Sri Lanka Highlight: Beruwala Fish Market

Getting old sucks. I’d never had problem with jetlag before but the last 2 years I’ve noticed that it’s taking me longer and longer to recover from trans-ocean flight.

It was thus the case during my trip with Cinnamon Hotels in Sri Lanka that every morning at 4 am I’d find myself wide awake. And STARVING.

In a way this was a blessing in disguise. I got to enjoy the beautiful grounds of various Cinnamon properties at pre-dawn lights. (The sunrises in Sri Lanka are amazing!)

Cinnamon Bey Hotel, Sri Lanka
Cinnamon Bey Hotel, Sri Lanka

In Beruwala, the kind desk worker, after spotting me prowling around the buffet line lobby suggested I checked the nearby fish market. “It’s best to be there early in the morning, preferably before 7” – it was 6 am. Perfect.

From the smell and sight that greeted me as soon as I entered the Beruwala Harbor, I knew I was in for a treat.

Being the only foreigner and female in the market, there were a lot of stares. Can one truly get used to being stared at?

I’ve gotten my shares of curious stares but it still makes me awfully uncomfortable. I squared my shoulders and plunged into the chaos.

And chaos it was indeed. People were yelling their wares, bargaining, unloading bucketfuls of fish off the boats. From mantas to sharks to giant tunas that require a chainsaw to turn it into manageable pieces. Does the ocean really have this much fish to spare?

Chaotic Beruwala

Hawkers selling their goods at Beruwala Harbor

Big fish

Too busy taking pictures I kept getting yelled at for almost stepping on piles of fish that were on the ground. There were fish everywhere. I had to step carefully around piles of fish.

Sometimes it’s a big pile, other times it’s a small pile of half a dozen fish. I’m not really sure how everything works – did the fishermen sell the fish directly or are these men hawking fish middlemen?

Fish and more fish

And even more fish

Not an optical illusion. It was a really big fish.
Not an optical illusion. It was a really big fish.

Once a purchase is made, you can the take your newly purchased fish to one of the butchers in the back who’ll clean and fillet your fish for you. Dogs and birds roam the area picking at scraps.
Colorful fishing boats and a mosque lit by the morning sun formed the perfect backdrop to the activity.

It was messy, fishy, and strangely scenic at the same time.

I noticed that curious stares turned into shy smiles and polite nods wherever I caught their eyes.

Someone caught my eyes and pointed to a building nearby ‘up’, he said. It took me a second to realise that he was showing me where I could climb up and get a better vantage point of the market.


The fish market in Beruwala

Chaos at Beruwala Fish Market

The mosque near the Harbor at dawn

Colorful fishing boats in Sri Lanka

On my way down I got called over again. This time by a group of men repairing a fishing net. A few of them knew a bit of Indonesian having worked with fellow countrymen in Saudi Arabia so we chatted amiably in my native language – they never stopped working. Their hands working too fast for me to see what they were doing.

Repairing nets

Beruwala, Sri Lanka

‘Madame!’ – a man ran towards me over and told me that my tuk tuk driver was looking for me. My allotted time is up. I left feeling exhilarated.

I always recommend people to check out the local markets when they’re traveling. To be honest it’s not always the colorful tapestries you see in magazines. Sometimes it’s a photographer’s heaven, other times it’s just ‘meh’ if not downright dangerous.

Beruwala fish market is an example where it’s particular rewarding. I loved this kind of stuff. It had everything I looked for in a travel experience – a sensory overload of colors, smell, and humanity with a scenic background.

Tip: Wear close-toed shoes when visiting. My poor roommate had to endure my fishy sandals and feet for days!

Morocco has some of my favorite markets to browse and photograph. Do you visit the local marketplaces during your travel? Which country has the most colorful markets?

How to get to Beruwala Fish Harbor

Once in Beruwala, take a tuk tuk to the Harbor. A ‘there and back’ tuk tuk to ride the 3km from Cinnamon Bey to the harbor, plus an hour waiting time, was 300 rupees.

I was a guest of PTBA and Cinnamon Hotels during my stay in Beruwala.

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2 Replies to “Sri Lanka Highlight: Beruwala Fish Market”

  1. you bet there are middlemen. tuna that get’s caught in Sri Lanka goes on the plane to Japan and auctioned at crazy prices for sushimi.

  2. It’s funny, when I was in Sigiriya a woman heard me explaining to a man that I’m from Indonesia. Then suddenly she spoke “apa kabar?” then not long afterwards “terima kasih”. Such a nice thing when people actually know a little bit about Indonesia. Anyway, you’re lucky to get up that early and see the fish market — the skies looked beautiful! Although I might not enjoy the fact that sharks and mantas are also sold there.

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