The south coast is home to some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. Here are some you won’t want to miss!
The palm-fringed southern coast of Sri Lanka is lined with beach after beach, and the island is quickly becoming recognized as one of the top beach destinations in Asia. While some beaches in south Sri Lanka are busier and more popular than others, it isn’t hard to find quiet, uncrowded, unnamed sandy stretches away from the crowds.
If you are visiting Sri Lanka for 1 or 2 weeks I highly recommend setting aside a few days to explore the coast, lounge on the beach or try your hand at surfing in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Here are some of the best beaches in southern Sri Lanka to visit!
Although this region is home to some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, the south coast has a lot to offer beyond its sandy coastline – here are some other things you’ll want to do in south Sri Lanka!
Best time to visit south Sri Lanka
You’ll often hear that the best time to visit south Sri Lanka is from December to February as this is the “dry season” and there tends to be less rain during these months. However, don’t let the “rainy season” stop you from visiting southern Sri Lanka from May to October: the sea may be slightly rougher and there may be occasional rainstorms, but there are many protected and sheltered bays to swim in as well as surf breaks that still work during this season. Very rarely does it rain for days on end, and more often than not there are still windows of sunshine throughout the day.
The entire southern coastline is less crowded from March to September, and most visitors tend to visit the same spots – all you have to do is think outside the box and venture away from the more famous beaches to experience what a pristine paradise Sri Lanka is! In my opinion, South Sri Lanka is a year-round destination – however, for the most consistent weather and fewer crowds you might want to consider visiting during the shoulder season from March to May and September to November.
Visiting Sri Lanka for the first time? Click here for the full list of 12 things you should know before your trip to Sri Lanka as well as 15 things you should NOT do if you’re visiting the island!
How to get to south Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s “deep south” (from about Galle/Unawatuna in the southwest to Tangalle/Hambantota in the southeast) is extremely accessible by car or public transportation. From Colombo, the drive will take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours via the southern expressway or coastal road.
A one-way airport transfer to or from the south coast will cost you anywhere from 25,000-30,000 LKR (Note: as of 2023 these rates may have increased due to fuel scarcity and price increases) depending on where you are headed. You can either hire an airport taxi upon arrival, or ask your hotel to arrange airport pick-up and drop-off – I do not recommend renting a car in Sri Lanka as the roads can be hectic, and an additional local endorsement/permit is required on top of the standard International Driving Permit.
To get between towns along the coast, it’s easy to get around by tuk tuk (three-wheelers), public bus or private cars. It is also possible to rent a scooter but it’s best to ask hotel staff to see if they can arrange it for you – unlike countries like Thailand, Laos or Indonesia where scooter rental shops are aplenty, private scooter rentals are far more common in Sri Lanka. I also would only recommend driving a scooter in Sri Lanka if you have a valid International Driving Permit that covers motorcycles and are extremely confident with your driving skills – traffic and crazy driving down south is no joke!
The best beaches in south Sri Lanka
1. Madiha Beach
Madiha is a small town close to the city of Matara with a growing number of beach cafes and restaurants. While Madiha Beach is the village’s namesake beach, it can disappear during high tide and the sand doesn’t always fill in properly.
Instead, head further west to some of the unnamed beaches in Madiha where you’ll find some fantastic little rock pools. We love this one in front of coffeePoint (now closed but the location is still accurate on Google Maps) – it’s one of the best secret beaches in Sri Lanka! These days you can head to the nearby Swell Cafe instead for your morning joe.
2. Talalla Beach
Talalla Beach is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka – it stretches along for more than a kilometre which means it’s not hard to find a quiet, secluded spot all to yourself. Somehow, it’s one of the rare sandy beaches in southern Sri Lanka that has (so far) managed to stay relatively undeveloped and free of towering megahotel structures.
One of the best things to do is to wake up early and watch the local fishermen push their fishing boats out to sea in the mornings, or stroll along the entire length of the beach to watch the sunset.
Where to stay: Talalla Retreat is the largest beach resort on Talalla Beach with an on-site restaurant, spa and daily Yoga classes. The rooms are basic but the location is fantastic, and the hotel provides job opportunities for people from the local village. There is also a pool so you can switch it up from swimming in the ocean. Click here to check current rates and availability at Talalla Retreat!
