Kalpitiya is known for its beaches and boats – so if you’re ever there in November or December, it’s the right time to go out to sea and check out the dolphins.
Kalpitiya is apparently the best place to go dolphin watching, while down South is better if you want to see whales. Kalpitiya is about 4 and a half hours from Colombo if you take the bus, less if you use your own vehicle.
To get there, you just take an hourly A/C bus from the Pettah bus station to Puttalam (3 hours). Get off at the Puttalam bridge, and take another normal bus at the stop to Kalpitiya (1.5 hours). Kalpitiya is a long thin stretch of land coming out of the side of the island – between it and the mainland is the Puttalam lagoon, and above that the Dutch Bay, the Portugal Bay and then the Gulf of Mannar.
You go pretty far north to see dolphins, somewhat on the northern edge of the Portugal bay.
The best way to go dolphin watching in Kalpitiya is through your hotel, and we’re pretty sure most if not all of them organize dolphin tours. We went through Ruuk Village, a cabana resort on the Puttalam lagoon – the guys at the resort generally strike a deal with a boatman to take you out to sea in an eight-seater motorboat. It’s pretty costly at around 15-16K for a boat ride, which we were told is mainly because of the price of petrol to travel that far. It’s obviously better to go in a group.
You get some amazing boat tours in Kalpitiya because of the scattering of mini-islands and mangroves around the Puttalam lagoon. Once your boat reaches the tip of the islands near the Dutch Bay, it will probably stop at this small naval base on a stretch of beach, which doesn’t even exist on GPS. You’ll be told to wear your life-jackets here and the boatman or whoever’s in charge will get off and walk up to the naval base, a tin-roof shack, to get permission to go further up north.
Watch out for the greeting party here, a small army of puppies and dogs.
The water gets a little choppier after this point because you’re leaving the lagoon. So in a small eight-seater boat it’s actually loads of fun because you’ll be riding big waves – this is not advisable if you’re the type to get sea-sick and especially if you’re there in late October when it can be a bit windy. The dolphin region is roughly towards the north of the Portugal bay, which will be about 2 hours from land, so you’ll probably be out at sea for about 4+ hours.
Dolphins avoid windy seas, which is why being aware of the season is so important – November and December ideally, although the season is technically upto March. Kalpitiya is also well known for its kite-surfing, but the sad thing is you can’t do kite-surfing and dolphin-watching on the same trip, because if it’s the windy part of the year it’s good for kite surfing but bad for dolphins. Make sure you call your hotel and ask them if it’s the right time before you make the trip.
We caught up on kite-surfing on our trip to Kalpitiya – the wind was good – but that meant no dolphins for us when we headed out to sea. So we’ve got a few pictures for you of Kalpitiya dolphins taken by Dhammika Heenpella and Danushka Senadheera. Dolphins are considered to be some of the Earth’s smartest animals, they’re extremely social and bottlenose dolphins especially are said to identify one another the way humans do. You can see up to 1000 of them swimming in a group if you’re lucky.
Dolphin watching is definitely a great idea for a group vacation, maybe during December holidays. The boat ride in Kalpitiya is plenty of fun, you’ll pass by mini-islands of rich forest on the way to Portugal bay and being out on deep sea waves is an experience in itself. After dolphin watching you might be able to detour to and visit Kalpitiya’s mangroves, the Elephant Tree and the old Motuwarama Dutch Church before heading back to land.