13 Beaches in Sri Lanka to visit
Whether you travel in Sri Lanka as a family, a couple or with friends, there are some wonderful beaches all around Sri Lanka for a short or an extended beach stay. Sri Lanka’s beaches are spread over different coasts – from the east to the south and west. At each beach you will find different sea and surf conditions, a range of accommodation and different facilities such as local dining and surf board hire. But which is the best beach in Sri Lanka for your holiday? Weather and conditions at Sri Lanka’s beaches can vary quite a lot from each other at exactly the same time of the year. So knowing when to go and where is important.
For example, there could be clear skies and sunny conditions at one beach and rain and rough seas at another beach at the same time of the year. Nothing ruins a beach holiday like bad weather and poor surf conditions! Knowing which is the best beach in Sri Lanka and when is the best time to travel in Sri Lanka for a beach holiday is important – especially if you are planning an extended beach stay during your family travel in Sri Lanka, or if you are planning to rent a private beach villa in Sri Lanka and want to have the best weather conditions in Sri Lanka while you are there. (You may also like to check out our Sri Lanka FAQs page which outlines the weather conditions in Sri Lanka.)
There are a few things you may need to consider in choosing your beach stay in Sri Lanka:
#1 Timing – what time of the year do you plan to travel?
Monsoons have a significant impact on your beach stay, in terms of rainfall and more so in terms of quality of the beach and the ocean. For instance, the southern coast is at its best from November to April. During this period the ocean is great for swimming, surfing, snorkelling and water-based activities. Other times of the year the ocean gets rough and is not appropriate for activities and may not be safe.
For more details and information about the weather in Sri Lanka – visit our Sri Lanka FAQs page.
East Coast of Sri Lanka is with its sandy beaches works best from April to November when the North Eastern monsoons clear up making these beaches some of the best around.
#2 The quality of the beach
Consider if you want a lively area with restaurants and shops or a low-key beach stay in Sri Lanka. Some of the beaches along the south coast are happening and full of buzz. While this is exciting and provides multiple options for venues for drinks and dining, it may not be suitable if you are looking for a restorative, quiet beach stay.
#3 Accommodation options
You may want to also think about whether you want a smaller, boutique property near the beach – and there are some wonderful options especially around the South coast – or a larger, resort beach stay. Weighing those factors up is a good starting point to determine which is the ideal beach for your holiday in Sri Lanka. In recent months we’ve spent considerable time along the east, west and south coasts of Sri Lanka visiting hotels and resorts along the beach, testing the local restaurants and dining venues and spending time at the beach and this is what caught our attention along the way.
Top 13 beaches of Sri Lanka worth visiting
Here is an overview of Sri Lanka’s beaches and what you can expect during a stay along Sri Lanka’s coast.
#1 Beaches in Bentota and Aluthgama
Being relatively close to Colombo (a 2-hour drive covering about 86 km) there are a number of larger and more established beach resorts in both Bentota and Aluthgama. The beaches are long and sandy, the sea mostly calm and great for all types of swimmers. This stretch of the ocean is not suitable for surfing. There are lots of water sports in Sri Lanka offered throughout this area, including boat safaris along the Bentota River and more high-octane activities such as tubing and jet skiing.
Once you cross the Bentota River you enter Bentota proper, which has some smaller boutique hotels in Sri Lanka, especially on the prime coastal strip. Alternatively, there are good value options on the inland side. This strip has fewer local restaurants or even tourist restaurants. However, it is only a short drive in to Aluthgama. Aluthgama town is quite lively, with lots of typical everyday shops which makes for an interesting wander. There are a few local rice and curry places.
Some of our favourite hotels to stay along this stretch are The Long House by Taru Villas and Geoffrey Bawa’s Lunuganga Estate plus Bewis Bawa’s Brief Gardens for a day visit. We also love Boutique 87 one of Bawa’s creations. For more details about our top picks for places to stay in Sri Lanka – visit our Hotels We Love page.
If you want to visit a temple off beaten track, Kande Viharaya in Aluthgama is a good option. This temple is built on top of a hill as such referred to as Temple (Viharaya) on the hills (Kande). To grab a bite visit Pier 88 by the lagoon. This restaurant serves great Sri Lankan food as well as western infused dishes at an affordable price. Also, the views of the lagoon are fabulous to enjoy a leisurely meal.