I also highly recommend Villa Talay (formerly named Zephyr Talalla), a boutique 4-bedroom beachfront villa with spacious rooms and on-site restaurant. The small boutique hotel is often booked up, so book early to avoid disappointment. Click here to check current rates and availability at Villa Talay!
3. Hiriketiya Beach
The stunning horseshoe-shaped bay has quickly become one of the top beaches in Sri Lanka, and it’s not hard to see why. The bay is fairly protected from wind and swell throughout the year, which makes it a wonderful swimming spot all year round. Hiriketiya Beach also offers a number of waves that are suitable for beginner-to-intermediate surfers through the middle, and a left-hand point break that is perfect for intermediate-to-advanced surfers.
There are a number of surfboard rental shops on the beach and a plethora of restaurants and cafes around the bay – we love Bahia, Salt House, Verse Collective, Smoke & Bitters, Mond and Malu. It’s easy to get around on foot around Hiriketiya and to Dickwella town, which is why many people choose to base themselves here for a few days and venture out for day trips. Read my insider’s guide to Hiriketiya and how to be a mindful traveler when visiting this little slice of paradise.
Where to stay: Check out Sam & Lola’s (my property) in Hiriketiya! The twin private villas each feature a private plunge pool and you can easily reach Hiriketiya Beach on foot in just 2-3 minutes’ time, or walk over to the neighbouring Pehebhiya Beach to catch one of Sri Lanka’s stunning sunsets. You can check availability and rates here, or book via AirBnb here and here.
4. Pehebhiya Beach
Pehebhiya Beach (sometimes also referred to as Pehembiya Beach) is on the other side of the headland from Hiriketiya Beach. It is a long sandy beach that eventually turns into Dickwella Beach, but the Pehebhiya section closest to Hiriketiya Bay is far quieter and less crowded than its more famous neighbour.
Many people flock to Hiriketiya without realizing that there is an equally beautiful beach just next door – in my opinion, Pehebhiya Beach is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka and also one of the top spots to watch the sunset on the south coast.
Because Pehebhiya Beach is fairly shallow it is not suitable for surfing, but its waters are crystal clear during the peak season from December to February.
These days, the beach is full of small locally-operated shacks offering sunbeds and tables for rent – we love to perch up for the afternoon with a cold king coconut.
It’s one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka for children as the water is usually clean with few rocks on the sandy bottom, and the waves are much smaller – the bay is an active fishing beach and we love watching the fishermen at dusk.
The hanging rope swing is no longer there (as of October 2023), but there are a number of smaller wooden swing structures on Pehebhiya Beach that you can hop on.
5. Mirissa Beach
Mirissa is one of the original tourist towns in Sri Lanka, which also means that it is incredibly busy during the peak tourist season. Mirissa Beach offers lots of little beach shacks where food and drinks are served, and places where you can rent snorkeling gear. Don’t miss Parrot Rock, the little tombolo that sits off the edge of the beach – you can climb up for sweeping sunset views.
It is of course also home to the famous Coconut Tree Hill, a pointy headland featuring dozens of swaying, you guessed it, coconut trees.
Mirissa Beach is fantastic if you’re looking for a backpacker vibe as it’s always buzzing with activity and events, but perhaps trek over to the not-so-secret “Secret Beach” in Mirissa for a more laid back lounging experience.
6. Weligama Beach
Weligama Beach is one of the most popular surfing spots in Sri Lanka, with surf school after surf school up and down the sandy beach. Like Mirissa, Weligama town embraced visitors very early on, so offers many restaurants and well-established tourist infrastructure.
The beach is almost always crowded with up to a hundred surfers learning to surf in white water (broken waves), or you could easily walk a hundred metres up the beach where only the local fishermen park their fishing boats.
That’s the beauty of traveling around Sri Lanka – it’s never difficult to get away from the crowds!
Where to stay: While there are plenty of accommodation options near Weligama Beach, I recommend checking out Cape Weligama instead if your budget allows – it’s one of the best luxury hotels in Sri Lanka with top notch facilities and hospitality. It also features one of the most spectacular infinity pools in all of Sri Lanka: a crescent-shaped “Moon Pool” that drapes over the headland and offers panoramic views of the coast. Click here to check current rates and availability at Cape Weligama or read my Cape Weligama hotel review here.
