Confusingly, Koggala Lake is signposted as Bird (or Birds) Island from the main Koggala Road near to The Fortress Hotel. Follow these signs and don’t worry too much about directions, you’ll be pounced on by a tout offering a boat trip around the lake before you have chance to get lost. Intimidating at first and then very welcome as you reach a dead-end and have no idea how to get to the lake. Ah, walk the length of the of the train station platform, obviously!
Look at that man on the train tracks
I remarked to my husband. Next thing I knew we were joining him on the tracks as we made our way along them before taking a right turn through a gap in a bush to arrive at the lake. Needless to say we wouldn’t have found our way there without the touts! And that’s when an annoying tout comes into their own and turns into a helpful guide!
I’ll admit I had to fight my urge to run away screaming when I saw the slightly ramshackle boat we would be taking for our trip, but I threw caution to the wind and soon we were aboard and on our tour of Koggala Lake.
This isn’t Bird Island, this is a rock near to Bird Island – with a lot of birds on it.
First up we passed Bird Island, where there’s a lot of, you guessed it, birds. It’s where they go for a kip of an evening.
As you pass Bird Island you start to realise how vast the lake is – seriously it’s huge. Keep your eyes peeled for crocodiles and crazy fishermen standing in the crocodile infested waters fishing rod in one hand, cigarette in the other!
Next stop is temple island which houses a beautiful little temple, mostly used on Poya days.
Next it’s a short boat ride to Cinnamon Island where, erm, cinnamon is grown. A husband and wife team demonstrate the preparation of cinnamon sticks and powders and even let you have a go for yourself. Plus they give you a cup of yummy cinnamon tea.
The final destination? The Herbal Garden, with a tour of the various plants and herbs grown on the island (ginger, chillies, coconuts, aloe vera etc…).
We were given the option to visit Jungle Island. I asked our guide, who by now we had built up a good rapport with, what was on jungle island. His response:
God, I love those Sri Lankans sometimes. Bless ’em. Having done our fair share of jungle in Borneo we declined the offer and were pleased we did as we came to the jetty side of the island a large lizard thing grinned at us. I wouldn’t have fancied getting up close and personal with him thank you very much.
Granted the tour wasn’t the most informative. Our guide continually apologised for his poor English. What it lacked in information it made up for in charm. By the end of the tour we were getting on so well with our guide that he invited us back to his home to meet his wife. Go for the experience, not the commentary!
Cost: Depends on how good you are at haggling – we’re pretty rubbish!
Top Tip: Wear sensible shoes, some of the tracks on the islands are a bit ‘off-road’. There’s a lot of exit through the gift shop type action on the islands, don’t feel pressurised to buy if you don’t want to, but don’t berate this behaviour on Trip Advisor like many have. It’s just local people trying to make some money – sheesh!