#2 Beaches in Ahungalla and Balapitiya
There is a long stretch of beach in Ahungalla. We focused on the beautiful boutique hotels in Balapitiya. Somewhat like Bentota, there are not many local restaurants as most travellers staying in this area spend the majority of their time at their hotel. However, Ambalangoda, a larger town is a short tuk tuk ride away. It has a few local restaurants and lots of other little typical everyday shops.
Our favourite boutique hotels along this coastal stretch are The River House and Kumu Beach.
#3 Beaches in Hikkaduwa
Like Bentota this is another tourist stronghold, but in its favour it does have a good mix of both local and tourist restaurants – so you can opt for a good rice and curry meal or go for an option where you can have a drink with your meal (in Sri Lanka most establishments that serve alcohol are not trying to cater to people wanting to eat!). There are also a few outlets offering diving and snorkelling, though this is seasonal (November – April) You can also find a massage in this area which for many people is synonymous with a tropical holiday. If you are staying in Hikkaduwa or nearby on the weekend be sure to visit Rathgama for the weekend market – a very lively affair with lots of tropical fruits, vegetables, trinkets and clothes. Hikkaduwa also has the advantage of being 30-minutes-drive from Galle so you can easily go into the Fort for shopping or a night out. Hikkaduwa has decent mid-range accommodation options but not the array of boutique hotels that Balapitiya and Bentota has to offer.
In this area, some of our suggested best places to eat in Hikkaduwa include:
- #Refresh Hikkaduwa, an all-time favourite that serves a beautiful array of Sri Lankan and global cuisine using the freshest catch from the ocean. A great place to grab a drink with your food order and a frothy white latte.
- #Salty Swamis – for an infusion of local ingredients in local and global cuisine
- # No. 1 Roti Restaurant is the place to go to savour the unbelievable combinations and a variety of Sri Lankan favourite ‘rotis’ – thin crispy flat bread stuffed generously with filling. From cheese and avo to tomato prawns, you name it, this shop has everything.
- # Ceylon Pizza – A few kilometres away from Hikkaduwa is another favourite of ours, Ceylon Pizza. A small eatery with wood fried pizza with flavours that are only found in Sri Lanka.
#4 Beaches near Galle
The beaches close to Galle in Sri Lanka are smaller and less swimmable (because of rocks and cleanliness) compared to those north and south of city. The larger resorts in the area have sculpted small coves and created breakwaters to at least be able to offer an area to splash around but you would not stay in this area if you want a true beach stay. What it does offer is access to Galle Fort, with its proliferation of upmarket restaurants, shops and cafes. (To find out more about Galle Fort, you can read our recent Galle shopping blog). There are nice beaches within 30-minutes-drive of Galle so if your priority is good food, shopping and a historic atmosphere, but you still want to enjoy a tropical beach experience in Sri Lanka, then Galle is a great choice.
Arabella on Boosa is a small quaint property by the beach with easy access to the beach. There are number of unique, beautiful accommodation options inside Galle Fort to fit a diverse budget. Some of our favourite picks in Galle are Taru Villas Rampart Street, Taru Villas Lighthouse Street , Fort Bazaar, Thambili by Edwards Collection and Amangalla by Aman.
#5 South Coast Beaches in Sri Lanka – Unawatuna
The beach scene at Unawatuna in Sri Lanka is one of the most established in country. It is popular with backpackers which offers the advantage of lots of choice in terms of cafes, bars and restaurants, however with space at such a premium the accommodation tends to be cramped. Unawatuna is only a good choice if you want a beach scene rather than a great beach!
If you want a little more than the beach scene, take a walk up the hills, down to the coastline through the Jungle Beach.
