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The best beaches in Sri Lanka

by Sam Clark
Aerial view of pool and palm trees at Kumu beach in Sri Lanka

Updated: March 2022

The Best Beaches in Sri Lanka

As Sri Lanka travel specialists, we are asked many questions about the island, but there is one question we get asked more often than any other; where are the best beaches in Sri Lanka?

Read on to discover everything there is to know about the incredible beach options for your Sri Lanka holiday.

Beautiful sunset overlooking beach in Bentota, Sri Lanka
Beautiful sunset overlooking Bentota beach in Bentota

Which Coast of Sri Lanka Has the Best Beaches?

The answer to this question will depend on who you ask and when you plan to visit. Though relatively small in stature, Sri Lanka sees opposing seasons on its east and west coasts. From June to November, the west coast experiences monsoon conditions, with strong winds and frequent rains. During this time, the east coast is hot and dry. From November to May, the east sees monsoon conditions, and the west becomes sunny and humid. Some people prefer certain beaches during the monsoon seasons. It rarely rains all day, every day, and during the dry spells, you can find yourself alone in some spectacular locations – though the seas are often too rough for swimming. Others prefer to follow the sun and stick to the dry seasons for that truly tropical holiday experience.

We believe that the key to choosing the perfect beach stay is to delve into why you are looking for time by the ocean. We’ve selected some of the island’s best beaches for you and categorised our suggestions by area, activity and type of holiday.

The Best Beaches of the South-West Coast

South of Colombo, on the west coast, Bentota was one of the first beaches to see large scale tourism development thanks to its wide golden sands and safe swimming conditions. Today it is home to numerous resort-style hotels and various good restaurants. There is a lively weekly market in the nearby town of Aluthgama, a daily fish market in Beruwala and the wonderful Brief Gardens and Lunuganga estate to explore if you’re interested in the Bawa brothers, architecture or horticulture. Slightly to the north, beaches such as Wadduwa and Kalutara have several excellent hotels and offer the added advantage of being within easy reach of Colombo. The Reef is our top pick of hotels here. Quieter beaches can be found just south of Bentota, where you will also discover three of our favourite boutique hotels, Villa Bentota, Club Villa and Rock Villa. Further south still, former backpacker central Hikkaduwa now caters for a wide range of budgets yet still has a laid-back surfer-town vibe. Balapitiya (pictured), Ahungama and Dodanduwa all have excellent hotels set upon quiet beaches. Any of these areas on the west coast are a convenient starting point for day trips to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Galle Fort. Galle can be easily reached by direct train for an added adventure!

The sea of the west coast is generally safe for swimming between December and April but do observe the conditions before entering the water, and if in doubt, don’t swim out!

Aerial shot of Kumu Beach swimming pool with palm trees and rocky beach
Kumu Beach in Sri Lanka

The Best Beaches Near Galle

The city of Galle, with its beautifully preserved 16th Century Dutch Fort, is surrounded by excellent beaches. Galle is a fantastic base from which to explore the local coastline, home to some of the most idyllic beaches in the country. There is also lots to do away from the ocean, such as bike rides through the picture-perfect countryside, dining at some of the area’s fabulous restaurants and browsing the fort’s fascinating boutiques whilst soaking up the history that surrounds you.

Close to Galle, Unawatuna is a bohemian beach town with a beachfront lined with bars and restaurants. There is a lively atmosphere with lots of water-based activities on offer. Just to the south of Unawatuna, the beaches of Dalawella and Talpe serve up a true slice of tropical paradise. They are home to some of the country’s best boutique beachfront hotels. If dreamy beach houses are more your thing, check out Southpoint Villa a little further down the coast.

Cape Weligama, opened by the Resplendent Ceylon team of Tea Trails fame, is a fantastic option for those wanting a resort-style experience that retains character and charm. As a counter-intuitive suggestion, consider staying inland. The rural areas in the Galle region are some of the most captivating in the country yet are still within easy reach of the beach. Why House and Kahanda Kahanda are, in our opinion, two of the loveliest properties in Asia.

