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Diving in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, offers a myriad of diving adventures, from vibrant coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, to countless sunken wrecks waiting to be explored.

Diving in Sri Lanka

Quick facts

Bathed in warm Indian Ocean currents, and with nearly 1600 kilometres/1000 miles of palm-fringed coastline, Sri Lanka is an amazing dive destination. This island nation has for millennia been a crossroads of historic shipping lanes, the Silk Road and other trade routes have shaped its unique culture. The landscape is as vibrant and varied above the water as it is below. The waters of Sri Lanka are home to an incredible range of marine creatures from massive blue whales all the way through to tiny nudibranch. Sri Lanka has an abundance of great sites to discover including great wreck dives which are scattered off the coast. Local divers are still discovering new wrecks as they explore the waters of this island nation. Many of the wrecks are covered in marine life, soft corals, macro critters and large aggregations of schooling fish. Above the surface, Sri Lanka also boasts wildlife reserves, which protect native species such as leopards, porcupines and anteaters. It is also famous for its unique foods and amazing teas, which should be sampled as part of any dive trip. Where you dive in Sri Lanka depends on when you plan to visit because the monsoon seasons vary from one end of the island to the other. October to May is the high season for diving the west and south-west coast, and May to October is the best time to dive the north-east coast. With incredible diving, friendly locals, amazing food and top side treasures, Sri Lanka truly offers it all.

Recommended training

Sri Lanka is a great place to learn to dive with the PADI Open Water Divercourse. The PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, PADI Enriched Air Diver, PADI Deep Diver and PADI Wreck Diver courses are popular to dive many of the sites and wrecks off the coastline of Sri Lanka. You can also become a PADI Divemaster or PADI Instructor from this island paradise.

When to go

Seasonal averages: 22°C/72°F in winter and 33°C/93°F in summer. West coast diving is best from around October to May, and the east coast is best from around May through to October.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Barracuda Reef – This is a great dive site waiting to be explored and it never disappoints. The reef provides shelter for a wide variety of aquatic creatures including lionfish, rays and nudibranch. Located off the coast of Mount Lavinia near Colombo, this is a popular dive site. Cargo Wreck – A 90 metre/295 feet wreck, which was a cargo carrier named Pecheur Breton, offers certified divers a massive wreck to explore. It sits at around 20 metres/65 feet at its shallowest point however the starboard side sits deeper than this. It is a haven for a wide variety of marine life, both big and small. Panadura Wreck – Sitting in around 12 metres/40 feet of water, this is a popular wreck for certified divers, which is also known as the Panadura Nilkete Wreck. The dive site is accessible by a short boat ride from Panadura. This is a great site to get a taste of the wreck diving available in Sri Lanka. Taprobane Reefs – Well offshore, some of the most pristine diving in Sri Lanka can be found on these reefs immortalized by Authur C. Clarke in his book The Reefs of Taprobane. Large patch reefs punctuated with massive coral domes are typical here. Marine life is abundant including large rays and schooling fish. Goda Gala Diyamba – This underwater rock formation, about 10 minutes by boat from the resort town of Unawatuna on the south side of Sri Lanka, lets divers explore reef systems loaded with large fish such as trevally and Napoleon wrasse. Discovering the dive site’s real charm requires shifting focus and trying to spot some of the many types of nudibranchs. HMS Hermes – Near Batticaloa, in the north-east, divers can descend on a rare World War II artifact: HMS Hermes. The ship was the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier. It sank off the coast after 1942 and is one of only a handful of carrier wrecks accessible to divers anywhere. Because it’s very deep, you will require PADI TecRec training to dive this wreck. British Sergeant – Sunk under fire along with HMS Hermes, but lying in shallower water, the British Sergeant is another WWII wreck that lies upside down and broken into two halves sitting at right angles to each other. Many features are still easily identifiable on this popular wreck. Boiler Wrecks – Lying in shallower waters at around 9 metres/30 feet, this site is made up of both the SS Brennus and SS Sir John Jackson which both met the same fate of running aground. Both wrecks are still largely intact with many of the propellers visible.

What to see

Sri Lanka's abundant marine life offers a truly delightful experience. Expect to see a variety of colorful reef fish, including sweet lips, clown and titan triggerfish, batfish, and more. Large eagle and bull rays are often spotted, along with giant barracuda, goliath grouper, trevally, humphead parrotfish, Napoleon wrasse, honeycomb moray eels and several sea turtle varieties.

For macro lovers, nudibranch, shrimp, and beautiful plants and coral can be found at any of the surrounding dive sites.

If you seek encounters of a larger variety, lucky divers have seen blue whales, sperm whales, whale sharks, reef sharks, spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins in deeper waters around the island.

Calendar

For better readability of the table, pass into the landscape mode.

Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

Country

Sri Lanka, meaning "Resplendent Island" in Sanskrit, is nestled off the Southeast corner of India, just 5° North of the equator in the temperate Indian Ocean. As early as the days of the Silk Road, the island has been at the center of the shipping and trading routes across the region, lending to a wonderful multicultural community encompassing several religions, ethnicities and languages. Today, Sinhala and Tamil are Sri Lanka's two official languages, though English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas.

The nearly 1,000 mile (1,600km) coastline boasts palm-fringed beaches, which have remained surprisingly undeveloped despite the rise in tourism to the island. The interior of the island offers a variety of landscapes ranging from wildlife-rich jungles, home to elephants, leopards and countless bird species, 51 natural waterfalls, Ceylon tea plantations and mountain peaks reaching over 7,000ft (2,100m). Despite its small size it has the highest biodiversity density in all of Asia. Average yearly temperatures range from 82°F (28°C) to 88°F (31°C).

Other attractions

When you are not busy under the water take advantage of the countless top side activities Sri Lanka has to offer. For those who can't tear themselves away from the sea, try whale and dolphin watching tours, surfing along the Southeast coast line, or laying beachside on any of the untouched beaches around the island. Inland, check out Yala National Park, home of the densest population of spotted leopards in the world. You can also spot elephants, tropical birds, lizards, and a variety of lovely flora and fauna. There are also plenty of trekking trails, including Adam's Peak at 7,359 ft (2,243m). The summit is famous for Sri Pada, or the "sacred footprint" believed to be that of Buddha. For a cultural treat tour the Ceylon tea plantations in the central highlands, or visit some of the nation's oldest cities, such as Colombo, Kataragama, Kandy, and Galle. The island's ethnic diversity means you can find religious celebrations and festivals every month of the year. Sigiriya is an ancient palace in the Matale District featuring a massive rock column some 200 metres/660 feet tall. The Royal Palace of Kandy, which now accommodates the National Museum of Kandy. Alternatively, relax on one of the many beaches near many of the PADI Dive Shops or enjoy the nightlife in Colombo or other lively towns.

Getting there

Sri Lanka's main airport is the Colombo-Bandaranayake International Airport (CMB). There are many non-stop options from Europe and Asia, but Americans will have to plan for stop-overs along the way.

In country, there are many travel options from tuktuks and taxis to buses and trains depending on the distance, cost or level of comfort you are looking for.

UTC+05:30

Time zone

LKR

Currency

+94

Calling code

230 V

Electric volt

D, 

G, 

M

Plug type

CMB

Main airport
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.