Unawatuna – 13 Things to Do, Attractions, & Travel Guide

Last Updated on by Teddy

Located in the Galle district of Sri Lanka, Unawatuna is the most popular beach town in the south of the country. The clean waters and white sands will wash your stress away. Because it’s located over a kilometer from the main coastal road it has a laid-back vibe that is ideal for  everyone, from families to the most adventurous backpackers.

A visit to Unawatuna as it is today has little signs of the utter  devastation that the region suffered more than a decade ago when the 2004 tsunami hit. Thanks to international aid efforts officials have been able to rebuild the area, and generous donations from loyal tourists has also helped to bring the region back to life.

Things to Do

1. Jungle Beach

This is a popular beach with both locals and tourists and can get congested during busy periods. For a quieter experience try visiting during the week. If you are driving you will have a small hike ahead of you before you get to the beach. It is a pleasant walk though lush jungle, but do bear in mind that the way is unlit so it may be difficult to get back to your car in the dark. The beach itself has crystal clear shallow waters while lots of old coral dots the sand.  

  • Duration: 3-5 hours
  • Location: Unawatuna

2. Unawatuna Beach

For water sports why not head to Unawatuna Beach (it is only a short bus ride from Galle), where you can enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving. The beach has golden sands and deep waves. There are boat rides for hire while further back on the beachfront are restaurants and eateries where you can enjoy a seafood meal and watch the waves as you wait for the sun to set. You can also arrange a hotel room should you decide to stay on the beach for a few days.

  • Duration: 3-5 hours
  • Location: Unawatuna

3. Japanese Peace Pagoda

This graceful temple was constructed on a hill with views over the harbor; it represents peace and is a serene place to visit. It’s located quite close to Galle and is only a 15minute walk away from the Jungle Beach. It is a white structure with a stupa and has a colonnade on the bottom level. There are gold Buddha statutes and a viewing deck from where you can see all the way to Galle on the opposite side of the harbor. Make sure to take off your footwear when you go inside as per Buddhist religious etiquette.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Rumassala, Unawatuna

4. Scuba Diving & Snorkeling

There are plenty of diving companies that offer scuba diving and snorkeling packages. Discover the old wrecks in the waters around Unawatuna with professional diving instructors who will take you to explore one of these wrecks. A popular site is that of The Rangoon which was a British steam ship that has been wrecked for about a hundred years. Keep an eye out for the beautiful local fish and turtles. You can also arrange night dives but this is not recommended for beginner divers. Make sure to check out all the costs such as equipment hire and what food is included (it may be advisable for you to bring your own food).

  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.
  • Location: Unawatuna

5. Mihiripenna Beach

Mihiripenna Beach is a relatively quiet beach that has been largely untouched by tourist activities. It isn’t far from Unawatuna Beach and is a great spot for visitors to enjoy some quiet contemplation and admire the beautiful surroundings. There is an ocean lagoon which is perfect for young children and people who are not confident with swimming in the sea. There is plenty of wildlife in the area including turtles, fish, and birds (please be sure to respect the environment). If you want to stay longer in the area then look into the local guesthouses.

  • Duration: 2-5 hours
  • Location: Unawatuna

6. Dolphin & Whale Watching

Sri Lanka is a famous hotspot for whales and dolphins – if you book with experienced captains you will be in for a great experience. You will head out in the early morning so think about booking a hotel room closer to the marina. The boat will take you approximately 70 miles out to sea which can take almost 3 hours. You will have an hour to observe whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. There are up to 27 animal species including common blue whales, sperm whales, killer whales, dwarf whales, and melon headed whales – but there is no guarantee that you will see more than one type of mammal.

  • Duration: 7-8 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.

7. Surfing

There are some popular spots for surfing at Unawatuna, and the local water sports operators provide a variety of package options for beginners. Many tourists visiting the area take the opportunity to learn how to surf here. You can expect a not-so-crowded sandy beach with gentle waves. There are several surf points on the coastline; the surfing school will be able to advise you as to the one most suitable for your skill level.

  • Duration: 2-4 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.

8. Fishing Charters

Discover authentic Sri Lanka where you can tour and fish in its sapphire blue waters. Finding a fishing experience away from the tourist hotspot is easy – just grab a local charter. However make sure to do your research (e.g. cost, number of hours, food). Fishing boats will set sail in the early hours of the morning with trips lasting at least 3 hours. Most good charter companies will offer refreshments onboard, and usually provide equipment and bait as part of the charter fee. If you head out for deep-sea fishing you may catch Tuna, Barracuda, King Mackerel, or Marlin.

