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Sri Lanka, Eastern Province
For paradise beaches, Sri Lanka’s East Coast is the equal of the famous West Coast. Like the west, there are long pristine swaths of white sands, fringed by ranks of coconuts palms tottering in tropical heat. Networks of coral reef lie offshore, providing colourful labyrinths teeming with fish for divers to explore. Back from the beaches, scattered ruins lurk among steamy junglescapes, rife with wildlife.
Yet overall the East Coast has few similarities with the west. It sits in the dry zone, rather than the wet, and often while tropical monsoons hammer the western shore, the east is bathed in scorching sunshine. The people are different too, more Tamil and Muslim than Sinhalese.
With old conflicts now resolved, the east has opened up to tourism and with spectacular results. Until now, the East Coast has barely been touched by tourism: a blissful undeveloped shoreline where even the footprint of another visitor in the talcum powder sands is rare. It’s where you should go to really escape the crowds, and it’s an emerging luxury holiday destination; the first 5-star beach boutique popped up in 2012 and others have since followed suit.
On top of the beaches, there is world-class diving, among the wreck of HMS Hermes or the coral gardens of Pigeon Island. Chilled-out Arugam Bay is a world-class surfing beach, while the southeast is renowned for its whale-watching tours. The coast’s major city, Trincomalee, is packed full of faded colonial buildings and crumbling Hindu temples.
And while the west may be known for its sunsets, in the east you get the rising sun: an orange globe intensifying slowly on the horizon, shimmering like a mirage over the cobalt sea.
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