Bentota – 14 Things to Do and Travel Guide

Last Updated on by Teddy

How will be an evening watching sunset over Indian ocean sitting at a river bank?

Bentota sits on the coast of the Indian Ocean and along the bank of the Bentota River. The name Bentota dates back to a mythical story about a demon named Bem who ruled over the river (tota means riverbank).

You will find all kinds of water sports in Bentota, including swimming, body-surfing, diving, jet skiing, windsurfing, parasailing, and river safaris. Some of the most established beach resorts in Sri Lanka are located here.

But then there’s more than just water sports! Visit the Turtle Hatchery Project, where turtle eggs are protected until they hatch and returned to the sea. Take local excursions to temples, cinnamon estates, as well as nature resorts. Or sign up for yoga and meditation classes!

Things to Do

1. Bentota RiverBird Watching and Water Activities

For a peaceful excursion, you can hire a boat and take a trip out onto the river through the lush, green mangroves. If you are a keen birdwatcher you’ll want to bring along your binoculars and camera. Keep your eyes open for Sri Lanka’s native birds which include the Hornbill, Bulbul, and Mynah. The country’s unique geographic position makes it the furthest landmass before the South Pole, as such it is a popular wintering location for migrating birds who will often end their seasonal migration at Bentota. Popular species include the Egret, Cormorant, and Heron.

For a more thrilling adventure you really need to look into trying out one of the many water sports on offer, from water skiing, canoeing, and jet-skiing, to diving, river safaris, and wake boarding. A family friendly option is the giant inflatable banana boat ride; you will experience an exhilarating, wet ride as the boat captain twists and turns in the water.

  • Duration: More than 3 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider – try contacting Malu Banna Activities Centre where they offer a range of outdoor packages (15/3 River Ave | Malubanna Water Sports Center, Aluthgama 12080, Sri Lanka | +94 77 711 7400 | http://www.malubanna.com)
  • Location: Bentota

2. Brief Garden

This unassuming landmark belonged to renowned Sri Lankan landscape architect, Bevis Bawa, brother of Geoffrey Bawa. The garden covers over 20 acres and has more a hundred varieties of trees. There is a whimsical quality to the garden design which reflects the artistic sentiment of Bevis. Many different designs are incorporated in the Brief Garden, from British style lawns to quiet Japanese gardens.

You can ask for a guide to tour the garden, although we suggest you take a solo walk for a quiet and contemplative experience. All paths lead you back to the house so you won’t get lost easily. There are plenty of striking trees, sculptures, and statues nestled throughout the garden for you to admire. Keep an eye out for the secret seating areas!

Do make some time to visit the attached house which holds the personal effects and collections of Bevis. A walk around the simple interiors will unveil some interesting works of art including some rather eclectic pieces.

  • Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Location: Kalawila Village, Beruwala, Sri Lanka (only 20min from Althugama town).
  • Website: https://briefgarden.com
  • Contact Number: +94 77 350 9290 

3. Lunuganga Resort

This beautiful colonial estate was the home of the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa who lived there from 1947 until his death in 2003. He spent nearly forty years transforming this once abandoned rubber estate into a tropical paradise. Geoffrey used the space as a testing ground for many of his own architectural ideas about structural design and the re-imagining of space. He used antiques such as Gothic windows and old Ming vases in a manner which has given the resort a feeling of a land lost in time. Look out for elegant Italian gardens, courtyards, lily ponds, walkways, romantic pavilions, and inspirational views over Deduwa Lake and the surrounding jungle.

Lunuganga is now run as a hotel and restaurant although non-guests are welcome to join the garden tours (be sure to check opening times in advance). If you are visiting for a day trip then we suggest that you make an advance booking at the restaurant; it’s the best way to enjoy the quiet secluded nature of this property whilst also enjoying some traditional Sri Lankan food.

  • Prices: Depends on the length of your stay and the rooms booked.
  • Location: Dedduwa, Bentota

4. Kande Viharaya

The Kande Viharaya Temple was founded in 1734 by the Venerable Karapagala Dewamitta Thero. Its name translates to ‘mountain temple’ because it was built on a hill. It is home to a 160 foot tall Buddha statue, one of the tallest in the world. It is still used as a place of worship by locals today and can get quite busy; if you want to visit at a quiet time then try going there in the early morning period. Be mindful of the local customs with regard to dress – you should not wear footwear inside, and must cover your legs and shoulders.

  • Duration: 3-5 hours (you may be interested in visiting the nearby temples).
  • Location: Aluthgama

5. Galapatha Rajamaha Viharaya

It is widely believed that this temple was originally built in the 12th century. The complex however was destroyed a few hundred years later by the Dutch in the 1500s and was rebuilt years later. It is an important temple for locals as it is believed to hold a religious relic of an important follower of Buddha. Within the temple there is some colorful iconography with floral-painted ceilings, as well as buddha and animal images. The temple is long enough to house an impressive 25 foot statute of a sleeping Buddha. If you do make a visit remember to stick to the modest dress rules.