  • Duration: At least 3 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.

9. The Mangrove Sanctuary

Not far from Unawatuna is the mangrove sanctuary which has raised boardwalks that allow you to walk amongst the trees without getting wet. It is a unique natural habitat where you can enjoy nature and watch out for the local wildlife which includes exotic birds and some cheeky monkeys. The forest vegetation adds to the calming atmosphere and will make you feel at one with nature. This marshy wetland is a completely different environment compared to the rest of Sri Lanka with it’s beaches and coastlines and makes for an interesting day trip.

  • Duration: 1.5-2 hours
  • Location: Unawatuna

10. Diving Schools

The area has lots of diving schools with certified Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ (PADI) Open Water courses available for travelers. Most schools will also have instructors who can speak in different languages so communication will not be an issue. Most professional diving centers will have the ability to book sessions in advance of  your visit. Make sure to communicate all your requirements and feel free to ask questions as the aim is to keep you safe and help you to learn a new skill. Diving is usually only available from October to April in Unawatuna and instructors can also take you out to explore some of the local wrecks including the Galle Shipwreck.

  • Duration: 3-5 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.
  • Location: Unawatuna

11. Yoga Classes

There are several local centers where you can take part in yoga sessions. There are different types of yoga but in the low season certain sessions may not run so it is advisable for you to double-check before you visit. If you are looking to really indulge there are some spectacular yoga retreats that are surrounded by lush jungle and local wildlife. Although these are expensive it may be just what you are looking for in order to soothe your mind and body.

  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Prices depend on your tour package provider.
  • Location: Unawatuna

12. Nightlife

Taste the nightlife at Unawatuna with its popular beach bars. Two of the most popular are the Koha Surf lounge and the 680 Blu. These venues offer visitors awesome service in a great location with sea views across the beach. From decent bar food to delicious cocktails, there is something for everyone. However, prices are higher compared to similar bars mainly due to the location so be sure to check the prices before ordering (and don’t forget to factor in the service charge). 

  • Location: Unawatuna

13. Sea Turtle Farm & Hatchery

This wildlife attraction is located in Habaraduwa,  a short tuk-tuk ride (approx. 15 minutes) from Unawatuna Beach. The farm is run as a conservation site for turtles; they look after baby turtles and eggs and release month-old turtles back into the sea. There is an entrance price and there is a separate price for helping to release turtles into the wild. There are several varieties of turtles that you can see such as Loggerhead Turtles, Green Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles, and Leatherhead Turtles.

  • Duration: 1-1.5 hours
  • Opening Hours: 7:30am-6pm daily
  • Cost for foreign visitors: LKR 500. Entrance and the price for releasing Turtles costs LKR 1,500.
  • Location: Matara Road, Between posts 128km and 129km, Habaraduwa
  • Website: http://www.seaturtlefarm.org
  • Contact Number: +94 77 783 6115
  • 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.

Where to Eat

Welcome to fresh seafood and lots of variety! The following are considered the best places to eat in Unawatuna:

1. Happy Spice

If the spouses or the kids are in the mood for delicious, authentic Sri Lankan food, take them to the Happy Spice restaurant! The place is good value for money and has a very pleasant ambiance.

2. Le Cafe Francais Bakery & Boutique

This boutique is famous for flaky croissants and delicious chicken sandwiches. Bring your kids for tasty delicacies and unforgettable pastries served in a warm, friendly environment.

3. Black & White Restaurant

This restaurant serves European, Asian, and Sri Lankan cuisine, and the beachside location provides a stunning backdrop for a beautiful evening with your partner.

4. Bedspace Kitchen

This sea-food based garden kitchen is pricey, but has excellent reviews from locals and tourists. Get ready to spend a little extra on an unforgettable experience!

Where to Sleep

A perfect vacation calls for a perfect abode, and a perfect abode calls for perfect service. Fortunately, Unawatuna has many excellent options available! Select from one of the following places:

1. Villa Thawthisa: The Boutique Hotel

The luxurious rooms of this hotel embrace a classy style, exclusive materials, home entertainment systems, and a spectacular view of the Bay of Unawatuna and Indian Ocean. They’re well known for immaculate service and boast the best seafood in the area.

2. Cantaloupe Levels

Cantaloupe Levels Hotels redefine the world famous Sri Lankan hospitality and culture by offering consideration, authenticity, and warmth. This sound establishment continues to gain a reputation as one of the most exclusively located and stylish beach hotels.