7. Unakuruwa Beach
Unakuruwa Beach near Tangalle (not to be confused with Unawatuna Beach) is a lesser-known sheltered bay that is reminiscent of how Hiriketiya Beach looked 4-5 years ago. It is still relatively under-the-radar among visitors to Sri Lanka, but growing in popular among avid surfers who love the right-hand point break here.
8. Unawatuna Beach
I have a love-hate relationship with Unawatuna Beach – it can be painfully crowded and isn’t always the most pristine beach in Sri Lanka, but golden shores hold a certain, undeniable appeal.
Even the most crowded beach in Sri Lanka is nothing compared to the densely-packed beaches elsewhere in Asia. Unawatuna Beach is the launch spot for many diving operators so if you are an avid diver (Sri Lanka has some excellent wreck diving!) then head to this popular beach.
9. Jungle Beach
Who doesn’t love finding a “secret beach”? Jungle Beach is on the other side of the headland from Unawatuna Beach and is one of those not-so-secret secret beaches in Sri Lanka.
The tiny beach can only be reached on foot and requires a little trek in order to get there, or Sail Lanka’s luxury catamarans occasionally anchor here as well for guests to hop off for a cooling swim. Sea turtles are often found swimming in this little bay, so bring some snorkels or rent some at the beach!
10. Kabalana Beach
Kabalana Beach is sometimes considered to be one of the best kept secrets in south Sri Lanka. It doesn’t have the same “brand name” as Mirissa or Weligama, but this long sandy beach in Ahangama is perfect for a quiet beach vacation. There are a number of straw cabanas and beach lounges available for rental, and some small shacks selling king coconuts and fruit juices where you can rehydrate. Surfers can head out to “The Rock” surf point which can offer waves that peel off on either side.
There’s also limited parking by the side of the road where you can park a car or scooter, or ask your tuk tuk driver to wait for you or pick you up.
11. Dalawella Beach
Also sometimes referred to as “Wijaya Beach”, Dalawella Beach is perhaps the most Instagram famous beach in all of Sri Lanka thanks to thousands of photos of people swinging on rope dangling from towering coconut trees, and also the uniquely-shaped “Ship Rock” which people love to climb up.
The beach is just south of Unawatuna Beach and is fairly protected from the swell thanks to a wall of reef in front of the coast. There are some rocks and reef but is a fairly good option for families traveling with small children.
The famous rope swing in Sri Lanka can be found in front of Dream Cabana just behind Ship Rock, or head to the other end of Dalawella Beach and there’s another less-crowded option in front of Jasmine Inn. You will have to pay a few hundred Rupees for a go on one of the rope swings.
12. Tangalle Beach
Tangalle Beach on the eastern end of south Sri Lanka is a laid back, long beach with a number of beach resorts lining its shores. Like Talalla Beach, the current at Tangalle Beach can be extreme and the riptides can make sections of the beach unsafe to swim in though you can still jump in for a dip. The quiet beach makes it the perfect place for early morning and golden afternoon strolls!
Where to stay: Just up the road from Tangalle Beach is the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort. This sprawling luxury resort offers several pools, a number of excellent on-site restaurants and wonderful Sri Lankan hospitality. Though it does not offer direct access to Tangalle Beach it does offer access to a smaller beach directly in front of the resort. Click here to check current rates and availability at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle or read my full Anantara Tangalle hotel review here.
13. SK Town Beach
SK Town Beach (also known as Meddawatta Beach) is best known for being a surf haven in south Sri Lanka. The long beach break offers a countless number of peaks that are perfect for intermediate to advanced surfers, and I’ve personally had some of my most thrilling surf sessions out here.
Even if you are not an avid surfer SK Town Beach is an amazing sunset spot and you can go for leisurely walks up and down the coastline.
14. The beach in front of Yakinige Duuwa
Yakinige Duuwa is a small rocky outcrop off the coast of Midigama. The reefy tombolo that connects the rock island to the mainland is a popular snorkeling spot and surfers often visit to make the most of the left handers that peel off the rock.
This little sliver of unnamed beach is a secluded little spot that isn’t frequented by the crowds. There are no shops or stalls here so you’ll need to bring your own supplies!
