Guide: The 9 best beaches in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is surrounded by the kind of beaches that travel dreams are made of. Whether you’re craving golden beaches, long, deserted palm-fringed shorelines, want to see whales and turtles, or surf the best waves. Here we have listed our favorites, plus tips for hotels, places to eat, and what to experience.

By Mette & Martin
Translated from Danish

Sri Lanka is a beach adventure. In fact, the pear-shaped tropical island in the Indian Ocean has far more amazing beaches than we expected as we embarked on our very first journey in Sri Lanka in the months of February to April.

Our plan was to experience a few of the most recommended beaches before heading for the highlands. But the further we travelled along the south coast – from west to east – the more beautiful and unspoiled the beaches became. All with their own unique character traits and different experiences.

We, therefore, decided to continue our travels along the lush coast. We hopped from beach to beach, curious as to what the next one had to offer. Ten weeks later the circle was almost complete. From Negombo at the airport in the west, down around Sri Lanka’s round southern tip and all the way up to Trincomalee on the northern east coast.

We counted 40+ beaches visited. Both big and small. And we could easily have visited many more. Because it is absolutely absurd how many beautiful beaches Sri Lanka has.

Hands down. Sri Lanka has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches (Rekawa Beach)

Good to know before you visit Sri Lanka’s beaches

The season for the best beach weather

Sri Lanka’s tropical climate means you can visit the island all year round. When it rains in the southwest, the sun shines in the northeast – and vice versa. Most of our favourite beaches are on the southern coast. Here the best travel time is December-March.

More or fewer tourists

Sri Lanka’s many beaches are very different. But overall, the southwest coast is the most developed. Here you will find the largest selection of hotels, restaurants, and activities – and ditto tourists. The further away you travel from Colombo, the more peaceful the beaches become. The most popular resort areas are Negombo, Hikkaduwa, Weligama, Mirissa and Unawatuna – as well as Trincomalee on the east coast.

Say hello to the turtles

Sri Lanka’s south coast is home to five out of seven turtle species. It is therefore not unusual to experience turtles swimming close to shore or coming across protected areas on the beach where the turtles have laid eggs. You can also visit one of the country’s turtle centers. And when you go to the beach you will often meet locals who will be happy to show you where you can swim with turtles.

Unfortunately, turtles are an endangered species, and the biggest threat is our interference with nature. As a traveller, it can sometimes be difficult to judge whether our commitment is good or bad? With that said, we simply want to flag the turtles’ cause and our shared ethical responsibility: don’t touch the turtles, bypass their nests, and investigate the conditions before visiting a center.

On Rekawa Beach you can see traces of sea turtles that have crawled up onto the sandy beach to lay eggs.

Iconic fishermen on stilts

Sri Lankan fishermen became world famous when photographer Steve McCurry portrayed how they fish from poles in 1995. Today, only a few people fish that way. The vast majority only sit there if they can fish money from tourists.

If you would like to see the stilt fishermen, you can experience them on the coastal stretch between Unawatuna, Koggala, and Weligama. Be prepared though, they have collaborators on land demanding payment if they see you with a camera.

Becoming the catch of the day

All over the beaches, you can see traditional fishermen sailing out and fishing from narrow, colourful outrigger boats close to shore. If you are curious about the fishing life, the locals are always welcoming. We have only heard of a few cases where travellers have been tricked into helping the fishermen with the day’s catch – and then been charged money for the experience.

Bring sunscreen from home

The range of sunscreen is sparse and expensive in Sri Lanka. It is therefore a good idea to bring sunscreen from home. The UV index is high here, close to the equator.

Respect the horsepower of the sea

Sri Lanka has some of the world’s most beautiful but also dramatic waves. The current can be strong, and it is easy to be swept away when the waves break close to the shore. Ask the locals if you are in doubt about where you can swim safely.

Silent Beach

Here you will find Sri Lanka’s 9 best beaches

Granted! We cheated a little. We have listed more than 9 beaches. In Sri Lanka, they lie like golden pearls on a string. So, when you visit one beach, it’s stumbling easy to find and experience more.

We have therefore listed our favourite beaches together with their neighbours. Sometimes we actually couldn’t choose which of the beaches we liked best. Fortunately, the distances are short, so you can easily either walk or take a quick tuk-tuk ride – and experience both.

