Referred to as the 'pearl in the Indian Ocean', Sri Lanka is an Island with an abundance of coral reef around most part of it. The colourful coral reefs, the iridescent tropical fish, and ship wrecks dating back to hundreds of years can be explored at several diving locations around the Island. The varying rock formations have its own beauty for the dive enthusiasts to explore. While some diving schools around the island offer night dives at some locations, others provide with enough excitement during the day to keep the experiential traveller in suspense. Snorkeling expeditions can be arranged for the less adventurous to marvel at the beauty of the corals and fish from shallower seas.
Hikkaduwa – offers the divers an opportunity to explore many ship wrecks, impressive coral reefs and abundance of colourful and rare fish. The Conch, Earl of Shaftesbury and The Norsa are 3 of the main wreck diving sites while Kirala Gala, Goda gala and Ralahamy gala amongst a host of other reef and rock diving sites that are found around Hikkaduwa. For the less experienced and those looking for a relaxing introduction to marine life can easily opt for a snorkeling expedition at most reef sites. Shipwrecks around Hikkaduwa Conch is one of the world's first oil tankers built in 1892. Weighing in at 3555 tons, the steam powered tanker was sunk after hitting a rock in 1903 while on its way to Madras. The wreck is well preserved and the visibility is stable due to the rocky bottom. At a depth of 12-21m, the site offers groupers, napoleons, queen angelfish, other reef fish, soft Corals, Feather Stars, Moray Eels, cuttlefish, titan triggerfish and the large grouper inside the wreck for you to marvel at.
Earl of Shaftesbury is one of Sri Lanka's oldest wrecks that dates back to the 1820s. A steel 4 mast sailing ship, Earl of Shaftesbury sank following a fire and is now lying on a sandy bottom. At a depth of 14m, marine life that visits the site includes native sweetlips, stingrays, groups of silver batfish and schools of Fosters barracuda.
The Norsa is a steam ship that sunk in 1889 is now lying on a rocky bottom known as Passi Gala closer to the wrecks of Conch and Earl of Shaftesbury. At a depth of 15m, divers can experience an array of fish life.
The following are dive sites with notable Reef and Rock formations around Hikkaduwa with most sites also providing snorkelers with an opportunity to explore marine life.
Wallduwa also known as Coral Garden Rocks at a depth of 3-10m is ideal for beginners. The site has an abundance of marine life including reef fish, sea turtles and corals. A small Cave, known as "the cave" at a depth of 8-16m located in close proximity to the Coral Garden Rocks contains a "garden" of coral. Visitors are welcomed to this site by the reef fish and sea turtles that roam the area. Hikkaduwa Gala at a depth of 5-18m is also a great place for beginners to explore the beautiful rock formations and many of the reef fish.
Sunil Gala (rock) at a depth of 6-18m and the Kadawara Gala (rock) at a depth of 5-18m are similar in their formation where the large rock near the surface of the ocean carries all the way to the bottom with reef fish, groupers, sea lions and morays frequenting the area. Sunil's Rock is located close to the coral reef in Hikkaduwa, with an abundance of caves in the sea bed. Kadwaragala according to legend is where God "Kadawara" who is known to influence the good as well as the evil landed in Sri Lanka. Goda Gala at a depth of 8-26m is a large rocky area with moray, big groupers, rigger fish, box fish, lobsters and schools of other small fish in abundance. In close proximity to the Godagala is Ralahamigala Rock which attracts tropical fish such as moray eels, snappers, barracuda, as well as octopus, turtles, lobsters and a variety of ornamental fish. Kirala Gala at a depth of 21-38m is one of the best deep dive sites where the dive starts at the bottom of a large rock formation and ending at the surface by spiraling around it. There are plenty of reef fish, soft corals, groups of trigger fish, barracudas, travellys and groups of batfish to be found. A glimpse of mantas and whale sharks may even be realty at times. Teli Gala also known as the Barracuda Point at a depth of 12-28m has an abundance of sting ray, barracuda and groups of small fish. A site worth visiting to meet the Napoleons is the "Napoleon Point" at a depth of 24m. This dive site is a combination of rock and reef, with an abundance of Napoleons, groupers and colourful reef fish.
Black Coral Point at a depth 16-30m is one of the most beautiful diving sites more suitable for the experienced diver. The site contains corals of many colours including black corals and a variety of fish including Feather Stars, Moray Eels, angel fish and snappers. Pathapara located near the ship wreck Conch is at a depth of 32-36m and is a very long reef with big rocks that attracts barracuda, seer fish, groupers and spotted eagle rays. Some of the dive sites that are more suitable for the experienced divers are the Silva Point at a depth of 12-30m that is frequented by Fusiliers, Sweetlips and other reef fish; Banda Point at a depth 22-36m that has small reef fish and groupers congregating to greet the visitors. Other dive sites in the area are: Tunaththa Rocks at a depth 6-15m that is known for its share of Soft and hard corals, shoals of silver batfish and fusiliers; Seenigama Rock that is covered with beautiful corals of varying shapes with an abundance of marine life including barracuda, moray eel and rays and Yakamuththagala Rock meaning "The rock of grand demon" in Sinhala that has an abundance of corals and colourful fish.
