Beaches

Ambalangoda is popular for sea-bathing in the clear beach towards its north. The town is home to one of Sri Lanka's most colorful traditions: masked devil dancing. Witness this performance of dance to ward off evil spirits where people don devil masks. There is also a mask museum, and crafters can make you a fine genuine mask of your own.

A fairly short drive south from Colombo will bring you to Bentota, where the Madu River meets the ocean. There are several luxury hotels and resorts along the beaches, making Bentota great for a five-star experience. They also provide facilities for watersports and trips on the Madu River, which is home to plenty of wildlife and birds, and was declared a Ramsar wetland in 2004.

A growing fishing town on the south coast, Dickwella has a long beach sheltered by reefs and headlands, making it great for swimming in the ocean. It is also home to Sri Lanka's largest statue of the seated Buddha, which attracts many visitors. Around 10km from Dickwella lies Mawella, where the world's second-largest blow hole can be found. Water spouts out of these geysers high over the rocks, making for a captivating sight.

Dondra Point on the southern tip of the island is home to Sri Lanka's tallest and oldest lighthouse, built by the Dutch towards the end of the 19th century. A grand festival, featuring fireworks, traditional dancers and elephants, is held annually between August and September to honor Lord Vishnu.

Galle is the commercial hub of Sri Lanka's south coast, and is a natural harbor. The 36 hectare Dutch Fort, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built in 1663, and somewhat allows visitors to travel back in time to the colonial era due to the architecture within.

The capital town of the Hambantota district in the southeast, Hambantota is a center for salt production in Sri Lanka due to its arid climate, although grain crops like rice and kurakkan are also grown in the area. The town has seen much development recently, with an airport and harbor having been constructed in Hambantota.

Around 15km northwest of Galle, Hikkaduwa is probably Sri Lanka's best known tourist destinations due to the great beaches and nightlife. The waves are great for surfing, the reef captivates snorkelers, the relaxed atmosphere soothes weary travelers, and the restaurants and pubs are filled with backpackers and tourists. Between May and October, the seas can get quite rough, though. Hikkaduwa also has many cultural attractions such as the Seenigama Viharaya.

Kalpitiya is, by legend, where Sri Lanka began as a nation when Prince Vijaya landed on the island to become the first king of Sinhalaya. Expectedly, the area is rich in cultural heritage. The beaches are nothing short of impressive, with white sandy stretches and unspoiled islands offshore. The surrounding waters also provide a haven for marine life, and Kalpitiya is the place for dolphin- and whale-watching in Sri Lanka.

The beach in Katunayake is right next to the International Airport, and is frequently visited by travelers in transit. Several new hotels have sprung up around the area to provide a high standard of service.

A tranquil village on the south coast, Koggala hosts a picturesque beach with waves that are great for surfing. It is much less crowded than places like Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna, and many travelers will delight in a leisurely stroll along the beach in Koggala. The flora and fauna of the Koggala River and lake attract wildlife enthusiasts, especially the migrant birds that arrive during the winter season. Koggala is also home to cultural landmarks like the Martin Wickremasinghe Museum of Folk Art and Culture and the Purwarama Temple at Kataluwa.

Matara is a settlement on the banks of the Nilwala River that has lasted since the time of ancient kings, and, like Galle, contains several historically significant sites. Fortresses built by Portuguese and Dutch settlers still stand in the city, and the underground Weherahena Buddhist temple holds a massive Buddha statue.

Mirissa has been gaining popularity as travelers seek beautiful beaches in a tranquil setting free from the crowd. Only 4km southeast of Weligama, the beaches in Mirissa are reputed for their relaxing vibe, and visitors come to just draw in the atmosphere and relax. Snorkeling and whale-watching activities are conducted during the season, and Mirissa is also becoming well-known as a surfing destination.

Mount Lavinia beach near Colombo is very popular among the locals. The evening sunset sees scores of people flocking to its shores to enjoy the spectacle. With this many urban visitors, Mount Lavinia has an active social community, and the area is known for entertainment and beach parties.

Negombo is mainly a fishing town, and lies only 6km from the Katunayake International Airport. Negombo is a great place to sample some delectable seafood.

These coastal resort towns in Trincomalee are well known for whale-watching, with July and August being the best time for such activity. The beach in Nilaweli is well-known for its pale white sand and panoramic view of the bay.  

Located above Colombo, towards the north of Sri Lanka, Puttalam has the island's largest lagoon, and like many other dry coastal regions, fishing, along with coconut and salt production, is a common source of livelihood. The lagoon will delight explorers with the marine life it is home to, and also provides excellent opportunities for water sports.

This large town in the Hambantota district is popular for its mild climate when compared with its neighbors, who experience more arid conditions. With a bay that stretches 4 miles wide, Tangalle draws in swimmers and divers. The Kalametiya bird sanctuary and sea turtle nesting site in Rekawa nearby are great for nature lovers, and a trip to the rock temple of Mulkirigala will intrigue visitors.

Located at the mouth of the Mahaweli River, Trincomalee is the main port city of the east coast and is home to a breathtaking natural deep-water harbor, which happens to be the 5th largest in the world. Trincomalee is great for all types of water sports, and also whale-watching in Sri Lanka. It also hosts a number of cultural attractions such as the Thirukoneswaram Kovil in dedication of Lord Shiva and the dagoba that houses the hair-relic of the Buddha.

Another well-liked beach town due to the lush greenery combined with the pale white sands and calm sea. Unawatuna is also a place to catch a glimpse of rare sea turtles, who crawl in to the beach at night to lay their eggs.

Weligama is a busy fishing town that lies 27km from Galle, in an idyllic bay. This bay contains a small island offshore called Taprobane, which can simply be waded to in low tide conditions.  Surf conditions here are great for beginners and amateur surfers all year round, with many surf points within walking distance. Weligama is home to a diverse population of locals spanning several cultures, and this meeting-point of traditions is visibly apparent in the town.