Sri Lanka traditional fishing boats

The Ultimate Guide to Sri Lanka’s South Coast

Stilt fishermen in south Sri Lanka with text overlay Fishing boats on a beach in Sri Lanka with text overlay Galle Fort Lighthouse in Sri Lanka with text overlay Drone photo of coastline in south Sri Lanka with text overlay

The southern coast of Sri Lanka is lined with incredible beaches and towns. Read on for the best things to do in south Sri Lanka!

I’ve split my time between Hong Kong and Sri Lanka over the past five years, and have made down south Sri Lanka my second home. It’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka, and though it can get crazy crowded during the peak season it’s not hard to get off the beaten track if you know where to go. I hope to be able to share my experience on how to plan your time in Sri Lanka’s deep south as well as some insider tips!

Cape Weligama in Sri Lanka drone photo

The southern coast of Sri Lanka is one of the best kept secrets in Asia, though that secret is quickly being revealed as more and more people flock to Ceylon for its tropical beaches, incredible wildlife, rich culture and ancient heritage landmarks. Need more convincing? Read this article on 10 reasons why you need to visit Sri Lanka right now!

Drone shot of Talalla Beach in Southern Province Sri Lanka

Many people either start or end their Sri Lanka itinerary in the south, and it is a wonderful part of the country to explore if you only have 2 or 3 weeks in Sri Lanka.

Baby elephants getting fed at Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe Sri Lanka

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 a few things to add to your itinerary!

Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Check out all of my Sri Lanka travel tips and guides here, or head on over here for a 2 week Sri lanka itinerary!

Helpful things to know before you go to Sri Lanka

Elephant in the middle of the road in Sri Lanka

✈️ 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. Alternatively, you can get a Sri Lankan visa upon arrival at the airport, though lines can be long during the peak season. You can also save yourself some time by filling out the arrival form online as paper forms may not be distributed on your flight.

💱 The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (different from the Indian Rupee), and the official exchange rate varies from approximately 305-330 LKR: 1 USD/Euro or 200 LKR: 1 AUD. The rate continues to fluctuate due to the sudden currency devaluation, so may be different at time of publishing. There are plenty of places to exchange money in Sri Lanka, and there are also ATMs in cities like Colombo and Galle where you can withdraw money.

📱 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. Data is cheap and 3/4G is fairly stable throughout Sri Lanka.

🚗 The best way to travel around Sri Lanka is by car, especially if you are short on time. Most hotels can help you to book a private car and driver to your next destination, but if you are traveling along the southern coast of Sri Lanka your best bet is to simply hop into a tuk tuk or bus from one town to the next.

It’s also possible to rent a scooter in Sri Lanka (ask your hotel as there aren’t scooter rental shops everywhere like in Bali or Laos) but unless you are very confident on a scooter – the roads can be extremely hectic with insane bus drivers, and scooters are not allowed on the highway in Sri Lanka. You should also know that an international driving permit is not sufficient unless it is verified in-country in Colombo – without such verification your travel insurance may not cover any expenses in the event of an accident. If you aren’t able to apply for the endorsement in person in Colombo then we have had a good experience using Rento.LK to secure the AA endorsement on our behalf in the past.

👚 Sri Lanka is unlike some other Asian countries in the sense that it is still relatively modest. The primary religion is Buddhism so be mindful of your attire when you are walking around or visiting a temple. Do not walk through local towns and villages in your swimsuit or skimpy clothes, it is considered very inappropriate. More tips on what NOT to do in Sri Lanka over here.

🌤️ Sri Lanka has a few different climates so you may need to bring a sweatshirt or two if you’re visiting hill country as it can get fairly chilly, but in general the temperature along the south of Sri Lanka is high between 25-32 degrees Celsius (77-90 Fahrenheit).

