Sri Lanka has it all: Culture, history, amazing people and some seriously beautiful beaches. There’s so much to see and do on a Sri Lanka holiday, whether you’re travelling as a couple and want some luxury, or you’re a family looking for endless activity. Either way, some R&R days on one of its many beautiful beaches will be time well spent – the perfect way to soak up the atmosphere of this amazing country.
Sri Lanka’s weather is punctuated by two monsoon seasons, so you’ll want to choose your beach based on these. In short, if you’re visiting between December and April, head to the west and south coast beaches. If you’ll be travelling between March and September, the east coast is a great bet!
Our guide to Sri Lanka’s best beaches
With bright turquoise waters and quiet sandy beaches, the beaches around the charming port city of Trincomalee – known as ‘Trinco’ to the locals – make the ideal spot for some lazy beach days. With so much to do nearby, it’s a great option for families who want to break up the down time with some culture, temples and exploring.
The nearby marine park of Pigeon Island was well sheltered from the 2006 tsunami and boasts a stunning live coral reef, offering some of the best snorkelling and diving in Sri Lanka. Rebecca, our Sri Lanka specialist, will tell you all about her amazing experience swimming with turtles and sharks here!
Trincomalee is a big fishing port, so if you head to the nearby beaches early (Nilaveli is a good bet!), you might well be lucky enough to see the local fishermen haul in their catch from the morning: a real, authentic slice of Sri Lankan life. If you’re planning your visit between June and September, whale and dolphin watching is great around Trinco, too!
2. Passikudah and Kalkudah
The palm-lined beaches of Passikudah and Kalkudah have the golden sand and tranquil waters of dreams. It’s rare for Sri Lanka beaches to be so calm (you’ve got the reef just off the coast to thank for that!), so it’s a great one to visit if bobbing about in the ocean is top of your sandy wish-list. It’s often possible to swim 200 metres from the shore with the water staying beautifully calm. The surf does pick up a little in September though, so visiting before then is best if you’re hoping to swim in a millpond! With some beautiful 4-5 star properties to unwind in, this is a great beach choice for honeymooners looking for that extra slice of luxury.
3. Arugam Bay and Pottuvil
Sri Lanka’s answer to Surfer’s Paradise, Arugam Bay is an internationally renowned surf beach. The famous point break works wonders on the waves, gifting the waiting surfers waves up to ten meters in height. This Hawaiian-esque Sri Lanka beach is well worth a visit, however, staying here is definitely more suited to backpackers. So, we’d suggest staying in nearby Pottuvil just outside of town for a quieter, more authentic experience! Plus, the beautiful Kumana National Park is nearby and there are countless ancient temples to explore if you want to break up your down time.
4. Tangalle and Rekawa Beach
Nestled on Sri Lanka’s south coast, these beautiful beaches are just as worthy of your time as they are of your holiday snaps. The enticing, golden sand of Tangalle beach is fringed by lush green palm trees and vegetation, perfect for lounging under. There’s plenty to see nearby as well, with an amazing 50 meter tall seated Buddha statue and Sri Lanka’s only blowhole where you can watch Mother Nature at play as the water bursts through the gaps in the rocks.
Nearby Rekawa Beach is a fantastic beach to visit for turtle watching. Highly treasured for the marine turtles that lay eggs here each night, the nesting normally takes place between 7pm and 3am and your knowledgeable guide will take you to the areas where this is most likely. Nesting occurs throughout the year but peak nesting season is from March to July – it’s a humbling experience you won’t forget in a hurry!
This fishing port town nestled on the very most southern tip of the island, makes for a great Sri Lanka beach choice if marine-life is top of the bill. If you’re visiting between late November and mid-April, this is one of the best beaches for whale and dolphin watching. Spectacular sunsets are common here and the surf is great if you want to try your hand at balancing on a board. You could even test your sea legs by heading out for a spot of sea fishing with the locals, learning all about the traditional fishing techniques and hopefully catching yourself something fresher than fresh for lunch! Be sure to take in the iconic view from the palm tree covered ‘Coconut Tree Hill’ just up from the beach, too!
This fishing town is both charming and lively in equal measure. It’s a great place to see the traditional stilted fishermen (they’re more than happy to pose for photos, too, although expect to pay a small fee for the privilege!) There’s fantastic surf here if you fancy treating yourself to a surf lesson! It is slightly on the touristy side, but the activities and watersports on offer mean it’s more than worth a visit – particularly if you’re travelling as a family with youngsters to entertain! Plus, the sunsets are nothing short of stunning. So, have an adventure in the surf before grabbing a sundowner at one of the many beach bars. You’ll be smiling as you nestle down on the sand to watch the sun paint the sky and ocean every shade of red, orange and pink.
