Extreme Nomads’ Guide
To Kalpitiya

 

Carved into the northwest coast of Sri Lanka, jutting out on its own peninsula, Kalpitiya is a small fishing town known best for its strong seasonal wind and plentiful flat water lagoons.

Throughout history, this little town has often been a strategic military position. From the original Veddahs, to the later Tamil Kingdom, and from 1505 the Portuguese, then the Dutch.

Today Kalpitiya’s shores are mostly wandered by the local fishermen, and the growing water sports tribe who come to make the most of the world-class kiteboarding conditions. Still the area is under strong watch by the Sri Lankan Army, and you may sometimes share the water with military ships.

Outside of the water sports community, Kalpitiya still remains quite untouched by modern tourism.

On and off the water, Kalpitiya’s natural surroundings and rich wildlife is enough to make your jaw hit the floor. Dozens of species of whales, dolphins, sharks, and manta rays call these northern waters home. While inland, the nearby Wilpattu National Park is home to elephants, crocodiles, and one of the world’s most densely populated wild leopard communities.

Action Score

KITESURF
SUP
DIVING

Internet in Kalpitiya

 

It’s been just over 20 years since Sri Lanka gained access to unrestricted internet (it was the first country in South Asia to do so). Since then, the quality and speed of internet has been steadily improving throughout the entire country.

In fact, every time Sri Lankan broadband speed doubles, the national GDP increases by 0.3% according to this study.

That being said, there’s still plenty of room for further improvement.

Internet speeds in Kalpitiya average at 15 Mbps download and 7 Mbps upload, which is more or less in line with the Southeast Asian average. See stats for Sri Lanka’s internet speed here.

Unfortunately, Kalpitiya is frequently affected by power outs which can last as little as a few minutes and as long as several hours.

If you’re planning to work remotely from Kalpitiya, it’s advisable to get your hands on a 4G dongle. SIM cards and 4G data are very cheap in Sri Lanka (around $5 USD for 5GB) and coverage is good. SIMs are available at the airport and in local convenience stores.

Dialog is the biggest mobile service provider, followed by Mobitel, and Etisalat.

Best Sports In Kalpitiya

Kitesurfing in Kalpitiya

 

Sri Lanka plays a starring role in the kiteboarding industry, and is the home of the factories and test centers for big brand names like Best, North, Core, Carved, and Faith.

Kalpitiya is the most popular kitesurfing spot in Sri Lanka, and has already served as the country’s main kiting hub for well over a decade.

The high season runs from mid-May until the end of September (or the beginning of October, if it’s a good year). During this time, the wind blows daily at an average of 25 knots.

Then there’s the “winter” season, which brings semi-reliable afternoon winds from mid-December through February/March. The winter winds are considerably lighter, and average between 15-20 knots.

Developments are happening fast. The main spot, Kalpitiya lagoon, now plays host to nearly a dozen kitesurfing schools. But this lagoon isn’t the be-all and end-all of kitesurfing in Kalpitiya.

By nature of the shape of the peninsula, there are plenty of nearby lagoons and unspoiled islands that make for a refreshing change from the main spot.

Kalpitiya Lagoon:

This lagoon has long been considered the top kitesurfing destination in Sri Lanka. During the season, the shallow lagoon receives 25 knots of wind virtually every day-sometimes even stronger. During peak season, the wind here can be pretty gusty.

The water, although butter flat, is brown and murky. However- colours aside- it’s the perfect place to practice your wakestyle riding thanks to the super strong wind and mirror flat water.

Many people also like to begin learning kiteboarding in the flat, shallow water- but be warned: when we say Kalpitiya Lagoon is shallow, we mean seriously shallow. In certain parts there might only be a couple inches of water- taking a tumble could be pretty painful.

There are a dozen or so kitesurfing schools in Kalpitiya Lagoon to choose from. Most of them offer their own accommodation packages, which are definitely worth checking out.

The kite stations are also the epicenter of social activity in Kalpitiya, so if you’re looking to hang out and meet people, this is the place to be.

We recommend:

KitesurfingLanka: Lessons and gear rental? Check. Beachside glamping? Check. Sea view villas? Check. All-inclusive luxury stays in a catamaran? Ohhh yes… Check. But KitesurfingLanka are about much more than just awesome services. They also have a huge focus on social and environmental causes in the locality. Their efforts range from teaching English to local kids and sterilising street dogs to powering the entire kite center off of solar energy.

SriLankaKite: One of the longest standing kitesurfing schools in Kalpitiya, SriLankaKite offers full services in terms of lessons, advanced clinics, gear rental, and awesome kite tours to the nearby “secret” spots. They also have tons of accommodation options, from quirky teepees to luxury beach front bungalows.

Kappalady Lagoon:

Just 16 kilometers south of Kalpitiya Lagoon, Kappalady Lagoon offers similar conditions to its northern neighbour. Butter flat water and strong, gusty wind is the norm here. During the season, the wind starts blowing early in the morning and continues throughout the entire day.

