From Colombo to Mannar Island and few and far in-between; kitesurfing in Sri Lanka was an experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Seventeen hours of no movies, spicy noodles, gin & tonic’s, two layovers and no idea what to expect we touched down in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Flying from New Zealand to Colombo on Air Asia was an extremely pleasant experience considering the mere $800 return we paid. Our flights were relatively on time and effortless.
Struck with a wave of heat and tiredness as we hopped off the plane, we dawdled our way through the airport. After much relief locating our bags and kite gear, it was found with much distaste that Tom had only bought two left foot jandles. Our first moment of mild panic was met after the introduction of our lovely driver, who didn’t speak a word of English. Unsure of how much cash to get out, if there were ATM’s in Kalpitya, we withdrew a substantial amount of cash and kept our heads down. The realization that we were in a different country hit us hard when we climbed aboard our van; we weaved in and out of scooters, flew past honking buses and countless amounts of stray dogs roaming the streets. I decided the best tactic was to sit back and accept my fate. Three hours later the colour and commotion of Colombo had thinned out to small shacks of the side of the road and vast amounts of countryside. In my jet-lagged state I had become well adjusted to the Sri Lankan style of driving.
20 hours of transit later, one of the most comforting things to encounter was Susantha and the team at Sun Wind Beach Kalpitya who automatically made us feel at home. We got shown around the site, it was everything you would imagine if you’re after an authentic experience. Handmade cabanas lined the edge of the property, hammocks resting upon the deck of each hut and a bar and the dining area stood in the middle. All of this laid upon a sand floor, with creative art hanging off each tree.
We traveled to Sri Lanka in September. There are two kitesurfing seasons, one typically runs from May to October and the other December to March. Although we arrived near the end of the season we still had some nuking days up at Mannar Island. Visiting at the end of the season also meant there were fewer people around. The first few days of our trip were spent unaccompanied by wind, which did spark a small amount of panic. It gave us time to establish our bearings and make some tuk-tuk trips into Kalpytiya town. Thanks to the help of Susantha we discovered the loveliest Vietnamese food truck one minute down the road – think rice paper wraps, banh mi, salads, and mango smoothies. This would become our local. Behind this sat the framework for a cable park which is up and running now. Would most definitely recommend renting scooters and explore the town, quite the culture shock to us born and bred Aucklander’s.
On our third day, the wind decided to join us and we made our way over to the sandbar. The Kalpitya Lagoon is the main kite spot. Whilst there is the potential to launch from outside the accommodation spots which line the edge of the lagoon, most places offer free boat rides over to the sandbar. We based ourselves on the sandbar for most of the day and we kited until we could kite no more. One note of caution, spiky shells. Perhaps the most lethal-looking shell I have ever seen in my life, they are designed to ruin your holiday. We were all riding boots so fortunately did not have any spiky incidents, but something to be aware of if you are riding straps or learning. We followed the same routine most days; sleep-ins, fresh fruit, and roti breakfast; the wind would pick up around 10 am and we would cruise over to the sandbar. Also to note there is a smaller lagoon called the Kaplidally lagoon. It’s located about a 20-minute scooter ride away. Whilst we didn’t kite it, the water appeared flatter and the spot looked less gusty. There are a few accommodation options there. If you do check out this location be sure to stop in at the Kite House Cafe which offers some delicious Western and Sri Lankan food.
Our nights consisted of the most beautiful food cooked by Susantha’s mother, old arrack and hangs in the tree hut. Old Arrack is a coconut based rum, an absolute game changer for those who get debilitating hangovers. We did make it to one party in another resort, but overall was relatively quiet; apparently far more social in the peak season. One of the highlights had to be a Sri Lankan festival we went to with the guide of Susantha. It. was. hectic. Hundreds of Sri Lankans filled the small festival space; circus games, food, competitions and not to forget the motorcycle cylinder? I’m sure there is a name for it, apparently quite common across Indonesian countries as well. To get to the top you have to make your way up about 20 steep rickety steps, no handrail. Once ten meters in the air, without anything stopping you falling off, you peer down the cylinder to the motorcycles at the bottom. They speed their way up to the top, riding parallel to the ground. Insane. Just glad to be alive really. While we thoroughly enjoyed Kalpitya after around four nights we were keen for the next adventure. Vella island.
