Sri Lanka overwhelms the senses in many delightful ways
The scent of cinnamon fills the air, the food richly spiced, and the landscape a feast for the eyes. Tea plantations scattered across the mountainous interior, green rice paddies, palm tree forests, Buddhist shrines, temples, and colonial architecture are just a taste, but for most, Sri Lanka is all about the beach.
The beautiful island of Sri Lanka is a beach lover's paradise, surrounded on all sides by the tropical Indian Ocean, which laps the shores of numerous picturesque, palm-fringed sandy beaches. This culturally rich nation also has many other alluring attractions including national parks abundant with unique flora and fauna, exquisite food, surfing, and scuba diving, to name just a few.
The west coast of Sri Lanka is the most developed, and most tourist-oriented side of the island. From Negombo and Mount Lavinia – close to the capital Colombo – to Bentota and Hikkaduwa further south, the coast is dotted with beautiful sandy beaches, and resorts, hotels, and guesthouses of all standards. This part of Sri Lanka, easily accessible from Colombo, is the hub of the island's package-tourist industry.
Sri Lanka's southern coast is a haven for beach-goers. Its idyllic coves and gorgeous beaches are renowned for the fascinating stilt fishermen, and the area boasts the country's most alluring selection of lodgings, from luxurious beach resorts to cosy colonial-era villas. This coastline is a world-class surfing destination, and whale-watching from December through March is also highly popular.
The photogenic Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site within the city of Galle, and its quaint, cobbled streets and alleyways conceal a variety of boutique lodgings, restaurants, and cafés. Stunning beaches can be found all along this 200-kilometre stretch of coastline, but Unawatuna, Mirissa, Tangalle, and Arugam Bay are the most well-known.
The beautiful east coast, on the other hand, was sadly off the tourist trail for over two decades due to the long-raging civil war, and worsened by the devastating 2004 tsunami. However, since the end of the civil war in 2009, this remote region has begun to recover with confidence. Trincomalee and Batticaloa, its two major towns, bustle with life, and tourism development is expanding at beaches in the surrounding area, with a growing number of new upmarket resorts and hotels.
Sri Lanka has something special for all types of beach bums, from those who need to be active to those who simply wish to relax under a palm tree. Here's our pick of five of Sri Lanka's best beaches for your next holiday:
Just a stone's throw from Colombo, this seaside town bustles with local life. The three-kilometre-long beach is a vibrant place on weekends when friendly Colombo locals come to unwind, swim and play cricket. Mount Lavinia is an easy stopover for tourists flying in or out of the country who want to avoid the chaos of the city. Hotels and guesthouses of all sizes and standards can be found among the quiet streets behind the beach, while a variety of beachside restaurants and bars offers something for everyone. The best attractions include shipwrecks for advanced scuba divers, teeming with coral and fish life. Wreck diving is a great opportunity for dive tourists on a stopover to or from the nearby Maldives.
This moon-shaped bay is the best surf spot, attracting surfers from all over the world from April through October to this quiet village. This is the place to get away from it all – peppered with cosy beachfront guesthouses and restaurants, and stunning beaches for non-surfers to enjoy, the bay has a 'swing-another-day-in-a-hammock' vibe, far removed from the commercialised west coast beach resorts. Nearby national parks such as Kumana, Lahugala, and Yala are renowned for spotting elephants, leopards and birds.
Mirissa is a tranquil town popular with backpackers, with a string of modest guesthouses and a few boutique hotels. Along the shores of its white sandy beach, simple bars and seafood restaurants seem to come and go with the tide, and the pace of life is slow and chilled. Mirissa is famous for its whale and dolphin-watching tours, which operate from December through March. This is the best place to spot huge blue whales, the largest animals on Earth.
Since the 1970s, Hikkaduwa has been a firm fixture on the tourist map, known for its sun, sea, sand, and nightlife. Luxury beach resorts as well as many cheaper lodgings are scattered all along the vibrant town's shores, along with countless affordable seafood restaurants, and bars that spring to life after the sun goes down. Scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing and other water sports are the main attractions, and the shallow waters abound with friendly turtles.
This calm bay of azure waters just five kilometres from picturesque Galle Fort has grown rapidly to become one of the country's most popular beach resorts, competing with Hikkaduwa as Sri Lanka's beach-party capital. Despite its party status, Unawatuna is a popular place to indulge in cooking classes, spa treatments and yoga classes in the quiet parts of the village, while smaller beaches and coves to the east offer good surfing and the unique sight of the famous stilt fishermen at work. Numerous temples and shrines dot the surrounding coastline and hillsides, such as the Japanese Peace Pagoda, for one of the most stunning sunset views of Galle and the Indian Ocean.