Sri Lanka's interior offers a lot to discover, but the suffocating heat and humidity are sure to have you running back toward the coastal areas. Many of the best beaches in Sri Lanka are located along the southwestern coast where blue water, snorkeling, surfing waves, and even migrating whales can be enjoyed.
Somewhat unusual for an island of its size, Sri Lanka is split by two monsoon seasons. You can find sunshine and dry weather on some part of the island any time of year—but if you are planning a trip around days at the beach, the best time to visit Sri Lanka is from mid-November to April. For those visiting during monsoon season, you can take a bus from the rainy side of the island to the drier side.
While tourism was damaged by unprecedented terrorist attacks in 2019 that prompted many countries to issue travel advisories for Sri Lanka, most have been downgraded. Once again, the island is ready to receive visitors with open arms: The many beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka await!
An excellent choice as a base in the south near Galle, Unawatuna is considered by many to be the best beach in Sri Lanka, serving as the default destination for non-surfing travelers on short vacations.
The cozy beach can be walked from end to end in under 15 minutes. The small bay at Unawatuna keeps waves comparatively tranquil compared to other beaches. Although serious surfers will be bored with conditions, the sloping, soft-sand bottom makes the beach ideal for families with children (a lack of underwater hazards such as rocks, reef, and urchins helps, too).
Greatly contributing to the appeal of Unawatuna is its layout and accessibility. The small access road that parallels the beach keeps people off of the busy main highway. The narrow road through Unawatuna is lined with small shops selling moonstone jewelry, cafes, guesthouses, and restaurants.
Get There: Unawatuna is approximately 90 miles south of Colombo. Hire a private car and driver, or plan on spending two to three hours on overcrowded public transportation to travel the hectic coastal highway (A2). Taking the Southern Expressway (E01) is less scenic but saves a little time.
Mirissa has always been popular with surfers and budget travelers, though its charm and proximity to Unawatuna caused a surge of growth and development in recent years.
"Surfer's Corner" on the far right end of the bay provides some fun waves (and entertainment for spectators), but should only be attempted by experienced surfers due to the rocks. The rest of Mirissa, however, is fair game for surfing newbies and boogie boarding, and a rock island accessible by wading provides a unique photo opportunity.
The little village making up Mirissa is located along a long strip of brown sand dotted with guesthouses and beach restaurants. You'll generally find good seafood here, and beach bars take turns hosting the nightly party and small fireworks display.
Mirissa is also a popular place to go on whale-watching excursions during the migratory period between December and March. Excursions can be booked at any of the various agents. Dolphins are also sometimes be seen.
Prices for accommodation on the beach are comparable to Unawatuna. As usual, rooms a little away from the sand are much cheaper. Shop around for guesthouses on the road if you're looking to save money on accommodation.
Get There: Mirissa can be reached by hailing one of the southbound public buses bound for Matara along the main highway. If you aren't in a hurry, a more scenic and memorable option is to take the slow-moving train from Colombo Fort to Weligama, then grab quick transport from Weligama to Mirissa.
Located to the north of Galle and Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa is a wide, sandy beach with enough chairs to accommodate the masses of visitors expected during peak season. Fortunately, many of those chairs often stay vacant (unless a surf competition is in progress) as a majority of tourists zoom past on the main highway bound for Unawatuna, Mirissa, and other beaches in the south.
With medium-sized waves and fewer underwater hazards to avoid, Hikkaduwa is a popular place for beginning surfers to take lessons from one of many surfing schools. The small turtle hatchery is a good place to learn about the plight of sea turtles and see adorable baby turtles try out their fins for the first time.
Hikkaduwa is strung out lengthwise along the main (A2) highway. You'll need to walk—and maybe cross—the busy road every time you leave the beach; don't expect a cozy bay or small beach feel, although the brown sand is clean. Hikkaduwa couldn't really be considered "charming," but it is accommodating. You'll have plenty of room on the spacious beach and decent choices for restaurants.
Get There: Reach Hikkaduwa by flagging any bus heading southbound along A2 to Galle or Matara. A taxi from Colombo will take around 2.5 hours. You can also take the slow-but-enjoyable train from Colombo to the small Hikkaduwa Station just north of the beach.
