“Driving in Sri Lanka is dangerous, the diving isn’t” was a t-shirt we saw while on our trip in Sri Lanka. This turned out to be quite accurate.
Before you head out for some diving in Sri Lanka, make sure to check the season as the diving will move within the country based on where the seas are calmest. Some dive resorts will even have several locations which of only one or two are open at a given time. Your diving location in Sri Lanka should be checked based on the monsoon season. During the off-season the sea is very rough with big waves, strong current and poor visibility, which makes for a “no diving” combo. As a general rule of thumb, from April to October the East cost is the place to head to, where as from October to March (approx.) head for west and south coast diving. Make sure however to check with the dive centre before you go to be sure about the available diving at the time. (Due to the seasonality, we can only comment on East Coast diving for now.)
For East coast diving head for the area around the town called Trincomalee. Trincomalee, in North Eastern Sri Lanka is the bigger town in the region, however Uppuveli and Nilaveli are closer to the dive sites and offer great options for accommodation and host multiple dive centers to choose from (e.g. Nilaveli Diving Centre who we found to offer great services).
Dives around Nilaveli and Uppuveli are generally easy dives with a lot to see in terms of beautiful corals and abundant fish and other creatures. Dives are mostly shallow and deep dives are actually difficult to find apart from a couple of dive sites. Most of the dive sites are less than 15 meters in depth, therefore the sites are suitable also for less experienced divers. Generally you will find the divests within 5-15 minutes boat ride away from the dive centre.
Visibility varies significantly and is quite unpredictable. During our 10 days stay in Nilaveli, we experienced visibility between 5-20 meters but generally it was around 15 meters.
But what did we actually see during the dive? It is possible to spot a huge variety of sea dwellers around the North Eastern coast of Sri Lanka ranging from whales and sharks to small critters. during our stay here, larger animals remained somewhere in the blue, however we did see many interesting reef fish including a variety of moray eels, various lion fish, rays, stone and scorpion fish and blooms of comb jellyfish (these guys don’t have stingers so no need to worry about them).
An especially interesting dive site is near to the Hindu temple south of Trincomalee where you can find a collection of statues and offerings to the gods near to the cliff where the temple sits. Rumor has it that some of the statues are a couple hundred years old.
Where to stay? Nilaveli is the most quiet and peaceful location and also closest to the dive shop. As mentioned, our dive center recommendation here is Nilaveli Diving Centre (NDC). The main shop is located on Nilaveli Beach, yet they also have shop on Uppuveli Beach where you can book your dives. NDC is a PADI IDC Centre (you can train to be an instructor here) and naturally cater too for all levels of divers with all PADI courses offered. They also cater for non divers with snorkeling trips to nearby Pigeon Island. The centre offers free Nitrox to those who are certified to use it which makes some of the deeper dives here more worthwhile. NDC has several small boats that take max six divers each boat. The groups are divided based on the diver’s certification level and experience, which gives great flexibility to take the groups to location that they are interested and suitable for their level. The dive sites are close to the beach, and the boats return to the dive shop in between dives so you can relax and recharge for the next dive.
Personally, we had the opportunity to complete a Rescue Divers Course here which was very enjoyable and personalized to suit the time schedule of our stay. Over all the course was handled in a professional manner and the helpful instructor and other dive staff at the centre made the course very memorable!
Generally less is know about diving in Sri Lanka compared to places such as Thailand and Indonesia, but having been diving all around South East Asia, we can highly recommend checking out Sri Lanka as your next dive destination.