Floating in the great blue 1km offshore, Pigeon Island, with its powdery white sands and glittering coral gardens, tantalises with possibilities. A nesting area for rock pigeons, the island is beautiful enough, with rock pools and paths running through thickets, but it’s the underwater landscape that’s the real star. The reef here is shallow, making snorkelling almost as satisfying as diving, and it’s home to dozens of corals, hundreds of reef fish (including blacktip reef sharks) and turtles.
Note that the recent surge in tourism has damaged the reef to a degree, so don’t expect a pristine marine environment. Close to the shore, some day trippers stomp all over shallow coral.
The Pigeon Island National Park Ticket Office is on the beach in front of the Anilana hotel. As with all national parks in Sri Lanka, the various fees and charges are myriad and can add up. The local boat owners association, Nilaveli Private Boat Service, has a hut next to the park office where you can arrange trips. Most dive shops offer trips here, as do many hotels. The busiest times to visit are May to September.