  • Duration: 3-5 hours (you may be interested in visiting the nearby temples).
  • Location: Aluthgama

6. Ariyapala Masks Museum

Sri Lanka’s traditional kolam dancers use highly stylized wooden masks as part of their performance. The Ariyapala Masks Museum is an interesting exploration into this unusual part of Sri Lanka’s culture. The masks of the famous Daha Ata Sanniya are displayed here, along with other illustrations and detailed texts relating to the masks. The English-speaking tour guide will provide some useful insights. There are also demonstrations showing how the masks are carved out of balsa wood, and then how the design is painted on. There are a variety of styles in different sizes. You will be able to purchase a mask of your own from a selection at the gift shop. Pay attention to prices as local souvenir shops and hotel gift shops may sell similar products at far cheaper prices.

  • Duration: Up to 2 hours
  • Location: 426 Main Street, Ambalangoda
  • Website: http://www.masksariyapalasl.com/mask_museum.htm
  • Contact Number: +94 91 2 258373 

7. Galagoda Shailatharama Viharaya

The delicate scent of cinnamon surrounds this Buddhist temple which is located a few kilometers from Ambalangoda. The temple was built on a hill that is in the middle of several spice plantations. The temple can be reached by a side road or if you’re feeling adventurous you can climb the stairs – but be warned there are over 200 steps! The temple is home to South Asia’s largest sleeping Buddha which is 35 meters long. The view from the top encompasses the plantations, lakes, and the mountains of the nearby Sabaragamuwa Province.

  • Duration: About 3 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: About LKR 250
  • Location: Karandeniya

8. Moonstone Mine

The Moonstone Mine reflects the gemstone mining culture that is prevalent in Sri Lanka. Moonstones have an opalescent glow to them once they have been polished, reminiscent of the moon hence the name. The mine has a rural feel to it, however the workers are used to tourists and are pleasant enough.

The tour may be interesting to those who want to learn more about the gem and the method used to mine it, but the workers really want you to buy. There is a shop where visitors can purchase a wide range of moonstone jewelry although there is no obligation to buy. If you don’t like these type of ‘hard sell’ situations then avoid this attraction. Do not feel pressured into buying moonstones, particularly as you will be able to find the same gems at significantly cheaper prices across Sri Lanka.

  • Duration: About 2 hours
  • Location: Mitiyagoda, Ambalangoda
  • Contact Number: +94 71 757 5840
  • Note: Be careful when visiting moonstone or gem mines as they are money-making attractions, with potential for overpriced items. Be sure to know the local prices for gem items, and double check the quality of any item before handing over your money.

9. Batik Shops

Batik is a traditional technique where melted wax and vibrant ink is used to create interesting designs and patterns. In Sri Lanka batik pieces are still made by hand, and you can find the art form on ceramics, pottery, and fabrics. Ambalangoda has several batik shops and factories in the area. Dudley Silva is local batik artist who has won awards for his work. He is happy to show you around his workshop where his employees create his intricate designs. There are a variety of batik pieces that are available for purchase including clothing. Just remember to bring cash with you.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: No 53 Elpitiya Road, Ambalangoda,
  • Contact Number: +94 91 2 259411 
  • Note: Take cash with you if you are interested in purchasing any of the products.

10. Hatching Turtles

The beaches of Sri Lanka are the nesting grounds for five species of marine turtles: the Green Turtle, the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, the Loggerhead, and the Olive Ridley. The turtle hatchery at Bentota is run as a conservation centre for the local turtle population. The centre collects turtle eggs from the beach, and then looks after them in their purpose-built hatcheries. Once the eggs hatch the baby turtles are fed until they are about 3 days old, which is when they are ideally released back into the wild. The admission price is high, and there is also an additional cost if you are interested in helping to release the baby turtles.

  • Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 9am-5pm
  • Cost for foreign visitors: LKR 1000. Releasing Turtles costs extra at about 1,800.
  • Location: Galle Rd, Bentota
  • Note: There are several turtle sanctuaries and hatcheries across the Western province of Sri Lanka. Not all of them uphold conservation as their highest aim, and it may seem like such attractions are a ‘tourist trap’ at the expense of the local wildlife. Be sure to do your own research, and make up your own mind based on your personal viewpoint about such centers.

11. Cycling Day Tour

For an intimate adventure in Sir Lanka you should consider booking a cycling tour. Tours can be arranged though your hotel concierge, or through travel websites. A popular cycle tour is the day trip through Bentota where you will pass through beautiful paddy fields, see local plantations, and view other scenic places during the tour. This tour will be approximately 30 kilometers in cycling distance, and will take 4 to 5 hours (including refreshment breaks).

