Best known for whale and dolphin watching, the Kalpitiya Peninsula in the Northern Province has become a tourist attraction only in recent years. Comprising 14 little islands that are nestled between the Puttalam lagoon and the Indian Ocean, it is an idyllic destination, still fairly untouched by tourism. There’s plenty of boutique hotels and guesthouses in the area today to cater to the growing number of visitors.
Kalpitiya gets its name from the Tamil word, Kalputti, which translates to ‘stone elevation’. It was called Arasadi during ancient times and Calpentyn during the colonial era. The area has long been one of the most important centres for maritime trade in the island, even before it was colonized by Portuguese and Dutch settlers, although the former is said to have given it the name, the Island of the Cardiva. A large fort, built in 1667 by the Dutch, still remains here. It is said to have been built on the location of a stockade and Jesuit chapel built by the Portuguese. Today, visitors will see the remnants of a chapel, commander’s room, barracks and prison. The fort served as important military garrison at the time for thousands of soldiers at the time and was a strategic point in which the Dutch could sabotage the trade of King Rajasinghe, who ruled at the time, and also monopolize trade by seizing ships that were coming into the island from India.
The Portuguese and Dutch had significant influence in the culture and architecture of the area, and even today, every July, hundreds of Catholic devotees visit the statue of St. Anne, which is believed to have the power of performing miracles. Their veneration on this day culminates in a large festival at the St. Anne’s Church.
However, Kalpitiya is most visited today for those who are keen to see the large pods of dolphins that play around in the waters of the ocean. Spinner dolphins are the most common type seen here. On a regular day, it is possible to see hundreds of them - even as many as 600 - just a kilometre off the shore. Another type is the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin that frequents the Puttalam lagoon. They are not as easy to see as they only come into the lagoon waters in the early hours of the morning.
The area is one of the best places to spot a sperm whale, known for having the largest teeth amongst all whale species. The blue whale, the largest animal to have ever existed at an average 98 feet in length, has also been seen here in the last eight years. Between December and April, it is not uncommon to see locals and tourists alike visiting Kalpitiya with the hope of catching a glimpse of this magnificent creature.
A little known fact is that Kalpitiya is also a great location to spot several species of seabirds, especially pelagics and waders. They frequent this area because of the fishing villages that dot the coastline, and records have sometimes shown upto 75 bird sightings a day.
Kalpitiya is also home to the largest coral reef in Sri Lanka. At 307 square kilometres, the reef is inhabited by several tropical fish, mantra rays, reef sharks and a few sea turtles, which makes for an exhilarating experience for divers and snorkellers.
Kitesurfing is also one of the most sought-after activities here, with many schools and instructors available for those who are seeking a little adventure during their stay here. For a more relaxing way to explore the area, take a canoe or boat ride along the lagoon. The golden, unpolluted beaches here are also ideal for soaking up some sun, and, during the season, swimming in the blue sea.
The best times to visit Kalpitiya is during the months between November and April. When travelling to Kalpitiya, make sure to stock up on beach holiday essentials, like headwear, sunglasses and sunscreen.