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Lying on the southern Sri Lankan coast, Hambantota is picturesque port city visited by a number of luxury cruises that explore South Asia and offers visitors a truly blissful beach experience as well as a number of nature-based attractions. Located on what was historically known as the Silk Road of the Sea, Hambantota was long a key trading stop for vessels from China, Malaysia and Arabia, which is partly the reason for its present-day split Buddhist and Muslim population. In 2004, it was hit by the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami and suffered greatly, though since then it has undergone significant development, with a new sea port bringing record numbers of cruise ship visitors and the construction of a cricket stadium, which hosted the 2011 Cricket World Cup, putting it on the world sporting map.
If your intention while in port is to relax and soak up a little of the Sri-Lankan sun, then Hambantota is certainly the place to do it and during your visit, you'll have plenty of time to take it easy on one of the city's blissful beaches. However, Hambantota's equally famous for its wonderful wildlife and experiencing it is a popular option with many cruise ship visitors. Bundala National Park offers a stunning combination of beaches, dunes and lagoons and is home to over 200 different species of birds, including the Fish Eagle and the Greater Flamingo. The park is much more than a sprawling bird sanctuary though, and during your visit, you can see elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys and turtles. Despite the safari nature of your tour, you'll find that Bundala National Park's not crowded by too many visitors at any one time and makes for a tranquil and enriching nature escape. Also nearby are Kumana National Park and Kalmatiya Bird Sanctuary, offering alternative destinations for your natural wildlife experience when visiting the area.
Hambantota is also the port of call for one of Sri Lanka's most key pilgrimage sites, Kataragama. Sacred to the country's Hindu and Buddhists as well as its indigenous Vedda peoples, the town also attracts pilgrims from southern India who all come to pay their respects at the Kataragama Temple complex. The most significant shrine to be found at the site is the one dedicated to Skanda-Murugan, the Hindu war god son of Shiva. Most of the shrines on the site, however, are managed by Buddhists, though there is also a shrine dedicated to the aforementioned Shiva, as well as a Muslim mosque. It's certainly a fascinating experience to visit a site venerated by a number of religions and witness pilgrims from different religions sharing their experiences.
If cricket is your thing, then it may be worth taking a different kind of pilgrimage to the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, which was built especially in time to host the 2011 Cricket World Cup. The stadium hosted two world cup matches, including the first international match between Sri Lanka and Canada. The stadium also hosted three 2012 ICC World Twenty20 matches in 2012.
Cruise passengers don't tend to visit Hambantota for the shopping experience, but that said, the Ruhundu Plaza Shopping Complex is the place to go if you're the type of person who feels that a cruise is not complete without a spot of retail therapy.
Hambantota District has an impressive choice of well over 30 restaurants and naturally, seafood is central to many a menu. Whether you want to eat an authentic Sri-Lankan dish right next the beach or sample a delicious curry further inland, you won't have to look far to find a good place to eat. Restaurant owners are well aware of Hambantota's reputation as a tourist draw and for the slightly less adventurous, you'll also find a number of establishments serving traditional western and Mediterranean cuisine, too.
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