Top five beaches in Sri Lanka
One of the most essential Sri Lankan experiences is to spend some time lazing on an idyllic, tranquil beach. But where are the best beaches in Sri Lanka? Here is a brief overview of the country's coastal regions followed by our pick of the top five.
West Coast: The winter sun favorite
Sri Lanka’s west coast shows the island at its most developed, most Westernized, and most tourist-oriented. Here you'll find some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, backed by hundreds of hotels and guesthouses, from Negombo in the north to Hikkaduwa in the south.
Despite increasing development in other parts of the island, the large 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.
These resorts offer two-week trips to primarily European visitors, particularly during winter in the northern hemisphere. But if you want something more off-beat and exclusive, try Insight Guides Jaffna and Western Sri Lanka trip.
South Coast: Gorgeous beaches and wildlife parks
The south coast is one of Sri Lanka’s most rewarding areas to visit. Representing the island in microcosm, the region offers gorgeous beaches, colonial towns, and superb wildlife parks, 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. And active travelers can find a never-ending range of things to do and see here.
However, despite gradual ongoing development around the coast, much of the region’s charm lies in its 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. Or for a unique perspective on the region take a look at Insight Guides Sri Lanka Deluxe trip.
South coast Mirissa is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock
East Coast: Still a little off the tourist trail
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. The region now looks to the future with renewed confidence and its major towns, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, bustle with life and commercial activity.
Ongoing development is also starting to unlock the huge potential of the superb coastline - albeit at the inevitable cost of changing its formerly remote and magically unspoiled character.
Our five best beaches in Sri Lanka
1. Hiriketiya, one of the south coast's best beaches in Sri Lanka
On the south coast, the area around Dikwella is gradually becoming more popular with travelers looking to escape the increasing development further to the west.
A string of relatively unspoiled 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. Try The Salty Pelican Yoga & Surf Retreat just three minutes walk from the beach.
Hiriketiya Beach, Sri Lanka. Photo: Creative Family/Shutterstock
2. Bentota on magnificent Bentota Lagoon
Bentota is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. It sits on the west coast, runs south from magnificent Bentota lagoon and is lined with a string of alluring hotels.
The southern end of the beach is home to some of the most appealing upmarket accommodation along this coastline. You'll find a number of chic boutique hotels nestled amongst the palm trees, like Centara Ceysands Resort & Spa.
Bentota is also Sri Lanka's watersports 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.
Idyllic stretch of golden sands at Bentota, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
3. Discover beautiful Arugam Bay on the east coast
Towards the southern end of the east coast, the village of Arugam Bay is a popular destination with independent travelers drawn by the charms of its beautiful, 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. Tours of nearby Pottuvil Lagoon are easily arranged, as well as motor-boat trips out to sea in search of dolphins.
The local community have strongly and successfully resisted the development of major hotels. But plenty of casual lodgings are available in quirky village guesthouses and relaxed beachfront bungalows and cabanas. Arne's Place is a perfect example.
Beautiful sunset at Arugam Bay another of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
4. Mirissa Beach is the south coast whale watching legend
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. But development here has mainly 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. Additionally, multiple tour operators based in the village offer boat trips to see them during the season, which runs from December to April.
A cluster of hotels and guesthouses offer a variety of accommodation choices close to Mirissa Beach. Try laid-back and charming Handagedara Resort just a short walk from the Indian Ocean, soft sands and possible whale sightings.
The palm-fringed golden sands at Mirissa, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
5. Peaceful Uppuveli Beach is off the beaten track
Just north of Trincomalee on the east coast, the sleepy village of Uppuveli is a great option if you want one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, but well off the beaten track.
Proximity to the former civil war zone means that the seemingly endless swathes of soft white sand lining the coast remain remarkably unspoiled. Although the area is beginning to develop a reputation as a center for whale-watching and diving.
Development is happening gradually and Uppuveli now has a reasonable selection of guesthouses and casual hotels Elegant Green Beach Resort just a few minutes walk from the sleepy beachfront.
The sleepy beachfront at Uppuveli, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
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