within the fort. Touring the fort is one of the best things to do in Kalpitiya!
4. Lounge at the beach
Let me start by saying that I personally prefer the sandy beaches along Sri Lanka’s south coast and found that the sand in Kalpitiya was slightly more coarse as they border the lagoons, but if you have a few days in Kalpitiya then you may want to spend some time at the beach. Otherwise, there’s always one of the many hotel pools in the area!
5. Go on a wildlife safari in Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park is one of the oldest and most important protected areas in Sri Lanka and home to leopards, the rare sloth bear, peacocks, spotted dear, wild buffalo and Asian elephants.
To get to Wilpattu from Kalpitiya you have to drive back down towards Colombo and then swing around – it will take you approximately 2 hours to get there, or you can ask your hotel if they can arrange a boat to take you across the lagoon which cuts the travel time in half. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to Wilpattu National Park!
Where to go after Kalpitiya
Anuradhapura – The city of Anuradhapura is an ancient capital in Sri Lanka and one of the country’s most sacred pilgrimage destinations. The city was established around what people believe to be a branch of the Bodhi tree where Buddha attained enlightenment, and is about 2.5 hours by car from Kalpitiya.
Sigiriya via Dambulla – Sigiriya is one of the key destinations within Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle and features a towering rock fortress and sky palace. You can climb the UNESCO World Heritage Site in under an hour and are treated to panoramic views around the rock. Sigiriya is located 4 hours by car from Kalpitiya, and it’s also possible to stop at the Dambulla Cave Temples on the way.
Kandy – Kandy in Central Sri Lanka was the last capital of the Sinhala kings and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most people travel to Kandy to explore the The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, one of the most important Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. It houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha, which is believed to have been retrieved from the Buddha’s funeral pyre by one of his disciples. Kandy is located 4 hours by car from Kalpitiya.
Colombo – If you are finishing up your Sri Lanka trip and need to head back towards the airport then head back south to Colombo. The transportation hub is located 4 hours by car from Kalpitiya.
Jaffna – Looking for another off-beat destination in Sri Lanka? You might want to consider traveling further north by 6 hours to Jaffna.
Where to stay in Kalpitiya: Check out Blue Whale Resort, a quiet hotel with an on-site kite surfing school, pool, bar, restaurant and air-conditioned rooms. Click here to check current rates at Blue Whale Resort, or check out some of the other highly-rated options in Kalpitiya here.
You might also like:
- Visiting Sri Lanka? Click here for a list of important things you should know before your trip to Sri Lanka as well as the top things NOT to do if you’re visiting the island
- First time visitors should check out this classic 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary, or you can follow this express 1 week “Highlights of Sri Lanka” itinerary if you are short on time
- Need more trip inspiration? These are some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka
- For even more Sri Lanka travel tips head to see the full collection here
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