Cape Weligama in Sri Lanka with dramatic raised position overlooking Weligama Bay
Cape Weligama in Sri Lanka with dramatic raised position overlooking Weligama Bay

The Deep South Beaches – East of Matara

Mirissa, midway between Galle and Tangalle on the south coast of Sri Lanka, is the pretty bay that we and many others fell in love with many years ago when it was still a tiny fishing village. It still retains a backpacker vibe that is low-key and fun, yet now with some excellent hotels to boot. It’s a great base for those wanting to dip their toe into a little bit of everything; bustling beach scenes, whale watching, water sports and local life. As you head further down the coast, there are miles of glorious golden sandy beaches which are less developed but not completely remote – Tallala stands out as an example here. In the Tangalle area, you can discover countless concealed coves set back, away from the main road – Mawella is one of the best. Tangalle feels a world away from the crowds of the west coast but still retains its lively local atmosphere. The weekend markets are a great place to stock up on beautiful sarongs. There are some superb hotels in the Tangalle area, such as the ultra-luxurious Amanwella or cosy Buckingham Place, our home away from home. Staying at the Bawa designed Last House is an unforgettable experience, and there are plenty of private villas dotted around too, such as the romantic, wood-clad Teak House.

Do take care when swimming off the beaches of Tangalle as the south coast is a little more exposed to ocean swells than the west.

The East Coast of Sri Lanka

A relatively new region for beach holidays on the island, the east coast is home to spectacular white-sand beaches. It is the best place on the island for swimming, especially during the June to September period when the sea is glass flat. To the northeast, the beaches of Upaveli and Nilaveli, near Trincomalee, are two of the best. Many people head to the area for whale watching, though more often than not, dolphins are sighted rather than whales. We like to use our time here to relax and recharge, enjoying the wide sandy beaches and safe swimming conditions created by the gently shelving beach and calm waters. Visiting Trincomalee for the day is a worthwhile excursion, and a good place to people watch. The east coast has a completely different feel from the west and south coasts, and there is still a lot to explore off the beaten track.

There are plenty of excellent hotel options to choose from, and we particularly like the Anilana amongst the larger resort options. Still, the more intimate Jungle Beach in Kuchaveli is our absolute favourite. This is still wild elephant territory, and there is happily limited development in the area. A couple of hours south is Passikuda Bay – a particular favourite with domestic tourism. It is revered by Sri Lankans largely because of the wide and gently sloping bay, which makes sea swimming safe year-round and, in season, provides the kind of glassy azure waters about which we all dream. Our top choices to stay here are Uga Bay or the Anilana.

In the southeast, you will find many rugged and remote beaches near Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka’s surfing capital. Popular with said surfers, Elephant Rock is a 15-minute walk from the closest parking and is surrounded by nothing but nature. Travel an hour south of Arugam Bay to visit wild Okander for a unique beach-going experience on the border of Yala National Park.

The course sand and waves of Arugam Bay
The course sand and waves of Arugam Bay
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When is the Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka for a Beach Holiday?

The weather in Sri Lanka is complicated. The island has no singular wet season that affects the entire country at the same time. This means different beaches see good weather at different times of the year.

As a general rule, choose a southern or western beach from December through to April if you want to be assured of quality time in the sun. From May to September, an eastern beach is your best bet. These times of the year also offer the safest swimming conditions, but some of the more exposed beaches can still experience big waves, so take care.

Just to complicate things, eastern beaches generally enjoy excellent weather from February to April – but not always calm waters. Southern and western beaches can have good weather from late July to September too, but sea swimming is rarely safe at this time.

