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For such a small country Sri Lanka has an absolutely crazy amount of things to do and see! Climbing Sigiriya Rock, watching wildlife on safaris in national parks, tasting Ceylon tea, staying in a homestay with a local family, swimming in waterfalls, riding in a tuk-tuk, and learning to cook Sri Lankan food on a cooking class, just to name a few.
But being on an island, surrounded by the warm waters of the Indian ocean, and not explore the beaches… this just doesn’t sound right! You need to unwind after all the adventures and enjoy all the perks the south coast of Sri Lanka has to offer. And there are many!
From snorkeling and swimming with turtles at a secluded beach to catching the best waves on your surfboard, this guide tells you all about the best places along the southern shore. You’ll know where to go for the calm sea if you are with kids, how to avoid huge tourist crowds, and why I had never swum in half of these beaches despite having my swimsuit ready!
I also cover some typical beach activities and answer the most common questions you may come up with while planning your beach vacation in Sri Lanka. Let me know in the comments if you have any more questions!
Now, enjoy your virtual tour through the worst and the best beaches of southern Sri Lanka!
South Sri Lanka Beaches Map
What to bring – Sri Lanka beach essentials
The golden rule of travel: always bring a swimming suit with you!
Even if you don’t plan to swim. I mean, you never know, there might be a lake nearby or a swimming pool in your accommodation. You might even end up going with locals to a secret beach you didn’t know existed! Better be prepared at all times, right? Check out my favorites in my Pinterest swimsuit selection if you’re on a hunt for a new look!
Besides showing off your new (or old but still cool) swimsuit, in Sri Lanka it’s a good idea to have some kind of beach coverup. Tourist areas are safe, but you are not allowed to walk around in your bikini anywhere else. Even if the beach is located across the road from your homestay, you still need to cover up a bit to get there. This is nothing like those all-inclusive resorts in Turkey where you can spend a week in your bikini and get away with it. Sri Lankan people are modest, so be respectful and bring a shawl just in case!
Sri Lanka is close to the equator and the sun is quite harsh all year round. With that said, you’ll need some kind of sunscreen lotion. Please go for a reef-friendly version if possible to limit your bad influence on the local ecosystem! Also, in less touristic areas sometimes there aren’t any stores around, so you can’t easily buy it there.
And if you are like me, and your lips are always suffering from the windy weather and salty water, don’t forget to pack a moisturizing lip balm! My all-time favorite is Carmex, but anything will work as long as you actually apply it regularly.
Beaches in Sri Lanka don’t always have sunbeds (or have very few), so it’s a good idea to bring your own compact beach blanket, that can also be used as a towel. A roomy tote bag is also a must, especially if it’s a cute tropical themed one!
I think I covered all the necessities (tell me in the comments if I forgot something important!) for a good beach holiday in Sri Lanka. Now it’s finally time to see my beach rating – up to the favorite one!
13 southern beaches in Sri Lanka – My personal rating
13. Dewata Beach
This beach is kinda double-faced. If you walk all the way from one side to another you’ll notice how it changes.
The southern part of the Dewata Beach starts with what feels like a rubbish dump: trash everywhere, seemingly abandoned buildings, no people around, a small canal (I just wouldn’t dare call it a river) that flows into the sea. And all of this is topped with an awful smell.
The northern part is much better. At some point, it stops looking abandoned and you start to see restaurants, places to stay, and those eager to talk surfing instructors I’ll tell you about in a bit. The waves are nice for surfing and not very big if you are a beginner, and there are sunbeds and all the usual beach things available. We also saw local children playing cricket at the end of the beach. This part of the Dewata Beach looks good by itself, but after we passed that smelly canal flowing into the sea just two hundred meters down the beach, we wouldn’t want to swim there anyway.
And there is this thing with annoying people! During our 10-minute walk, we were forced to talk to around 10 different surfing instructors. We soon started to feel frustrated because we were just calmly walking on the beach (romantic and all) but literally every few meters another guy would come to us and start to ask the same questions.
– Where are you from?
– How many days in Sri Lanka?
– Do you want surfing lessons?