Quiet, serene, and a favorite for novice surfers, Weligama is a smaller alternative to the busier beaches located north. Directly next to Weligama is Midigama, a tranquil strip destined to be developed as another one of Sri Lanka's best beaches.
Many visitors only stop by Weligama to photograph some of Sri Lanka's famous stick fishermen; made famous by travel photographers, they are largely gone. The few who remain mostly sit on sticks awaiting tips from tourists.
You'll find several boutique hotels dotted throughout Weligama and many more surf "camps" along the main road. Fishing boats typically outnumber visitors during the low season, so catch-of-the-day seafood is readily available when sea conditions are good.
The most interesting of the things to see in Weligama is Taprobane Island, a tiny rock island with an immaculate villa built by Count de Maunay after he was exiled from France. Several famous authors, composers, and performers have owned the dream house since. The villa has been turned into a guesthouse, offering a unique experience if you don't mind taking a small boat every time you need to leave the property.
Get There: Access Weligama in the south by grabbing any bus passing between Colombo or Galle to Matara. For a more scenic, leisurely experience, take one of the three daily trains from Colombo to Weligama. Midigama can be reached by tuk-tuk from Weligama.
Hiriketiya Beach and Dickwella Beach
As each of Sri Lanka's most popular beaches became more and more busy, development crept southward. Hiriketiya stepped up as the quiet, go-to bay. Because the picturesque, horseshoe-shaped bay is just a little too small to accommodate all the people seeking paradise outside of Unawatuna, try to secure a spot before lunch; otherwise, you may not be able to find a seat!
One bay over, Dickwella Beach is much longer and far less crowded, though it lacks some of the charm and draw of tiny Hiriketiya. Regardless, the two make a formidable team and are worth seeing. If you find Hiriketiya too busy, Dickwella beach is a 30-minute walk (or 7-minute tuk-tuk ride) west.
Get There: Both beaches are located on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Continue on the A3 coastal highway past Weligama. You'll first see Dickwella Beach, then five minutes later, Hiriketiya.
Ventura Beach at Bentota
Ventura Beach is a wide strip of clean, golden sand that’s home to luxurious resorts, cute cabañas, and a handful of villas. The Bentota River runs parallel to the beach, contributing to the scenery and number of waterbirds.
Weekends are busiest, but you’ll often have plenty of room to spread out. Although the beach is suitable for traveling families, the waves become sizable and currents are surprisingly strong on some days. Use extra caution when swimming, and pay attention to flags if any are posted.
Most resort guests don’t wander too far from the grounds, but the area does offer a few sights to see. Some shopping is available in Bentota, a town famous for raa, a locally-produced toddy fermented from palm sap. Professional diving and snorkeling trips are an option, or you can grab some cheap snorkeling gear from a local shop and try your luck around the rocks. For a long beach walk, stroll south for a little more than an hour to the sea turtle conservation center at Induruwa Beach. After seeing the turtles, you can return by tuk-tuk (10 minutes). When you’re ready to explore away from the beach, Lunuganga Estate, the impressive home of architect Geoffrey Bawa, is 20 minutes by car.
Accommodation and seafood restaurants lean upscale at Ventura Beach, but some cheaper guesthouses are tucked between resorts. Many spas in the area offer Ayurvedic remedies and treatments. If you’re curious about this ancient approach to health, Bentota is a good choice for enjoying an oil massage or another holistic treatment.
Get There: Ventura Beach is around 39 miles south of Colombo. Going by public bus takes around two hours; hiring a taxi or private car saves 30 minutes. Train is the slowest but most interesting way to get to Ventura Beach. Jump off at Bentota (the stop after Aluthgama Railway Station) and walk east to the beach—no transportation necessary.
Narigama Beach is (usually) a calmer alternative to popular Hikkaduwa, a few minutes to the north. As Hikkaduwa’s popularity increases, travelers push further south to the fringes for fresh sand. That hasn’t stopped the sizable sea turtles from regularly making appearances on the beach. In the backdrop, surfers take advantage of the ceaseless waves. Sunsets are lined up just right, and the scattering of beach cafés and restaurants are perfect for watching the evening show.
