Extreme Nomads’ Sports and Outdoors 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 tourism still remains fairly low-key.
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.
Best Extreme Sports & Outdoor Activities 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. And no two ways about it, Kalpitiya tourism is largely centered around the sport of kiteboarding.
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.
Best season for kitesurfing in Kalpitiya
The high season runs from mid-May until the end of September (or the beginning of October, if it’s a good year).
Then there’s the “winter” kitesurfing season in Kalpitiya, which brings semi-reliable afternoon winds from mid-December through February/March. The winter winds are considerably lighter, and average between 15-20 knots.
Conditions for kitesurfing in Kalpitiya
During the main kiteboarding season in Kalpitiya, the wind blows daily at an average of 25 knots- often with gusts in excess of 30. The Kalpitiya wind arrives over land from the southwest during these months, which is why it’s usually very gusty by the time it reaches the lagoon.
But during the winter season for kitesurfing in Kalpitiya, the wind direction changes to northeast and reaches the lagoon from across the sea- meaning it’s much smoother and far less gusty than it is during the summer season.
For the latest updates on the Kalpitiya wind and forecast, check out the readings for windfinder Kalpitiya.
Kalpitiya and the surrounding areas are known best for their lagoons, where the butter flat water is ideally suited to beginners and freestyle riders. That said, there are also plenty of open sea spots which have wind chop, as well as some wave riding spots.
The water at the main spot, Kalpitiya lagoon, is flat. The colour of the water is less than appealing- sort of a murky brown- but don’t let that put you off. Local kitesurfers assure those passing through that the water is perfectly clean and poses no health risks (though, it being the tropics, bacterial infections are always something of a risk if you’re kitesurfing with any small cuts or bites).
Best spots for kitesurfing in Kalpitiya
Kitesurfing at Kalpitiya lagoon
This lagoon has long been considered the top kitesurfing destination in Sri Lanka thanks to its perfectly reliable wind season and near constant stream of 25+ knots.
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.
Other spots for kitesurfing in Kalpitiya
Apart from Kalpitiya Lagoon and the outside Indian Ocean, there are also a handful of other spots in the nearby vicinity that are worth checking out.
- Kappalady Lagoon
- Puttalam Lagoon
- Vella Island
To find out more about each of these spots, check out our full guide to kitesurfing in Sri Lanka.
Kitesurfing schools in Kalpitiya
Though today there are close to a dozen kitesurfing schools in Kalpitiya, the ones we recommend from our own positive experience (as well as the overwhelmingly positive reports from other kitesurfers) are:
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.
One of the longest standing kitesurfing schools in Kalpitiya, SriLankaKite offers full services in terms of lessons, advanced kite 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.
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.
Conditions for SUPing in 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.
Best spots for SUPing in Kalpitiya
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 to 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
Best season for 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.
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.
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.
Best spots for diving in Kalpitiya
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.
Dive centers in Kalpitiya
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.
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 as little as 5 years ago, you’ll remember that the question of where to stay in Kalpitiya returned few easy answers. 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 finding accommodation in Kalpitiya is much easier.
If you’re heading for kitesurfing, the best place to stay in Kalpitiya is at the kite centers’ dedicated accommodation. For one cover-all price, you’ll have your own room (or tent. Or teepee. Or this awesome eco beachfront bungalow. You can even stay in a rad converted VW bus). By going for these options, 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 Kalpitiya 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 Kalpitiya 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
The Sri Lanka digital nomad scene is growing fast, but as it stands, Kalpitiya is still pretty off-grid when it comes to remote work facilities.
There are currently no coworking spaces in Kalpitiya town, but there are a few cafes and restaurants, with decent wifi quality, where you can easily find some quiet time in between eating hours. Most digital nomads in Sri Lanka tend to prefer Colombo or the southern surf spots, but working remotely here is also totally doable, as long as you don’t need internet speeds higher than 20 Mbps.
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.
Where to shop and eat in Kalpitiya
Sri Lankan food is awesome, and though Kalpitiya town is rather small, there are a few choice places where you can get your grub on.
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 town itself- although you can find fresh seafood markets and small wet markets in the neighbouring towns. The local supermarkets in Kalpitiya town are well-stocked. You’ll find everything from fresh fruits and veggies to meats and various household goods.
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 in Kalpitiya town has been steadily improving.
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 (though in practice, the upload speed is often much lower), which is more or less in line with the Southeast Asian average. See stats for Sri Lanka’s internet speed here.
Unfortunately, Kalpitiya town is frequently affected by power outs which can last as little as a few minutes and as long as several hours.
As for mobile internet in Kalpitiya:
If you’re planning to work remotely from Kalpitiya, iwe advise getting 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 in Sri Lanka, followed by Mobitel, and Etisalat.
How to get to Kalpitiya
When it comes to getting to Kalpitiya from abroad, it pays to be prepared for the long-haul:
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 from Colombo to Kalpitiya.
Colombo to Kalpitiya by car
The quickest way to make the journey from Colombo to Kalpitiya 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.
Colombo to Kalpitiya by bus
There’s a direct bus that goes from Colombo to Kalpitiya, departing from the city’s Pettah CTB Main Bus Stop. 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.
Colombo to Kalpitiya by train
Lastly, you can also take the train from Colombo to Kalpitiya. 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.
Getting around Kalpitiya
After you’ve made it from Colombo to Kalpitiya, the actual act of getting around Kalpitiya town 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.