#6 Unawatuna to Weligama: Talpe, Koggala, Ahangama and Midigama
The stretch of coastline between Unawatuna and Weligama include the towns of Talpe, Koggala, Ahangama and Midigama. Some spots along the coast are not swimmable due to rocky outcrops and coral shelf, however sandy, swimmable beaches are only ever a stroll or short drive away. East from Unawatuna is where the surf breaks start, with good breaks at Ahangama and beginners waves at Weligama Bay (where there are lots of local surf schools and board hire). In general surfing in Sri Lanka along the south coast is best from mid November to early April but there are beginners’ waves to be found all year round. If you are interested in a surfing holiday in Sri Lanka, our suggested itinerary Surf Sri Lanka may interest to you. The accommodation in Talpe, Koggala, Ahangama and Midigama is predominantly villa style (See Villas of Sri Lanka) – meaning small 4-to-10 room properties and mostly more upmarket. Because the accommodation is small scale there is no over-concentration of tourists and this gives the area a very laidback feel. A few beaches such as Wijaya Beach have some beach bars and restaurants without being too touristy. Galle is only 30 minutes away. Given all of these factors this area is a great choice for a beach holiday in Sri Lanka.
There are some great restaurants down the beach and here are some of our favourites: The Social, Wijaya Beach, Sugar – Talpe and Angel Beach Club
#7 Weligama Beach Sri Lanka
Offering good beginners surf breaks, a smattering of bars, a lively town centre as well a laid-back beach strip and a range of accommodation options, Weligama has rightly become a popular beach scene. The construction of a large Marriott Hotel right in the middle of the bay has not dented the towns appeal, with mainstream resort goers and backpackers coexisting quite happily! The long stretch of surf beach in Weligama has many surf schools and board hire places, making it ideal for beginnings who aren’t on a surf holiday but want to have a go. If you are a beginner looking to up your skills there are quite a few accommodations offering intensive courses (often coupled with yoga). Weligama is a good choice if you want a beach scene with a greater concentration of bars and restaurants. Cape Weligama is a lovely property to stay if you are in the mood to splurge.
For dining options in this region – we love Tiki Clifftop Restaurant and Soul Café. Tiki has breathtaking views into the bay, the food is great, and prices are reasonable. It is a bit hard to find, however the effort to go up there is fully worth. Soul Café has some of the best smoothies and coffee. It’s great for a midday soup and a sandwich. Food is mild spicy and local ingredients are cleverly used in western cuisine.
#8 Mirissa to Matara: Polhena Beach
Between the towns of Mirissa and Matara is the coastal stretch known as Polhena beach. This area has been popular for many years with Sri Lankans (particularly Colomboites) day tripping to the beach. This gives it a happy go lucky atmosphere and a mix of local and tourist restaurants. There is good snorkelling at certain points through here, thanks to the coral shelf and protected coves. Accommodation is limited to mostly mid-range guest houses and just a few more upmarket properties. Matara town is very lively and good for a wander
Mirissa is gaining popularity amongst backpackers and other travellers. As a result, there are interesting cafes and restaurants mushrooming in this relatively quieter beachfront. Some of our favourites are Petti Petti Mirissa with its own little pool, deck and a strip of beach to chill. The food is great and high quality with reasonable prices. We love the uniqueness of afternoon tapas – miniature pol rotti with a topping of young jack fruit – the menu is fabulous. Hangover Café serves some of the best burgers and Devmini Roti Shop is great for down to earth local food. Zephyr Restaurant and Bar is great for a drink and a meal.
#9 Dondra to Tangalle
The coastline from Dondra to Tangalle has a greater number of small bays, coves and bluffs (rather than long stretches of sandy beach). This means lots of surf breaks and quite a few lovely hidden beaches – which we are not going to mention here! Accommodation up to Tangalle is mostly low key properties which are in keeping with this being a less developed area (though it might not stay this way for long).
Tangalle offers a range of accommodation options, from good value cabanas to boutique hotels and sprawling 5-star resorts. The most popular beach in the area is Goyambokka beach. Tangalle town is a typical coastal centre with good local rice and curry spots including Tanglle Rest House popular amongst travellers for a good rice and curry. We also like The Lounge in Medilla Beach.
On the east side of Tangalle town is Tangalle beach, a long coastal strip sandwiched between the ocean and Rekawa Lagoon. As it is a relatively long straight strip of coast, without protection from the swell offered, the sea can be quite rough here particularly outside of the winter months.
If you have a bit of extra time Mulkirigala ancient temple is one that you may wish to visit.
If you are looking a quitter beach stay in Tangalle, some of our preferred places to stay include Taru Villa Mawella and the Last House spectacularly located in a quiet stretch of the beach, still very much untouched. We love the contemporary stylish atmosphere at Tangalle Social next to Taru Villas Mawella.
