Treasure island: Sri Lanka’s Pigeon Island National Park

Pigeon Island National Park with its white powdery beaches on the east coast of Sri Lanka is an aquaphile’s dream. Snorkellers are drawn to the splendour of its ocean’s residents—shy reef sharks, endangered turtles, bright-coloured fish such as lionfish, raggedfin parrotfish, humphead wrasse, blue-ringed angelfish, cornet fish, boxfish, surgeonfish, eels, butterfly fish, squids, octopus, or the soft corals such as sinularia, lobophyton and sarcophyton.

Signage on the island

Best visited between March and October, and situated one km from the coast of Nilaveli, a coastal town in the Trincomalee District, the island is named after the endangered rock pigeons of the region. Declared a sanctuary in 1963 to protect them, it was announced a national park in 2003 to include the coral reefs. It is Sri Lanka’s 17th national park, and one of its two marine national parks; Hikkaduwa is the second. The island itself comprises two smaller ones namely large and small Pigeon Islands.

Though there is scuba diving, windsurfing, swimming and fishing, snorkeling is the most popular activity. The reefs are shallow—one to seven feet—and safe for beginners. A deep calmness takes over as they float over the water in silence. And then, marine life opens like colourful surprises. 

Keep an eye out for the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle with its narrow, pointed beak. It’s harvested for its prized shell that’s made into ornaments. 

If you’re lucky, the elusive black-tip reef shark will make an appearance before you.If snorkelling isn’t your thing, other attractions beckon; a trip to the Koneswaram temple is one of them. A 40-minute drive from the island, the 17th-century hill-top Shiva temple offers panoramic views of the island. Believed to 
be one of the Panch Ishwarams or the five abodes of Shiva, there are caves beneath it, dating to the Sangam Period. Not to be missed are the Kanniya Hot Springs—seven wells with varying temperatures, the waters of which are considered therapeutic. Locals believe King Ravana created them for his mother to bathe in. Ready to take a dip into history?