At the bottom, we have added a Google Map with the beaches that’s useful when trying to plot out your itinerary.

Happy beach hunting!

#1 – Dikwella & Hiriketiya Beach

The two beaches have been on many people’s lips in the last few years. And now ours too. This was where we stayed the longest on our tour of Sri Lanka. The beaches are very different, but as close companions, they embrace the contrasts we love about beach life. Relaxing atmosphere and lively beach bars, delicious eateries and local experiences, good hotels and scenic surroundings.

Dikwella Beach

Dikwella is the longer of the two and is located by a major provincial town. But even though the kilometer-long sandy beach parallels a busy main road, the beach itself is a peaceful paradise with few tourists. At the eastern end (Pehembiya) lies a strip of beach bars under swaying palm trees and is the best spot to swim, bask in the sun, and experience Sri Lanka’s peach-coloured sunsets.

Hiriketiya Beach

Hiriketiya – or Hiri, as the small, horseshoe-shaped bay is popularly called – is the beach where yogis, digital nomads, and surfers hang out. From morning to night, both beginner-friendly and slightly larger waves roll in towards the shore, where hip boutique hotels and delicious cafes complete the perfect beach day.

Dikwella and Hiriketiya are located in separate bays, approx. 10 minutes walk from each other, and are separated by a hilly rocky coast. A small road leads over the palm-clad, steep hill, where luxurious villas and stylish hotels with good restaurants also reside.

Best time to visit: December-March

Above: Dikwella / Below: Hiriketiya

#2 – Silent Beach & Goyambokka

Silent Beach

Silent has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka – and probably in the world. However, the name itself was not entirely accurate when we visited the beach for three days in March. Big, round and perfect waves crashed noisily against the golden sand, while cascades of water shot vertically into the air upon impact with the rocks enthroning the center of the unspoiled palm beach.

At first glance, it doesn’t sound like a bathing-friendly beach. But at each end of the beach the waves are smaller and the ocean current not so strong. There are also a few small, rustic beach cafes here. Our favourite was Sunset Bar & Restaurant and if we had been able to afford luxury we would have booked a suite at the beach’s only hotel, Amanwella.

Goyambokka Beach

In the next bay, approx. 5 minutes drive, is the smaller, but cozy and tropically beautiful bathing beach Goyambokka. Compared to Sri Lanka’s best-known bathing beaches, there are far fewer tourists here. But there is enough for there to be a selection of hotels and restaurants in all price ranges. Our favourite beach bar quickly became Bamboo, which has the best view of the bay.

Best time to visit: December-March

Above: Silent Beach / Below: Goyambokka

#3 – Rekawa & Marakolliya

East of the port town of Tangalle lies a 10 km stretch of coast, where a strip of sandy beaches invisibly replaces each other. The further you get from Tangalle Beach (which some call a peaceful and authentic alternative to Mirissa and Unawatuna), the more magnificent, raw, and desolate the beaches become.

Rekawa Beach

Rekawa is the last in the line, and it also feels a bit like standing at the end of the world. At a relentless pace, powerful waves crash against the palm-fringed beach, forming an undulating desert landscape of golden sand. It is insanely beautiful.

Out here there are only a handful of small hotels and eateries. All a few minutes walk from the beach itself and the lagoon which follows the coastline. We stayed at Shine Wave Turtle Beach and ate at Ruwani and Hungry Dragon which are highly recommended. There is a simple and rustic fish restaurant by the beach. You will find Sumudu in the small rocky bay, where you can borrow sunbeds and it is safe to swim.

Between February and July, you can see the turtles come to the beach to lay their eggs. Rekawa’s turtle center organizes a so-called Turtle Watch every evening, where local guides show where the turtles are. We saw three turtles – and many fresh tracks in the sand on our walk during the day.

Marakolliya Beach

A few kilometers down the coast lies Marakolliya, which is another scenic and unspoiled sandy beach. If you want to stay in the first row of the Indian Ocean, Mangrove Beach Charlets is a nice place with a cosy beach cafe. Here – and at the Cinnebar Resort further towards Tangalle – we refuelled on cold drinks when we went for long walks on the beach.

