Back in the 1970s, HIKKADUWA was Sri Lanka’s original hippy hangout, a budget alternative to the fancier resort hotels at Beruwala and Bentota. Subsequent decades were not kind to the town: rampant over-development led to the systematic erosion of the beach and the creation of a memorable line of concrete eyesores masquerading as hotels, while the famous Coral Gardens were reduced to a circus of boats chasing traumatized fish through a labyrinth of dead coral.

Over the past few years, however, Hikkaduwa has begun to rise, cautiously, from its own ashes, as the tourist hordes have largely ignored the town, flocking to newer and less spoilt destinations further south, allowing Hikkaduwa to recapture some of its former sleepy, slightly hippified charm. The much abused beach and Coral Gardens are now being gradually rehabilitated, while following the tsunami many of the town’s bomb-shelter resort hotels were demolished or renovated, and the whole place is now looking better than it has for years, while even the formerly hectic and noxious traffic along the Galle Road has lessened somewhat following the opening of the Southern Expressway.

It’s still far from unspoilt, but compared to the somnolent resorts further north Hikkaduwa remains refreshingly lively, with plenty of restaurants, bars and shops to tempt you off the beach, and a crowd of predominantly young and independent travellers keeping things busy. Things are particularly lively during the annual Hikkaduwa Beach Fest, a three-day beach party in July/August with visiting international DJs and crowds of hedonistic locals and foreigners partying on the beach. Other attractions include excellent local surf, plus good diving and snorkelling. Beach and sea aside, there are also several interesting Buddhist temples around Hikkaduwa, all easily reachable by tuktuk or bicycle – though be very careful cycling along the treacherous Galle Road.