Sri Lanka’s best beaches

Posted Date: 11 April 2019
Best beaches in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka may not be the first place that comes to mind when planning a beach getaway. Far from the resorts of Fiji, the iconic shores of Hawaii and the bustling beaches of Bali, Sri Lanka offers a more off-the-beaten track experience than these well-travelled roads.

But when it comes to stunning coastline, magnificent wildlife and a truly authentic cultural adventure, the small island nation can compete with the best of them.

Let’s dive into ten of our favourite beaches in Sri Lanka, and some planning tips, to ensure your holiday goes off without a hitch.

 

Sri Lanka’s monsoon seasons

Before packing the beach bag, it’s important to understand what makes Sri Lanka such a unique coastal destination.

It lies just off the south-eastern tip of India (hence its nickname, the ‘Teardrop of India’), and is bordered by the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. Like other tropical areas, Sri Lanka’s climate is often defined by a wet and dry season, but the country actually experiences monsoons year-round.

  • From March to September, the west coast of Sri Lanka experiences frequent rain and thunderstorms.
  • From October to February, the east coast of Sri Lanka is generally the wettest.

During wet periods, many of the coastal towns that are popular with tourists ‘shut down’ to prepare for the next high season. If you’re travelling on a budget and don’t mind the risk of some more volatile weather, the shoulder season can be a great way to take advantage of discounted accommodation and fewer visitor numbers.

We’ve broken down the following beaches into east, west and south coast areas, so you can enjoy a stunning beach holiday whatever time of year you’re visiting.

 

Best beaches on Sri Lanka’s west coast

Hikkaduwa Beach

Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: Cultural attractions and coastal beauty
When to go: October-April
Don’t miss: A trip to the Hikkaduwa Turtle Hatchery

A hop, skip and jump from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, Hikkaduwa is one of the crowning jewels of Sri Lanka’s west coast. The popular beach town is a favourite among travelling families, surfers and backpackers, but still retains much of the local authenticity that makes the country so alluring to visitors.

Hikkaduwa is situated on the south-west coast, which blesses it with favourable weather even into the beginning of the west-coast monsoon season. It’s also brimming with all kinds of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to youth hostels. As such, it’s become a go-to beach destination for a variety of travellers, especially in recent years.

The area is famous for surfing, with an abundance of breaks to enjoy on the surrounding coral reefs. The Hikkaduwa Turtle Hatchery, which aims to protect the natural development of the local sea turtle population, is a popular attraction in the area.

Insider tip: Rent some snorkels and flippers and take a dip. There are coral reefs directly off the beach, where you may be lucky enough to spot turtles in their natural habitat.

Bentota Beach

Bentota beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: A comfortable beach escape that’s tailor-made for tourists
When to go: October-April
Don’t miss: A boat safari on the River Bentota and a trip to nearby public gardens

Just north of the thriving beach town of Hikkaduwa lies Bentota, a tranquil beach dotted with well-equipped resorts. Bentota has a more relaxed atmosphere than other coastal towns in Sri Lanka and is favoured among families and honeymooners.

That said, catching the coastal train south from Colombo to the Bentota area will provide an exciting picture of everyday life in rural Sri Lanka. Expect to pass bustling markets and busy towns as you wind your way down the coast. Visit the Sri Lanka Railways website to find train schedules and route information.

Once you reach Bentota, a safari cruise up the tranquil Bentota River is a great way to immerse yourself in the abundant wildlife of the subcontinent. Expect to see crocodiles, monkeys, tree snakes and a great variety of birdlife as you cruise along the ancient mangroves.

Insider tip: Early morning is one of the best times to spot local wildlife on the river. Book your tour with an experienced, licensed operator and you’ll have the best chance to enjoy the scenery at its finest.

Unawatuna Beach

Unawatuna beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: Beach parties and cafe culture
When to go: October-April
Don’t miss: A trip to explore the UNESCO world heritage site, Galle Fort

Rounding out our list of Sri Lanka’s west coast beaches is Unawatuna, a thriving beach village in the south of the country. Renowned for picturesque shores lined with palms, a lively atmosphere and plentiful cultural sites, ‘Una’ is one of the more popular areas on this list and draws all kinds of travellers.

The nearby Galle Fort, which dates back as far as 1588, is one of Sri Lanka’s prime tourist attractions. The Fort was originally constructed by the Portuguese and now houses a still-active town built in distinctive Dutch Colonial architecture.

Insider tip: Unawatuna has a growing reputation as a party destination for backpackers, much like the popular beaches of Bali and the islands of Thailand. If you’re visiting one of Una’s many bars, stick to bottled drinks and steer clear of local spirits like arrack - it’s often impossible to know their quality and hygiene.

 

Best beaches on Sri Lanka’s south coast

Weligama Beach

Weligama beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: Learning to surf or just seeing the sights
When to go: October-April
Don’t miss: Weligama whale watching

Translating to ‘sandy village’, Weligama offers a postcard-perfect view of coastal Sri Lanka, complete with deep bays dotted with moored catamarans, sweeping beaches lined with dense tropical flora, and abundant reefs for underwater exploration.

Whether it’s bike tours through local rubber plantations, day trips to serene temples, a visit to the Sri Lankan Snake Farm or just lazy days spent enjoying the sun, Weligama has an abundance of attractions to suit all tastes.

Insider tip: Weligama is growing as a prime destination for whale watching. However, the waters can often be rough, so talk to your GP about whether sea sickness tablets can help you to avoid an uncomfortable day on the water.