For those of you looking for a summer getaway, the all-around best beaches in Sri Lanka in August are those that are most sheltered along the south coast, such as Mirissa and our best-kept secret, Hiriketiya. For the east coast at that time, check out the beaches of Arugam Bay, Passikuda and those in the Trincomalee area. Around the Christmas holidays, we suggest staying on the west and south coast within reach of Galle. The Easter period is a good all-rounder, and we recommend picking from any of the beaches on the west, south or east coasts. Finding the best beach option in Sri Lanka in

November can be tricky as we find that October to November is the period with the highest chance of experiencing heavy rain. If you are on the island during this time, our advice would be to stay in Bentota, where you can take day trips to Colombo and Galle if the weather becomes less beach-friendly!

It’s important to note that the monsoons arrive early or late in some years and sometimes not at all! This is the reality of climate change and alters both rain patterns and the behaviour of the sea. Our specialists are more than happy to talk you through which beach might be the best option for your Sri Lankan holiday during the time you wish to travel.

Jess and Karen enjoying kings coconuts on the beach in Sri Lanka
Jess and Karen enjoying kings coconuts on the beach in Sri Lanka

Can You Swim In The Sea In Sri Lanka?

You certainly can. However, the best locations depending on the weather patterns, time of year and how confident a swimmer you are. Certain beaches are simply unsafe for sea swimming at certain times of the year. Having said this, most of the more popular beaches in Sri Lanka have lifeguards on duty. The east coast of Sri Lanka, especially around Trincomalee and Passikuda, has calmer waters, and some of the sheltered coves on the south coast, such as Hiriketiya, are equally swim-friendly.

Where Are the Best Beaches for Families in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is famous for being a very child-friendly destination, and beach time is always a firm favourite with children and adults alike.

Passikuda on the east coast offers some of the safest sea swimming on the island. The east coast is in season from May to September with calm seas and low rainfall. Pasikuda’s wide, sweeping bay offers some great hotel options for families, including Uga Bay and Karpaha Sands. For those looking to add some culture to the mix, we would highly recommend a day trip cycling around Batticaloa. Keep in mind that this area takes longer to reach than the west and south coasts and offers less variety in terms of eating out and other activities.

Kalpitya on the northwest coast can be an interesting family beach option and is home to several lovely, laid-back hotels. The beaches are sandy and empty, though in truth, much less pretty than the bays of the south coast. There is also a prominent off-shore power station a few miles away with several wind turbines. That said, the beach suits people who like to get away from it all. Families with older children might like to try their hand at kite-surfing, for which the area is renowned. The season for kite-surfing runs from May to September, when consistent winds buffet the coastline. We recommend PalagamaDolphin Beach and Bar Reef as great family hotels in the area.

Along the Galle coast, you can find safe swimming lagoons full of tropical fish and turtles, protected from the full force of the ocean by barrier reefs. We recommend the gorgeous Sri Sharavi or Sisindu C as brilliant family accommodation options. Further south, Mirissa offers some fantastic activities such as surfing and whale watching (blog on how to do whale watching correctly), perfect for adventurous families. Just inland, Why House is a fabulous choice for families looking for space in which to sprawl.

In the deep south, Tangalle is a quiet, sleepy town, far from the crowds of the west coast. Four main beaches and several smaller coves make up one of the most beautiful and peaceful areas of Sri Lanka. Experience Travel Group offers several exclusive experiences in the region – ask our specialists for more details – the rock monastery at Mulgirigala is a must-see. This area is perfect for families looking for a secluded destination with some luxurious yet laid-back hotels to match. We recommend Amanwella and Anantara Peace Haven as higher-end family options, or the lovely little Teak House for a more intimate experience.

Some of the beaches in this area are unsafe for swimming, especially with young children, so head to Hiriketiya for its stunning sheltered cove and calmer waters.