– Have you tried surfing?
– Come with me, I have lessons and food and rooms!
It was entertaining at first but after the 5th similar conversation in 5 minutes, you don’t feel like answering politely anymore and just want those people to stop disturbing your peaceful walk. Sometimes someone would come and ask ‘How can I help you?’. I mean, why do you think we need help, man?
So, the choice is yours, but our final verdict is: not recommended.
Anyways, here is where you can stay near Dewata Beach, if you still wanna go
12. Habaraduwa Beach
If you are looking for a huge wild beach with no people around, this might be a place for you.
Other than a couple of beach homestays and one or two restaurants, there is literally nothing there. You can walk, and walk, and walk, and there will still be just you surrounded by sand, trees, and waves. No tourists come there whatsoever, not much to do, just a big empty space stretching until the eye can see.
In Habaraduwa you can spend a few peaceful days, but then you will probably get bored. Unless this is exactly what you want! Your cheap sea view accommodation will most likely provide you with everything you might need for a nice time chilling on the beach: umbrellas, sunbeds, outside dining area, beach towels, etc. As there are trees, you’ll hear a lot of screaming crows and see playful squirrels running around. The water is not safe to swim as there are always big waves full of sand and it gets deep very fast.
Generally, I wouldn’t recommend staying in Habaraduwa unless you wanna relax on a secluded beach doing nothing and are fine with not swimming.
Where to stay near Habaraduwa Beach
11. Mirissa Beach
Mirissa Beach is one of the most crowded tourist places we’ve seen in Sri Lanka. Although you can hardly swim there, it seems to attract tourists from all over the world with a high number of restaurants and bars. The overall infrastructure is better than at most other beaches in Sri Lanka, but swimming is not safe, which is why Mirissa is close to the end of my list.
The waves are big and strong: the ocean shows you how it can do everything it wants with you and how you can’t do anything about it. The huge wave twice my height ate me for lunch, made me do a summersault under the water, then, while I was reaching for the surface to grab some air, another wave covered me again, forced me to do another summersault while throwing me against the bottom, rinsing my nose and my throat, and putting tons of sand into my hair (it took me a few days to fully rinse it all out!). Needless to say, that was my only attempt of swimming at Mirissa beach.
However, it’s still a nice place to have a sunbathe, to chill, and spent some time relaxing with a glass of fresh juice and watching people fighting the waves. Besides, Mirissa is the best place for whale watching tours!
Where to stay near Mirissa Beach
10. Gandara Beach
This is a 100% local place with no tourists ever. A part of a small fisherman village where you are an attraction for locals, for a change.
Although beautiful, this beach is not for swimming. The shore is covered with fisherman boats and it’s hard to even find a way to the water through all the ropes and fishing equipment. Hard waves, big rocks, and lots of boats in the water make it not suitable for your usual vacation. But it’s still calm and beautiful because of no people around, just lovely stray dogs. Worth exploring, but I wouldn’t stay there much longer.
Where to stay near Gandara Beach
9. Dikwella Beach
This beach has everything you need, even a free rope swing!
Located close to much more popular Hiriketiya Beach (more about that one below), Dikwella Beach seems to be not yet discovered by many. Compared to Mirissa, it feels like a breath of fresh air with just a few people around. Beautiful palms as a backdrop, refreshing drinks and quiet atmosphere make it a great fit for a nice peaceful vacation.
There isn’t as much infrastructure here as in Mirissa because there isn’t as many tourists. But this is even better, right? I can hardly find anything to complain about, besides the fact that the waves are still big enough to keep you from swimming.
Where to stay near Dikwella Beach
8. Talalla Beach
This was one of our favorite destinations in Sri Lanka! More so because of the wonderful homestay with a tropical garden we stayed at, but the beach is very beautiful too! There are a few sunbeds here and there and one average restaurant, but other than that it’s just a calm quiet wide stretch of clean sand. Perfect for walking and sunbathing, but not for swimming.
There is also no shade at all to hide from the burning sun, so don’t be like us and don’t come in the afternoon!
