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Top Five Beaches in Sri Lanka | Insight Guides

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 overview of each of the country's coasts and to discover which beach is the one for you.
Beautiful beach in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
Beautiful beach in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

One of the most essential Sri Lankan experiences is to spend some time lazing on an idyllic, tranquil beach. Struggling to choose between them? Here is a brief overview of the country's coastal regions followed by 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 Westernized, 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 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. 

South Coast

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. 

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 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.

Discover the region for yourself as part of Insight Guides' Sri Lanka Deluxe trip

Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka. Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/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 unspoiled character.

Our top five beaches in Sri Lanka

1. Hiriketiya

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. 

Hiriketiya Beach, Sri Lanka. Photo: Creative Family/Shutterstock

2. Bentota

One of the finest stretches of sand on the west coast, this beach 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, with a number of chic boutique hotels nestled amongst the palm trees. Bentota is also Sri Lanka'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. 

Idyllic stretch of golden sands at Bentota, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Arugam Bay

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. 

The local community have strongly and successfully resisted the development of major hotels. Plenty of casual lodgings are available in quirky village guesthouses and relaxed beachfront 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, Sri Lanka. 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 guesthouses 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.

The palm-fringed golden sands at Mirissa, Sri Lanka. 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 unspoiled. Development is happening gradually and there is now a reasonable selection of casual hotels and guesthouses. The area is also developing a reputation as a center for whale-watching and diving.

The 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 to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. We will then create a personalized itinerary especially, which you can amend until you are totally happy with every detail before booking. Browse our existing Sri Lanka itineraries for inspiration, and keep in mind that all of our planned itineraries can be tailored to meet your specific needs.