Diving Sri Lanka: A Guide to Exploring the Best of Sri Lanka’s Oceans
Known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka boasts insane beauty both on land and at Sea.
I recently went through my pick of the must see ‘land based’ places for any Sri Lanka itinerary, but what about all there is to see under water too?
Indeed, with countless dive sites, from sea caves, rock formations and shipwrecks to vibrant coral reefs and a huge variety of marine wildlife, diving is a hugely popular activity among travellers to Sri Lanka.
And there’s something for beginners and experts alike.
So, for anyone planning a visit to the country for the first time, eager to explore its deep blue underwater world, I thought I’d put together a guide to diving Sri Lanka.
When to Dive in SL
It’s possible to dive all year round in Sri Lanka, but there are two main seasons based around the monsoons.
From all accounts, diving on the West coast is best between October and May, while on the East coast it is best around May to October.
The water temperature peaks in April and is lowest in August.
Top Diving Sites in Sri Lanka
Dive Time: May to October
With dives from as shallow as 14m, Vakarai is a perfect place for beginners.
It offers pristine reefs with a diverse population of colourful tropical fish population, including Bengali Snappers, Rock Cod and Trevally. There’s also plenty of coral and anemone species.
Think undamaged reefs, calm seas and un-crowded diving.
Location: North West
Dive Time: November to April
Kalpitiya boasts beautiful diving around the largest reef in Sri Lanka: the Bar Reef. Thanks to its marine sanctuary you’ll dive with reams of tropical fish, as well as reef sharks, whales, dolphins and manta rays.
Dive Time: November to May
Colombo is said to home the best diving in Sri Lanka, due to the many shipwrecks and huge selection of reefs to explore.
Notable dive sites include the Taprobane East Wreck, which is an unidentified wreck 2 hours outside Colombo. At 30m deep you need training, but it’s worthwhile to see through clear waters the stingray, Napoleon Fish and huge shoals of Glassfish.
The Gorgonian Gardens are another site of interest. It takes roughly 20 minutes to get to the South Gale Reef, which, at 35m, is also mainly for experienced divers due to the strong currents. The Gorgonian Sea Fans are said to provide a mystical experience.
The Barracuda Reef off the coast of Mount Lavinia, not far from Colombo, is another popular dive site in this area.
Location: South West
Dive Time: November to April
Hikkaduwa is approximately 20km from Galle, the famed colonial fortress town of Dutch and Portuguese origin.
Here, among the colourful reef and tropical fishes, the diving boasts impressive shipwrecks to explore, such as The Conch: a famous wreck and popular dive site.
There’s also Deep Rock, which is a rock complex with multiple level and many underground caves. This one will requires a PADI Advanced Open water or Deep Diver Qualification.
Location: South/South West
Dive Time: April to September
Unawatuna hosts some of best stretches of beach in the world and the diving is of equal quality.
There’s coral reefs as well as the celebrated wreck of the SS Rangoon to explore. This wreck is 100 years old and sits upright upon the seabed.
The biodiversity off Unawatuna is famous too. Dive with turtles and huge variety of fish including the Humphead Wrasse (otherwise known as Maori or Napoleon Wrasse). Enjoy the black coral, Talpe Reef & Diymba Kupotha (the ‘Napoleon Reef’).
Kirinda & the Great Basses Reef
Location: South East
Dive Time: Mid March to Mid April (Between the Monsoons)
The Basses Ridge is the Great Barrier Reef of Sri Lanka. At almost 40kms long it boasts intense, adventurous diving suitable only for experienced divers due to the strong currents of the area.
There are ancient shipwrecks, limestone caves and overhangs, as well as hundreds of species marine life to admire, including the Giant Trevally, shoals of Spadefish, Goatfish, & the White Tip Shark too.
Location: North East
Dive Time: April/May to Octover
Trinco is a gem on the North Eastern side of the island and a popular diving spot in Sri Lanka thanks to its clear waters and white sand beaches.
The shallow sand banks make Trinco a good bet for first time divers. However, the true rewards of diving in this area are said to be for more experienced divers, who can enjoy the spectacular Blue Whales and large numbers of wrecks in the area.
Trinco is home to a number of WW2 aircraft wrecks (Hurricanes), which add a level of historic intrigue to the diving here, as well as the large variety of marine wildlife.
There’s also the opportunity to dive with Black Tip Reef Sharks at the aptly named Black Tip Rock, as well as turtles and other marine life over the coral at Pigeon Island.
Dive Time: May to October
From all accounts the most famous dive of Batticaloa is the HMS Hermes. It’s meant to be one of the greatest wreck dives in the world: exploring the ruin of the World’s first aircraft carrier, built in 1912.
It sounds impressive: situated at a depth of 53m, the huge Hermes has all its guns visible. It’s a technical decompression dive, requiring a high level of diving experience.
Explore the wreck and enjoy Black Coral, Giant Trevally, Mangrove Jacks, Tuna, Barracuda, Marble Rays and Whales in the vicinity.
The numerous other wrecks and reefs make this a great spot to dive.
For more in depth and comprehensive advice on the diving available in Sri Lanka, check out the Dive Sri Lanka website.
For any divers or budding divers heading to Sri Lanka, I hope this brief guide has been useful in planning your trip. There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of dive sites to explore, so wherever you go, have an amazing time and stay safe!