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Sri Lanka first started to get noticed in the dive community when it was discovered that blue whales were consistently seen off this island nation's shores. What's not so well known is that Sri Lanka has some great wrecks, and the local divers keep discovering new ones as they explore the waters off their coast. The wrecks are covered in marine life, soft corals, macro critters and large aggregations of snapper and other schooling fish. The reefs are typically soft coral and brightly colored gorgonian forests that harbor lionfish, nudibranchs and anemonefish. Like many places in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has seasonal diving. The west coast flattens out from November to May, and the east coast takes over from April through October. You can however dive both locations year round. When you come ashore, Sri Lanka will throw more surprises your way with great surf, plush rainforests, manicured rice paddy hillsides, and, as famous author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who visited and never left, said, "Sri Lanka has a bit of everything."

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Destination Information

When to go:

December through March is the most popular season however you can dive in the other seasons.

Marine Life Seasons:

Blue whales, Bryde's whales, and sperm whales migrate past here from January through March.

When to Get the Best Deals:

Shoulder seasons.

When to Get the Best Deals:

October to January

What to Pack:

3/2 mm wetsuit in summer; 5 mm in winter, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, comfortable shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card, long sleeved lightweight shirts, long trousers for cool nights, a light jacket for cool evenings, small medical kit.

Water Temperatures:

Seasonal averages: 25°C/76°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.

Air Temperatures:

Seasonal averages: 22°C/72°F in winter and 33°C/93°F in summer.

Currency:

Rupee (LKR); Credit cards are widely accepted.

Visa/Passport Requirements:

Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.

Departure Tax:

Included in your airfare.

Immunizations:

None required.

What to Eat:

Rice with hot and spicy curry is what you'll find everywhere in Sri Lanka. Because each cook has a special recipe with varying spices, you'll find a wide variety of unique curries to try served with coconut sambal, sweet chutneys, pickles and papadams. In coastal towns, you'll also find delicious fresh fish, prawns, crabs and lobsters. Desserts usually involve something with coconut or honey.

What to Drink:

Sri Lanka, once called Ceylon, is synonymous with tea and you'll find a wide variety of choices. Lion is the best-known locally brewed beer. Toddy is a light alcoholic drink made from fermented coconut palm sap and usually served in Toddy shacks around the country. Arrack is distilled from toddy and has a much higher alcohol percentage.

Top Adventures/Shopping/Culture:

River Nilwala cruise; explore the several UNESCO World Heritage site, such as: the Lion Rock Citadel in Sigiriya; Golden Dambulla Rock Temple; the Sacred City of Anuradhapura; Polonnuruwa Kingdom of Reservoirs; The Royal City of Kandy; The Lion King Rainforest; and the VOC Galle Dutch Fort. There are also wildlife filled forests and nature reserves.

Customs and Culture:

Sri Lankans are mostly Buddhists and their culture and architecture reflects those beliefs.

Top Festivals/Events:

Sri Lanka Balloon Festival in March; Kandy Perahera in August.

Electricity and Internet:

230V/50 HZ; Internet common in hotels and tourist areas.

Drink the water?

Only drink bottled water.

Language:

Sinhala and Tamil; English is widely spoken.

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Amazing Marine Life

Blue Whale:

Bigger even than the dinosaurs, the blue whale is the world's largest known animal, weighing in at 200 tons and 30 metres/100 feet long.

Sperm Whale:

The world's largest toothed mammal, this square-headed giant feeds on giant squid in the ocean's depths.

Sweetlips:

Named for its fleshy lips, this striking fish features wide black bands running the length of its body, alternating with black dotted lines against its white and yellow body.

Napoleon Wrasse:

Also known as the Maori wrasse, this enormous and vividly colored fish can grow to lengths of up to two metres/six feet.

Grouper:

These large, lazy-moving fish with their characteristically down turned mouths come in many colors, and add interest to many reef dives

Whale Shark:

While the "whale" reference in its name refers to its mammoth size (up to 12 meters/40 feet), this spotted goliath is actually the world's largest fish.

Sea Turtles:

Five different species of sea turtle inhabit Sri Lankan waters: green, loggerhead, hawksbill, olive ridley and leatherbacks.

Parrotfish:

These brilliantly colored fish do, indeed, possess remarkably parrot-like beaks that they use to grind coral structures so they can eat the soft coral animals inside.

Scrawled Filefish:

This wonderfully decorated reef fish almost looks like a swimming map.

Barracuda:

These predatory fish are often seen on the reefs.

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Top Dive Spots

Mount Lavinia:

Several rows of apartment-sized underwater boulders have created lots of interesting swim-throughs and provide shelter for a wide variety of aquatic creatures, including the spectacular blue-ringed angelfish. The sea is rough for most of the year, so the dive season is short - from January to March.

Hikkaduwa:

Offshore the water is clear and marine species are abundant. The SS Conch, a 3300-ton oil tanker, sank off Akurala Rocks in 1903 and split in two. Resting at 14 metres/45 feet, the wreck can be penetrated by experienced divers. Look for snappers, sweetlips and the occasional large grouper or napoleon wrasse.

Unawatuna:

On the edge of Unawatuna Bay, there's a rock and coral reef with some big boulders where divers can often see triggerfish, pufferfish and other species. Further off this coast are a couple of wrecks that have flourished into spectacular artificial reefs and are home to a number of very large resident groupers.

Ralagala:

Ralagala, literally "Wave Rock," barely breaks the surface, but under the water lies a rugged landscape of granite boulders and rock formations. Fish species include teeming schools of gold and green fusiliers, rudderfish, snapper, trevally, parrotfish, grunts, powder-blue surgeonfish and blue-ringed and emperor angelfish.

The Basses Reefs:

Marked by a lighthouse, this pair of reefs feature rugged sandstone formations and drop-offs, canyons, gullies, ridges and turrets, carved out of sandstone by prehistoric seismic action and the waves. Look for black coral trees, fan corals, whip corals, multihued sponges, and pelagic visitors like sharks, dogtooth tuna, barracuda, grouper, trevally, rays, sweetlips, and snapper. Due to their location, exposed to both the southwest and northeast monsoons, these reefs are only accessible from March to early April.

Trincomalee:

Famous for the blue, sperm and Bryde's whales and dolphins that are regularly spotted close to shore here, the enormous natural harbor (fifth largest in the world) features a coastline made up of dozens of bays, inlets, reefs, rocky peninsulas, cliffs and islands, resulting is a great variety of undersea terrain and aquatic life. In addition to the marine mammals, look for schools of barracuda, giant trevally and the occasional shark.

Hermes Wreck:

Attacked by the Japanese in 1942, this British aircraft carrier went down with more than 300 men, and now rests in 55 metres/180 feet of water. Due to its depth, this dive is restricted to technical divers. The wreck is patrolled by schools of trevally, mangrove snapper, and yellowfin barracuda, and offers views of mangled gun emplacements, spars and girders, now covered with gorgonians and whip corals.

Car Carrier Wreck , Colombo:

This car carrier, which sank in 1983, is beautifully encrusted with coral. Cars are still visible on the deck at 23 metres/75 feet, and the propeller is still intact at 27 metres/90 feet. Large batfish and groupers live in the hull.

The Barge , Colombo:

This barge lies upright in 27 metres/90 feet of water, bristling with marine life. The deck is carpeted in corals and teeming with schools of tropical fish. Whale sharks also put in occasional appearances.

World War II Plane , Colombo:

This small plane lies on a sand bottom in 30 metres/100 feet. You can still identify the aircraft's wings, its coral-encrusted cockpit and the twisted remains of its propeller.

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