Cabanas at Sun Wind Beach
Sun Wind Beach
Tree hut at Sun Wind Beach
Boat rides to the sandbar
Roy at Kalpitya Lagoon
Vietnamese food truck
Road to the Vietnamese food truck
Scooter tow ups at Kalpitya Lagoon
Rusty at Kalpitya Lagoon
This island is the definition of a kiters paradise. Crystal blue waters, sandbar, friendly dogs, uninhabited aside from a few fishermen. This was the highlight of the trip for me. We set out early one morning for an overnight trip. It took around one hour in the small boat to arrive at Vella; there is the potential to do downwinders from the surrounding islands too. Small shacks line the edge of the water, each owned by different kite schools. We kited all day – the wind picked up in the evening and we got the most amazing sunset kite, aside from Rusty. Rusty’s kite suffered a very unfortunate fate after two stray dogs decided to have a scarp on top of his kite. Needless to say, he spent the rest of the night throwing rocks at the stray dogs, beware! Night drifted upon us and we mellowed out with a delicious fish dinner and some beers. The stars were out in full force and we drifted to sleep upon the sand with no sound but the water lapping the edge of the spit. Whilst I can’t honestly say it was the best sleep in the world, I am incredibly glad for the experience. Morning dawned and we repeated the routine – kite until you drop. A slightly uncomfortable boat ride back and we arrived back in Kalptiya. While you do have to splash out more money to go to Vella, I cannot recommend it enough, definitely a highlight of the trip.
Tom at Vella Island
Roy and Rusty at Vella Island
Tom at Vella Island
Vella Island sunset
Mannar island sits at the top of Sri Lanka, six hours north-west of Kalptiya. One route can take you through the national park which was an experience in itself; crocs and monkeys were the main stars. The kite spot is incredible, world class. Kilometers of flat water stretches out behind a sandbar. This sandbar extends all the way to India, apparently, on low tide it is possible to walk all the way. Because of this, the Sri Lankan navy patrol the edge of the sandbar, in order to kite here, you’ll have to talk to them first. We stayed at Susantha’s place in town, access to the sandbar was by boat followed by a downwind back to the village. If you were making your own way up this place
could be one to check out. Extremely untouched by tourists, you’ll really be able to get into the local way of living. Mannar Island was the last of our kitesurfing pitstops. We stayed a night in Negombo in order to shorten the trip to the airport the following day. You can get some beautiful hotels here.
Mannar kite spot
Road to Mannar
Road to Mannar through the national park
Costs: With any travel, there are cheap ways to do things and expensive options, we routed somewhere in the middle. Generally speaking, Sri Lanka is cheap, $2 curries, $10 bottles of rum, $1 snacks all from town. When in the kite spot, all surrounding accommodation is pretty westernized meaning you will be paying more than this for food and drinks. The trip to Vella island and Mannar did end up adding to our total significantly, completely worth it though. There would be cheaper ways of doing this, such as busing up to Mannar and staying in alternative accommodation. You will end up paying a fair amount on taxi services, Kalpitya is three hours above the airport. So completely up to you and your budget along with how much you are willing to spend.
Getting there: Fly into the main airport in Columbo. From here it’s about a three-hour journey to Kalpitya. Most places offer an airport transfer service for an extra charge, ours cost around $100 NZD. If not there are plenty of taxi drivers around; I would assume this method would cost more. To Vella Island, the only option is by boat. Most kite accommodation offers this at an extra charge. We paid a few hundred each which included all food and transport. To Mannar Island it’s a 5-hour drive, again Sun Wind Beach offered this service.
Food: The food was amazing. This could be potentially biased due to the fact most nights Susantha’s mum cooked for us. Breakfasts were made up of fresh fruit, pancakes, omelettes, and toast. For lunch and dinner think fish curries, spicy beans, fresh roti, fluffy rice. All produce was fresh and collected locally. Fish played a big part in most dishes. If you’re not much of an intrepid foodie there are westernized places around, we wandered to Lak Laguna for some burgers one night. The kite house cafe by Kaplidlly lagoon also had a big range of Western and Sri Lankan food.
Kiting: Most importantly what we thought of the kiting. Mannar and Vella were definitely the best spots by far, butter flat water and also far less crowded and gusty than the main lagoon. The main lagoon is good, just not as prime as the other two spots. If you are planning on learning to kitesurf Kalpitya Lagoon and Mannar islands would work in your favor. The wind was pretty good. We were slightly unfortunate that a huge system was coming in just as we were leaving. We had 11 out of 14 kiteable days, some a bit light. We were at the end of the season so can imagine it would be unreal in peak season.
What to expect: Sri Lanka is still a developing country, if you’re expecting 5-star accommodation like back home this isn’t the travel destination for you. In saying that everything was beyond comfortable and there’s something fulfilling in adjusting to a more authentic way of life. There is wifi, its not great. Use it as a chance to get away from it all, if you need wifi for work would recommend sourcing your own portable wifi. It is hot. We had about 28-30 degrees each day, which was perfect being in the wind and on the water. Our rooms had small fans which were surprisingly enough to keep us cool at night. There are so many stray dogs. This has been a huge problem in Sri Lanka which they are currently addressing by de-sexing these dogs. We never encountered any vicious ones, although Rusty may have a different opinion on this after they popped his kite. Don’t go there expecting the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Islands, in saying that Vella has a similar vibe. Everything is uniquely beautiful.