The best beaches in Sri Lanka

Laze around, scuba dive, or even go temple hopping – the coasts of Sri Lanka have plenty to offer

1. Unawatuna beach

What you have here is a horseshoe-shaped beach fringed by turquoise waters. There are a few dive schools around, but this isn’t exactly a water-sport hub. When you’re tired of napping on the sand, fuel up at one of the many restaurants that line the coast. The food here is fresh and plentiful, and the accompanying cold beers go a long way in creating a spot of paradise. Unawatuna is a popular beach, so don’t expect secluded stretches of sand. So what are you waiting for? Book into one of the Galle Hotels and have a jolly time with your friends and loved ones.

2. Bentota

Bentota is Sri Lanka’s premier beach resort destination. This is mostly because of the sublime stretch of golden sand that borders crystal-clear waters as well as waves for marine sports. Lush greens run along one side with the River Bentota Ganga and the Bentota lagoon located at the other end. The waters at this beach are known to be calm and clear, making it an easy choice if you want to go snorkelling or diving, deep sea fishing, kayaking, wind surfing, etc. For more sedate pursuits, try a river cruise on the Bentota Ganga. Pick a good hotel from the Bentota Hotels List and plan the rest of the journey based on the location of your stay.

3. Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay has been voted as one of the world’s best spots for surfing. The 2004 tsunami laid extensive damage but since then, intensified efforts—mostly private— have been hard at work to regain this title. Between April and October, waves reach heights of up to 2.5m at spots like Crocodile Rock, Pottuvil Point and Main Break. But all the thrills are not necessarily out on the water. The area is rich in wildlife, so make sure you catch a safari and look out for elephant herds and crocs in the lagoons. Check the quality of services offered by different Arugam Hotels. Good service means a lot while choosing a place to stay.

4. Mirissa

Mirissa is where people head when Unawatuna gets to them. The latter is the first place everyone rushes to as soon as they land. Mirissa is the local secret with all the benefits of Unawatuna’s paradise like appeal but minus the crowds. It’s a crescent shaped beach that’s largely deserted, with just a handful of small eateries that cater to backpackers. To add to the unreality of peace, Mirissa is also known as one of the finest places to go whale-watching. So you should book into one of the Mirissa Hotels that seem good. Stay there atleast for a week to get a true taste of the place.

5. Uppuveli

For some, Uppuveli might be too close to the political strife that has marked much of Sri Lanka. The Tamil-dominated Uppuveli is a safe zone, so keep your fears at bay, because a trek in this rural, unspoiled natural zone is a stunning treat. Don’t let the unpaved roads fool you—the beach is dotted with mid-range resorts (with gorgeous pools shaded by palm trees). The beach is always a hop away. Experience Trincomalee Hotels and the fine stay they offer. The trip will then stay memorable for life.

6. Tangalla

You have several beaches to choose from here. There are idyllic ones like the
Medaketiya and Medilla beaches, with endless stretches of sand and surf. Then there are rocky coves along the coast of Pallikaduwa. The jagged rocks keep shops and shacks away, and make this stretch quite a delight. Godellawela Beach, also known as the Silent Beach, lies to the west. The beaches are serene and quiet, as antidotes to the tourist-friendly sites of the Hoo-maniya blowhole, and the temples of Wewurukannala and Mulkirigala, all around the area. The Tangalla Hotels are tourists friendly and they have all modern amenities. Book into any of these for your short trip here.

7. Polhena

A spectacular world of corals hedges the sea at Polhena beach, making it one of the safest bits of the Indian Ocean to laze around in. Not to mention the snorkelling and diving it allows. As one of the prettiest beaches in Sri Lanka, you’d expect it to get pretty packed. But that is not the case, and you won’t have to fight for a sunbed. That’s mainly because everyone’s nose deep in the ocean. The sun lights up the shallow seabed to reveal a magical world made up of colourful reef fish, cucumbers, urchins, starfish and corals. During low tide, you can literally walk all over it. Booking into one of the Matara Hotels is your best way to get maximum time to explore corals and beaches without getting disturbed.

8. Trincomalee beaches

Trincomalee’s history stretches back almost 2,500 years, with Hindu gods and goddesses playing a key role in its formation and present shape. In the second World War, the harbour here was chosen by the British as their chief naval base and was even attacked (unsuccessfully) by the Japanese. Today, the beaches are among the least developed, giving the stark beauty a priceless appeal. The waters are shallow and perfect for swimming, and the beaches are surrounded by relics from the past – crumbling Dutch forts and temples perched on cliffsides. Stay in one of the Trincomalee Hotels and have a full night’s sleep. Next morning, you can move out with your camera and capture the impressive sights here.

9. Weligama

The Weligama beaches have something for everyone. For one, it’s the perfect spot for surfing novices. The waves are big, never overwhelming and the virgin sands make for soft landings. The bay is also the site for Sri Lanka’s famous stilt fishermen – a unique method of fishing that creates the most comment-worthy Instagrams. The bay also sits squat across the tiny island of Taprobane, on which sits a gorgeous villa built by the once-exiled Count de Maunay. It’s been a cultural centre since, with poets and authors being previous owners of the property. Surf the list of Weligama Hotels. There are countless options and you are sure to find something to suit your needs.

10. Hikkaduwa

Traditionally, this was the first beach that drew in tourists. But now they flock towards Unawatuna, leaving the shallow waters and pristine sands of Hikkaduwa free for you. The coral reefs in the region make it a safe spot for a swim and, of course, diving. There are ample stores and restaurants along the beach, so the evenings always perk up a bit with music and tourists spilling out into the beach from the shacks. Know what this traditional tourist location holds for its visitors. Book into any of the Hikkaduwa Hotels and rest before the exploring commences.

Insider Tip:

One of the best ways to catch the entire stretch of Sri Lanka’s coastline (well, most of it) is through its trains. The rail network is pretty exhaustive and cheap – and one of the most picturesque routes goes from Colombo to Kandy.