Galle – is a paradise for wreck diving due to the ship number of ship wrecks that are available in the seas off of Galle. Following are some of the noteworthy shipwrecks around Galle that can be freely accessed from Hikkaduwa or Unawatuna.
The Alliance is a British wooden cargo sailboat that was carrying charcoal which is now lying on a sandy bottom. The dive will take you down to 23m where you will come in close contact with many Reef Fish.
The Arcturus is steam ship that was built in 1870. The wreck is now lying on a large rocky bottom known as Mada Gala. At a depth of 18m, there is an abundance of fish life including dolphins and groupers and soft corals.
The Rangoon built in 1863 was a steam ship that was a part of the P & O fleet. Weighing in at 1776 tons with 400 hp engines, she did regular trips from the Suez to Calcutta. The wreck is upright in full sailing position making it one of the most beautiful diving sites in the Island. At a depth of 30m, there is an abundance of marine life including glistening jelly fish, blue striped snappers, Sri Lankan and Javanese rabbitfish, grey snappers, blue fin trevally, and little glass fish.
The Panamanian Crispigi Cross carrying rice and paint that sank in the 1980s leaving its engine intact at a depth of 16 meters and the British Orestes, steam ship that was carrying a cargo of bricks at a depth of 16meters are some of the other diving sites around Galle. Also in the vicinity of the Galle harbour is a wreck of a Ship built in 1866 belonging to the Ocean steam ship Company in Liverpool that is now lying on a sandy bottom.
Unawatuna - Lord Nelson, a modern boat that sank in 2000 while carrying a cargo of cement at a depth of 18 meters, Diyamba Kupotha, a scenic rock formation at a depth of 15m with an abundance of Napoleons and potato cods to keep you company and Talpe Reef , also a scenic rock formation spanning from east to west at a depth of 30m with an abundance of corals and tropical fish are some of the popular diving sites in the area. The Galapitagala and the Napoleon reefs are multilevel dives that give you an opportunity to meet an array of fish. While the bay at Unwatuna itself isn't an exciting snorkeling location, one could still observe some of the colourful reef and fish closer to the reef.
Weligama - located approximately 30 km east of Galle offers visitors with many snorkelling and diving opportunities. The Prince Hienrichpatch (PHP) at a depth of 20m, is located South East of Weligama Bay area. A rock formation of unique shapes, it offers a variety of stunning marine life including manta rays, bull ray (marble ray), giant morays, yellow margin morays and honeycomb moray eels. A smaller anchor can be found at this sites that appears to be of colonial era and a smaller version of one that is found at the Galu Gala dive site off the Galle Harbor. The Bridge rock at depths of 20m, offers a variety of nudibranchs and sea slugs. Lionfish, giant puffer fish and other reef fish can be found swimming in the caves with one cave appearing to be dedicated to glassfish and small barracuda. The Yala Rock at depths of 18M, is a multi level rock mountain that is prone to constant surge. The dive starts at approximately 15 meters and one can ascend by circling the rock and exploring various rock formations and fish life.
Kirinda – more known for its fishing village and the temples of historical value offers great diving opportunities at the Great and Little bases. The reef is approximately 40 km long, starting with the Great Basses light house located closer to Kirinda extending up to the Little Basses light house located closer to Kumana. The basses offer three main wreck sites - The 40 gun frigate Daedulus sunk on 2nd of July 1813 near Little Basses and the Flute Overness sunk in 1704 & Alette Adriana sunk in the 1760's near the Great Basses. Thousands of silver Indian rupees were discovered by Sri Lankan author Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Mike Wilson during one of the dives in 1961. It is believed to be from the ship belonging to the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707, son of the the great Shah Jehan who built the Taj Mahal in Agra, India) which was out on a trade mission in the far-east. In addition, the Basses also offer sandstone reefs (formed due to strong tides), ravines, pillars, pinnacles, caves and crevices. An excellent dive site at depths of 3-20M, scores of fish including groupers, gray sharks, tuna, angelfish, rays napoleons, snappers and other regulars in the area can be observed. The Basses are located in an area that has rough seas for the most part of the year, and the best times for diving are from 15th of March to 15th of April. Since the surge and currents tend to be strong near the Basses, this dive site is recommended only for those experienced and are comfortable with strong surf, surge and currents. Kalpitiya – offers the largest coral reef in the Island. The bar reef, located within an hour's boat ride from the beach and only 5m deep, is great for the diver as well as the snorkeler to observe the variety of tropical fish, manta rays, reef sharks and at times the turtle. There are many other diving sites with depths of 14 to 18 meters- Bull Dog Reef, Paraw Gala, Sponge Coral Reef and Fire Coral Reef along with deeper dives at Asoka Reef and Hipposis Reef around Kalpitiya offer divers an opportunity to swim with some of the magnificent marine life in the region. Trincomalee - Snorkeling around the famous Pigeon island is the most popular and a must do for the visitors to Trinco. With many dive sites around Trinco, there is something for every diver to enjoy in the surroundings of one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. Pigeon Rock at a depth of 10M to 15M has a robust growth of beautiful corals and is ideal for snorkelers as well as divers to watch the bannerfish, butterfly fish, flute fish, crocodile needlefish, turtles and puffer fish in action. Admiralty Floating Dock 23 is one of the largest ship wrecks in the world with a length of over 1000 ft, a width of 200 ft and weighing in at 80,000 tons. For the history buff and the wreck divers, another site to explore is the fallen aircraft that is believed to be one of eight British RAF Hawker Hurricanes that was felled down by the Japanese during the second attack of Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) by the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War. Swami Rock at a depth of 22m and Sitanampara at a depth of 18m are both scenic rock formations with an abundance of a variety of fish. The Eel rock at 18m depth offers viewings of moray eel, sea anemones, nudibranch's, and the rare pyramid boxfish. The "Small Grouper Rock" and Muttigala both at 15m, offer viewings of sea anemones, Maldives and clarks anemonefish, panther torpedo rays, blue spotted sting rays and trumpet fish. Coffin Ray Point located east of Pigeon island has a rock formation that is about 20M deep. This is site that is guaranteed to give the divers a glimpse of electric coffin ray. White Rock at 12M and Knife Rock at 15M are great to explore a variety of fish while the Black Tip Point at a depth of 2-8M is one of the best sites to see black tip reef sharks, turtles, anemones, clown fish and reef fish.