The best time to visit south Sri Lanka is widely considered to be December to February as the weather tends to be less rainy. The highest average rainfall months in south Sri Lanka tends to be October and November…however, don’t let the “rainy season” stop you from visiting the Sri Lanka south coast – the sea may be slightly rougher, but there are plenty of protected bays to swim in, there are consistent reef breaks to surf at, it tends to rain at night and is sunny during the day, and the entire coastline is a lot less crowded from March to September!

🛏️ There are a plethora of hotel options in south Sri Lanka suiting every budget, but prices tend to be higher than in countries such as India, Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam. You will want to book your accommodation in advance, especially if you are traveling over the peak season. I personally look for comfort, beautiful décor and warm hospitality when I travel – click here for some of the best boutique and luxury hotels to stay at in Sri Lanka.

Visiting Sri Lanka? 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

Surfboards on top of a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka

The Southern Province in Sri Lanka is extremely accessible by car or public transportation. There’s no hard and fast rule but most people consider “down south Sri Lanka” to start from about Unawatuna in the southeast to Tangalle/Hambantota in the southwest.

From Colombo, the drive will take anywhere between 2-4 hours, you can take an express highway bus to Matara or you can take a coastal train that stops in Galle or Matara. A one-way airport transfer to or from the southern coast should cost you anywhere from US$70-120 depending on where you are staying – however, fuel prices are constantly on the up and up in Sri Lanka so don’t be surprised if this rate is higher than expected.

I have used and recommend Andrew’s transportation service. Contact him at +94 776 042 915 via WhatsApp. I’ve also used ACE Cabs in the past to schedule airport pick-ups and drop-offs, and they are responsive over e-mail though their rates can be somewhat confusing – ask for the final rate that includes all highway tolls.

It is also not uncommon for the airport drop off to be slightly cheaper than the airport pick up (as the driver doesn’t need to park and wait with a name board). If you are ending your Sri Lanka trip in the south, it takes about 4 hours by car from Ella to Matara. Once you are in south Sri Lanka, it is relatively easy to travel between towns by car, tuk tuk or bus.

Where to stay in south Sri Lanka

The main tourist towns in south Sri Lanka are Weligama, Mirissa, Galle, Unawatuna and Tangalle. But the beauty of the coast is that there are a plethora of smaller towns and quiet bays for you to stay in, away from the rest of the tourist crowds. Here are some of my favorite hotels in down south Sri Lanka, or you can check out the full list of some of the best boutique hotels in southern Sri Lanka here.

Sam and Lola's Hiriketiya in Sri Lanka Villa Lola details

As it is relatively easy to travel between towns and beaches in southern Sri Lanka, if you only have a few days I would recommend picking 1-2 hotels and venturing out for day trips instead of changing hotels and moving along the coast too frequently.

Talalla Retreat in Sri Lanka

Talalla Retreat is one of the original and best beach hotels in Sri Lanka. It is conveniently located near the southernmost point of Sri Lanka so you can travel east or west for day trips. The rooms, while very basic, are comfortable enough (they offer both air-conditioned as well as open-air options) and the rates are reasonable given it offers a pool as well as easy beach access.

Deluxe villas at Talalla Retreat in Sri Lanka

Talalla Retreat also hosts daily Yoga classes and one-off surf lessons for anyone hoping to try their hand at catching a wave (the beach directly in front of the hotel is not a surfing beach so you will need to hop in a tuk tuk to one of the other south Sri Lanka beaches. I recommend staying at one of the deluxe villa rooms to experience open-air luxury, just be prepared for the occasional visit from a monkey or squirrel! Click here to book your stay at Talalla Retreat!

Sam and Lola's Hiriketiya in Sri Lanka Villa Sam deck and room

Alternatively, independent travelers who are looking for a boutique luxury experience and privacy should look into Sam & Lola’s (my property) in Hiriketiya. The two private villas each feature a private plunge pool and you can easily access two of the most picturesque bays in all of the south – Pehebhiya Beach and Hiriketiya Beach.

This location is also perfect as a base to swing either west towards Galle, or east towards the national parks and Tangalle. You can book via AirBnb here and here.

