Negombo is one of the island’s oldest beach resorts, and has been the beloved destination of package holidaymakers since the seventies. Although the resort is rightly famed for its wide stretch of golden sand beside which stand huge resort hotels facilitated by shops, restaurants and bars, it is the resort’s close proximity to the country’s international airport (7km) which has ensured its popularity endures. Water sports such as windsurfing and sailing are popular Negombo pastimes.
Negombo lies 35km north of Colombo and is one of the largest settlements in Sri Lanka. Famed for its huge and historic fishing industry, the town is facilitated by a network of Dutch-era canals and fringed by an expansive lagoon topped by outrigger canoes. As such, the fish market (lellama) at the northern end of the town’s lagoon is one of the most famous on the island and well worth a visit to see buyers haggling over the fresh daily catch, from the ocean and lagoon.
The town of Negombo has a rich history and many remnants of its colonial past still remain. The region first became famous for the superior quality of its wild cinnamon, which attracted a succession of foreign traders and colonial powers. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to set foot in Negombo in the sixteenth century, ousting the Muslim Arabs (or Sri Lankan Moors) for control of its trade. They managed to secure their hold on cinnamon for more than a century, however it is for their faith that their legacy endures. They were so successful in converting Negombo’s karavas (traditional fishing clans) to Catholicism that the religion remains in force today. Sometimes known as ‘Little Rome’, the town is dotted with churches and nearly two thirds of its population still professes the Catholic faith.