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Galle -- The jewel of Sri Lanka’s southern coast

by amit.uniyal 12. May 2015 05:19

The capital of Sri Lanka’s southern province, the ocean facing the city of Galle has come into prominence once again. The devastating Asian Tsunami of December 2004 had all but destroyed this ancient trading city, founded by the Portuguese and developed by the Dutch colonists during the 16th century. Over the last ten years, the city has slowly been rebuilt with local and foreign aid. Today, this beautiful port city once again brims with stylish hotels, boutiques, cafes and restaurants especially within its fortified area and is firmly registered on the global travel radar.

Getting to Galle

The Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) is the primary access point for international travelers to Sri Lanka. Several local tour operators have kiosks at the airport. In order to get to Galle in relative comfort, you can hire a private car at the airport. The travel time to Galle from Colombo is approximately three hours depending on traffic conditions.

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However, if you are looking for a cheaper option to get to Galle, you could use the local train or express bus.

Express buses to Galle leave from Colombo’s Mahagrama bus station every twenty minutes from 5am onwards daily. This bus station is located to the southeast of Colombo city center. Travel by express bus to Galle from Colombo usually takes three hours as well.

To get to Galle by train from Colombo, you need to start your journey from Colombo’s Maradana Station. You’re more likely to secure a seat here than at Colombo Fort Station where the train usually arrives packed. Train tickets for this second-class train journey cannot be reserved in advance, so it makes sense to buy your ticket at Mardana Station, the starting point of this train trip.  There is also a first-class train service for which tickets can be reserved in advance, but this service operates only once a week on Thursdays and departs from Colombo at the ungodly hour of 6.30 AM.

No matter which route you choose, your journey will take you through the lush Lankan countryside, along the coast while you traverse charming whitewashed villages, lush green fields, and dense coconut groves.

Best time to travel to Galle

Sri Lanka like neighboring India has a year round tropical climate with distinct dry and wet seasons. The Southwest monsoon arrives on the island of Sri Lanka during the months of June to September. This period is Sri Lanka’s wet season, a season when torrential rain showers are common. The best time to visit Galle is between December and February when average daily temperatures hover around 27 to 29 C (80 to 82F). During this time, the dry season rainfall is scarce, and breezes from the sea produce an air-conditioning effect on the island.

Attractions

Galle Fort

Galle Fort, a fortified city, built by the Portuguese and then enhanced by the Dutch in the 16th century is the most prominent attraction in Galle. The Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that extends over 36 hectares and contains several ochre colored colonial era buildings that once housed administrative headquarters and homes of the Dutch colonists. Today many of these buildings have been restored and house stylish hotels, boutiques, and cafes. Thick, granite ramparts encircle the fort until today. These ramparts prevented it from being destroyed by the devastating Tsunami of 2004.

The Lighthouse

The Galle Fort lighthouse is one of the first structures that you will spot while exploring the fort city. The lighthouse is one of the fourteen lighthouses that remain in Sri Lanka and is the oldest one on the island. The Galle Fort lighthouse dates back to 1848 though a fire destroyed the original structure in 1936. Its replacement, which stands until today was built in 1949 and rises to a height of 26 meters. Visitors are not allowed to enter the lighthouse but can view it from the outside.  

Flag Rock

Flag Rock located at the southernmost end of the fort is a bastion, which was built on the top of a natural rock outcrop. The Portuguese and the Dutch used to signal approaching ships from this bastion. They used flags as signals during good visibility conditions and fired muskets from nearby Pigeon Island during times of reduced visibility. Today, Flag Rock is the favored locale for a sunset stroll and attracts locals (brave young lads today use flag rock as a diving platform) and tourists alike.

The Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church is located near the new entrance to Galle Fort. This beautiful edifice dates back to 1754, and it stands on the site of an older church built by the Portuguese in 1640. The church is an architectural marvel as the building’s walls support its roof, as there are no pillars located inside the church. The caretaker of the church is often on hand and acts as a guide for sightseers offering insights about the construction of the church. For instance, gravestones from the old Dutch cemetery make up the floor of the church and the organ, is the original instrument that dates back to 1760.

The Dutch Hospital

This large, colonnaded structure, which once served as an infirmary for the European colonists ravaged by tropical diseases has recently been restored and is now a smart shopping and dining destination at Galle Fort.

Galle Cricket Ground

If you follow the game of cricket, you must know the historic Galle cricket ground that is located near Galle Fort. The ground is more than hundred years old, but the tsunami wrecked havoc on the field and surrounding stands and almost wiped them out completely. However, the grounds and stadium have now been restored and are ready to host games once again.

Sea Turtle Hatchery

The small but fascinating Sea Turtle Hatchery is a non-profit organization that works to protect Sri Lanka’s turtle population. Sri Lanka is home to five varieties of turtles, the Olive Ridley, the Loggerhead, the Hawksbill, the Green and the Leatherhead turtle. These turtles come to nest at various locations on the island including Galle. The hatchery aims to protect the turtles of Sri Lanka by collecting and securing the turtle eggs from fishermen and other residents of the area. The hatchery's staffs store the eggs in the hatchery’s onsite incubators and when the eggs hatch, the baby turtles are released into the wild. The hatchery aims to educate the local population who are prone to consuming these precious turtle eggs.

Where to stay

Accommodation choices are abundant in Galle. There are lodgings to suit every travel budget. The UNESCO recognized Galle Fort Hotel, the Amangalla, the Kahanda Kanda, the Fortress and the Fort Printers Hotel are some of the well-known luxury hotels located in Galle. Aside from conventional hotels, travelers can also choose to stay in fully staffed villas and boutique residences for a more intimate stay. Villa Indisch, the Frangipani Tree, and the Turtle Beach House are some of the well-known villa resorts of the Galle Area.

Eat, shop and play

Galle is a coastal city and is known for its beautiful beaches. No matter where you choose to stay, you should rent a tuk tuk and tour the area’s beaches such as Unawatuna, Weligama, Hikkaduwa, and Tangalle.

The narrow, winding streets and colonial edifices of the Galle Fort play host to several chic shops and restaurants. Visit stores like Barefoot and Odel LUV SL two homegrown lifestyle brands that offer stylish clothing, accessories, gift items, cosmetics, local foods and much more at reasonable prices.

Other stores worth perusing include Mimimango, Sithuvilli(artworks and artifacts), Souk 58 and the Dutch Gallery (curios and souvenirs) and Mansion Crafts(local handicrafts). Sri Lanka is famous for its gemstones and many small jewelry stores dot the streets of the Galle Fort. Laksana, Pedlar’s Inn Jewelers, and Jo Jo are some favorite haunts for jewelry shopping at the Galle Fort.  Also worth a visit is the Laksala store (the Government owned souvenir and gift boutique), which is located just outside the main gate of the Galle Fort.

If you need a respite from the relentless Lankan heat, head to the bars at the Amangalla and Galle Fort Hotels. Both these watering holes are favored pit spots during excursions of the Galle Fort Area. Try area restaurants like Mamas Roof  Café( Western and Sri Lankan cuisine), Pedlar’s Inn Café (coffee and casual fare), Serendipity Arts Café  or Nicos@Olanda if you need to grab a bite or want to stop for a coffee or tea.  If you rather eat on the beach, then the beachfront Wijeya Beach Hut, which serves a selection of western eats including wood-oven pizzas, is worth a visit.

 

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