Sri Lanka is an island nation. That also means we are surrounded by the ocean and here in South Asia, its the Indian ocean. Sri Lanka is very well known for its beaches. The white sandy east coasts, golden sandy south coast and the bronze north west. That’s right, the north west, specially the sands on the coast of Wilpattu National Park is bronze in color which also earned Sri Lanka one of its ancient names “Thambapanni”. Today, while some of these beaches have been visited by many travelers from around the world, its pristine nature and the thrill never seizes to exist.
So how do we answer this question? Simple. There is no one particular beach we can say is the best beach. I’d say it purely depends on what you are looking to do. If you are an avid surfer, someone who is looking to simply disconnect, or someone looking for a bit of nightlife, Sri Lanka being a small island, packs quite a punch. This article should help you decide where you want to go and when.
West Coast Beach
The west coast beach starts from Negombo? Nope. I’d say it starts from Kalpitiya. Surrounded by any little fishing villages, Kalpitiya in the north west shores is one very laid back beach. A well known fact about Kalpitiya is the endless number of dolphins you get to experience during a boat ride. Its island like structure on its own with a lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other side makes very unique when compared other beach spots in Sri Lanka. Whats fun is Kalpitiya is more frequented by travelers during the its off season when the winds are strong. Yes, this is the best place to do Kite Surfing in Sri Lanka.
Negombo which is about 2 hours south of Kalpitiya is one of the best “party” beaches in Sri Lanka which is also the closest beach destination to the International Airport. Its only a 20 minute drive from the airport and generally a very lively location with a lot of hang out spots, great beach resorts (one even designed by Geoffrey Bawa) and good nightlife. We don’t recommend long stays here as it’s not as secluded but we think 2 to 3 nights before hopping on a plane headed home or as you land in Sri Lanka is the best time to get accustomed with Negombo.
After Negombo, the next beach spot is Colombo. Yes, it is also the financial capital of Sri Lanka and the busiest of all. While its a great city for night life and amazing cuisine, the beach here is somewhat inaccessible around the heart of Colombo but further south towards Mount Lavinia, it gets better. Two colonial hotels boasts its presence overlooking the Colombo beach. Whats best in Colombo is the combined view of a developing city and the ocean.
As you travel further south of Sri Lanka you come across more amazing beaches to sit and relax on. Starting from Wadduwa the whole coastal route from there on are all amazing beach locations. Kalutara and Bentota once was considered the luxury suburb for the Colombo elites. Back in the day, these 2 cities were the go to locations to put up private beach bungalows and villa’s which have today been converted to amazing boutique properties. Locations beyond Bentota are somewhat towards the south coast.
Fun Fact: Based on folk tale; the west and the south coast is divided by the Bentara River that meets the ocean from Bentota. (Yes you can do a boat safari here).
South Coast Beach
Ideally, south coast starts with Hikkaduwa. A name known around the world for its nightlife. Somewhat overrated these days, but Hikkaduwa starts the surfing culture that goes on to the rest of the south coast. With new off-the-beaten path beaches coming to light, Hikkaduwa is now more frequented by local travelers than foreign although that changes completely during the Winter. Hikkaduwa is also famous for snorkeling. Probably the only place in Sri Lanka where you can take a glass bottom boat ride to see the underwater glamour. Hikkaduwa is home to the many dive shops as well.
P.s. look for spots with PADI certified guides to take you around.
The next most notable beach spot is Unawatuna. (Yes I skipped Galle for a good reason which I will explain later in the article). Unawatuna is a more cozy beach spot. One of the best beach stretches and one of my personal favorites to spend the New Years Eve. Unawatuna is frequented by a lot of European travelers. You will meet many locals who speaks a combination of European languages here. Unawatuna is also one of the best places to go Diving. During winter, when the water is clear, you will see a lot of travelers on boats heading to catch a glimpse of the marine life.
Followed by Unawatuna are a galore of beaches that are perfect for Surfing. Thalpe, Ahangama, Midigama, Weligama, Mirissa are some well known spots frequented by surfers. During the winter season, you will see many on the line ups from sun-up to sun-down. Weligama is perfect for beginners as its a bay which is less affected by the winds while Mirissa consists of advanced surf breaks that’s perfect for goofy footers. The water is turquoise blue in the south coasts and Mirissa is one of the best examples to see that. Mirissa also has a large fishing harbor and is also a well known starting point for whale watching enthusiasts.