The lagoon is considerably smaller than Kalpitiya Lagoon, and there’s little here in the way of beach facilities. It’s best enjoyed as part of a downwinder from Kalpitiya- fun, if you’re looking for a change of scene.

Puttalam Lagoon:

Further south still, Puttalam Lagoon is a great spot to sneak away to if you’re hoping to beat the crowds. But be warned: Puttalam Lagoon is extremely remote, with very limited road access in the surrounding (military) land. There’s also fishing lines visible in the water. We strongly advise that you only come here with a local guide who knows their way.

Hazards aside, it can be an incredible experience to cruise around here. A far cry from the crowds at Kalpitiya, if you head downwind and make it all the way to Puttalam, yours could easily be the only kite on the water.

Vella Island:

Located an hour and a half up the coast from Kalpitiya, Vella Island is the cream of the crop when it comes to local kite trips.

You’ll need to drive half an hour up the coast first, then take an hour long boat ride over to the island. From there, launch your kites and explore the surrounding flat, clear waters. The wind is much more stable here than in Kalpitiya, which is why many kiteboarders prefer to ride in these parts.

There’s an absolutely amazing downwind route from the launchpoint on the island- a must-do if you want to see the best of the northwest. It’s an easy ride too thanks to the forgiving conditions, so even if you’ve never done a downwinder before, you’ll be well able.

One word of advice: the beach is actively used by fishermen, so there’s lots of sharp little fish bones on the ground. It’s worth wearing a pair of booties to avoid getting speared.

Mannar Island:

Just 16 kilometers shy of Indian waters, Mannar is the new kitesurfing spot in Sri Lanka that everyone is talking about. Well, everyone who knows, that is.

This little island is part of a wider chain of islands that sit on the outer edges of Adam’s Bridge, a delicate chain of limestone shoals that stretch between Sri Lanka and India. It’s thought to have once connected the two.

Kiting here is absolutely magic.

The crystalline waters are butter flat, protected on the outside by a sandbar. The wind lives up to Sri Lanka’s strong reputation, but unlike the lagoons around Kalpitiya, it’s steady and free of gusts. In fact, it’s touted as having ‘the most consistent wind’ in all of Sri Lanka.

The kiteable area here is also much bigger than Kalpitiya (16 kilometers in total), and as of yet- is almost completely untapped. In terms of the local facilities, there’s almost nothing there. Just a fishing village, a scattering of hotels, and a handful of friendly locals who tend to keep to themselves. Up until very recently, the only kiters who ventured to these parts were intrepid solo explorers and in-the-know locals. However, as of very recently, KitesurfingLanka have become the first to establish a club in Mannar.

Find them at KitesurfingMannar.

Wakeboarding in Kalpitiya

 

A cable park has been in the making for the last 2 years, and is hopefully on track to be opened in the near future. More info coming soon.

Suping in Kalpitiya

 

Paddle boarding is an awesome way to explore the area in and around Kalpitiya.

The surrounding land is littered with hidden rivers lined with mangroves, sea estuaries, and flat water lagoons. Many of the best local SUP routes eventually connect with the open sea, so if you enjoy a mix of flat water paddling and challenging sea SUPing, you’re in luck.

Paddle boarding on the sea in Kalpitiya can be an incredible experience.

Humpback whales, minke whales, and dolphins make regular appearances along the northwest coastline. November-December and March-April are considered whale watching season in Kalpitiya, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re around during this time.

Kappalady Lagoon is a beautiful place to explore on a SUP (on a no-wind day, that is- it can be rather gusty otherwise, and difficult to paddle in). The lagoon stretches along the border of the peninsula for a kilometer and a half, and in some parts is nicely protected from the wind outside.

Bordered by mangroves all along the edges, the waterway twists, turns, and narrows in some places to just a few meters in width. From here, it’s easy to paddle out further to sea where you’ll have the chance to play around on some baby waves at the break point in Kalpitiya.

Where can you rent SUP boards in Kalpitiya?

A generous amount of local resorts have paddle boards available for rent, and rates tend to be pretty similar between them. Your best bet is to look out for the resorts that have a dedicated water sports center, or at the very least- look for resorts that are near the sea or the river.

On top of that, many of the local kite schools also have stand up paddle boards up for grabs. Some of them rent them out hourly or by the day. Others will provide them free of charge if you’re already staying with the kite school or taking kite lessons from them.

Diving in Kalpitiya

 

Late November to early May is the best time of year to go diving in Kalpitiya, thanks to the fortuitous conditions hitting the west coast at this time of year.

Conveniently, this coincides with whale and dolphin watching season. Humpback whales are the most commonly seen, but there’s also a chance of seeing minke whales, sperm whales, melon-headed whales, or (if you’re lucky) blue whales- the largest mammal on earth.

Just an hour off the coast from Kalpitiya, the 300 kilometer long bar reef is the largest reef in Sri Lanka. This is one of the most popular spots for diving in Kalpitiya. At the bar reef, you can see reef sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, and tons of tropical fish.