Where to stay near Talalla Beach
7. Hikkaduwa Beach & Narigama Beach
Another very popular beach in southern Sri Lanka. One of the nicest among the tourist-loved beaches and I fully understand why it’s one of the most known ones.
There are plenty of seafront accommodations and restaurants, surfing instructors, beach yoga classes, and sunbeds for rent, as well as clothing and souvenir shops close to the beach. Hikkaduwa Beach can be a great place for your vacation if big waves don’t scare you (surfers, I’m looking at you!). We noticed different kinds of waves in different parts of the beach, and surfing instructors spread accordingly.
Consider not renting accommodations at the beach as it’s crowded all the time. We managed to find a nice calm place across the road from the Hikkaduwa beach with a garden, a hammock, a swimming pool, and a good breakfast. Such stays are also cheaper and more peaceful than beachfront ones.
There is also a place called Turtle Beach nearby where huge turtles can be spotted every day, so you can come and see them and even feed. But don’t be like those abusing people who grab them for photos and limit free roaming of those wise creatures!
Where to stay near Hikkaduwa Beach
6. Unawatuna Beach
Finally the first place on my list where you can actually swim!
Although the waves are small, the sea gets deep quite fast: the water level was by my neck after around 3 steps, which you can probably see with people on the photo below. Maybe it’s not the best destination if you travel with children, but better than many others anyway. It’s crowded during the high season, but I’d recommend this area for most cases, especially if you are coming to Sri Lanka for a beach vacation.
Unawatuna had the best infrastructure we’ve seen in Sri Lanka: many clothing and souvenir shops, restaurants, places to stay, fruit stalls, and small supermarkets. On the beach itself, there are also some restaurants, sunbeds, and equipment for rent. Even though there are a lot of people around, it’s still a nice place to chill and maybe see a sunset every now and then.
Where to stay near Unawatuna Beach
5. Madiha Beach
A wild and less-known beach that might be good for snorkeling, sunbathing, and relaxing without crowds. There is a coral reef nearby that you can explore, but the downside of it is that sand is full of coral pieces. If you decide to go there, I’d recommend bringing special shoes or flippers for snorkeling. Not recommended for families with kids.
Where to stay near Madiha Beach
4. Weligama Beach
Weligama is the longest beach we’ve explored in Sri Lanka. The wide line of sand stretches for about three kilometers on which you can find everything you might need. From a pier with fishing boats to high-end hotels and restaurants, this can easily be the only place you want to stay at. A huge amount of sunbeds and surfing equipment for rent, as well as umbrellas and surfing instructors every few meters.
Probably a good place to learn surfing, as it’s quite safe and there is a long way ahead until the water gets deep. The waves are nice for newbies to learn, and we saw a lot of surfers there including children. Weligama beach is nice, clean, and perfect for everyone, whether you are a luxury traveler, on a budget, or with kids.
Where to stay near Weligama Beach
3. Hiriketiya Beach
This is a surfing paradise!
Great waves, clear water, pleasant smooth sand… What’s not to love?
Our accommodation in Hiriketiya was directly in front of the beach entrance: step out of the door and you are at the beach! Many places to stay also give you a discount for surfing equipment, that alone gives up Hiriketiya bay as a surfing spot. There are quite a few nice romantic restaurants in the area with local food and fresh juices, but everything seems a bit overpriced because of how popular this place is.
Even though Hiriketiya is mainly surfers-oriented, the sea is very pleasant here as it’s a small bay surrounded by land. You can of course come here just to swim and relax in the shade: there isn’t much of a beach space out there, but some sunbeds are available near the trees.
Along the road outside of the Hiriketiya beach, there is one shop where you can find everything you might want: from clothes to souvenirs, from sunscreen lotion and snacks to toiletries and aroma oils. Not a lot of other shops in the area.
When it comes to food, I’d recommend a place called Mond, especially for breakfast. It takes a few minutes to walk there from the beach, but it’s worth it! Overall chill atmosphere, finally good non-black coffee (I loved their flat white!), not big but tasty menu, and a nice roof terrace. They only work from 8 am till 2 pm, in case you decide to check it out.
