The 9 Best Beach Towns In Sri Lanka For Sand And Surf

Best beach towns in Sri Lanka
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
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A whopping 830 miles of coastline rings the fabled Teardrop of India. That’s WAY too much to get through in a single vacation, don’t you think? Cue this guide, which outlines the best beach towns in Sri Lanka, highlighting the must-see sands and hotspots so you don’t have to go a-hunting for them.

It’s certainly got some scorchers. There are long runs of unpunctuated eastern coastline with famously white powder. It lists hidden surf bays with sandbank waves for beginners and reefs for the pros. We’ve even gone and sought out the party beach towns, where you can kick back with a cold Lion beer after splashing around in the bath-warm Indian Ocean.

Remember that Sri Lanka has two distinct monsoon seasons. One hits the east coast in the winter months (November-March) while the other hits the west coast in the summer (May-October). It’s a good idea to plan your sand-seeking trip to one of the best beach towns in Sri Lanka to match up with the weather. 

Hiriketiya

Hiriketiya
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Hiriketiya is riding high right now. There’s a buzz about it like you wouldn’t believe. Get to Hiri, they say…and they’re not wrong. The town really is a stunner. Enfolded around a perfect curve of a bay on the southern coast, it’s a picture of tropical paradise. Coconut palms burst from the jungles, the ocean is pure blue, and the sands glimmer yellowy white.

The surf put Hiriketiya on the map before anything else. Two pretty good breaks offer action for beginners and intermediates at opposite ends of the beach. You should find ample rental spots and surf lesson offers without having to even leave the sand, too.

These days, Hiriketiya is morphing into much more than just a surf town. New hotels and bars and eateries are everywhere to be seen and some people come simply to kick back under the sea grape trees. For the sunsets, which don’t quite make it into Hiri bay itself, head over to the isthmus isle of Blue Beach in Nilwella to watch the light fade.

Weligama

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Weligama is where most people go to learn to surf in Sri Lanka. That’s because it’s got some of the most protected waves on this part of the island, along with a kaleidoscope of surf schools and rental spots. (Warning: Some are A LOT better than others, so be sure to do your research before you head down to catch your first waves!).

Surf aside, Weligama is one of the larger of the best beach towns in Sri Lanka listed here. It straddles the main Matara Road along a huge horseshoe bay. There are hotels big and small, although the big ones seem to have won out and Weligama can look a little bit like Benidorm or Waikiki plonked onto the Indian Ocean at times.

We’re not going to say that Weligama Beach is the nicest in the region because it’s not. However, it is long and wide, with loads of room to sunbathe. On top of that, the town is just 10 minutes’ ride in a tuk-tuk to Midigama (for fantastic reef breaks) and Mirissa (for parties on the beach) – getting to those should cost no more than 300-500 LKR.

Tangalle

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Tangalle has managed to dodge the spotlight that shines on the famous southern coast of the Teardrop of India. It’s the farthest away of the named resorts from the airport and it takes about three hours to get here using the fast motorway. Thankfully, that means it remains quiet, relaxed, and pretty deserted, save for a few B&Bs and bungalow hotels wedged between the croc-filled lagoons and jungles.

Tangalle itself is actually a bit of a bustling transport interchange. It hosts a big bus station and sprawling markets. That’s why we’d recommend pushing past the town and further west to Rekawa Beach (a place that’s known for its turtle population) or even as far as Kahandamodara Beach (for real solitude on the side of an amazing bird sanctuary).

We’ve noticed that Tangalle has become a bit of a choice for expats living in Colombo when it’s time for that fix of R&R. More and more surfers are also now coming here, drawn by the promise of proximity to Hiriketiya and the beginner point breaks of upcoming Kudawella. For now, though, at least, it’s still a bit of a hidden gem.

Unawatuna

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Unawatuna is one of the original good-time resorts of the Sri Lankan southwest coast. Despite the rise of more options to the south – Ahangama, Midigama – it still draws big crowds of sunbathers and has a big following of Russian travelers (you’re almost more likely to hear Russian spoken here than Sinhala, and even the signs are in two lingos!).

Anyway, it’s easy to see why the popularity endures. Unawatuna has a gleaming beachfront that skirts the south side of town. You can access it within five minutes of virtually any hotel here. It’s a steep-sloping beach that dips into relatively deep waters, making it a top choice for swimmers who want to dodge the reefs. More secret beaches are a boat ride or jungle trek away to the north if you’re feeling adventurous.

In recent years, the action has spread south down the Galle Road towards Dalawella Beach. Hotel resorts have claimed the shoreline but you can still access the sands. They’re pretty, with overhanging palms and protected lagoons before the reef line. You’ll even get a few half-decent surf spots there off the rocks.

Uppuveli

Uppuveli
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Uppuveli is one of the best beach towns in Sri Lanka for the summer months. It’s up on the far north-eastern side of the isle, which means it hits its dry-season stride when the more popular and accessible towns of the southwestern shoreline are in the depths of the monsoon. The downside is that means you need to make a bit of a trek from the airport in Colombo – the transfer from the terminals to Uppuveli takes around five hours in all!