  • Duration: 4-5 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Depends on your tour package provider. Consider arranging a tour with your hotel concierge.

12. River Rafting

If you have been waiting to do a spot of river water rafting then you need to allocate a full day for it. Most tour groups will head to Kithulgala, which is approximately three and a half hours away from Bentota. Make sure you check what is included in your tour package and what the cost is per person. Remember that tips for guides are not included in the price of your booking so do take some extra cash with you.

  • Duration: 4-6 hours (not including travel time – plan for an overnight trip and stay at a local hotel).
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.
  • Location: Bentota Beach

13. Parasailing

Parasailing is becoming more popular with tourists at Bentota beach. Visitors can book with local water sports companies for a variety of packages to enjoy this past-time. Ideal wind conditions can be found from November to April. Make sure that you know what is included with your booking. If you have any safety concerns feel free to discuss them with your tour operator.

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.
  • Location: Bentota Beach

14. Local Market at Aluthgama

This local market runs every Monday and is a vibrant place full of bustling activity. To make the most of the market head there early and take in the sights. The vendors set up stalls selling the best of the local produce including local vegetables, fruits, and spices. You may also find some interesting souvenirs to take home with you. The bright and colorful displays will have you reaching for your camera but do ask permission before taking pictures of people.

  • Duration: Up to 2 hours
  • Open: Mondays
  • Location: Bentota
  • Tip: Hire a local guide who will be happy to take you around the market and introduce you to the different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and other goods. 

Foodies’ Guide to Bentota

Best Food Experiences

Food is one of the best ways to understand a culture and is one of the memories from a travel you will cherish for long. Bentota presents some amazing culinary experiences and here are some of the best:

1. Seafood feast at Malli’s Seafood Café

We won’t be exaggerating if we say that you cannot leave Bentota without relishing the scrumptious sea food fare at Malli’s Seafood joint.

As much as it is known for its great quality of food, it also attracts customers due to its quirky location. What’s that, you may ask! This joint finds its place on the platform of Bentota railway station, overlooking the Galle railway line.

Enjoy the freshest seafood in town right from lobsters and prawns to shrimps and fishes – everything so fresh you’ll wonder they just caught it from the sea. Friendly staff and value for money menu are just the bonus qualities that earn them those brownie points. Now that we have mentioned brownie, don’t forget it’s refreshing dessert of pomegranate and ice cream.

2. Steaks and grills at Golden grill

After you have fed adventure to your adrenaline-filled soul, in Bentota, it is time for some food for the soul with the lagoon’s delicious cuisine. Looking for something peaceful, beautiful and scenic at the same time?

Head to Golden grill – a restaurant overlooking the lake and tropical greenery that lends a perfect ambiance for a sit-down dinner. Gorge on the steaks, tuna steaks and mixed grills – the stars of the eatery’s fare. Living up to the name of the place, they surely are the perfect combination of golden glow crisp and tender and juicy flavors.

Where to Eat

In addition to the honorable mentions above, there is a multitude of restaurants catering to your tastes. Here we list some of the best for all budgets. These places are popular among travelers and are safe bets.

1. Fine Dining by Saman Villas ($$$$)

Galle Road, Aturuwella, Bentota | +94 34 7 200334 | www.finediningbysamanvillas.com

Popular for their culinary magic done with the local seafood catches, this place is everything that is Bentota. The beach, the bar, the food, chilled vibes, and great hosts are to die for. A much-visited place mainly for its exciting dining options.

Be it a sandy beach or a cozy garden or right on the sands, you can choose to eat anyplace you wish.

2. Diyasisila Restaurant ($$)

Elpitiya Road, Adaganthota, Bentota

A change of scene is what awaits you here. Away from the beach hustle, this eatery lets you sit by a river and dine in style. Specialising in serving the best seafood dishes in town, this is a must visit if you want to wind down after a long day out.

3. Prem Cafe & Restaurant ($)

117 Galle Street, Robolgoda, Bentota 80500

This local restaurant is humble and quaint, but when it comes to their cooking, perfection is what people say. A simple and well cooked meal for a very low price is what you get here. Run by the friendly owner himself, this eatery has a welcoming vibe to it.

Like to explore all gourmet hot spots in Bentota? Check our guide on the best places to eat around Bentota.

Where to Stay

1. Paradise Road: The Villa Bentota ($$$$)

This luxury boutique hotel was converted in the 1970s by Geoffrey Bawa and was recently renovated by designer Shanth Fernando. Care and attention has been put into the suites and the gardens are well-maintained. There is a pool and the beach is not far from the venue. Staff are friendly, hospitable, and professional.

