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Like most destinations in Sri Lanka, Bentota is easily accessible. Located on the south coast, just 62km from Colombo, it is a somewhat sleepy, relaxed town of charming houses and resort hotels set amidst leafy gardens that overlook the palm fringed coastline. Apart from its inviting beach, Bentota’s principle attractions include its river. Ideal for exploring, water sports and the remains of the 12th Century Galapata Temple which is linked by a maze of subterranean tunnels to all other temples in the area.

Brief Gardens
A short drive inland from Bentota is the house and garden called Brief. Brief was the home of the late Bevis Bawa, one of Sri Lanka’s most intriguing personalities of recent times. The garden with its delightful terraces, walkways and tropical plants is a true representation of Bevis’s vision. The gardens together with the main house containing Bawa’s own sculptures and paintings make for a unique Sri Lankan excursion. Look out for a gigantic mural by artist Donald Friend, an epic overview of the Island of Lanka, a kaleidoscopic slice of life.

Lunuganga Estate was the country home of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Started in 1947, the garden led Bawa, a lawyer called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1940, to decide to become an architect. As he went on to become Sri Lanka’s and one of Asia’s most prolific and influential architects, the garden at the Lunuganga estate remained his first muse and experimental laboratory for new ideas. Left to the Lunuganga Trust on his demise in 2003, the gardens are now open to the public and the buildings on the estate are run as a country house hotel.

Ambalangoda is a busy provincial town famed for its mask making, southern style of dancing, antique shops and, on its borders, its valuable moonstone mines. Undeveloped and relatively low-key, Ambalangoda’s underexposure to tourism is an attraction for many looking for adventure, discovery and seclusion. Inland a Buddhist temple on a hilltop boasting beautiful panoramic views is home to South Asia’s longest sleeping Buddha at the Galagoda Temple.

Balapitiya Purana Viharaya
From the road the building looks like a church. The high arched doors and windows decorated in very European style floral motifs make it look quite out of place in a temple compound. More so because the temple is the Balapitiya Purana Vihare, the headquarters of the Amarapura Nikaya and the main temple in a staunchly Buddhist coastal area. “There are two theories about this strange building,” said the chief of the temple. “One is that it was built as a Christian church and abandoned and later donated to the temple. The other is that it was built as a Muslim mosque and abandoned.”
To add to its strange architecture, the facade of the building sports a large moulded British insignia on top and a date reading 2414 in Buddhist years.

Madu Ganga Boat Safari
The estuary of the Madu Ganga river is a complex coastal ecosystem of mangroves and islands. It may be one of the last remaining tracts of pristine mangrove forests in Sri Lanka. A boat trip is a wonderful way of seeing some of the hundreds of species of plants and animals. You can visit an island with a Buddhist monastery, where the friendly young monks will show you a 150-year-old book made of palm leaves and how they cook on cinnamon wood on an open fire.

The main occupations of the local inhabitants are producing cinnamon and prawn fishing – if you take the trip in the evening you will see the fishermen in their canoes lighting lanterns to attract the shellfish into their traps.

Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery
Kosgoda is famous for its sea turtle conservation project operated by the Wild Life Protection Society of Sri Lanka. It was established in 1988 to protect Sri Lanka’s turtles from extinction. Since then it has released about 3.5 million baby turtles into the wild.
The hatchery pays fishermen for eggs that they collect at night along the long sandy beach. Although October to April is the main laying season, some eggs (mostly green turtles) can be found at Kosgoda throughout the year.
The hatchery buries the eggs in sand, and when they hatch around 50 days later the baby turtles are released into the sea at night.

The 300-year-old fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the big draw of this southern city. The Dutch and British followed Portuguese invaders, and the streets within the fort are crammed with colonial remnants, from the Dutch clock tower, Reform church and commander’s house to the British court of arms on the outer wall. You can wander the atmospheric streets, explore the ramparts, visit the lighthouse and visit the bhodi tree and reclining Buddha in the temple.

Kechimalai Mosque
The oldest recorded Moorish settlement in Buddhist Island of Lanka, Beruwala is home to the oldest mosque in the island. Just north of the Hotel colony, the Kechimalai Mosque is built on the spot where the first Muslim traders from the Middle East landed & settled in 1024 AD. The mosque with its white minarets, out on a rocky headland on the northern edge is the town’s most significant landmark. This is an exquisite location from which to watch the sunset, with views over the bay & lighthouse.