16 year old felix on holiday in Sri Lanka jumping in a pool at Jetwing Arugam Bay
Felix on holiday in Sri Lanka jumping in a pool at Jetwing Arugam Bay

Best Surfing Beaches in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a popular year-round destination for the traveling surfer thanks to its wide variety of surf breaks that offer something to suit all abilities. You’ll find great surf spots along the southwest, south and east coasts, making it easy to include surfing in any itinerary. Here are a few of our favourite surf and water sports beaches to consider:

Surfing

With its proximity to Mirissa and Galle, Weligama beach is a fantastic location for the beginner or intermediate level surfer, with numerous surf camps and schools located here. It’s popular and sometimes crowded, but the atmosphere is lots of fun with plenty of waves to go around.
One of the most well-known surf spots in the southwest is Hikkaduwa Beach, which offers a beginner’s beach break and a powerful reef break for the more advanced surfers. Hikkaduwa is one of the closest surfing beaches to Colombo, two hours from the airport by car and just 30 minutes from Galle. The town has a buzzing atmosphere with plenty of beachside bars and restaurants to choose from.

Hiriketiya Beach, close to Tangalle, is a stunning horseshoe-shaped bay perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers alike. This is for sure one of the most picturesque surf breaks on the island.

Those looking for more serious surf should head to Arugam Bay. Located on the east coast, it takes longer to get there, but surfers won’t be disappointed. The waves here can be world-class, and the town has played host to numerous international surfing competitions over the years. Arugam Bay has a laid-back vibe with plenty of good restaurants for tired surfers to refuel. There are few other attractions here, making it pretty much all about the surfing. It’s a great place to head if you’re an experienced surfer looking to spend time with like-minded people.

Kite-Surfing

The northwest beach town of Kalpitiya is known for its strong and consistent winds during the summer months, making it the top kite-surfing destination in Sri Lanka. It’s also relatively undeveloped here. The beaches are peaceful, and the shoreline is unspoilt.

Other Water Activities

If you’re keen to get out on the water, but prefer something a bit less exertive, then Mirissa Beach is a great all-rounder for water-based activities. As one of the more sheltered bays along the south coast, it’s brilliant for sea swimming, snorkelling and fishing. Mirissa is the best place to go for whale watching during the season of December to April. Sailing trips are also available, departing from the bustling fishing harbour. For guaranteed calm waters, however, it’s best to head to the east coast beach of Passikuda. The sea during the summer is perfect for swimming and snorkelling as well as paddle boarding and canoeing.

Private Surfing Lesson In Sri Lanka with an experienced guide
Private Surfing Lesson In Sri Lanka at Arugam Bay
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Where Can I See Whales, Dolphins and Turtles?

The best place to spot whales and dolphins in Sri Lanka is from the south coast, in particular just offshore from Mirissa. Here the boats only need go a couple of kilometres out to sea before reaching the edge of the continental shelf, where the super-size marine mammals like to cruise. You stand the best chance of a spotting a whale between December and April, when the sea is at its calmest, though of course sightings cannot be guaranteed on every trip!

We recommend whale watching by speedboat. A more agile, faster boat will get you the best views and leave the slower, larger, crowded boats behind. On a speed boat it takes half the time to get to where the whales are migrating which means you don’t have to get up so early to reach them, leaving you feeling fresh and alert for any oceanic activity. The small capacity of a speed boat and its ability to stay at sea for longer periods all adds to the intimacy of the experience, offering more ‘alone time’ with the whales. The larger boats are a disappointing excursion in our opinion. Please read our article on How Not to Do whale watching for further info.

It is possible to go dolphin watching from Kalpitiya on the west coast, and whale watching around Pasikuda and Trincomalee on the east coast. However we cannot guarantee our usual high standards for these locations, so do not recommend.

Rekawa Beach, on the south coast, is a favoured egg laying location for some of Sri Lanka’s five species of turtle. We previously supported the Sea Turtle Night Watch Initiative which was started with the hope of protecting the area’s sea turtles whilst allowing tourists the opportunity to observe this magical behaviour. We have now learnt that this experience has become a negative one, so Experience Travel Group no longer recommends this project.

The sea lagoons in both Hikkaduwa and Dalawella are frequented by grazing sea turtles and are good places to see them up close in their natural environment.