Where to stay near Hiriketiya Beach
2. Polhena Beach
Polhena Beach is so nice and untouched that I’m almost hesitant to share it.
It’s one of those unknown wild beaches that are wonderful because they are unknown.
Basically a short piece of clean sand, Polhena Beach offers smooth water level increase, almost no waves, and little to no tourists around. We saw some locals spending time there chilling and playing beach games. Polhena is a great place for swimming and snorkeling, and you can rent snorkeling equipment right there on the beach for 300 LKR/hour, which is as always a subject to discuss.
The main thing Polhena Beach is popular for is giant turtles, that can be spotted there almost every morning. While snorkeling for about one hour, we got to swim together with three huge about 1-meter long turtles and even feed them together with locals. Such an amazing experience!
The beach itself is very small and there isn’t any infrastructure besides that guy who offers snorkeling equipment for rent. Nevertheless, there are many accommodations and restaurants in the area, which offer a sea view, local food, and yoga lessons.
Where to stay near Polhena Beach
1. Jungle Beach
Drumroll, please! It’s time to reveal my absolute favorite beach in the south coast of Sri Lanka!
Meet Jungle Beach! Located in a quiet bay and hidden from the direct ocean influence, it’s surrounded by the wild jungle that actually justifies its name. The beach consists of two parts with very different entrances and attitudes. If you look closely at the map, you’ll see two pieces of sand that are connected by Jungle Beach Road (spoiler alert: there is no road) and both are called Jungle Beach. You can either swim from one to the other or climb the rocks.
The left one (if you are still looking at the map) is more popular: you can get there either by tuk-tuk or on foot, and you’ll see many shops on the way. Just to name a few, they offer fresh coconuts, cold water, fruit, tuk-tuk rides, restaurants, and all kinds of beach essentials like balls, swimming rings, etc. The right side is much more quiet, short, and has a coral reef, but the way there requires a bit of a steep hike. If you manage to get there, you are up for the very nice water, small waves, and beautiful surroundings. Better come early when some sunbeds in the shade are available. This Jungle Beach is minimal but it has snorkeling equipment for rent and a restaurant in case you fancy a drink.
Jungle Beach sometimes gets really crowded with locals. I guess it’s not advertised much to tourists, that’s why there are many more locals there than foreigners. Apparently, Jungle Beach is a locally popular place to spend time: on weekends a lot of buses with big groups of Sri Lankan people arrive at the beach and it gets very loud as they play music, dance, and have fun.
Whole Jungle Beach has nice shallow water, which makes it one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka for kids. Also to the very left of the beach territory, there is a nice viewpoint where you can take some pictures of the sea with the waves breaking above your head and no people around. Be sure to take some water with you as it gets very hot and I was almost dying on my way back dehydrated from the heat and the hike.
Where to stay near Jungle Beach
Best beaches in Sri Lanka South coast province – Summary
So, what is the best beach in Sri Lanka?
If you need one, I vote for Jungle Beach! But if you want an easy path, Polhena Beach is a close second! Choose between Unawatuna and Weligama if you are coming solely for a beach vacation as they have a wide infrastructure.
Best beaches for swimming in Sri Lanka with kids | Beaches without waves
- Jungle Beach (unless small hike is an issue)
- Weligama Beach (long walk until deep)
- Unawatuna Beach (some waves, but safer than most others)
- Polhena Beach (just amazing)
Best beaches for surfing
- Hiriketiya Beach (better if you are a pro)
- Weligama Beach (better for newbie surfers)
- Hikkaduwa Beach
- Dewata Beach (I personally wouldn’t recommend this one for swimming, but there were instructors approaching us on every step, so it may still be a good choice for surfing)
Which beach is calling your name? Tell me in the comments!
Common questions about Sri Lankan beaches answered
Are Sri Lanka beaches clean?
Contrary to other countries, here we never noticed any issues with plastic, seaweed, or garbage. You can see by yourself how clean the sand is everywhere! The only thing was the presence of coral pieces at Madiha beach – but, well, it’s a wild beach with a coral reef nearby, so this is kind of expected.
