Top five beaches in Sri Lanka

The Asian island nation of Sri Lanka has a coastline fringed with numerous golden beaches. Wondering which of these sun-kissed sandy stretches to visit? Read on for our résumé of each of the country's coasts and to discover which beach is the one for you.
Beautiful Sri Lankan beach. Photo: Shutterstock
Beautiful Sri Lankan beach. Photo: Shutterstock

One of the most essential Sri Lankan experiences is to spend some time just lazing on a beautiful, tranquil beach. Struggling to choose between them? Here's a brief overview of the country's coastal regions and our pick of the best beaches in Sri Lanka...

West Coast

Sri Lanka’s west coast shows the island at its most developed, its most Westernised, and its most tourist-oriented. A string of fine beaches, backed by hundreds of hotels and guesthouses, peppers the coast from Negombo in the north to Hikkaduwa in the south. Despite increasing development in other parts of the island, the large resort hotels in Negombo, Kalutara, Beruwala and Bentota – all within easy reach of the capital, Colombo – continue to serve as the hub of the island’s substantial package-tourist industry, offering two-week trips to primarily European visitors, particularly during the northern winter. 

South Coast

The south coast is one of Sri Lanka’s most rewarding places to visit, representing the island in microcosm with gorgeous beaches, colonial townscapes, superb wildlife parks and stilt fishermen, as well as a host of Buddhist shrines and temples. In addition, this coastline is home to a selection of some of the island’s most alluring places to stay, from luxurious beach hotels to atmospheric colonial-era villas. Active travellers can find a never-ending range of things to do and see here although, despite gradual ongoing development around the coast, much of the region’s charm lies in its somnolent and quintessentially rural atmosphere. Countless sleepy villages nestle in the shade of toppling palm trees, and the pace of life is unashamedly slow-moving. For proximity to more action, look for resorts near Galle, a colonial town on the southern coast. You can discover the region for yourself as part of Insight Guides' Sri Lanka Deluxe trip

View of Mirissa beachView of Mirissa beach. Photo: Shutterstock

East Coast

Sri Lanka’s east coast is unquestionably beautiful, but was off the tourist trail for many years due to the long-raging civil war, compounded by the damage wrought by the 2004 tsunami. However, in the years following the end of the civil war in 2009, there has been slow and steady reconstruction and the region now looks to the future with renewed confidence. Its major towns – Trincomalee and Batticaloa – are bustling with life and commercial activity while ongoing development is starting to unlock the huge potential of the superb coastline – albeit at the inevitable cost of changing its formerly remote and magically unspoilt character.

Our top five beaches in Sri Lanka

1. Hiriketiya

On the south coast, the area around Dikwella is gradually becoming more popular with travellers looking to escape the increasing development further to the west. A string of relatively unspoilt beaches dot the coast here, most notably the stunning little horseshoe bay at Hiriketiya, which is backed by a small selection of great places to stay. 

2. Bentota

One of the finest stretches of beach on the west coast, running south from the magnificent Bentota lagoon and lined with a string of alluring hotels. The southern end of beach is home to some of the most appealing upmarket accommodation along this coastline, with a number of chic boutique hotels nestled amongst the palm trees. Bentota is also the island's water sports hub. Behind the beach, the calm waters of the lagoon are perfect for kayaking and jet-skiing, while boat trips up the river to explore the mangroves and tangled waterways are easy to arrange. 

Lying halfway between major destinations such as Colombo and Galle, adding a stop off at Bentota as part of Insight Guides' Sri Lanka Family Adventure trip makes perfect sense. 

Bentota's idyllic sands. Photo: slava296/ShutterstockBentota's idyllic stretch of golden sands. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Arugam Bay

Towards the southern end of the east coast, the village of Arugam Bay is a popular destination with independent travellers drawn by the charms of its unspoilt, palm-fringed beach. Surfers originally put the village on the map by visiting to ride what are widely thought to be some of the best waves in Sri Lanka. The beach continues to attract plenty of surfers, but its laid-back vibe and offbeat charm provide wide-ranging appeal. The local community have strongly and successfully resisted the development of major hotels, but there are plenty of casual lodgings available in quirky village guest houses and beachfront hotels with relaxed bungalows and cabanas. Tours of nearby Pottuvil Lagoon are easily arranged, as well as motor-boat trips out to sea in search of dolphins.

Beautiful sunset at Arugam Bay. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Mirissa

On the south coast, the fine sands of Mirissa beach are backed by palm trees, while its clear waters and lively waves make it ideal for both swimming and surfing. A cluster of hotels and guest houses offer a variety of accommodation choices nearby. Development here has been driven by Mirissa’s emergence as the whale-watching capital of Sri Lanka. Numerous whales can frequently be spotted reasonably close to the shoreline and multiple tour operators based in the village offer boat trips to see them during the season which runs from December to April.

Mirissa's palm-fringed golden sands. Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/ShutterstockMirissa's palm-fringed golden sands. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Uppuveli

Just north of Trincomalee on the east coast, the sleepy village of Uppuveli is a great option if you want a beautiful beach well off the beaten track. Proximity to the former civil war zone means that this seemingly endless swathe of soft white sand lining the coast remains remarkably unspoilt. Development is happening gradually and there is now a reasonable selection of relaxed hotels and guest houses. The area is also growing as a centre for whale-watching and diving.

Beachfront in Uppuveli, Sri Lanka. Photo: Valery Shanin/ShutterstockThe sleepy beachfront at Uppuveli, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

Ready to take a trip to Sri Lanka?

Our local experts can plan wonderful trips for you in Sri Lanka. Simply get in touch, letting us know when you'd like to travel and your ideas for the trip. We will then create a personalised itinerary for you, which you can amend until you're totally happy with every detail before booking. Browse our existing itineraries for inspiration, and remember, all of our planned itineraries can be tailored to meet your specific needs.

Updated 9 January, 2019