Best time to visit: December-March

Rekawa Beach

#4 – Arugam Bay & Surf Point

A-bay is located on Sri Lanka’s east coast, which has a different season than the southwest coast and is visited by fewer tourists. But Arugam has for many years been a hotspot for backpackers and surfers. On either side of the crescent-shaped beach, you will not only find Sri Lanka’s best waves but reportedly also some of the world’s. Every year, international surfing competitions are held in the bay.

The season begins in May, when the town’s small hotels, eateries, beach bars, and shops begin to open, and the small sleepy fishing town is transformed by a lively and hip, but suitably laid-back atmosphere. The most popular place to surf is at surf point, located at the southern tip of the bay. Here you will also find the Upali Beach Resort & Café, where you can sip cold drinks and watch the surfers scramble close to the beach.

The town itself is not very large and spreads out along the bay on both sides of a main road. You will find Arugam’s best recommended hotels and eateries in the southern end of the city, e.g. Hideaway and The Spice Trail. On the other side of the bay is the eco-friendly hotel Stay Golden, which has yoga, good coffee, and vegetarian-friendly dishes on the menu. Check out the travel guide Arugam Bay Traveler, which has lots of travel tips and a good overview of hotels.

Best time to visit: May – August

Arugam Bay

#5 – Kabalana & Ahangama

Kabalana Beach

Kabalana was not originally on our radar. But a very encouraging recommendation from a Danish resident made us very curious. And the beach is conveniently located between the two largest tourist magnets of the south coast, Unawatuna and Mirissa. And we’re glad he did.

Kabalana is a well-known name among surfers for good reason. But the long, straight beach, with its soft sand, clear water, beautiful waves and few tourists, is a peaceful piece of barefoot luxury for everyone. Apart from surfing and sunbathing, not much happens here.

Ahangama Beach

You have to drive a few minutes to the small nearby town and neighboring beach Ahangama to find good beach cafes. Here, on the other hand, there are also a few favourites, i.a. Marshmellow, Follow the White Rabbit, and Carrie. In addition, the stylish beach hotel & surf camp Dreamsea looked like a place where you can easily forget everything that rhymes with everyday life.

Best time to visit: December-March

Kabalana Beach

#6 – Talalla & Dondra Lighthouse

Talalla Beach

Talalla is the type of tropical beach that you once saw on postcards. The golden sand is fringed by tall palm trees and azure sea, and your footprints are often the only ones along the water’s edge.

The western end of the beach is the most idyllic. Here, a few colourful fishing boats lie in the sand, and inland, a few small hotels nestle invisibly among all the greenery. Talalla fulfills the dream of a peaceful beach holiday, and if you want to combine your stay with yoga, surf and pool, then Talalla Retreat is the place.

Dondra Lighthouse

Talalla is a 15-minute drive from Dondra Lighthouse. The iconic lighthouse, built by the British in 1890, is certainly the tallest and located on the southernmost tip of the island. It is free to visit, but unfortunately, it requires special permission from the authorities to climb the tower.

Best time to visit: December-March

Talalla Beach & Dondra Lighthouse

#7 – Mirissa & Coconut Tree Hill

You don’t have to google long for ‘Sri Lanka’s best beaches’ before you get Mirissa on the list. And you have probably already seen several pictures of the beach. It is here that you will find Sri Lanka’s Instagram-famous palm rock COCONUT TREE HILL.

However, there are many good reasons why Mirissa has become one of the most visited beaches on the south coast. The area embraces a bit of everything. Golden beaches, great places to eat, great waves for surfing – and then Mirissa stands out as the best place to see sea turtles, dolphins, and large whales.

But the development of Mirissa as a holiday paradise has progressed rapidly, and not all places are equally relaxing. The beach hotels are wedged between the heavily trafficked main road and the Indian Ocean, where the tide in some places determines when you can walk on the beach.

Mirissa’s coast stretches over three beaches, each with its own character. To the west is the main beach, which is a classic resort beach with the area’s widest strip of sand. From this end of the coast you can easily walk around and visit the harbour and the small secluded SECRET BEACH, which despite its name is no secret.