The reward will be the long and uninterrupted sand stretches that face directly east into the Bay of Bengal. They’re very different from their counterparts on the far side of the Teardrop, running for mile upon mile in swathes of cinnamon-tinted yellow sand with coconut palms behind.

Uppuveli itself is backed by oodles of wave-view hotels and bars. However, it’s also the gateway to the whole Trincomalee region, which stretches south into a contorted headland that has even more wonderful bays and beaches up its sleeve – check out the likes of Marble Beach, Sweat Bay, and Karumalaiyootru if that sounds like something you’d be interested in.

Mirissa

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Mirissa is the party town of the southern Sri Lanka coast. It’s lined with timber-built shacks and beer bars that pump with action from around 6pm each evening in the high season (November-March on this side of the island). But there’s also more than just bargain Lion brews. There’s also a wonderful selection of beaches right on the doorstep.

The most popular is surely the namesake Mirissa Beach. It edges into the Indian Ocean at a slight angle but it’s not as steep as the nearby coves and only has corals at the south and north end. That makes it a doozy for swimmers and even beginner surfers, who can find their water feet on the light swells that hook around the headland.

For something a bit more secluded, you could walk from the town and up over the hill into so-called Secret Beach. Spoiler: It’s not so secret anymore. In fact, it’s signposted. However, it’s still a stunner, with lanky coconut palms inhabited by macaques overlooking conch-shell lagoons filled with greenish waters. There’s a great little Sri Lankan curry house right there on the sand, too.

Ahangama

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Ahangama occupies the sort of no-man’s land that runs between the uber-popular resort strips of Unawatuna in the north and the surf mecca of Midigama in the south. It’s a stretched-out town that has a bustling center, but it’s really all about the more secret coves and little surf breaks that pepper the region on both sides.

The best of the beaches is probably Kabalana. That’s now risen to become a pretty well-known spot due to the gnarly A-frame wave known as The Rock that roars into to reefs behind the bay. However, head south from there and you enter a medley of little inlets with steep slivers of golden sands that drop straight into coral gardens where you can snorkel and swim with sea turtles.

Lately, Ahangama has also garnered a rep for being one of the southwest coast’s most upcoming and hipster areas. It’s channeling a little of Canggu in its falafel kitchens and surf houses. Sounds like your scene? Drop by The Kip for sourdough avo on toast, head to Crust for your evening hit of artisan pizza, and don’t miss TRAX Ahangama for chill-hop music sessions with the surf crews.

Galle

Galle
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Galle isn’t so much a beach town as a whole beach city. But it’s simply amazing. Largely built by the Dutch and the British during the years of colonial rule in erstwhile Ceylon, it pokes out of the southwestern coast of the island on its own peninsula. The whole thing is ringed by age-old bulwarks and gun batteries, which gaze straight out towards the sloshing Indian Ocean.

There are a couple of urban beaches beckoning here and there. The best is on the extreme southeeastern part of Galle Fort. It’s known as Lighthouse Beach and has a small sliver of reef before a deep swimming channel overlooking the wide bay. You can also swim just below the Lloyd Naval Signal Station on the western side of town, but the currents tend to be stronger there.

The real reason we mention Galle among the best beach towns in Sri Lanka is because it’s steeped in history and has a real urban charm to it. Cobbled lanes cut through the Fort downtown. They are fringed by art galleries and artsy cafes, spas and boutique B&Bs. There’s loads of parkland in the remaining city walls, plus a big cricket pitch that hosts major international showdowns.

Arugam Bay

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Head east across the wild and green Central Highlands to find the promised surf mecca of Arugam Bay. It’s unquestionably one of the best beach towns in Sri Lanka for sea and surf, not least of all because it enjoys an opposite season to the western beach towns mentioned here – Hiriketiya, Ahangama, Mirissa. Yep, June to August is when this one shines, offering a respite from the monsoon rains that are falling elsewhere.

Arugam is primarily known for its surf. There are some seriously quality spots. They’re mainly cruisy right-hand point breaks but there’s a montage of various options to suit all levels running south and north from the main town. Talking of the town…it’s a stretched-out mix of juice stalls, hotel resorts, and board schools that clutches a single coast road, with a few bumping bars thrown in for good measure.

Not surfing? No worries. Pasarichenai Beach is to the south of Arugam just around the headland. It’s almost always deserted and offers spectacular sunrise watching. Further south again is curiously named Peanut Farm Beach, home to a couple of big-boulder rocks and a wild river lagoon estuary where you can look – AKA should keep an eye out! – for crocodiles.

Best beach towns in Sri Lanka – our conclusion

Pinpointing the best beach towns in Sri Lanka is no easy task. This fabled isle in the Indian Ocean is riddled with jaw-droppingly lovely coast options that have white sand, yellow sand, coral gardens, their own surf breaks, snorkeling coves – you name it! We’ve tried to offer a good mix of places for those who want to laze and soak up the rays, hit the swells, and feel the buzz of Sri Lanka’s reggae-driven nightlife.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.