3. Tartaruga Resort

Tartaruga Hotel is the perfect choice for a memorable beachside holiday. The beach starts from the door of your room! Simply walk out of your comfy bed and right into the soft sands.

4. Coco Bay

Rooms at Coco Bay have been crafted with comfort, moderation, and sophistication in mind. They blend the classic materials of nature with open-air living. Enjoy the Unawatuna sunlight and tranquil view from your private balcony, or soak in a Jacuzzi tub.

Shopping

There are plenty of interesting artisan handicraft and jewelry shops in the area. Bright traditional handloom textiles should be on your list for a lovely momento of your time in Sri Lanka. You can find gem shops selling intricate jewelry pieces (including items made from moonstone). There are several art galleries selling local art and other items that are suitable as souvenirs and for gifting to family and friends. Of course you will also find food items such as exotic spices (e.g. cinnamon) and teas. Do your research before buying as it is easy to get overcharged; consider bargaining the price down but use a calm demeanor.

When to Go

Best time: January to March is the best time of the year to visit Unawatuna as there is no monsoon weather to deal with then. Due to the horseshoe shape of the beach the waves are calm before they hit the shore. Many water sports operators and diving centers will be open from October until April.

Time to avoid: From May to July the South-West region is hit by the monsoon storms which bring high waves and rain with them.

Dress Code

Sri Lanka has a cultural dress code which is important to uphold at religious sites and places of worship. Knees and shoulders should be covered up (carry a shawl or a wrap with you) and you  must remove footwear before entering such locations. The tourist areas of the country are used to overseas visitors so feel free to wear your holiday outfits. Try to keep your beachwear limited to the beaches, or carry a wrap with you so that you can cover up at restaurants and bars.

Getting In and Around

Unawatuna is a Southern province in Sri Lanka that is popular with locals and oversea visitors. It’s beaches are known for their golden sand, lush palm trees, and blue oceans.

Colombo: The heart of Unawatuna lies on route A2 Galle-Matara main road. The international airport at Colombo is 105km away, a 2.5 hour journey by taxi, which costs high. Taking the bus or train will be around 5 hours but it will be considerably cheaper.

Negombo: Taxi to Unawatuna will take approximately 2 – 3 hours. The bus will take about 5 hours and will be significantly cheaper, while the train offers the best value for money.

Galle: Galle is so close to Unawatuna Beach that you could choose to walk (it would take over an hour) although we don’t advise it. A taxi would cost around 500 LKR and would only take 5 minutes, while the train would only take 10 minutes.

Kandy: Get ready for a difficult choice when traveling from Kandy to Unawatuna as you choose between speed and price. While a taxi would only take about 3 hours. A bus would take a long 10 hour journey. The train will take around 6 hours but will be cheap and comfortable if you travel second class.

Ella: The best options to get to Unawatuna from Ella would be the bus or a taxi. The bus takes over 5 hours while the taxi will take almost 4 hours.

Dambulla: It is over 250 km from Dambulla to Unawatuna, and the quickest travel option is by car. Buses will take around 8 hours and will cost lot less than car.

Budget

Accommodation prices vary depending on where you stay and the quality of the establishment. It is possible to find mid-price hotels with prices ranging from $70 to $100+. If you keep an open mind you can find local eateries selling great Sri Lankan food from as little as $5. Generally seafood restaurants and beach bars are quite expensive; make sure you check prices before ordering drinks and food at these type of venues.

Use cheap local tuk-tuks for traveling within Unawatuna and to its nearby attractions. Some tourist attractions charge a high entrance fee, and water sports such as diving can be quite expensive too. Shopping can be expensive if you buy from ‘touristy’ gift shops, but you can pick up some nice items if you do your research and bargain with respect.

What Travelers Say

“This is by far our favorite beach in Sri Lanka. Quiet, romantic and absolutely stunning, this beach stretches on for kilometers.”

Goats on the Road

“ … you can sit above the beach at the Buddhist temple and  watch the sun melt into the horizon and light the sky with amazing colors”

Mathew Court of go nomad

Despite a landscape once ravaged by a tsunami, the town of Unawatuna has been rebuilt and is a safe, mellow place to travel within. Families with young children—or adventurous backpackers—will enjoy the gentle beaches and soft sands.

Whether strolling through the Mangrove trees, touring the Japanese Pagoda, or relaxing with a yoga session, Unawatuna has something for everyone.

This laid-back beach town can wash all your cares away!!!