Jungle Beach in Sri Lanka is the most accessible and easiest choice for enjoying a day of snorkeling without signing up to go out on a boat. Anyone with snorkeling gear can walk out and enjoy life on the reef.
Many travelers who aren't sure how to get to Jungle Beach end up getting sucked in by local "guides" or drivers who take them on a confusing route in order to demand a big tip.
Don't believe what you hear: you can get yourself to Jungle Beach easily enough for free to enjoy a great day in the water!
What Is the Jungle Beach in Sri Lanka?
Located just northwest of the beach at Unawatuna, Jungle Beach is a tiny, semi-hidden bay surrounded by jungle. A coral reef is located just a few meters out from the beach.
Although the beach is hardly a "secret," many tourists mistakenly pay extra for snorkeling trips that include a boat ride to Jungle Beach from Unawatuna and other popular beaches in the south.
The reef at Jungle Beach is basically dead, however, you'll still encounter plenty of small marine life. A few snorkelers get lucky enough to see one of the sizable sea turtles that make regular appearances on the beach. Many of the species of sea turtles in the area are endangered.
A small restaurant shack on the beach serves cold drinks and simple snacks for when you need a break from the water.
How to Get to Jungle Beach
First and foremost: Ignore anyone on the path who offers to show you the way to Jungle Beach! These unofficial guides are con artists and will take you on an unnecessarily complicated route through the jungle and then ask for money.
Just carrying a snorkel mask through Unawatuna will attract a lot of attention from local opportunists. You'll have to decline lots of offers from tuk-tuk drivers offering a ride to Jungle Beach. Other than saving money, there's another reward for travelers who make the walk: a chance to spot wildlife.
Although temperatures are often suffocating after wandering too far from the coastal breeze, the 30-minute walk to Jungle Beach affords lots of opportunities to see exotic birds, flowers, large butterflies, monitor lizards, monkeys, and other wildlife along the way. Sri Lanka has an astounding amount of flora and fauna. Despite its size, the island is considered the most biodiverse in all of Asia!
Alternatively, you can rent a scooter in Unawatuna. The best place for rentals is at the corner of the beach access road and main road to Galle. Scooters cost around US $6 per day, not including fuel. Be ready for some aggressive driving.
Dive shops offer boat rides from Unawatuna to Jungle Beach, however, you'll pay a premium and will be given an alloted amount of time — often not enough — to snorkel before heading back.
Walking to Jungle Beach
Walk northwest from Unawatuna (opposite direction of the main road to Galle) on Wella Dewalaya Road, the beach access road. Turn right onto Yaddehimulla Road, the only other paved road. If you come upon the popular Hot Rock restaurant, you're still on the access road and missed the turn just 100 meters prior.
The walk will continue past a string of boutique guest houses and then grind uphill through a residential area. Be on the lookout for plenty of large jackfruit hanging in the trees, beautiful orchids blooming, and monkeys of all types. Macaques are typically harmless but don't let them grab belongings!
Signs posted along the way — both hand written and official — will guide you all the way to Jungle Beach. You can also follow any signs to the Japanese Peace Pagoda — a large, white structure located just above the beach that is easy to spot.
At some point, the paved path will disappear. Pick your way along the small-but-easy jungle path and cross the tiny creek. Don't worry: the path is hardly a serious jungle trek, and you'll probably encounter other people along the way coming and going to Jungle Beach.
Watch for a sign pointing out "Jungle Beach" on the right, then continue down the dirt path to the restaurant and beach. There may be tuk-tuks or transportation options parked on the road nearby.
Snorkeling at Jungle Beach in Sri Lanka
The reef and snorkeling begin only 30 feet away from the beach, directly in front. You can also snorkel around the rocks on both sides of the bay, but beware of waves pushing you too close to the sharp edges. Under normal conditions, the current isn't an issue. Waves typically aren't sizable at Jungle Beach, but always be mindful of the basic safety rules for snorkeling.
Don't leave smartphones or other valuables on the beach. If you must take them, ask some fellow travelers who are taking a break from snorkeling to keep an eye on things while you're in the water. Theft isn't a big problem in Sri Lanka but you should still be vigilant.
Along with schools of colorful fish and reef dwellers, you may also encounter crabs, moray eels, trigger fish, parrot fish, barracudas, and maybe even a turtle. During the rainy season, runoff may damper visibility at Jungle Beach.
Get started back well before dark or plan to catch a ride once back on the road; there will be transportation options waiting. Allow a few minutes on the way out for looking around the large Japanese Peace Pagoda located just above the beach.
The Sunset Point, marked by a sign on the road to Jungle Beach, offers far better sunset views than those in Unawatuna, but you'll need a flashlight for the walk back.
Renting Snorkel Gear
You need to take your own snorkeling gear with you to Jungle Beach. Sometimes you can find gear to rent once there, but don't count on the availability or quality; carry your own with you from Unawatuna.
Snorkel gear can be rented in many shops along the road or borrowed from some guesthouses. The best option is to rent your gear from a dive shop in Unawatuna. You'll get far better equipment and a mask that doesn't leak.
Sea Horse Divers — located on the northeast side of the beach (to the left when facing the water) at Unawatuna rents professional snorkeling gear for only a few dollars per day.
Put the mask on your face (without the head strap) and inhale through your nose. Ideally, a mask the right size with a good seal will stick to your face enough that you can remove your hands without it falling.