Unawatuna is a serene beach town that is easily the most admired beach town in the south; the waters are clean and the white sand beach is almost too perfect for words. This mellow beach town is located over a kilometer from the main coastal road and so contains its calm atmosphere. There is a laid back traveller vibe which rules over the town and most amenities are focused for the backpacker traveller.
For a unique and magical excursion visit the “Jungle Beach”, a small beach lost in the jungle just 4 km from Unawatuna. Accessible by tuk-tuk or boat, this is a fantastic place for snorkeling. An intriguing day excursion away from the beach is to the Mangrove Sanctuary where you can wander along the raised boardwalks built through the tangled roots and trees. The Mangrove Sanctuary is a wonderful place to spot birds and even monkeys!
Located 2 km from Unawatuna, this amazing pagoda was a gift from the Japanese. It is a 20 minute-walk from Unawatuna. It can be seen on a precipice on the east end of the pay.
The coral reef is a good place to discover beautiful fishes and sea shells. You can hire snorkeling equipment from some of the beachfront places (or borrow it from guesthouses) to explore the reefs a short distance from the west end of the beach.
Throughout the town are various diving schools with certified Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ (PADI) Open Water courses available for travellers. There are several interesting wreck dives around Unawatuna, as well as reef and cave diving. The wreck dives include the Lord Nelson, a cargo ship that was wrecked about 10 years ago. It has a 15m-long cabin to explore. The 33m-long Rangoon ship wreck is one hour south of Unawatuna.
Also don’t miss the turtle hatchery, a visit to Mihiripenna Beach, or the opportunity to charter a local fishing vessel.
How to get in: The real Unawatuna lies inside of route A2 Galle-Matara main road. It is 150 km away from the international airport at Colombo. The journey takes 3 hours in private vehicles.
If you are travelling from Colombo downtown to Galle and Unawatuna, take the Matara-train and get down at Galle. This journey will take three hours. Then take a tuk tuk (which is 300 rupees) or a local bus from Galle to Unawatuna.
2. Mirissa: Welcome to The Beach Paradise
Mirissa is a fishing port and a small beach paradise.
Travellers can swim, snorkel, and surf on soft sand beaches of Mirissa. Or have the unique experience of getting close with majestic blue whales. Make sure to come between November and March, which is the dry season and best time to go whale watching!
If you can tear yourself away from the pristine beach and you fancy a walk, feel confident walking inland to visit the surrounding farmland and towns. If you wake up quite early in the morning you can head to the port to see the morning’s catch being unloaded by local fishermen – bring along your camera for a special photo, you may even be lucky enough to see a shark!
Whale and dolphin watching is one breathtaking endeavor offered in Mirissa. Just be sure to book with a reputable company.
From November to March is also the perfect time for surfing in Mirissa. The waves are great for beginners and body-boarders and the water tends to be best around full moon times.
The waters near the reef are excellent for snorkeling and surfing. Most guesthouses have snorkeling and surfing gear.
How to get in: You can catch a bus to Matara from Colombo and get off from Mirissa. Better even, take the train to Matara, which is even more scenic than the bus journey.
The town of Bentota is found on the coast of the Indian Ocean and also the bank of the Bentota River. Here you can experience all kinds of water sports like swimming, body-surfing, diving, jet-ski, windsurfing, parasailing and river safaris on the Bentota River.
Some of the oldest beach resorts in Sri Lanka are in Bentota.
Built Bentota, Aluthgama and Induwara are very famous coastal towns and definitely a tourist’s paradise. Since tourism is one of the main ways in which people here earn their livelihood, you are guaranteed to get all amenities that you want.
But some people might find the place too crowded for their liking. They have the option to move to inner stretches of the town, which are not overpopulated by visitors. Or they can live at Induwara which is quieter than the other two towns but as beautiful and as full of life.
Brief garden is almost ten km from Bentota and is a riot of green. This place is not only picture perfect but the house here also contains very interesting pieces of artwork displaying Sri Lanka’s art scene.
