Toes curling into the finest sand.
The aquamarine blue waves of the Indian Ocean gently unfolding on the golden shore.
A fresh coconut sipped in the shade of wind-whispering palms.
A (not- too- long) bask in the early morning or late afternoon sun.
A cool-off in the vast expanse of sun-glittering sea.
Some of the delights of Sri Lankan beach.
Where beaches are concerned you will be spoilt for choice in Sri Lanka. Beaches totaling 1,350km fringe the island, from the long-established tourist destinations of the southern coast, to the vast beaches of the deep south, and the less-visited expanses of the north and east. No matter what time of the year, you can find a beach that is in season and just waiting to welcome you to its warm sands.
The southern coast
Most visitors to Sri Lanka head to the beach destinations of the southern coast, mostly situated south of Colombo. Each destination has developed its own distinctive character and highlights, and all are within easy reach of the capital. Let’s start with Negombo (37km from Colombo), situated only 6km from the Bandaranaike International Airport and therefore an excellent option for those on a short trip to the island or restricted to Colombo. The town has a long history of tourism and a wide beach, but also tempts the visitor with Dutch canal boat tours, a colourful fish market, and lively bars after dark. Equally convenient for those visiting the capital is Mount Lavinia beach – a mere 12km south of the city centre. The beach is a great place to stroll in the evening and on holidays, and enjoy dining at one of the many and varied restaurants. Recently it has become a night-time destination for some of the most high profile parties in Colombo.
Moving down the coast, the visitor leaves the urban sprawl and begins to sense the more relaxed nature of the south-west coast. Wadduwa (35km from Colombo) is a favourite weekend destination for many Colombo dwellers and features one of the most beautiful hotels on the coast.
Kalutara (42km from Colombo) hosts a number of star-class hotels, another typically stunning beach, and also a majestic three-storey Buddhist temple, which has the world’s only hollow stupa. The road finally joins the coastline after crossing the railway tracks at Payagala and from this point onwards you are treated to a stunning drive overlooking cove after cove of pristine beach.
Bentota (62km from Colombo) remains one of the most delightful beach resorts of this coast with large star-class hotels, exclusive boutiques, and even the delightful gardens of Bevis Bawa – brother of Sri Lanka’s most famous architect. On top of all this, Bentota boasts wide, picturesque beaches, and the Bentota Ganga (river) on which tourists can take a cruise inland or take part in water sports. From Bentota onwards, beaches stretch before the visitor consistently through Induruwa until finally we reach Hikkaduwa (98km from Colombo) – one of the most famous beach resorts in the island. Hikkaduwa is renowned for its diving and coral reef, as well as its surfing and nightlife.
The historic port city of Galle(116km from Colombo) with its UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Dutch Fort – and boutique hotels a little beach. But just south of Galle is the famous beach of Unawatuna (120km from Colombo) which continues to be a favourite of most visitors to Sri Lanka in search of sun, sea and sand. Unawatuna was voted among the top 12 beaches in the world and boasts excellent diving, a relaxed atmosphere and lively nights. Most accommodation here is of the guest-house variety suited to independent travellers. For those looking for luxury accommodation, it would be wise to stay in Galle Fort and visit Unawatuna during the day.
Throughout the stretch of beach from Negombo to Unawatuna there is ample opportunity to take part in water and beach-sports, experience the highest standard of service and accommodation, and yet still be within easy reach of the capital and the airport. The best time to visit the southern beaches is from November to April when the sun shines temptingly while the monsoon is on the east coast.
The deep south
For those who are happy to travel slightly further comes the joy of new discoveries, and of remote beaches in the deep south of Sri Lanka. Weligama bay (143km from Colombo) is simply picturesque, with stilt-fishermen perched out to sea and catamarans gliding by. For those who are looking for something special. Taprobane Island can be waded to from the bay.
Just past Weligama lies Mirissa (155km from Colombo), which many feel is the best beach destination in the deep south as it retains an unspoilt fee land features a beautiful cove. A favourite with surfers, Mirissa is a place for the sporty and laid-back traveller. Finally on this stretch of coastline comes Tangalle (195km from Colombo), which boasts stunning deserted beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, and the chance to watch turtles at Rekawa, and visit the nearby rock temple of Mulkirigala with its cave paintings and unforgettable views of the countryside.
The east coast
For a truly pristine, unadulterated beach experience, there is no place better than the east coast. Nilaveli and Uppuveli (271km from Colombo) lie to the north of Trincomalee and have for many years provided warm hospitality on stunning wide sandy beaches. Offshore liesPigeon Island – a treat for divers with its vibrant coral gardens and swarms of tropical fish. From here the visitor can also discover hot springs, the fifth largest natural harbour in the world at Trincomalee, and numerous revered Buddhist and Hindu temples.
Near Batticaloa are Kalkudah and Pasekudah beaches (346km from Colombo), which are the least –visited on the east coast. Altogether they form 6km of fine sand and calm aquamarine seas that benefit from the protection of an offshore coral reef. Finally, on the east coast is Arugam Bay (314km from Colombo), with its well-established surfing scene and untouched beaches that stretch both to the north and to the south of the town. Close by is the Lahugala National Park, which hosts an array of tropical birdlife and herds of elephants.
The north coast
The north of Sri Lanka offers its own distinctive beach experience, with offshore islands dotted around the Jaffna (396km from Colombo) coast, virgin beaches fringed with Palmyrah trees such as the famous shallow transparent waters of Casuarina Beach, and the wild and unforgettable sand dunes of Manalkadu. On the north-west coast of Sri Lanka is Kalpitiya (150km from Colombo)with its pristine beaches and azure sea which plays host to dolphins and whales during the season, and is also home to the famous Bar-Reef – the largest coral reef in Sri Lanka.
The best time of year to visit the pristine north and east coast beaches is from May to September.
Wherever you choose to lay your towel, be sure to take plenty sunscreen and water with you. Even when cloudy, the tropical sun is extremely strong and the wise visitor will either cover up with clothing or with sunscreen. Remember that dehydration can be a major problem if you spend time on a tropical beach. Finally, please respect the beach environment, refrain from littering and don’t buy illegal souvenirs made from corals or turtle shells.
The Deep Blue Adventure
For divers, places to visit are Negombo, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Weligama, Mirissa, Tangalle, Pigeon Island and Bar Reef near Kalpitiya. Not only will you encounter exotic reef fish and some of Sri Lanka’s 138 species of corals, but you have the chance to dive on some of the island’s submerged shipwrecks. If you prefer to remain above water but love sea-life, then there is the chance to go whale and dolphin-watching in Mirissa, Trincomalee and Kalpitiya. For those who like to surf then head for Hikkaduwa and Arugam Bay.
Whether you yearn for a five-star beach resort, a laidback surfer’s paradise or a wreck dive among multi-coloured tropical fish, Sri Lanka has the right beach destination for you. Amazingly, all of these beaches are within a day’s journey of the capital – a journey that reveals many of the different aspects of the island’s physical diversity – all in all, truly a wonderful experience indeed.