However, this might probably change a bit depending on a season: in summer, when the monsoon comes, the sea on the south coast of Sri Lanka is rough and beaches might not be that clean. We only visited in February-March, and this is how it was at the time.
Is it safe to swim in the sea in Sri Lanka?
Definitely not everywhere!
This was a very disappointing and unexpected thing to realize as I’ve never seen anyone talking about this. And I’ve read a lot of blogs before going! So beware people, not all of those beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka let you swim! And this can be super frustrating if you only stay in one place for your whole trip and can’t even swim there.
The image from Habaraduwa Beach above illustrates the problem very well. Can you see a person in there? Compare the size of the head with the wave height behind it! And this is only a few meters from the shore: you might notice the shallow water at the bottom of the picture as I captured it without getting my feet wet.
I even shared in my Sri Lankan culture post a story of how I tried to swim for the first time in Mirissa (spoiler: it was also my last). Read it for more info on safety at Sri Lankan beaches.
Is the sea warm in Sri Lanka?
Yes it is! The temperature is always warm and the sea is comfortable to swim at all times.
What are the top beach activities in Sri Lanka?
So you are tired of attending cultural activities online and ready for something real. Let’s see what we can find to never be bored at Sri Lankan beaches! Check out my top-7 beach activities below!
1. Find some rope swings
I only managed to found two, but there are so many! South coast of Sri Lanka is covered with beaches and I couldn’t possibly visit them all in one go (13 is quite enough for one journey, don’t you think?). Explore by yourself to uncover the best opportunities to swing with such an amazing backdrop!
These two were open for grabs for free – there was nowhere around when we found them. But sometimes you might find a tourist trap like that Instagram-famous swing at Dalawella Beach where they charge you 500+ rupees for a couple of swings back and forth. I recommend choosing off-the-beaten-track destinations as they are usually quiet, empty, and if you find a swing you have it all for yourself!
2. Learn surfing
Although big waves are not a good fit for swimming and family vacations, they are great for surfing! Sri Lanka is not that famous as Thailand or Bali, but there are tons of instructors and surfing centers around. A lot of them provide you with a full package that besides lessons and board rent also include accommodation and food.
3. Swim with turtles
I never planned this but we were able to swim with the giant turtles two times during our trip!
One time was at Polhena beach: we spotted 3 turtles while snorkeling for an hour in shallow waters! And followed them for a while to observe. Another time was at the Turtle Beach in Hikkaduwa – it’s a known place for turtles and a great spot for snorkeling. But as it’s so popular there are sadly many tourists who would grab or hold a turtle in order to make a photo. There was a local guy shouting at them trying to stop this behavior, but they didn’t seem to listen. Don’t be like those people, respect nature and all its creations!
4. Pick up some local fishing techniques
I’m not into fishing, but this profession is huge in Sri Lanka. Fresh fish for dinner is a popular food choice in Sri Lanka, so you’ll see fishing boats on every corner. You might want to talk to locals to learn some techniques if this is your thing. Like, for example, sitting on a stick in shallow waters waiting for the fish. I’m sure there is a lot to learn!
5. Go snorkeling
Marine life is rich in Sri Lanka and there are many coral reefs to explore. We saw turtles at Polhena Beach, sea urchins at Jungle Beach, and even two small sharks in Hikkaduwa. We brought our own snorkeling masks as we like to explore wild beaches, but at some places you can rent or buy snorkeling equipment as well.
6. Play cricket
This is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka and we saw locals playing it at the beach. Why not try to join them?
7. Go whale watching
It’s not the best photo of a whale out there, but it was an amazing first-time experience for us! Seeing so close how huge those wonderful giants are in real life was so awe-inspiring! Even if you only see their backs or (if you are lucky) tails, you’ll still remember this for life. And those cute little fountains they make before coming out! Aww… I just wanna go see them again!
What is the best month to visit Sri Lanka?
If you are interested in the south coast of Sri Lanka, November to April is your safe area, with the very best weather in January and February. The other part of the year is known as monsoon time for southern Sri Lanka when the sea is rough and there is a lot of rain. If your planned vacation is in summer, consider going to the northern parts of the island instead.