Coconut Tree Hill

In the center bay of Mirissa, you will find the smallest but also most charming beach. Along the small strip of black sand, which disappears at high tide, are a few of the best beach restaurants, including The Slow, Petti Petti, and Surfing Wombats. From here you can also go out on the rocky island PARROT ROCK, which has a beautiful view over the bay and surfers’ best waves.

The last and most peaceful beach goes by the name TURTLE BEACH for good reason. Contrary to Parrot Rock, where there are no birds, you can often spot sea turtles in the water at Turtle Beach. We saw five turtles in an hour when we sat at the cozy Sunset Beach Bar. It is also a good starting point for finding the path up to Coconut Tree Hill, which is right next door.

Best time to visit: December-March

Mirissa Beach

#8 – Unawatuna & Jungle Beach

Unawatuna is another hotspot on Sri Lanka’s south coast. The large, wide bathing beaches have for many years been one of the most popular, but as so often, there is a flip side to the coin. What was once an idyllic palm beach is today marred by a densely built-up holiday town.

The beach itself is good – especially the western half, furthest from the busy main road. But for us, the best thing about Unawatuna was the small and the big JUNGLE BEACH. Two unspoiled sandy beaches with turquoise waters that either require a 20-minute hike through the jungle or a short tuk-tuk ride. Apart from a man selling cold drinks at a wooden table, there is nothing here. Tip: Come early if you want to enjoy the peace.

Unawatuna’s trump card, however, is its location. The beach is a 10-minute drive from the UNESCO-protected colonial city of GALLE, which is among our favourite experiences on the tour of Sri Lanka. Many also recommend visiting the two nearby beaches DALAWELLA and WIJAYA. Here you’ll find two more of Sri Lanka’s Instagram celebrities: the iconic Frog Rock and the palm tree swing at Dream Cabana.

Best time to visit: December-March

Jungle Beach

#9 – Trincomalee – Uppuveli & Nilaveli Beach

If you visit Sri Lanka from April to September, you will find the best beaches on the east coast. The two most popular are located north of the fishing town of Trincomalee. Here, the sand is soft, the water clear and calm, and there is generally a far more peaceful and local atmosphere than on the south coast.

Uppuveli Beach

Uppuveli is the most developed beach with small hotels, local guesthouses, and eateries. The nicest part of the beach stretches between the best restaurants – from Snack Bar Hawaii in the south to Fernando’s Bar and Cafe on the 18th to the north.

If you want an experience that doesn’t take place in the water, we can recommend visiting FORT FREDERIK, which was established by the Portuguese in 1623. In addition to a number of colonial historical buildings, the rocky island has great views over the coast and a Hindu temple that sits on the tip. Remember to bring clothes that cover your knees and shoulders if you want to visit the temple.

In addition, locals recommended a visit to MARBLE BEACH, located south of Trinco. We didn’t visit Marble, but the tip has now been passed on.

Nilaveli Beach

A fifteen-minute drive to the north of Uppuveli is Nilaveli. A long and partly deserted beach that is often referred to as the area’s most beautiful. We liked the southern part of the beach best, around the That’s Why beach restaurant, which is a nice stop if you’re visiting Nilaveli for a few hours.

If you continue up the beach, you can see PIGEON ISLAND NATIONAL PARK. The small island is approx. 10 minutes sailing from the coast and is known to be the best spot for snorkeling and diving in Sri Lanka.

Best time to visit: April-September

Above: Uppuveli / Below: Nilaveli

Sri Lanka’s best beaches listed by theme

Here we have listed the beaches according to experiences. We hope it can help you narrow down your choices and find the beach that is the best match for you.

  • Unspoilt beaches: Silent Beach, Rekawa, Talalla
  • Surf: Arugam Bay, Hiriketiya, Kabalana
  • Whale watching: Mirissa and Trincomalee
  • Snorkeling: Pigeon Island at Uppuveli
  • Family friendly resort holidays: Mirissa, Unawatuna, Uppuveli
  • Digital Nomad: Dikwella, Hiriketiya, Arugam Bay
  • Beach at colonial towns: Unawatuna & Galle / Uppuveli & Trincomalee

Map of the best beaches in Sri Lanka

We hope our guide can help you find the beach that you think is Sri Lanka’s best. If you have been to Sri Lanka and know of a beach that you think is missing from our list, please share your tip in the comment box.

Thank you – and happy beach hunting!

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