For our top recommendations on land-based nature adventures, check out our guide to Sri Lanka’s Best Wildlife Experiences

Sperm Whale in Sri Lanka
Sperm Whale in Sri Lanka

The Best Scuba Diving and Snorkelling Spots in Sri Lanka

Though much of Sri Lanka’s coastline is exposed to ocean swells, there are numerous locations where natural lagoons or protective headlands create ideal conditions for snorkelling. Dalawella Beach near Unawatuna is one such place where you will share the safe swimming lagoon with green sea turtles and bountiful tropical fish.

The north-east coastline around the Jaffna Peninsula is home to Sri Lanka’s most extensive and accessible coral reefs. Passikuda, Nileveli, and Kuchaveli beaches offer the calmest waters and therefore some excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities. Pigeon Island Marine Park in particular is a popular day trip, reached by 20 minute boat ride, though it can be very busy with tourists during high season.

There are some P.A.D.I recommended reef and wreck dive sites six miles out from the south-east coast, the Great Basses Reef is one example. However, given the challenging currents, these locations present, they are only suitable for experienced divers.

The weather on the east coast differs from the rest of the island and is the best place for sunshine and calm waters during the summer months.

regal angelfish (pygoplites diacanthus)

Which Beach in Sri Lanka is Best for Eating Out?

Sri Lanka is one of the most relaxed places we know and mostly very informal. This informality applies to eating out, too, though outside of Colombo and Galle, restaurants in the classic sense of the term are few and far between. Having said this, Sri Lankans love their food, and rightly so, the cuisine is unique and delicious. Many of the west and south coast beaches are dotted with beach restaurants that dish up fabulous fish barbecues and vegetarian curries alongside the mandatory ice-cold Lion Beer. In some of the livelier areas, these restaurants become beach bars at night that stay open until the early hours. You will also find that the larger beach resorts in Sri Lanka often offer an all-inclusive package, particularly popular with families.

Around Galle Fort – South-West Coast

Galle is the capital of the south and one of Sri Lanka’s most cosmopolitan areas. Many people staying on the southwest coast will find themselves within 30 minutes drive of this historic setting. Admittedly Galle Fort doesn’t have a proper beach of its own but is well worth a visit to experience its eclectic mix of excellent restaurants, so we had to include it! Check out Church Street Social in the Fort Bazaar Hotel for their fusion menu, Pedlars Inn café for lovely views of the old streets, and AQUA Forte is the closest you’ll get to fine dining with modern European cuisine. If you are looking for something a bit more local, then Elita is wonderfully Sri Lankan with some excellent fresh fish dishes.

Around Hikkaduwa – South-West Coast

Famous for its lively nightlife, Hikkaduwa was once, and still is to some extent, a backpacker’s paradise, though these days also offers something to suit all budgets. The town is well known for its relaxed barbeque shacks right on the beach, and Refresh Beach Restaurant is one of the best. The Canoe at Riff is a fantastic Japanese rooftop restaurant if feel a bit rice and curried out. Riff also has excellent cocktails to accompany the panoramic sea views. Hikkaduwa is somewhat of a ‘party town’ but not to the extent you might find in Bali or Thailand. The southern end of Hikkaduwa is quieter and more relaxed.

Other hotels in the area that offer cosmopolitan dining include Aditya, Haritha Villas and Bay Villas.

Unawatuna and Talpe – South-West Coast

A little further down the coast from Galle is the bohemian traveller hang out of Unawatuna. Regarded as one of the best beaches on the 70’s hippie trail, it retains a laid-back vibe that has survived a battering by the 2004 tsunami. This buzzing beach attracts travellers from around the world, and there are some great eateries from which to choose. Black and White offers local seafood and Sri Lankan dishes served at tables in the sand. For something a little different, The Hideout features a delicious Mexican menu served by a gang of smiling locals, and newly opened Mama San has an exciting range of Asian fusion dishes.