7. Koggala and Thalpe
Koggala is a wonderfully peaceful place to spend a few days. You can take a boat ride across the tranquil Koggala Lake to visit a local cinnamon plantation, fragrant spice gardens or beautiful Buddhist temples with vibrant ancient murals. Other highlights for your time in Koggala on your Sri Lanka holiday include, watching the iconic local stilt fishermen balancing on top of the wooden poles waiting for their catch, take a trip to the local Handunugoda Tea Estate or visiting the rare turtles that can be seen at the Koggala turtle hatchery.
8. Unawatuna Beach and Jungle Beach
Very near the colonial town of Galle, Unawatuna with its beach bars and Jungle Beach with its stunning clear waters, are the perfect slices of beach paradise to mix up your exploring. These Sri Lanka beaches can get a little bit busy and touristy at times, so we wouldn’t recommend staying there, but they’re definitely worth a visit. If you want to explore inland a little bit, there’s a brilliant cycling tour called the ‘Paddy and Lake Trail’ that leaves from nearby Wijaya Beach, which will see you cycling through local villages and paddy valleys, giving you a real taste of rural Sri Lankan life.
Hikkaduwa is a great option for a Sri Lanka family beach holiday. With calmer water and less undercurrents than the south coast, it’s a lovely spot for a dip with the kids and it’s not hard to see why it’s one of Sri Lanka’s most popular sandy treats. If you’re lucky you might well spot turtles when snorkelling in the area. This is definitely one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beaches, with plenty of shops to mooch around, restaurants where you can feast on fresh seafood and beach bars to sup on holiday cocktails.
If you have some time here, we’d hugely recommend visiting the harrowing but educational Tsunami Memorial Museum to learn more about what this resilient country came through. Prepare to be confronted by the huge standing Buddha which represents the height of the first wave that hit Sri Lanka back in 2006 and see palm trees which are still growing sideways following the force of the waves.
10. Balapitiya Beach
Balapitiya is home to the beautiful Shinigawa Beach Resort – a hotel we love to recommend! It’s beautifully untouched, quiet and tranquil, perfect for couples who want to get away from it all. It’s a lovely place to base yourself to bet away from the hustle and bustle from Hikkaduwa and Bentota, but still just a very short tuk-tuk hop away from the towns if you want a bit of liveliness in the evenings before going ‘home’ to your more secluded slice of paradise.
11. Bentota Beach
Just 1.5 hours from Colombo, it’s not hard to see why Bentota is a much-loved beach destination. It’s a great option for families, with some fantastic resort hotels on offer. Alternatively, if you fancy treating yourself to a stay somewhere a bit special, there are some gorgeous little boutique villas we love, too. On a visit here you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty with lush green jungle lining the bright sandy beach. Whether you want to relax with your feet up, or try your hand at some watersports, the calm waters of Bentota won’t disappoint. Kayaking, sailing, snorkelling, paddle-boarding, scuba-diving and even deep sea fishing are all on the menu here.
Had enough beach time? You won’t be short of things to do nearby here. Bevis Bawa’s Brief Garden, Geoffrey Bawa’s Lunuganga Gardens, Madu Ganga river safari, Kosgoda turtle hatchery are all worth factoring into your time in Bentota.
A great option for a stop-over straight after landing in Sri Lanka, the fishing town of Negombo is actually closer to Colombo airport than Colombo is! The water can be quite rough, so it isn’t the best spot for swimming. But, if watersports are your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice. With restaurants dotted along the sand, it’s a buzzy place to spend your first few nights of your Sri Lanka holiday.
Take a cruise along the backwaters through the heart of old Negombo town and observe the day to day life of the local folk. You’ll get a close up view of local fishing life as you pass the fish markets and rows of colourful fishing boats. Take in the wilderness of coconut palms, mangrove forests, all sorts of birds and marine life whilst learning all about local life from your guide. If you take the sunset cruise you may be able to catch the traditional prawn fishermen setting their nets for the night’s work ahead!
Kalpitiya beach is the ideal getaway thanks to its biodiversity and maritime historical connections. Found on Sri Lanka’s northwest coast, this beach is the go-to patch of sand for kite-surfers. Like Mirissa in the South and Trincomalee in the East, Kalpitiya is one of the best places to enjoy dolphin and whale watching with the continental shelf just 45 minutes away by speedboat. Our team have enjoyed dolphin watching in Kalpitiya and have been lucky enough to spot hundreds of dolphins jumping and spinning in the ocean in the early morning, as well as whales surfacing around – an unforgettable experience.
If you prefer a more laid back day you can hire a bicycle to explore the town, try your hand at fishing, kayaking or snorkelling. It’s a lovely traditional spot, so don’t expect five star luxury here, but oodles of loveable Sri Lankan charm and the opportunity to get away from the crowds.
We hope that bought a bit of sunshine to you wherever you are! All of these stunning Sri Lanka beaches are just waiting to make your toes sandy. If a Sri Lanka holiday is on your travel Wishlist, email our Sri Lanka specialists Rebecca or Sophie, or give them a call on 01242 253 073 – we’d love to help design the perfect Sri Lanka escape for you!