On our first trip to Sri Lanka, we divided our time between Exploring the Hill Country and enjoying some sun on the southern beaches. Unfortunately, we were not blessed with the best weather in the hills; it rained almost endlessly every day we were there. So, as we prepared to leave Haputale, we very much hoped that our luck would change as we moved down south.
Our first stop was Tangalle, located on one of the south’s most stunning stretches of coastline. A string of simple guesthouses, as well as a few upmarket hotels, line the oceanfront opposite Medaketiya Beach; Tangalle is, however, relatively low-key compared to other beach destinations further west.
Ollie and I spent a few days here; we visited a number of secluded coves along the coast, as well as longer stretches of sandy beach. Swimming can be difficult due to large waves and hazardous undercurrents; most of the beaches also shelve steeply into the sea. We still had fun paddling in the shallows and jumping the waves though!
Whilst we were in Tangalle we also visited Wewurukannala Temple with its huge standing Buddha. Other possible trips in the nearby area include the rock temples at Mulkirigala and Rekawa Beach, the premier site in Sri Lanka for turtle watching.
The coast around Tangalle is simply beautiful, especially Goyambokka and Talalla Beaches; they are postcard perfect with clear blue water and endless golden sand.
Our next stop on the beach trail was Mirissa, which again has some fabulous coastline. The lovely beach here is tucked into a pretty little bay, backed by dense coconut palms. A string of restaurants line the sand, which, at night, transform the beach into a dazzling tangle of fairy lights. When we visited development was still low-key; guesthouses were modest and the restaurants fairly rustic.
We really enjoyed Mirissa; it has a pleasant vibe and the beach is simply stunning. Whilst we were there we also visited the hilltop Kandavahari Temple, Mirissa Harbour and the nearby town of Matara, where there is a footbridge from the beach to a small island that houses the Parey Dewa Temple.
Mirissa is also a hotspot for whale watching and there are many companies in town that offer trips. The chances of seeing blue whales and sperm whales close to shore are apparently excellent. Other water-based activities on offer include sea kayaking, snorkelling and cruises around the bay.
From Mirissa we travelled on to Unawatuna, the most commercialised and built-up of the beaches we visited. The beach here is small and intimate, curving in a semicircular bay that stretches only for about 1km. Pretty but busy, its winning feature is that it offers safe year-round swimming. The waves here were small, allowing us to finally get in some swimming!
A small pagoda sits atop the rocky headland at one end of the bay; Ollie and I walked up to it and were rewarded with stunning views over Unawatuna and north to Galle. We also hiked up to the Japanese Peace Pagoda, perched on another hillock at the opposite end of the beach. The views from here at sunset are worth the hike alone.
Two other main trips that we made from Unawatuna were to the Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya, an ancient Buddhist temple, and to Galle.
The city of Galle, just a short bus ride from Unawatuna, is known for Galle Fort, the fortified old city founded by Portuguese colonialists in the 16th Century. Its stone sea walls, expanded by the Dutch, encircle car-free streets with architecture that reflects Portuguese, Dutch and British rule.
Ollie and I spent a leisurely day ambling the streets of this magically time-warped slice of Sri Lanka, taking note of the Dutch-period villas, the string of imposing churches and other colonial landmarks. The old streets are atmospheric and peaceful without any traffic. Galle is a refreshing break from the beaches that is well worth the short trip.
There is accommodation aplenty in the city but we chose to base ourselves on the coast at Unawatuna, so as to be within walking distance of the beach. If you choose to stay in Galle, it’s recommended that you stay somewhere inside the fort as outside, the pace of life is totally different.
Our final stop in Sri Lanka was the coastal town of Negombo, actually closer to the international airport than the country’s capital, Colombo. There are plenty of places to stay, which are much cheaper than those in Colombo, as well as some decent restaurants and an OK beach.
We stayed at a friendly guesthouse right on the sand, which meant a prime location when it came to our last sunset in Sri Lanka. As we arrived quite late in the day from Unawatuna and had a flight the next morning to Thailand, we did not get a chance to explore Negombo town, though we heard that it is full of catholic churches.
We spent the time we did have strolling the long stretch of sandy beach and taking in the scenic vistas out to the Indian Ocean. It was a great place to end our Sri Lankan journey, peaceful, pretty and mellow.
We were very pleased to have avoided spending any time in the capital throughout our time in Sri Lanka; from what we heard Colombo is expensive and skip-able. Kandy and Negombo sure made nicer start and end points! We plan to return to Sri Lanka one day to explore Jaffna and the Ancient Cities, in the north and centre of the island respectively.
UPDATE: After our first trip to Sri Lanka in 2015, we returned to the country three years later and finally made it to Jaffa and the Ancient Cities!
Read about these places in: How to Explore Jaffna and the North Independently and The Best Way to Explore Sri Lanka’s Ancient Cities!