Sprawling NEGOMBO is of interest mainly thanks to its proximity to the international airport, just 10km down the road – many visitors stagger off long-haul flights straight into one of the beach hotels here, or stay here as a last stop before flying home. Negombo’s beach is very wide in places, but rather shabby compared to the more pristine resorts further south, although the surrounding resort area is often one of the liveliest places around the coast if you’re in search of cheap beer and late nights. A couple of miles south of the beach, Negombo Town offers an interesting introduction to coastal Sri Lankan life, with a lively fish market, a dash of olde-worlde colonial charm and hundreds of colourful wooden boats.
The hordes of international tourists who descend on the town annually are merely the latest in the long line of foreign visitors who have done so much to shape Negombo’s decidedly cosmopolitan history. The town was one of the first to be taken by the Portuguese, who converted many of the local Karavas, and the area remains a stronghold of Christian Sri Lanka, as borne out by the imposing churches and florid wayside Catholic shrines scattered about the town and its environs. The Dutch transformed Negombo into an important commercial centre, building a canal (and a fort to guard it) on which spices – particularly the valuable cinnamon which grew profusely in the surrounding areas – were transported from the interior to the coast prior to being shipped abroad. Nowadays much of the town’s economy revolves around tourism, although fishing also remains vitally important, with the sea providing plentiful supplies of tuna, shark and seer, while the Negombo lagoon, backing the town, is the source of some of the island’s finest prawns, crabs and lobster.