Talpe is famed for its beautiful beaches, luxurious boutique hotels and sumptuous villas. Much of the action centres around Wijaya Beach Restaurant, which has made a stellar name for itself, hitting the sweet spot of stunning location, consistently good well priced food and a relaxed authentic Sri Lankan atmosphere. A bit of an institution, Wijaya Beach Restaurant is popular with locals and tourists alike. Nearby, The Owl And The Pussycat hotel offers a more up-market dining experience with great service and a lovely seaside setting.

Resplendent Ceylon Beachfront Restaurant Sri Lanka | Ocean Terrace | Cape Weligama
Resplendent Ceylon Beachfront Restaurant Sri Lanka | Ocean Terrace | Cape Weligama

Private Beaches in Sri Lanka

There are no privately owned beaches in Sri Lanka, but there are beaches so secluded you’ll feel like a castaway. We’re always on the lookout for new discoveries!

Tangalle, located in the deep south, is well known for its miles of beautiful rugged palm-fringed beaches. Most of the area’s hotels are tucked away, but an especially secluded one is Buckingham Place, located on idyllic Rekawa beach. Often you will find yourself alone here with just the palms and waves for company. The sea can be rough here at times, but there is a safe swimming lagoon just ten minutes walk away.

For families hunting a quiet beach with a difference, then look no further than Kalkudah Bay over on the east Coast. Accessed by seaplane into Batticaloa, this stretch of beach is around 20 minutes from the more popular Passikuda Beach. Here you’ll find luxury the tented property Karpaha Sands, perfect for a peaceful beach break where you can relax under gently swaying palms and enjoy swimming in the calm seas.

Beach at Buckingham Place, Tangalle
Beach at Buckingham Place, Tangalle

Beaches Near Colombo

Perched directly on the waterfront, Colombo is a coastal capital surrounded by beaches. At Experience Travel Group we recommend spending your first days on the island somewhere where you can relax, recharge and enjoy the famed Sri Lankan hospitality. The beach is an obvious choice, but we would suggest driving a little further than the Colombo district’s Negombo or Mount Lavinia beaches, which aren’t as charming as some further south. If you don’t want to kick-start your holiday with a long drive, we have some brilliant countryside properties close to the airport which offer a laid-back introduction to Sri Lankan life

Jetwing Beach Hotel - luxury pool overlooking Negombo, Sri Lanka
Jetwing Beach in Negombo

A Guide to Accommodation On Sri Lanka’s Beaches

Accommodation options in Sri Lanka are incredibly varied, from luxury resorts and boutique hotels to private villas and simple homestays. There truly is something for everyone, and this variety is well represented along the coastline.

Luxury Beach Hotels in Sri Lanka

Although we think that Sri Lanka’s strength is often in its smaller boutique properties, there are some standout larger beach hotels that offer luxury and indulgence without becoming impersonal. Amanwella near Tangalle is exactly that. Tucked away on a dreamy beach that is almost impossible to access outside of the property, the architecture skillfully blends with the surrounding coastline, allowing the palm trees and sea views to take centre stage.

Closer to Galle, Cape Weligama is equally luxurious but is a much larger property that caters very well to families, groups of friends or couples looking for a bit more buzz – we love that it works for so many.

On the east coast, Jungle Beach, Passikudah is for anyone looking to avoid the crowds whilst enjoying a luxury castaway experience.
One of our favourite beach properties is Buckingham Place near Tangalle. This small boutique hotel is set upon a peaceful beach and offers outstanding hospitality, for those looking for a (luxurious!) home away from home.

