Although there are many beaches around the island, the best beaches in Sri Lanka are located in the south where blue water, surfing waves, and migrating whales can be enjoyed.
After years of civil war and recovery from the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Sri Lanka is catching on quickly as a top tourist destination in Asia. Whether you prefer to surf the waves or watch others do it while you sip a cold drink, Sri Lanka's beaches have never been more inviting.
Sure, Sri Lanka's interior has a lot to offer, but the heat and humidity are sure to have you running back toward the coast before too long!
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Considered by many to be the best of the beaches in Sri Lanka, Unawatuna is the default destination for travelers on short vacations. Unawatuna can be walked from end to end in under 15 minutes; the small bay keeps waves relatively small. Although not the best place for surfing on the island, calm swimming and sloping soft sand make Unawatuna a great family choice in Sri Lanka.
The real appeal of Unawatuna is the accessibility; a small access road parallels the beach and keeps people off of the busy main highway. The narrow road is lined with small shops, guesthouses, and eateries.
With calm water and the isolated 'Jungle Beach' just a short walk away for snorkeling, Unawatuna is an excellent choice for snorkeling and turtle-spotting trips.
Get There: Unawatuna is approximately 90 miles south of Colombo. Plan on spending more than three hours of hectic driving along the busy main highway if you take public transportation.
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Far quieter than Unawatuna, Mirissa is the next major beach destination south of Unawatuna. Popular with surfers and budget travelers, Mirissa is a tiny village located along a long strip of sand dotted with guesthouses and beach restaurants. Mirissa is the place to try out bigger waves but still enjoy the protection of shallow water and an on-duty lifeguard. The "surfer's corner" on the right side of the beach is rocky, dangerous, and should only be attempted by experienced surfers.
You'll generally find better deals on seafood in Mirissa, however, prices for accommodation on the beach are comparable to Unawatuna. Mirissa is a popular place to go on whale-watching excursions between December and March. Throughout the year, visitors can enjoy the free-and-educational turtle hatchery located directly on the beach.
A rock island accessible by wading provides a unique photo opportunity in Mirissa. See some tips for taking great travel photos.
Get There: Mirissa can be reached... by jumping on one of the public buses bound for Matara along the main road.
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Located north of Galle and Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa is a wide, sandy beach with enough chairs to accommodate a horde of visitors. Fortunately, most of those chairs stay vacant (unless a festival or surf competition are in progress) as a majority of tourists fly past on the main highway to Unawatuna or other destinations.
Hikkaduwa is strung out along the main highway, meaning that you'll need to walk the busy road whenever you leave the beach. The beach town has an overabundance of accommodation and seafood eateries, but competition doesn't do much to drive down prices.
With medium-sized waves and fewer underwater hazards to avoid, Hikkaduwa is a popular place for beginners to take surfing lessons from one of the many schools on the beach.
Get There: Get to Hikkaduwa by flagging any bus heading southbound to Galle or Matara. You can take the train from Colombo to the small station just north of Hikkaduwa.
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Quiet, serene, and a favorite for surfing beginners, Weligama is a smaller alternative to the busier beaches located more north. Most visitors simply drive through, come to take surfing lessons, or stop to photograph some of Sri Lanka's famous stick fishermen. The famous Taprobane House is perched on a tiny island along the way.
You'll find several boutique hotels dotted throughout Weligama and many more surf camps along the main road. Fishing boats outnumber visitors during the low season; catch-of-the-day seafood is cheap and readily available.
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.
Get There: Get to Weligama in the south by grabbing any bus passing between Colombo or Galle to Matara.