Elephants and curry
Even though I spend most of my time on the road playing professional cricket, I still love returning to Sri Lanka's south coast to chill out with friends. And when it comes to coastal relaxation, softball cricket is the ticket. In Hambantota and along the entire south coast, you will always see games going on in any available space, both on the beach and in the coconut groves nearby. Visitors are always welcome to join the action.
Visit Yala National Park
Perhaps the biggest attraction closest to Hambantota is Yala National Park. This is the best place to see leopards on the island. Elephants are a big attraction, too - Sri Lanka has 10% of the world's elephant population. If you're into birds, then closer to Hambantota there is also Bundala National Park, a coastal sanctuary famous for its birdlife. Stay at one of the mid-range hotels outside the park, like Yala Village, or camp inside the park with a specialist wildlife operator.
Fishing is a big part of everyone's life in the south and Hambantota is no different. For tourists it is fascinating to watch the fishermen return and sell their catch by the road or in the local markets. Hambantota has a large fishing fleet and you can watch the fleet return while having a sweet snack at Ruman's Bakery, the best bakery in town. Deep-sea fishing is also possible at various places, including in Mirissa, about 2.5 hours' drive from Hambantota. They also organise whale- and dolphin-spotting trips.
Visit the Rekawa Turtle Sanctuary
This place is an uplifting experience. The staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers, and you can visit during the day or at night. If you're fortunate, you might see turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Rekawa is slightly to the east of Tangalle, on a long strip of unspoilt beach. Great day trip from Hambantota, possibly with lunch and a swim at the Amanwella Hotel.
When I was younger I enjoyed surfing. Most of the best surf beaches are on the south west coast, but Mirissa on the south coast has some great breaks and is a top place to chill out for a day (or a month!). It also has some great little beach restaurants serving simple but delicious fish barbequed straight from the ocean.
Visit places of religious interest
The deep south has a proud cultural heritage. The historic towns of Tissa and Kataragama are located here. Tissa has giant domed Buddhist temples dating back to the second century BC. The jungle shrine of Kataragama has great religious and historical significance and brings together Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians each day to worship at its numerous temples.
Try the local curries
The south is a relaxed and rural area. The food reflects this. Beside fish, the main staple is rice and curry - and lots of it! Be brave and try some, although it is sure to be spicy. One good eating tip is the Refresh Hotel in Tissa for a rice-and-curry lunch. A local delicacy is buffalo curd made in traditional clay pots, wrapped in newspaper and sold by the side of the road. They say Hambantota produces the best curd in the island. Mix it with kitul, a local honey made from coconut, for dessert.