Jungle Beach in Sri Lanka is the most accessible place for enjoying a day of snorkeling without signing up to go out on a boat. You don't need a guide or to sign up for a tour. 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 fast-talking tuk-tuk drivers who take them on a confusing route then demand a big tip afterward.
Don't believe what you hear: you can get yourself to Jungle Beach easily enough for free to enjoy a great day of sunbathing and snorkeling.
What Is the Jungle Beach in Sri Lanka?
Located just northwest of Unawatuna, Jungle Beach is a tiny, semi-hidden bay surrounded by jungle. A coral reef is located just a few meters offshore from the beach.
Although the beach is hardly a "secret" hidden in the jungle, 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.
Snorkeling, sunbathing, and swimming are really the only things to do at Jungle Beach. Don't leave smartphones or other valuables on the beach when you go to the water. 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.
A small restaurant shack on the beach serves cold drinks and simple snacks for when you need a break from the water. One of Sri Lanka's enormous king coconuts is exactly what you need to stay hydrated after playing in the sun.
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 can attract a lot of attention from local opportunists who know you're probably going to Jungle Beach. You'll have to decline lots of offers from tuk-tuk drivers for rides to Jungle Beach. Along with not supporting the scammers, travelers who make the walk themselves increase their chances of spotting local wildlife.
Although temperatures and humidity are suffocating once you wander 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 small size, the island is considered the most biodiverse in all of Asia!
Alternatively, you can rent a scooter in Unawatuna for US $8 – 10. The best place for rentals is at the corner of the beach access road and main road to Galle. Be ready for some aggressive driving on the main road.
Dive shops offer boat rides from Unawatuna to Jungle Beach, however, you'll pay a premium and get an allotted amount of time to snorkel before heading back. You probably won't have time to take breaks and enjoy sunbathing.
Walking to Jungle Beach From Unawatuna
Walk from the beach access road to Yaddehimulla Road, the only other paved road. The intersection of the two beach access roads and Yaddehimulla Road happens near the popular, 24-hour restaurant Hot Rock.
Yaddehimulla Road winds north and west; stay on it until it unofficially turns into Jungle Beach Road.
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. If you see the beaming white structure on the hill, you're going the right direction.
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; these are an option for the return if you're too tired to walk back to Unawatuna.
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 conditions.
The reef at Jungle Beach is pretty well 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. Don't interact with them! Many species of sea turtles in the area are endangered.
Along with schools of colorful fish and reef-dwelling creatures, you may also encounter crabs, moray eels, trigger fish, parrot fish, barracudas, and maybe even a turtle. During the rainy season (June - November), runoff may damper visibility for snorkeling at Jungle Beach.
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 and minimarts along the road or borrowed from some guesthouses. If you're serious about your experience, the smartest choice is to rent your gear from a dive shop in Unawatuna. You'll pay more but enjoy 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.
Ask in the dive shop about their favorite methods for preventing the mask from fogging up.
Watching Sunset at Jungle Beach
The Sunset Point, marked by a sign on the road to Jungle Beach, offers far better sunset views than those in Unawatuna. If you plan to stay until sunset, you'll definitely need a flashlight for the walk back.
Get started back well before total darkness 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.