Nilaveli was already an established beach resort in Trincomalee on the East Coast of Sri Lanka as early as the 1970s with two classy beach-front hotels in operation. I stayed at one of them in 1980 and thoroughly enjoyed it. The four-kilometre long palm fringed beach was exquisite and the hotel served sumptuous but uncomplicated Sri Lankan fare.
Not many visited Pigeon Island then, even though it is only a kilometre out to sea. It is tiny, only 100 metres wide and 200 metres long. Local fishermen would ferry you there and back if asked. The reputation the island had as a nudist beach may have kept some away but there were only a few tourist who sun bathed without swim suits but the main attraction of Pigeon Island was the snorkelling. The reef was pristine with colourful corals and the blue waters were teeming with reef fish including non-threatening blacktip reef sharks. Hawksbill, Green and and Olive Ridley turtles visited the beach and Rock Pigeons bred on the island.
I remember the visit to Pigeon Island in 1980 as one of the greatest snorkelling experiences of my life.
I returned to Nilaveli Beach several times over the years but a second visit to Pigeon Island did not happen until the autumn of 2019. Now Nilaveli is crowded and dotted with beech-front hotels of various grades. There is even a diving school.
Pigeon Island is a Marine National Park now and a tourist hot-spot requiring a ticket to visit it. Instead of fishermen, there are tour operators to take you to the island.
The beach on the island facing the mainland is where you land. Its white sand and broken corals glisten in the bright sun.
A shady picnic are separates the beach from a little bay with access to reef and the open sea beyond.
The water is cool and crystal clear. Like everywhere in Sri Lanka, the surge in tourism has had its impact on the reef. Some corals are broken and dead and you have to swim further out to see fish. Visitors have even started using scuba equipment.
Should one bother to go there? Of course! Despite the crowds and dead corals, Pigeon Island remains a magical place.