Jungle Beach East Coast Sri Lanka
Jungle Beach East Coast Sri Lanka

Beach Villas in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in Asia that has embraced the concept of private villas, and they do it exceptionally well. Experience unabashed Sri Lankan luxury living; beautiful design, characterful touches, and staff that cater to your every need. Staying in a private villa offers a sense of seclusion that even the best boutique hotels cannot compete with. They also offer the luxury of space and can be much better value for larger groups than the equivalent rooms at a hotel. A private villa is an excellent option for those looking to travel post-pandemic, as they offer a naturally “socially distant” stay. Tanamera in buzzy Talpe just east of Galle is an incredibly luxurious 3 bedroom villa right on the beach. Backed by coconut palms and with a sea-facing pool, this would be most people’s idea of the ultimate holiday setting. Another big favourite on the south coast is Southpoint Villa, largely due to the beachside position and the quality of the service.

For those who need proximity to the beach but like the idea of being immersed in nature with gorgeous scenery, an inland villa in Sri Lanka could be ideal. We love Kalukanda House, a short walk from the beach near Weligama. As well as being a gorgeous villa, the idea was conceived on an ETG holiday! You can read about Kalukanda’s story here.

View through windows to the beach in Tanamera Villa, Galle, Sri Lanka
Villa views from the beautiful Tanamera, Galle

Eco-Friendly Beach Accommodation in Sri Lanka

Sustainability has always been a core Experience Travel Group value and is fast becoming an integral component of how the world aspires to travel. Sri Lanka combines glorious natural environments and very often local employment with opportunities for nature-friendly development. These eco-resorts tend to offer a very high-end service, but without the traditional mod-cons, you might expect in conventional hotels, so it may not be right for everyone. Bar Reef Resort is a great example. Situated on 2km of beautiful beach along the Kalpitiya coast, this incredibly peaceful hotel was built with sustainability and tradition in mind. On the opposite side of the island and set within a quiet beachside coconut plantation, Karpaha Sands in Kalkudah offers indulgence and comfort from its luxury tented lodges. This eco-minded property also features a wonderful saltwater pool and, as part of their ethos, showcases contemporary Sri Lankan art to connect the traveller to the island.

All-Inclusive Beach Resorts in Sri Lanka

If you drive down the west and south coasts, you will inevitably notice some large, all-inclusive resort-type properties, which are unrepresentative of the best the island has to offer. We tend to avoid them as there are always alternatives that offer an all-round more Sri Lankan experience. However, there are a few notable exceptions. Jetwing Surf in trendy Arugam Bay has succeeded in holding onto local charm and has the advantage of being situated on a natural and unspoilt stretch of beach. Anantara Peace Haven in Tangalle is a good option for families looking for in-house activities and some good dining options.

View of the pool at Bar Reef Hotel Kalpitiya west coast Sri Lanka
Main pool at Bar Reef Hotel in Kalpitiya

How Do Sri Lankan Beaches Compare to the Rest Of Asia?

Most beaches in Sri Lanka are postcard-worthy but can have the disadvantage of rough waters and rip tides. They are still a hugely rewarding stop on any Sri Lankan itinerary, and the variety on show demonstrates how diverse this small island is. The beaches are more inviting and lounge-worthy than most in India but cannot compare to the still azure sea in the Maldives – where it’s all about sea, sand, marine life and nothing else! The beaches of Asia stretch far and wide, and we would argue that Asia has the best beaches in the world, including those of Sri Lanka. Still, most would agree that Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines reign supreme in terms of the sheer number of paradise beaches.

How Do Sri Lanka’s Beaches Compare to The Maldives?

Although close neighbours, the beaches of Sri Lanka and the Maldives could not be more different. The Maldives are picture-perfect; think crystal clear shallow seas, ideal for swimming and snorkelling, against a backdrop of powder white sand. The diving is fantastic, and access is easy – you’re never more than a walk away from it all! Generally, resorts in the Maldives come at a higher cost than beach stays elsewhere in Asia. Sri Lankan beaches are more varied and generally look a little wild and rugged. Expect the sand to be a bit coarser and yellower, with endless coconut trees swaying in the wind. It’s a different kind of beauty, and it’s still hard not to be wowed.

