A guide to the best beaches in Sri Lanka

The beaches in Sri Lanka are as good as they sound – long swaths of golden sand backed by thick groves of palm trees make for one heck of a holiday background. Many of Sri Lanka’s best beaches are along the southern and eastern coasts where a lot of the most popular resorts are, though you’ll have your pick of coastline no matter where you go.

Bentota Beach

This big time beach comes with exhilarating coastal activities to match. Scuba diving, snorkelling, water skiing, kayaking… you name it, Bentota Beach has the rental facilities for it. Attached to the popular resort destination of Bentota – known for its plethora of hotels – the beach here offers a whole lot of opportunities to stretch out on the wide swaths of golden sand backed by palm trees.

Negombo Beach

Negombo is located close to the airport, so this golden beach is a top place to relax before your flight. It’s typically incredibly popular with locals and tourists, frequented by fruit and snack carts and dotted with wooden boats. If the boat’s captain is around, you can charter one and head out into the waves to explore Sri Lanka’s coastline.

Wadduwa Beach

For the most part, Wadduwa is a small fishing village, so the palm-backed beach here is quieter than its other Sri Lankan counterparts. You’ll still have access to a fair share of watersports, though sunbathing and wading through the crazy clear water are usually at the top of the agenda. Otherwise there’s a marina nearby where you can watch the local fishermen bringing in their catch of the day.

Hikkaduwa Beach

Hikkaduwa is your classic Renaissance beach, complete with watersport rentals of just about every shade. Fruit vendors wander across the sand and you might even spot the odd sea turtle or two poking their heads out of the waves for air. More commercialised in some areas with thatched restaurants and groves of umbrellas, Hikkaduwa still has some relatively untouched portions where you can sunbathe in peace and quiet.

Mirissa Beach

Mirissa Beach might have all the amenities of a more bustling beach, but you wouldn’t know it. The beach huts are set back into the trees, giving you the impression that it’s just you and the ocean for miles. It’s a crescent-shaped beach not far from the equator, famed for its sunrise and sunset vantage points. And if you look in the right places, you might even find yourself a fresh coconut from the nearby trees to crack into.

Unawatuna Beach

Unawatuna Beach is among the most popular in Sri Lanka, both with holidaymakers and locals. It’s a half moon-shaped stretch of sand that was shortened significantly by the tsunami in 2004, after the locals rebuilt many of the hotels there directly on the sand. You’re still left with rows of sunbeds and beach shacks to explore, plus a giant Buddha statue to the south – a walk to which will help break up your afternoon in the sun.

Arugam Bay

Over the years, Arugam Bay has built up a serious reputation as one of the top surf spots in all of Sri Lanka, featuring a number of point breaks that attract adventurous surfers from near and far. If you aren’t a surfer, no bother – the crescent-shaped bay is still good for all things lounging and carries a laid-back vibe you’d expect from free spirited, surfing types. When it’s off season for surfers – generally from November to March – you’ll practically have the whole place to yourself.

Kalkudah Beach

In sharp contrast to Passekudah Beach to the south, Kalkudah keeps things low key with, well, not a whole lot. It’ll just be you, a wide stretch of fine gold sand and patches of palm trees. The sooner you can visit, the better – as we’re guessing that it won’t be left undiscovered for much longer.