This is a great place to hunt for antiques as there is a big market here for that. These antiques are remnants of the island’s Dutch, British and Portuguese roots.
You can rent small fishing boats or trawlers in order to spend time in the sea and experience the sea first hand.
Hikkaduwa is very conveniently located near Galle and is worth visiting; not just for the water sports on offer, but also for the tranquility of the place. It boasts of some of the best surfing waves on the island. Whether you’re a surfer, snorkeler, or diver, you are likely to find your place here.
Stretching right out from the coast is the Hikkaduwa Coral Sanctuary. The water over the reef is only 3 or 4 meters deep and you can take part in snorkeling tours that will get you to the best spots. Glass-bottomed boats are also available for touring but they are not recommended due to their frequent collisions with the reef in shallower areas.
For divers (and those wishing to become divers), the season in Hikkaduwa is from November to April and there are Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) courses available from the main diving shops in the town. There are also specialized diving tours available to explore shipwrecks and intriguing night-diving excursions.
About 2 kilometers inland from Hikkaduwa is the Hikkaduwa Lake which is a nice place for a day trip to see many varieties of birds and lizards. A tour to the lake can be contracted by asking around in Hikkaduwa.
Hikkaduwa offers water sports like snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, boating and surfing. Don’t forget to raise a toast to the sunset after a hard day’s diving and surfing.
Located right in Hikkaduwa is the Gangarama Maha Vihara. It is a Buddhist temple which is known for its many paintings, all done by one man over the course of many years.
The Seenigama Vihara temple is another culturally fascinating visit. People who are victims of thievery can come to this temple seeking retribution. Special oil made with pepper and chilies can be purchased here and it is said that when this oil is burnt in the house of the victim, the thief will be brought to justice in some way within a few weeks.
As with all of Sri Lanka’s most popular backpacker destinations, Hikkaduwa is not lacking in tasty restaurants, cafes and bars with international influences. Compared with many other beach towns, Hikkaduwa has a more vibrant nightlife scene with bars for lounging and dancing.
How to get in: Busses to Hikkaduwa leave quiet frequently from Colombo and take two to three hours. You can also catch buses from Galle which takes about 30 minutes. Trains are generally crowded but they do provide frequent service. You can easily board the train from Colombo or Galle (30 minutes journey).
Tangalle is a calm, scenic, and peaceful town that’s just right for travelers who enjoy peace and quiet. There’s no night life to brag about here, but there’s so much to do!
Tour the lighthouse, learn to surf, observe the Leatherback turtles on the soft sands, or treat yourself to an Ayurveda treatment. Don’t forget to meet the Buddhist monks or wander through the many temples. The food is fresh from the ocean, the locals friendly, and the accommodation is safe. Tangalle is the perfect little getaway for those quiet tourists who just need a little bit of peace.
Away from the beach, you also have several options for day activities and overnight trips: a visit to the Kudawella blow hole, located a few kilometers west from Tangalle. The blowhole is a magnificent site as sea water is forced up through a hole in the rock cliff, 40 meters above sea level. Near the site, there are many stands selling thirst-quenching fruits which will be well appreciated after walking under the hot Sri Lankan sun. If you are hungry, consider tasting the fresh fried fish sold nearby.
Rekawa Beach, east of tangalle is a corker of a beach and has a growing reputation as a turtle-watching beach. From April to September, green, hawksbill and occasion-ally even leatherback turtles struggle ashore at night to lay their eggs. It’s an endless stretch of wind and wave battered sand that isn’t safe for swimming. It’s the best beach for turtle-watching.
The beautiful little coves around Goyambokka beach, with their turquoise waters and gentle waves, are almost a cliché of what a tropical beach is supposed to look like. It’s all very peaceful.
Tangalle is an excellent jumping-off point to visit the Yala National Park but is not so well known for a vibrant nightlife such as in Unawatuna.
How to get in: Tangalle is serviced by bus. Following are some of the destinations for which frequent buses are available: Colombo- six hours; Galle- two hours; Matara- 1½ hours.