Pigeon Island National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s two marine national parks. The park is located one kilometre off the coast of Nilaveli, in the Eastern Province, and encompasses a total area of 471,429 hectares. The park is very well known for containing some of the best remaining coral reefs in Sri Lanka.
There are two islands within the park, Large Pigeon Island and Small Pigeon Island. The larger island is the one that is fringed by the coral reef.
The park sits within Sri Lanka’s dry zone, with the area receiving a mean annual rainfall of 1,000-1,700 mm and an average temperature of around 27 degrees Celsius.
Pigeon Island: What to Do
Given the fact that the park contains one of the country’s best remaining reefs, it should come as no surprise that the main attraction at Pigeon Island National Park is swimming, snorkeling, and diving.
The reef at Pigeon Island is especially shallow, making it extremely easy to truly explore the reef with nothing more than a snorkel. Visitors will have the opportunity to see, explore, and experience dozens of varieties of corals, hundreds of different forms of reef fish (including blacktip reef sharks), and various species of sea turtle.
If you want a more organized reef experience, it is very easy to find yourself a diving trip, tour, or excursion that will provide you with a professionally lead reef experience. Poseidon Diving School and Sri Lankan Diving Tours offer trips to Pigeon Island.
Additionally, if you are staying in a hotel in the area, it is likely that they will offer a diving trip or tour of some sort. Of course, an organized dive isn’t essential and if you want a more relaxed diving, snorkeling, or swimming experience, you most certainly can have it.
There is equipment rental available and visitors are allowed to explore the water on their own. Divers should be warned that unregulated tourism in the area has lead to a certain amount of degradation of the reef.
While the diving is still excellent and among the best Sri Lanka has to offer, it is not quite as pristine as some other sites that diving enthusiasts might have visited in the past.
If swimming, snorkeling, or diving isn’t your thing, there are other attractions at Pigeon Island National Park. As one might expect from an island park, there are also fantastic beaches that make for a wonderful beach day. In fact, the area is popular as a sunbathing and beach-going destination.
There are few finer places to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach, listening to the water and taking in the sun than at Pigeon Island. If you are a bird enthusiast, you might also enjoy Pigeon Island for the abundance of rock pigeons that call the area home.
The island derives its name from these pigeons and they are a common sight throughout the islands and the park. Finally, there is some history at Pigeon Island. During the colonial period, the island was used as a shooting range for soldiers.
While no relics of this use remain, history enthusiasts will be interested to know this fact as they embark on their visit to the island.
Pigeon Island: Where to Stay
While there is no accommodation within the limits of the park itself, there are a number of hotels and guest houses along the wonderful sandy beaches of Nilaveli. From Nilaveli, visitors can literally see Pigeon Island National Park. The town is only a 15-minute boat ride away and offers a variety of accommodation options for any budget.
Pigeon Island: How to Get There
By far the easiest way to access Pigeon Island National Park is via Nilaveli beach.
From Nilaveli, there are boat services that run all day between the mainland and Pigeon Island. It is only a 15-minute ride to the island. Visitors should note that in addition to the cost of the boat, there is an entry fee to the park.
There are additional fees for renting whatever equipment you might want to use when you get to the island. As such, visitors should be prepared for these charges so that they can get everything they want out of their visit to Pigeon Island National Park.