Anantara Tangalle Pool View

Looking to add a touch of luxury to your Sri Lanka trip? Book a stay at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle, a 5-star property offering beautiful rooms, beach access, incredible dining facilities and wonderful hospitality. Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle is a fantastic place to relax and rejuvenate and is also a great base for day trips around the southern coast or a safari in Yala National Park or Udawalawe National Park, though it is on the western end of the south coast so it will take at least 2 hours to travel to Galle or Unawatuna. Click here to read my full review of the property, or click here to book your stay at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle!

Sri Lanka Shangri La Hambantota Sunset Pool

Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa is probably one of the best beach resorts in Sri Lanka. It is also the largest resort in country at nearly 60 hectares (or 150 acres). Aside from the incredible rooms, the hotel offers a plethora of facilities and activities including a trapeze, trampolines, fitness centre, 18-hole golf course, Ayurveda spa, children’s playroom and cultural artisan village.

As it is on the eastern end of the southern coast I would recommend staying here for 2-4 nights and enjoying the resort life, before moving closer to Talalla, Weligama and Mirissa to explore more of the coastline. Click here to read my full review of the property or click here to book your stay at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa!

Cape Weligama Sri Lanka Moon Pool

I also highly recommend Cape Weligama if you are looking to splurge a little or if you’re celebrating a special occasion. Cape Weligama is owned by Dilmah Tea, a quintessentially Sri Lankan homegrown brand that is no stranger to luxury.

Watching the surfers from the Ocean Terrace at Cape Weligama in Sri Lanka

We absolutely love the warm hospitality at Cape Weligama, and their rooms are elegant, spacious and fabulous. For sun-downers head to one of their sunset viewing platforms, before moseying over to the bar for more cocktails crafted by their award-winning mixologists. Click here to check current rates and availability at Cape Weligama or read my review over here.

For even more options, click here for highly rated hotels in Sri Lanka’s south coast. Make sure you read the reviews and check the proximity to the beach. You’ll also want to ask what the dining options are in and around the hotel and whether it is easy to catch a tuk tuk to get around.

If you are visiting south Sri Lanka during the peak season from December to February and especially over Christmas or New Year’s, make sure you book early because hotels get booked up quickly. Wondering what to do in south Sri Lanka? Read on!

The best things to do in southern Sri Lanka

Fishing boats on Hiriketiya Beach in Sri Lanka

The south coast of Sri Lanka has lots to offer beyond its pristine beaches. To make the most of your stay I recommend spending no fewer than 3-5 days in south Sri Lanka as you will only be scratching the surface!

Stilt fishermen in Ahangama Sri Lanka

It is a perfect repeat destination for those who want a balanced holiday with plenty of time by the beach or pool, followed by cultural and active excursions out and about. Here is what you need to add to your south Sri Lanka itinerary.

1. Surf, surf, surf

Surfing at Hiriketiya Beach in south Sri Lanka

Surfing is one of the best activities to add to your Sri Lanka itinerary, and there are plenty of breaks to suit surfers of all levels. The surf season in south Sri Lanka runs from about October to March when the ocean is glassy, the wind is more offshore and the swell is solid.

Surfers at Hiriketiya beach in south Sri Lanka

You can still surf during the other season, but the ocean can be more dumpy and the waves can be inconsistent. The south coast is home to some of the best surf spots in Sri Lanka and there are a number of surf breaks to suit all levels. The water is warm and you don’t need to wear a wet suit, there are plenty of board rental shops, the water is shark-free and there are plenty of uncrowded breaks.

Surfing at Hiriketiya Beach in South Sri Lanka

If you are looking to learn to surf, there are a number of surf schools in Sri Lanka that are based around this coast – I recommend Talalla Surf which is one of the longest-running and most professional surf camps in Sri Lanka. Their week-long programs run from Sunday to Friday evening/Saturday morning and they limit their group sizes to 5-6 people.