15. Mawella Beach
Mawella Beach located between Hiriketiya and Tangalle is a sweeping golden-sand beach. The classic Sri Lankan coastline is home to dozens upon dozens of traditional fishing boats that are docked here.
Much like Talalla Beach, it generally is a safe swimming beach in Sri Lanka with crystal clear water and fairly minimal swell – though you will always want to be cautious of rips.
For a touch of luxury head to Halcyon Mawella, a boutique hotel right on Mawella Beach – their cocktails are divine and the food is well worth the journey!
Essential tips for visiting beaches in south Sri Lanka
- Beaches in Sri Lanka are open to the public, which means that there is no such thing as a private beach in Sri Lanka (with the exception of some restricted beaches situated near naval and military bases).
- Many beaches get extremely busy around public holidays in Sri Lanka, and it’s not uncommon for groups of men to get intoxicated and rowdy during full moon days (Poya) and hang out on beaches. I don’t recommend provoking these men, especially if it’s obvious that they are drunk.
- It is rare for beaches in Sri Lanka to have changing rooms or shower/toilet facilities. Some beaches have small restaurants and beach shacks set up on them, and you can use their facilities with a small purchase of food or a drink.
- Always keep a close eye on your belongings, as you would anywhere else in the world.
- If you spot a wild turtle, turtle nest or hatching in progress, leave it alone! The best thing to do is to stand back and observe without using any sort of flashlight or camera flash, and do not feed the wild animals.
- Sri Lanka is still considered conservative – while it is fine to wear a bikini on the beach make sure you cover up when you leave and walk on the main roads or in local villages.
- Leave no trace – take all of your trash with you.
- Wear reef-safe sunscreen whenever possible to avoid harming the fragile reef in Sri Lanka.
- Some beaches in south Sri Lanka can be very rocky or have sharp reef with the occasional sea urchin – be careful where you step.
- The Indian Ocean is not always wonderfully calm, and there can be strong rips – these can be very dangerous even if you are a confident swimmer. If you are caught in a riptide, stay calm and float on your back or tread water until the rip dies out – the worst thing you can do is to try to fight the current and swim against the riptide.
Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here are some quick logistics must-knows:
✈️ To get into Sri Lanka by air you will fly into Bandaranaike International Airport (airport code: CMB).
🛂 Most visitors will need to apply for a Sri Lanka e-visa (except for nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles) but can be done online. It usually takes 24-48 hours for the visa approval to come through via e-mail. You can also get a Sri Lankan visa upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport.
💱 The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (different from the Indian Rupee), and the official exchange rate currently varies from approximately 300-330 LKR: 1 USD/Euro or 200 LKR: 1 AUD. Exchange some money upon arrival or withdraw some from ATMs in major cities like Colombo and Galle.
📱 Local SIM cards and data packages can be picked up at the airport. You can buy a 30-day Sri Lanka SIM card from Mobitel here (the booth is located in the arrivals hall after you pick up your luggage) and top it up during your stay at any Food City supermarket or local Mobitel shop.
👚 The primary religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism, so be mindful of your attire when you visit temples. While there is no strict dress code it can be considered culturally offensive to walk around towns and villages wearing extremely revealing outfits – the same goes for men and women. Read more on what not to do in Sri Lanka here.
💵 In general there is no need to tip if your hotel or restaurant has included a service charge. However, a small tip is always appreciated by people in the service industry (such as porters, housekeeping staff, waiters etc.) and tuk tuk drivers.
🛏️ There are a variety of hotel options suiting every budget: budget hotels can cost anywhere from US$30-50/night, mid-range hotels from US$75-120/night and luxury hotels from US$150-200/night and upwards. l always recommend booking hotels in advance when you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, as popular hotels fill up quickly – click here for some of the best tried-and-tested boutique and luxury hotels to stay at in Sri Lanka or explore more Sri Lanka hotel options here.
You might also find these guides helpful:
- Visiting Sri Lanka for the first time? Here are some important things to know before your trip to Sri Lanka
- And here are some common Sri Lanka travel mistakes to avoid
- The south coast has a lot to offer beyond its sandy coastline – here are some top things to do in down south Sri Lanka
- Ready to plan your epic Sri Lanka trip? Here is a recommended classic 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary and express 1 week Sri Lanka itinerary to get you started
- For even more Sri Lanka tips and guides head on over here
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