BERUWALA is Sri Lanka’s resort destination par excellence, perfect if you’re looking for an undemanding tropical holiday with hot sun, bland food and characterless accommodation. Big resort hotels stand shoulder to shoulder along the main section of the broad and still attractive beach – Beruwala’s so-called “Golden Mile” – often separated by stout fences and security guards from contact with the ordinary life of Sri Lanka outside.
That, at least, is the normal state of affairs, although at present Beruwala is undergoing a temporary hiatus thanks to major redevelopment all along the seafront. A couple of landmark hotels (the Riverina and Tropical Villas) are currently closed for renovations, while several new hotels, including the massive Chaaya Bey, are under construction further up the beach on the site of resorts destroyed in the tsunami. Much of the strip is thus currently an enormous building site, while the relative lack of visitors means that the whole place feels strangely deserted compared to its normal bustling self. Expect the whole resort to be back up and running again by sometime in 2014.
Beach and resorts aside, the area (including neighbouring Bentota) has also developed into Sri Lanka’s major centre for Ayurvedic treatments; most of the larger hotels offer massages and herbal or steam baths, and there are also a number of specialist resorts (see Ayurveda: the science of life).
North of the resorts, scruffy Beruwala town is where Sri Lanka’s first recorded Muslim settlement was established, during the eighth century. On a headland overlooking the harbour at the northern end of town, the Kachimalai Mosque is believed to mark the site of this first Arab landing, and to be the oldest on the island. Containing the shrine of a tenth-century Muslim saint, it’s an important pilgrimage site at the end of Ramadan.