Batticaloa and Passikudah are now popular destinations for snorkeling and diving. The wreck dives at H.M.S Hermes Wreck at a depth of 53M is a victim of World War II and is considered one of the best wreck diving sites in the world. The Boiler Wreck at a depth of 9M is another popular wreck diving site in the area. British Sergeant (depth: 13-27m) Lady McCullum (depth: 10-17m) and Gladys Moller (depth: 3-10m) are some of the other wreck sites in the area. The Mushroom Reef in Passikudah at a depth of 14M, The Passikudah Reef at a depth of 6M, the White Rock (Ven Paarai) at a depth of 16m and Marakkala gala at a depth of 20M are all rock formations with an abundance of beautiful fish surrounding them. Some of the better known species of fish that can be seen are parrot fish, fusilier, trevally, sweetlips, emperor, banner fish and trillions of rainbow runners. The wreck dive sites in the area and the Passikudah reef are also popular for night dives. Colombo has been the best kept secret for divers that visit the Island! With many wreck sites on offer, the capital Colombo is being taken over as a diving hot spot from many of the previous front runners.
Pecheur Breton, a cargo wreck at depths of 18-32m is the most popular dive site in Colombo. Known as the Cargo Wreck, it is the MV Pecheur Breton, a French vessel that sank in 1994 while carrying scrap to India. The invaders to the ship include the pipefish, sweetlips, snappers and groupers.
Medhufaru at depths of 14-29m is a Maldivian cargo vessel that sank in 2009. It is perfect for a multilevel dive with the top of the bridge at 14M. Batfish, lionfish, and fusiliers inhabit this diving site that is popular with experienced divers as well as the novice.
Chief Dragon, a car wreck at depths of 24-35m is a car transport vessel that sank closer to the northwest corner of the Colombo Harbor. Broken chassis of old cars can be found across the main deck at a depth of 24m and the wreck is visited by trevally, mackerel and barracuda.
Nilagiri, a tug wreck at depths of 20-31m is a harbor tugboat that sank in 1997 while trying to assist another ship. The upside down tug boat at a depth of 30m has twin propellers and rudders standing upright with the lionfish frequently visiting the site to greet the divers.
SS Perseus at a depth of 30-40m and the SS Worcestershire at a depth of 45-57m succumbed in 1917 to German sea mines. These sites are for the experienced divers only due to the depths involved. With many other wreck sites such as the Taprobane East Wreck, Coal Ship, Taprobane North Barge, Battery Barge, Panadura Wreck and Gorgonian Garden available in the Colombo seas, the city is a must visit for the diving enthusiast.
Colombo - is also known for the rock and reef formations. Snapper Alley at a depth of 25-32m is a part of an extensive rocky ridge running parallel to the shore. Many varieties of marine life can be found on the seaward and leeward edges of the reef. The Galle Face Point at a depth of 28-40m is the northern extension of the reef system that is more rugged than the Snapper Alley. Barracuda Reef at a depth of 19-24m is also an extension of the rocky reef with corals and a variety of reef fish. Many other reef sites such as Ten Fathoms (depth: 15-18m); Kadiranmaga (depth: 20-25m) Taprobane East (depth: 20-25m) Serendib Reef (depth: 20-25m) Palagala (depth: 8-14m); Pandora's Box (depth: 14-18m) are available in the Colombo seas for the divers to explore.
Negombo - has its share of wreck sites and reef and rock formations to offer to the avid diver as well as the snorkeler. The Ula Gala also known as the Barracuda reef with a depth of 2-12M is good for snorkelers and for the open water training dive no 1. A variety of fish as well as a part of a wreckage of the ship "Asia carrier" which sank in 1980 can be seen from this site.