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.
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—especially the nice beaches in the south.
Somewhat unusual for an island of its size, Sri Lanka is split during the monsoon season. You can take a bus from the rainy side of the island to the drier side. The dry and peak tourist season for the best beaches in Sri Lanka is from mid November to April.
After 26 years of civil war that ended in 2009, and recovery from the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Sri Lanka became a top destination in South Asia for sun, swimming, and surfing. Tourism was again damaged by unprecedented terrorist attacks in 2019 that prompted many countries to issue travel advisories for Sri Lanka.
Most travel advisories have been downgraded, and once again, the island is ready to receive visitors with open arms. The many beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka await!
AddressUnawatuna Beach, Sri Lanka
Unawatuna is considered by many to be the best beach in Sri Lanka. But, unfortunately, word is out. Unawatuna often serves 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 and urchins helps, too.
Greatly contributing to the appeal of Unawatuna are the layout and accessibility. The small access road paralleling the beach keeps people off of the busy main highway. Braving speeding trucks on the highway is a serious drawback for some of the other beaches in Sri Lanka that don't enjoy the same ideal setup. The narrow road through Unawatuna is lined with small shops selling moonstone jewelry, cafes, guesthouses, and eateries.
Albeit developed, Unawatuna is an excellent choice as a base in the south near Galle. You can walk or grab a tuk-tuk to Jungle Beach, an enjoyable snorkeling spot frequented by turtles and an array of exotic birds.
Get There: Unawatuna is approximately 90 miles south of Colombo. Hire a private car and driver or plan on spending more than three hours on overcrowded public transportation to travel the hectic coastal highway (A2). Taking the Southern Expressway (E01) is less scenic but saves only a little time.
AddressMirissa Beach, Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Once quieter than Unawatuna and slightly more budget traveler friendly, Mirissa is farther south of Unawatuna and Weligama. The little beach exploded in popularity as an alternative to Unawatuna.
Mirissa has always been popular with surfers and budget travelers. "Surfer's Corner" on the far right end of the bay provides some fun waves and entertainment for speectators but should only be attempted by experienced surfers due to the rocks. The rest of the beach, however, is fair game for surfing newbies and boogie boarding. Beach bars take turns hosting the nightly party and small fireworks display.
The little village making up Mirissa is located along a long strip of brown sand dotted with guesthouses and beach restaurants. It's charm and proximity to Unawatuna caused a surge of growth and development in recent years.
You'll generally find good seafood in Mirissa; 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.
Mirissa is 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.
A rock island accessible by wading provides a unique photo opportunity in Mirissa. Climb the stairs to get a nice view of the beach from a different perspective.
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.
AddressHikkaduwa Beach, Sri Lanka
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.
Hikkaduwa is strung out lengthwise along the main (A2) highway. You'll need to walk—and maybe cross—the busy road everytime you leave the beach. The beach and village are stretched along the coast; 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.
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. 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.
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.
AddressWeligama, Sri Lanka
More quiet, serene, and a favorite for surfing beginners, 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 of the best beaches in Sri Lanka.
Many visitors only stop through Weligama to photograph some of Sri Lanka's famous stick fishermen (who now mostly fish only for tourist dollars) or the Taprobane House perched on a tiny island just off the coast. The iconic stilt/stick fishermen made famous by travel photographers 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 and offers a unique experience if you don't mind taking a small boat every time you need to leave the property!
Get There: Acess 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
AddressBeliatta New Rd, Dikwella, Sri Lanka
As each of the top beaches in Sri Lanka became more and more popular, development crept southward. Hiriketiya stepped up as the quiet, go-to bay. Unfortunately, the picturesque, horseshoe-shaped bay is just a little too small to accommodate all the people seeking paradise outside of Unawatuna. You may not even be able to find a seat on most days unless you secure a spot before lunch!
Although Dickwella Beach, one bay over, is much longer and far less crowded, 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.