Mirissa Beach

Mirissa beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: A slice of solace and slower pace
When to go: October-April
Don’t miss: A candlelit dinner on the beach

Just one headland across from Weligama lies Mirissa, a smaller, less frantic version of its neighbour. You’ll feel a world away from the hotel chains and fast food fare that can be found further north. Instead, Mirissa is loved for its quiet beach shacks, slower pace and relaxed atmosphere.

Whilst you’re lying back in your hammock, coconut in hand, don’t be surprised to see monkeys snacking on mangoes up in the trees, and wild peacocks perching on roofs. The waves here aren’t for the faint of heart, but experienced surfers will be in their element in the crystal clear waters.

Insider tip: Mirissa is brimming with photo-worthy vistas, including Parrot Rock, Secret Beach and a nearby coconut farm. Many of these spots can only be reached by walking around headlands and along the shore, so if the surf looks rough or the tide is high, wait for another day when conditions are safer. Red flags placed on the beach by lifeguards indicate rough conditions, much like the red and yellow flags you would see back home.

Hiriketiya Beach

Hiriketiya beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: A hidden paradise where time stands still
When to go: October-April
Don’t miss: A surf lesson at sunrise

About a one hour bus ride along the coast from Mirissa, Hiriketiya is little more than a small horseshoe bay with lush jungle spilling onto a narrow strip of sand. But the picturesque serenity, the beginner-friendly surfing and the small smattering of beach shacks make it a true tropical paradise.

Like many other towns in the southern region of Sri Lanka, Hiriketiya is quickly gaining popularity. So don’t hesitate to visit this little piece of secluded paradise while it stays that way!

Insider tip: The Christmas holiday period is the peak season in this part of Sri Lanka, so you can expect heavier crowds and higher prices over these months. You may beat some of the crowds if you’re visiting after February, but be warned: the tropical heat is not to be underestimated. Remember to cover up and stay hydrated.

Tangalle

Tangalle beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: Beach hopping to find secret coves and hidden bays
When to go: October-April
Don’t miss: Exploring the nearby coast in a tuk tuk

Further along the coast and almost at the very base of the country, Tangalle is a longer strip of sand and famous for blazing sunsets. Pronounced ‘Tangalla’, the area retains a local authenticity where street food is plentiful and beach parties are few and far between.

There are several hidden bays around the Tangalle area, including the popular Goyambokka Beach and the picturesque Silent Beach (also known as Amanwella) – a tranquil spot for those seeking seclusion away from the tourist crowds.

Insider tip: The azure water might be appealing for a swim, but the rip currents in this area of the coast are particularly strong. Even seemingly calm waters can be fraught with undertows, so stick to patrolled beaches with other swimmers, snorkelers and surfers nearby.

 

Best beaches on Sri Lanka’s east coast

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka

Best for: Skilled surfers and nature lovers
When to go: April-October
Don’t miss: A trip to nearby Yala National Park

Affectionately known as ‘A-Bay’, Arugam Bay is widely regarded as Sri Lanka’s premier surfing destination. Picture-perfect waves peel for hundreds of metres at the town’s main break, as surfers from around the world scramble to grab their piece of the action.

However, Arugam Bay has much more to offer than the wave of a lifetime. The town is a stone’s throw from Yala National Park; Sri Lanka’s huge nature reserve and home to wild elephants, leopards, crocodiles and ancient cave paintings.

Insider tip: if you’re heading to A-Bay to enjoy the waves, remember to pack your patience and respect the local surfers. Early morning and late afternoon, when the winds are typically lightest, can be crowded in the water. Surfing during the middle of the day can be a good way to beat the crowds, but remember to layer on the zinc to protect from the scorching heat.

Pasikudah Beach

Pasikudah beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: Resort luxury away from the backpackers of Arugam Bay
When to go: April-October
Don’t miss: A day trip to Trincomalee

Another of the east coast’s prime coastal attractions, Pasikudah is a remote beach community dotted with luxury resorts. It’s a popular snorkelling spot, thanks to a long offshore reef, which also protects the shore from swell. In fact, it’s possible to walk almost half a kilometre out to sea in some parts thanks to the shallow waters and weak current.

The calm turquoise blue water also lends itself to other water based activities, including swimming, kite surfing, boogie boarding, surfing and kayaking.

Insider tip: If you grow tired of the beachside hammock, Tincomalee to the north is a great place to lose yourself in magnificent Hindu temples.

Uppuveli Beach

Uppuveli beach, Sri Lanka

Best for: Long stretches of uninterrupted coastline
When to go: April-October
Don’t miss: Sampling the local restaurants

The northernmost beach on this list, Uppuveli lies in the Tincomalee area and is another popular resort district. Whether it’s beach volleyball, sampling the many local restaurants, wading in the gentle waters or just putting your feet up under the shade of a palm tree, Uppuveli is a great place to unwind.

Insider tip: The northeast of Sri Lanka was a hotbed of fighting during the Sri Lankan civil war, and unexploded landmines remain a threat in more isolated areas, according to Safe Travel. Pay attention to signage if you’re exploring the coast, and stick to main roads when travelling.

It’s important to recognise that much of the Sri Lankan coast still bears scars of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which devastated many of the beach towns on this list and killed thousands of local citizens. As tourism to the area continues to boom, the local population has succeeded in rebuilding these towns into welcoming destinations for all travellers to enjoy.

As always, we encourage you to practice sustainable tourism, respect local communities and spread your tourist dollars between many of the businesses that support these beach towns.

 


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