Guesthouses and 3-star hotels in the $20-40 a night range are easy enough to find at Narigama Beach. Many provide snorkeling gear for guests, giving you a chance to see the turtles up close—but please refrain from touching them!
Like Hikkaduwa, Narigama Beach is sprawled along both sides of busy Galle Road. Cover up when coming off of the beach (numerous signs instruct tourists to do so).
Get There: Narigama Beach is north of Galle and only 1.3 miles south of Hikkaduwa. Plan on around 2.5 hours by car or three hours by bus from Colombo. Any southbound bus calling heading towards Galle should stop there.
Over on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka, the beach at Arugam Bay was busier with fishing boats than tourists not too long ago—but with excellent surf and laid-back locals, Arugam’s popularity keeps growing. As with all of Sri Lanka's top beaches, prices for accommodation are creeping upward.
Still, the area tends to attract mostly backpackers and surfers. In 2019, Arugam Bay hosted a large pro surfing competition, a fitting testament to the size and quality of surf found there. As the bay attracts a mix of skill levels, serious surfers are prompted to grab tuk-tuks and head to lesser known breaks down the coast. If you’re an intermediate-level surfer looking for new territory in the Indian Ocean, Arugam Bay is fun—just don’t forget about the concealed reef. Surfing season peaks from July to September.
Roadside shacks and restaurants begin barbecuing fish in early evening, luring seafood lovers to congregate. You should cover up when leaving any beach in Sri Lanka, but especially in this predominantly Muslim area.
Get There: Arugam Bay is directly opposite of Colombo on the west side of Sri Lanka, but you’ll have to skirt the wildlife sanctuaries and national park. Plan on a long seven hours by car to reach Arugam Bay from the airport.
More visitors get lured in by Unawatuna, Mirissa, and the other beaches scattered along the coast before they reach Goyambokka Beach, near the southernmost point of the island. The reward for continuing just a little further down is better beach and less crowds!
Beach bars and thatched-roof restaurants line the sand along Goyambokka Beach instead of concrete-heavy resorts. Budget and mid-range bungalows are the predominant choice for accommodation. Renting a boogie board is about the only thing to do aside from claiming a daybed and enjoying the scene.
When you’re ready to get off the beach, head into Tangalle. The nearby fishing port is also a center for food, supplies, and a few sights. An old Dutch fort there has been converted into a prison, but more impressive is Hummanaya—Sri Lanka’s only blowhole. The blowhole, thought to be the second most powerful in the world, has been measured shooting water nearly 100 feet into the air.
Get There: Goyambokka Beach is located in the very south of Sri Lanka. Coming from Colombo, you’ll pass Galle and many of the major beaches. Continue until you reach Goyambokka Beach, just before the small town of Tangalle. Plan on at least three to four hours by car from Colombo.
Uppuveli Beach at Trincomalee
When the weather is rainy at beaches on the southwest coast, it's often ideal in Trincomalee. Five hours north of Arugam Bay on the east coast, Uppuveli Beach offers plenty of sunshine between March and June. Migrating whales pass through the area, especially between March and August.
Many of the small hotels and guesthouses are about a 10-minute walk from the beach (or just grab a cheap tuk-tuk). You can lounge in restaurants and cabañas on the beach while watching fishermen haul in their nets. Nearby Trincomalee is an important center for Tamil culture on Sri Lanka; you’ll see and hear the influence everywhere.
Unfortunately, plastic trash can be a problem at parts of the beach not maintained by local businesses. For cleaner sand, your best bet is nearer the northern end of the beach, farthest away from Trincomalee.
Get There: Uppuveli Beach is around 3.5 miles north in the suburbs of Trincomalee, one of the largest towns on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Highway (A6) slices neatly across Sri Lanka, connecting Colombo and Trincomalee. Reaching Trincomalee by car requires six to seven hours; then you can take a taxi the short distance to Uppuveli Beach.