From here, the beaches are more for relaxing. Locations like Dickwella, Tangalle, Hambantota all have great many resorts and boutique villa’s perfect for those who looking for a bit of luxury and seclusion. This doesn’t mean the other spots I mentioned above doesn’t have that, but these cities are more laid back. It takes close to 6 hours to reach these locations from the Airport. That means its not the best option for a quick getaway stay.
East Coast Beach.
After Yala National Park, or rather Kumana National Park (Yala East), is where we drawn the line between the South and East Coasts. The South East coast is very different, the lifestyle is far more laid back than the south coast, less touristic a decade ago, but with the increased fame for surfing and the backpacking culture, the south east coast started seeing a great influx of travelers. Places like Arugam bay, Okanda, Panama are great for Surfing. Arugam bay is in fact a location that hosts a WSL (World Surf League) event once a year. The main left break is one of the most sought surf breaks in the whole of South Asia.
From Arugam bay, further towards north are beaches that are more known to seafood lovers. Batticaloa is home for some of the best sea crab in Sri Lanka. Batticaloa even has its own crab curry named after the city which has earned a bit of worldly fame.
From Batticaloa, the next best beach you can stay and relax on is Pasikuda. A planned beach spot perfect for travelers who are looking to rest and relax. One stretch of beach in Pasikuda consist of some world class resorts but the 8 hour drive from Colombo discourages the short stay travelers. While there are not many places to stay in these locations, its less recommended for its remote nature and accessibility.
The best east coast beach however, is, Trincomalee. The amazing white sand, the thick bush jungles closer to the shore makes Trincomalee one of the worlds most sought beach destinations. Like Pasikuda; the location of Trincomalee discourages short stay travelers. Trincomalee is also home to a Natural seaport and is one of the best places for wreck diving. Yes, history dating back to the World War II is under water of the Trincomalee shores.
When to travel where?
Now this is tricky. With the funny little changes we see in the weather patterns each year (Think a moment on Global Warming), Sri Lanka too has been affected for the most part. Years back we were able to predict precisely when to experience the rain, when the seasons change, when the monsoons struck. Today, the story is a bit different. But, given that Sri Lanka is a tropical country a bit of rain is also expected here and there all through out the year. We recognize the major changes in 2 main seasons; Winter and Summer. Winter is from November to about April (the following year). Summer is from May to October of each year.
The best area to travel during winter is the west & south coast. The waters are much calmer, the land breeze makes it easier for surfers to catch long unbroken waves and of course the humidity that makes it these coasts very warm. Since most part of Winter season in Sri Lanka coincides with European Winter, many travel to Sri Lanka just to escape the chills.
So naturally Summer is summer almost everywhere. The west and south coast will be windy and the waves will be choppy. Its alright to travel to and relax. But, if you are on a summer holiday, would you really want to go to a beach that is not going to be so fun? East coast however, is very calm during the summer period. So surfing, diving and other fun beach activities can be done here while relaxing.
Didn’t you miss a few great beach destinations?
Yes I did. Galle for example, is a great beach destination. Travelers from around the world know Galle Fort but not whats around Galle which I have already covered above. Galle Fort however, is not really a beach spot. Its more a colonial city (Really tiny when compared to many others around the world) with its old world charm. Best to spend 2 nights here than more because its quite busy during Winter and Summer equally. The preserved architecture from the 16th Century to the 20th Century while being occupied by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British is one of its main attractions.
I did leave out a few names which I think are best left alone to be more secret hide outs. If I told you all about it here, you wouldn’t appreciate its beauty and the trouble you would take to reach those spots. Sometimes what you get to do in these locations are what makes them special. Hint: Secret Surf Breaks, Surfing and snorkeling with turtles, blow holes, cliff tops… Yep. Sri Lanka has it all.
Planning a beach holiday? speak to one of our experts. Just drop us an email on [email protected].
Disclaimer: Images were all collected from Instagram and are linked to their original owners.