The town of Negombo is a major tourist destination in Sri Lanka. It is about 37 kilometers north of the capital city of Colombo. This town has a small port and a fishing industry that has gone on for centuries. The town’s economy is maintained by its tourism, fishing and production of cinnamon, brassware and ceramics. But what really makes this town popular is the Negombo lagoon and beaches.
The town first earned its place in the Sri Lankan map when the Portuguese introduced cinnamon production to this town. The cinnamon industry was managed by the Moors (Muslims), which continued even with the coming of the Dutch in 1640. It was also around this time, particularly in 1672 when the Dutch people built a Dutch fort. The fort is still standing today (although not in the best condition) as an important historical landmark. When the British took control of Sri Lanka in 1796, the cinnamon industry took a slow downhill turn as well as the town’s overall economy.
Negombo lagoon is a prominent feature in this town but the fishermen in the area remain in abject poverty, living in thatched homes along the edge of the lagoon. They continue to use traditional outrigger canoes carved out of tree trunks and rely on traditional ways of fishing, relying on their limited knowledge of the seasons and weather conditions. They bring in a modest catch only in the months of September through April. Before global warming, earlier fishermen around the lagoon enjoyed a bountiful supply of shrimps, crabs and several kinds of fish. Today, however, life is much more difficult. Local fishermen now head farther into the ocean, collect palm sap for a living or brew native wine. Fishing remains to be the most important form of trade, though. In Negombo is found Sri Lanka’s second largest fish market, the Llelama. Fish auctions are held here every day, watched and participated in by a number of foreign tourists.
Traditional Negombo fishing canoes come in two kinds: the “oruva” (a sailing canoe) and “paruva” (a manpowered catamaran with kurlon dividers). These boats were brought in by the Portuguese in the 17th century from islands off the Mozambican coast.
Other than the lagoon, the leading tourist draw in this town is, of course, its beaches. Local beaches are among the better beaches in the west coast. They offer so many fun water activities and world-class attractions such as colorful coral reefs and a 50-year-old shipwreck. There is a stretch of a quiet sandy beach as well as other areas that are always bustling with the activities of local fishermen. Thousands of local and foreign tourists come to these beaches to fulfill their dreams of taking a vacation in paradise.
Other local attractions include a protected marshland, locally woven handicrafts, a 100-km long canal network through the town, and centuries-old Portuguese and Dutch homes, buildings, and churches. Negombo is not difficult to reach since a good highway and railroad system runs through it, and it is not very far from the international airport.