#11 Arugam Bay
Located on the east coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay is primarily a mecca for surfers. Historically known for its different breaks and beaches surrounding the main town – the region still attracts a large surfing crowd and younger travellers, though there are many family travellers there also. Large parts of the coast here are rough and unsuitable for swimming, (but good for seasoned surfers). However the main bay around the town has a popular beach area for swimming, boogie boarding and learning to surf. Please note, it does have waves and may not be the best beach for small children. (They may be restricted to just splashing in the shallows.)
There’s a relaxed and casual atmosphere at Arugam Bay. There’s a noticeable fun, carnival-like vibe on the main beach – as people learn to surf, crashing and tumbling off boards and laughing, kids ride boogie boards and people enjoy the sunshine and cool water. There are dozens of shops hiring surfboards and offering lessons – so you can easily rent a board each day or book casual lessons like lots of other people do and try your hand at surfing. There are also plenty of bars and cafes, some that open directly onto the beach, which lends itself to people lingering and having a good time. At night there is a party scene if you are looking for it. You can visit Arugam Bay any time from March to September. If you don’t want to surf and have small kids, this may not be the best beach for you. There are also limited options for luxury hotels in Arugam Bay. Some of the best places to stay near Arugam Bay include Hideaway Arugam Bay and Jetwing Surf
Though known for surfing, Arugam Bay isn’t as frequently visited as the beaches on the south and west coast due to its distance from Colombo. If you have more time and are taking a longer private tour of Sri Lanka that includes the country’s east coast – Arugam Bay could be worth including in your holiday. We could include Arugam Bay in our suggested itineraries Active Sri Lanka or Quintessential Sri Lanka, as well as Sri Lanka Family Adventure.
Staying with beaches on the east coast of Sri Lanka – there’s also Trincomalee, or `Trinco’, as it’s known locally. You can fly directly to Trinco from Colombo in under an hour on Cinnamon Air , versus a drive of about 7 hours, making it the best option in terms of accessibility for a beach stay on the east coast of the country. Trincomalee is a better option for families – as the water is not as rough as places like Arugam Bay. If you are also looking for a spot with sandy beaches and the sweeping bays, Trincomalee is it.
From Trincomalee, there are also options for day trips – you can visit Pigeon Island, as well as go snorkling and diving. While there is less of a `scene’ than Arugam Bay – there are a few restaurants and cafes if you want to dine outside your hotel/resort. There is also the small town of Trincomalee itself, which can be an interesting half-day trip exploring the fort, temple, fish market and local town. Again, the best time to visit Trincomalee is March to September. In terms of accommodation options at Trinco – these are the best places to stay:
Jungle Beach by UGA Escapes. This large resort boasts private beach frontage, a lovely pool and natural environment. What we love about Jungle Beach is as the name suggests, the resort is set among the jungle, but also nestled right up to the beach. It’s not a standard, built up resort, rather individuals cabins dotted among the trees, so you aren’t squashed up against other people. The resort has a gym, spa, pool, restaurant and bar, a beach bar and dining, lifeguards and a range activities. We stayed here three nights in July and loved it!
Pasikuda is also on the east coast – in between Trincomalee and Arugam Bay. You will find most of the resorts located along the one main beach area. Again, these beaches are more suited to families – with sandy beaches and no real break for surfing. If you stay at Pasikuda, your options for dining outside your hotel are limited, except to visit one of the other resorts nearby or for a basic meal of rice and curry in a simple local restaurant. So you will likely end up eating at your hotel/resort for most of your stay. Like the other beaches on the east coast, March to September is the best time to visit Pasikuda beaches in Sri Lanka.
These are some of our insiders tips on the best beaches in Sri Lanka, including some suggestions on where to stay and what to eat during your visit. A beach stay is an ideal conclusion to a private tour of Sri Lanka, with a few days at the coast to relax before your holiday ends. To find out more about a private tour in Sri Lanka, contact us at email@example.com
You may also like to read our other Sri Lanka travel blogs:
Fly direct from Melbourne to Colombo on Sri Lankan airlines: a flight review
The ultimate guide to the best wildlife experiences in Sri Lanka
6 of the best luxury hotels in Sri Lanka to splurge on