The history of Kalpitiya goes beyond the period of the Portuguese, Dutch, and Arabs' arrival to Sri Lanka. According to the "Mahawansa," Aryan prince Vijaya landed in "Thambapanni" (now called Thammannawa - copper sand or Kudirai Malai) with his brigade and found Princess Kuweni. When the Arabs engaged themselves in business on the sea routes, they discovered the natural port known as 'Kudirai Malai' as a safe landing area. While these Arabs received their provisions and water for their long journey, they also provided medical items and certain other items of trading on a barter system.
In the year 1495, the Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama came through the Cape of Good Hope and reached Sri Lanka. Thereafter, from the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese conquered the coastal areas of Sri Lanka and began ruling them. During their period of rule, they built a fort at Kalpitiya. Kalpitiya got its name from the Dutch fort, as the theory goes. 'Kal' means stone in Tamil, and 'petti' means box. During the Dutch period, the only permanent building was the large fort in the shape of a rock box. It is said that the village got its name from it. The spot where the Portuguese anchored their ship is known as the Portuguese Canal.
In the year 1690, the Dutch conquered this area from the Portuguese, and they further improved the fort. To the south of the Portuguese canal, the Dutch dug a bay, and even now, this bay is called Dutch Bay.
In 1795, the Dutch handed over this area to the British. To the west of the Dutch Fortress, the church called St. Peter’s Kerk was built by the Dutch and given a facelift by the British in 1840. The British also constructed many other churches in this area. As the population in this area increased, churches, mosques, and temples were built in this division.
Alongside the fishing community living in Talawila in the Kalpitiya Peninsula, a well-known Roman Catholic Church was built in the 17th century by the Portuguese, who had a divine vision of St. Anne. This church is the focal point of a pilgrimage for the feast of St. Anne, which is dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary and held in March and July every year. The church has a reputation for healing, and an overwhelming number of pilgrims throng to the church throughout the year.
As time passed and the population of different communities in the area increased, they have segregated and now live in different areas of the peninsula.
This historical background and the natural tourist sites have resulted in the area being declared as a tourist resort by the government through a gazette notification.
It is also worth mentioning that there are many small islands situated around Kalpitiya.
The Kalpitiya Divisional Secretary Division is one of the 16 divisions situated in the Puttalam District in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka. This peninsular area is surrounded by Puttalam Lagoon to the east, the Indian Ocean to the north and west, and the land strip connecting to the Puttalam land area to the south. The division is approximately 165km (103 miles) north of the capital city of Colombo and includes 102 villages connected to 32 Garma Nildahri (Village Headmen) divisions.
The economic resources available on land and sea in this area have been shared by the host community and the IDP community since the influx of IDPs in 1990. As a result of this development, both the host and IDP communities are experiencing severe economic stress.
The main professions in the area are fishing and agriculture. About 85% of the agricultural produce is marketed at the Nuraicholai Agricultural Marketing Centre, with the remaining 15% sent to the Colombo Market.
Seafood caught in this area is often immediately sent to Colombo regardless of its price, since there are no processing or large-scale freezing facilities available in the area. When there is a large catch, the remaining quantities that have not been dispatched are used for making dry fish.
Apart from this, coconut cultivation is undertaken by capitalists in the area. Cadjan weaving, Palmyra handicrafts, and processing of other sea foods are undertaken as cottage industries.