Most Sri Lankan beaches offer a unique backdrop of eclectic local life, and there are plenty of opportunities for local discoveries. Enjoy local beach restaurants, hidden temples and fantastic wildlife, or soak up the atmosphere view with a refreshing king coconut in hand.

lounge chairs on the beach in the Maldives overlooking the turquoise blue waters
Your 'average' beach in the Maldives
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Are Sri Lankan Beaches Polluted?

In May 2021, a container ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean, nine miles from Colombo. This event has been classified by the UN as Sri Lanka’s “worst maritime disaster”. The biggest impact wasn’t the oil or the chemicals on board, but the spillage of 87 containers full of lentil-sized plastic pellets that are ingested by wildlife and washing up on the shores. The spill has badly affected Sri Lankan fishing, one of the biggest local industries, temporarily banned in some areas of the west coast close to Colombo. The situation is being monitored, and large-scale cleaning efforts have taken place. Though most of the country’s beaches are unaffected, we are monitoring and can advise if there are any areas to avoid.

 

Can I Experience Sri Lanka from the Beach?

Certainly! For beach only holidays, we particularly like basing our clients around Talpe. Here you’ve got fantastic access to stunning beaches, historic Galle Fort, river safaris, tuk-tuk trips, inland cooking experiences and whale watching, to name a few. If you feel like a more secluded beach stay, then we recommend the ‘deep south’ around Tangalle.

Amanwella, south coast Sri lanka
Beach at Amanwella, Tangalle

Sri Lanka Beyond Its Beaches

We’ve focused here on the coastline of Sri Lanka, but there is no doubt that moving inland, the island’s landscape becomes even more striking. Once you get away from the coast, the magic of Sri Lanka comes into its own. From the lakes and plains in the central region to the tea clad hills and the lush tropical hinterland, Sri Lanka is one of the most varied and beautiful islands in the world. It would be impossible to experience it all from one base, so, for the adventure-driven traveller, we would always recommend moving around the country to get a true flavour of local life. Particular highlights might include contrasting the southern coast with a wildlife experience such as an elephant safari in Udawalawe National Park or a leopard safari in Yala National Park, a hike through the highland tea plantations or climbing Pidurangala for epic views over majestic Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

Here is a Classic Sri Lanka Holiday to give you some inspiration

Pidurangala Rock with a view of Sigiriya

How Do I Travel from Beach to Beach in Sri Lanka?

Travelling in Sri Lanka can seem daunting and time consuming, but it is first and foremost a lot of fun! Streets are busy, scenes are tropicaland local train journeys and tuk-tuk rides becomes part of the experience. We guarantee that the travel during your stay will become one of the enduring memories of your holiday.
Most longer journeys are by car with your Sri Lankan chauffeur and guide, who is also your unofficial source into all things local. Travel itself gives you an insight into how the island ticks. Travelling from beach to beach on the west and south coasts is fairly effortless, distances are manageable and there is plenty to keep you entertained along the way. Heading to the east coast, the journey suddenly becomes even more of an adventure, where you’ll stumble across fish auctions and local schoolchildren vying for your attention with their smiling ‘hellos’, you may even experience an elephant road block! There are a few connections that can be done by seaplane, which is a fantastic opportunity to travel further and take in a birds-eye view of the island’s incredible landscapes.

Here’s a suggestion for a more relaxed Sri Lanka beach holiday around the southern coast.

Seaplane landing on the water in Sri Lanka

We do hope that you find this a useful guide to the beaches of Sri Lanka. If you have any questions or would like more information on a holiday in Sri Lanka our travel specialists will be happy to assist.

See you soon on Sri Lanka’s tropical shores.

CURIOUS ABOUT SRI LANKA?

If you would like to know Experience Travel Group’s boutique, tailor-made holidays, please download our complimentary guide to Sri Lanka.

You can reach us on 020 7924 7133 or make an enquiry.

Alternatively, for holiday inspiration, take a look at our Sri Lanka holiday page.

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