2. Avani Bentota Resort & Spa ($$$$)

A five star luxury hotel that has been designed by Geoffrey Bawa as a contemporary, elegant  venue in his Tropical Modernist style. It has all the usual modern facilities with spa, gym, and pool. As it is located close to Bentota village, the concierge can arrange day trips and visits to local attractions.

3. Saman Villas ($$$$$)

Saman Villa is decorated in a classical Sri Lankan stye and has modern amenities such as an infinity pool, gym, and spa. It’s popular with honeymooners due to its private location, great sea views, and easy access to the beach.

4. Okin River Villa ($$$)

A lovely riverside villa set in a peaceful location. Guests can rent out the whole place which makes it a great option for a family or group holiday. There is an outdoor swimming pool and WiFi. The friendly staff provide a welcoming, tranquil experience to all visitors.

5. Palm Beach Inn and Sea Shells Cabanas ($$)

This budget hotel is surrounded by green foliage and is close to the beach. It is simple in its decor and doesn’t have much facilities, but you are only a few minutes walk away from the beach. Though it lacks basic amenities the staff are very helpful, and it is good for a quick stay or if you’re not too picky.

Shopping

You will find plenty of places selling traditional handicrafts, gemstone jewelry, and other souvenirs. Most hotels and attractions will invariably have a gift shop attached to it. You may find exorbitant prices at out-of-the-way attractions. Be careful not to be overcharged at these places.

If you go with a tour guide or a driver then ask them to haggle for you with the aim bringing down the asking price to 20 or 30 per cent of the original figure. One tip is to check out the prices at your hotel gift shop on the first day that you arrive; it may be cheaper to buy from there. Artisan products created by local craftspeople may cost more than you expect, although there is some room for negotiation.

Getting-In and Around

You can get to Bentota using buses, trains, or in a car. Your choice of transport will depend on your timings and budget. If you are traveling with luggage you should be very careful to look after your belongings. Within Bentota you can hire local tuk-tuk drivers to take you out and about.

Colombo: The drive from Colombo City takes about 2 hours, however in rush hour the journey can take up to 3 hours. The taxi will cost from 5,0000-6,500 KLR, although bigger cars will cost more than this. By comparison the bus is cheap but it can take up to 4 hours in traffic. You can also take the train – however, not many trains stop at Bentota’s railway station so you should plan to stop at Aluthgama (approximately 2 kilometers away from Bentota) and then hire a tuk-tuk from the station.

Negombo: Take a taxi to Katunayake South train station and then take the train to Colombo Fort from where you can take an express train to Bentota. This journey will take around 3.5-4 hours and will cost approximately LKR 600-1,000. If you want to get there quicker you can take a taxi directly to Bentota for the higher cost of around LKR 9,000-11,000.

Galle: A taxi from Galle to Bentota will cost about LKR 6,000-7,000 and will take about an hour. For a cheaper option consider taking the train which is only add an extra 45 minutes to your journey but will be significantly cheaper at around LKR 60-200.

Kandy: Taking a taxi all the way to Bentota from Kandy is very expensive and will take about 3 hours. It is almost 60% cheaper to go by train to Maharagama and then take a taxi the rest of the way (50 min drive at about LKR 6,500-7,000).  Alternatively, take the train all the way and only spend about LKR 300-700, although the journey will take anywhere from four to five hours.

Ella: As you will be traveling across the country the journey from Ella to Bentota it will be a long journey regardless of the method of transport you choose. A taxi will take round 3 hours and will cost about LKR 15,000-20,000. While the train will take about 12 hours and will cost between LKR 350-1,000. You could save a little time and money by taking a taxi to Bandarawela Bus Station and taking a bus to Ratnapura bus station, from where you can take a taxi to Bentota – the full journey will cost 9,000-11,000 and will take about 6 hours.

Dambulla: The quickest way to get to Bentota from Dambulla is by taxi (2.5 hours) but it will cost about LKR 16,000-20,000. Consider taking the train instead which only takes an extra two hours but costs significantly less at about LKR 3,000-4,500.

When to GO

Best time: December to April is the dry season and the best time to visit. Christmas and New Year is popular with tourists which means that travel and accommodation prices will be higher during this time period.

Time to avoid: May to August is Monsoon season. High waves from the monsoon make water sports very dangerous and you will have trouble getting out and about in torrential downpour. Carry a waterproof jacket or umbrella with you.

Budget

For cheap rooms head to beach cabanas, eat at budget cafes, and use local buses to travel around. If budget isn’t an issue then you can enjoy the luxury resorts and private cars still at rates cheaper than many travel hot-spots.

Most attractions have an entrance fee, and popular attractions may seem exorbitant and not worth the price. There are some ‘money-making’ schemes at attractions that are popular with foreign visitors. You will have people trying to sell you items at overinflated prices, but feel free to haggle and remember you can always walk away from the sale.

You can arrange your trip to Bentota based on any budget and have a great time.