The waters around Kalpitiya aren’t heavily affected by any underwater currents. However, they are affected by the tides: two high water and two low.

The water temperatures in Kalpitiya rarely drop below 23.5 degrees Celcius (75 F) so you won’t need a wetsuit- even during the ‘winter’ months. That being said, some like to wear a thin suit to protect their skin from coral.

Kalpitiya Diving Center: This PADI certified center offers diving lessons for beginners, open water dives for both beginners and advanced divers, snorkeling and scuba diving experiences, as well as excursions to local hot spots for whale and dolphin watching.

Kalpitiya Discovery Diving: This top-notch dive center offers a range of lessons and open water diving experiences for both beginner and advanced divers. They also run PADI certification courses, so you can even walk away from the experience as a certified diver. Their custom built boats are specially designed for their open water excursions, and are available for private charter upon request.

Where to stay in Kalpitiya

 

If you visited Kalpitiya as little as 5 years ago, you’ll remember that local accommodation options were fairly scarce. There were a small handful of kite schools that offered their own lodgings, but they were on the expensive side, and there were very few alternatives.

Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that accommodation options in Kalpitiya have expanded quite a lot.

If you’re heading this way to kite, the best option is to stay at the kite center’s dedicated accommodation (or, alternatively, one of the neighbouring guesthouses). For one cover-all price, you’ll have your own room (or tent. Or teepee. Or luxury beachfront bungalow). You’ll also get wifi access, meals, beach services, and access to club equipment- though the deal varies between each center.

This is the preferred option for many, not only from the perspective of convenience, but also for the social aspect. Staying in town (where there’s little of interest socially) means you’re far away from the action- and the parties!

It’s also possible to go solo and find an apartment to rent in town from one of the locals. There’s little in the way of facilities or agencies, so you’ll have to go rogue and do some digging on your own. You could find an apartment for $200/month, though most likely whatever you find will be unfurnished (and may or may not have reliable wifi).

On the other hand, guesthouses and hotels all offer free, reliable wifi as standard.

 


Working & Coworking Spaces in Kalpitiya

 

As it stands, Kalpitiya is still pretty off-grid when it comes to remote work facilities. There are currently no coworking spaces in Kalpitiya, and thus far, no suitable cafes or restaurants in town to work from either.

Of the digital nomads who are already staying in long term in Kalpitiya, most of them work comfortably from the kiteboarding centers and their adjoining cafes. Most of them are open-air, have very good wifi, and serve fresh food and coffee every day.

When the kite stations are busy however, the wifi router can easily become overloaded. If you plan on working here, it’s advisable you have a 4G dongle as backup.

 


Markets & Food in Kalpitiya

 

Sri Lankan food is awesome.

Delicious daals, coconut curries, and colourful dishes made with every spice you can imagine. Vegan and vegetarian food isn’t always standard but is usually available if you ask specifically.

Overall, however, the eating out culture in Kalpitiya still has yet to catch on. You can count the town’s restaurants on one hand. In effect, virtually all of the tourists end up eating at the restaurants and cafes attached to the kitesurf schools.

In terms of markets, there’s little to be found in Kalpitiya village itself- although you can find fresh seafood markets and small wet markets in the neighbouring towns. The local supermarkets are well-stocked. You’ll find everything from fresh fruits and veggies to meats and various household goods.

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How to get there & around

 

Officially, Sri Lanka has two international airports- though virtually every flight arrives in Bandaranaike International Airport (Colombo). The airport is well-connected with the rest of Asia, and also offers daily direct flights to Europe and the Middle East. SriLankan Airlines and AirAsia offer the best range of low cost flights connecting Sri Lanka with the rest of Asia.

It takes roughly 4-5 hours to cover the 170-odd kilometers between Colombo and Kalpitiya.

The quickest way to make the journey is by private car or taxi. On a good day, the drive could take as little as three hours (though 4 is more likely). Expect to pay around $80 USD for the journey.

There’s a direct bus that leaves from Colombo’s Pettah CTB Main Bus Stop and goes straight to Kalpitiya. This is the cheapest way to get from Colombo to Kalpitiya by far (albeit possibly the slowest), with ticket prices costing just a few dollars.

Lastly, there’s the train. With travel times hovering around 4 and a half hours, it’s comparable with the bus- although it is a shade more comfortable. The train departs from Colombo Fort and stops at Puttalam, just outside of Kalpitiya.

After arrival, getting around Kalpitiya is pretty straightforward. Tuk tuks and three wheelers are the most common mode of transport for nomads. Some of the kiteboarding schools at Kalpitiya lagoon will even provide access to them at no extra cost if you’re staying in their lodgings.

If you’re planning to stay in Kalpitiya long term and you’re keen on being mobile, you can rent a 125cc motorbike for around $10/day. It’s hard to get that price down much though, even if you’re negotiating long term rentals.

Cover Picture: Jim Thirion
Contributors: Leo Moret
Aya Oshima

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