Surfing at Hiriketiya Beach in south Sri Lanka
Photo credit: Talalla Surf & Yoga

If you are looking to go free surfing (i.e. for the occasional surf not with a dedicated surf camp or program), then you have a number of Sri Lanka surf spots to choose from. I recommend checking out Hiriketiya Beach or Weligama Beach for beginner-level surf and one-off surf lessons or board rentals. S.K. Town, Kabalana or Lazy Left’s are great for intermediate-to-advanced surfers.

Advanced surfers looking for reef breaks in the south of Sri Lanka should head to Ram’s, Polhena or Madiha. If you’re serious about surfing I would recommend joining a surf camp in Sri Lanka to check out secret Sri Lanka surf spots.

2. Check out Dondra lighthouse

Sri Lanka Dondra Lighthouse

Dondra Head Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Sri Lanka and sits on the southernmost point of the island. It is 49 metres tall and was constructed in the late 1800s. You used to be able to climb to the top for a small fee, but last I heard it was closed to the public. Still, it is a beautiful lighthouse and an easy stop if you are headed to Gandara Temple or Matara city.

Ready to plan your south Sri Lanka trip? I recommend Cape Weligama, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa and Anantara Tangalle if you’re looking for luxury 5-star properties along the coast. For a beach getaway look into Talalla Retreat (a relaxed wellness retreat with drop-in yoga and surf lessons) or Sam & Lola’s in Hiriketiya (a boutique property offering 1-bedroom pool villas).

3. Visit the Buddhist temples

Paravi Duwa temple in Matara Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country, and there are a number of stunning temple complexes along the south coast. Gandara Temple is a popular one to visit and there are a number of beautiful murals to check out, though it is also home to 2 chained-up elephants that are used for festival processions which is a sad sight to see.

I recommend heading to Paravi Duwa in Matara instead, a “floating” temple connected to the mainland by a short foot bridge.

Wewurukannala Buduraja Maha Viharaya near Dickwella in Sri Lanka

The seated golden Buddha statue at Wewurukannala Buduraja Maha Viharaya near Dickwella town is also worth a quick trip – a small donation is appreciated for entry.

You can also head to Mulgirigala Rock Temple near Tangalle – the complex dates back almost 2,000 years and you must climb up nearly 200 metres of steps to get to the top. The Japanese Peace Pagoda perched high up on a hill between Unawatuna and Galle is also unmissable.

4. Whale watching in Mirissa

Whale watching in Mirissa Sri Lanka
Photo credit: Vladyslav Danilin / Shutterstock

Whale watching is one of the most popular things to do in Mirissa, but there are a few serious caveats if you are looking to go on a whale watching tour in Sri Lanka. It is well-known that most tour operators chase and corner the whales and that the tours can go on and on for anywhere from 4 to 10 hours on a boat.

Blue whale off the coast of Mirissa in Sri Lanka
Glimpse of a blue whale off the coast of Mirissa in Sri Lanka

As is the case with wildlife tours, sightings are not guaranteed and if you are prone to sea sickness (like I am) this is probably not the best option for you.

That being said, if whale watching in Sri Lanka is high on your list of things to do I have heard good things about Raja & the Whales, a local tour company that claims to offer responsible and ethical tours that do not harass the whales. You can read more reviews here and do some additional due diligence. I also recommend Sail Lanka’s catamarans for a more intimate dolphin and whale watching experience (read on).

Mirissa Parrot Rock Sri Lanka

If you’re headed to Mirissa, make sure you check out Parrot Rock, a small rocky outcrop off the main beach, or Coconut Tree Hill – every Instagrammer’s favorite hotspot.

Empty coconut tree hill in Mirissa Sri Lanka

Try to end up at one of the two spots for sunset in Mirissa – both are great places to go to watch the sunset!

5. Hop on a luxury sailing cruise

Sail Lanka luxury catamaran in Sri Lanka

Sail Lanka operates several sailing cruises along the south coast of Sri Lanka aboard their luxury catamarans. If you want to go whale and dolphin watching, opt for their 7 hour morning cruise, or if you just want to watch the dreamy sunset from the ocean then book yourself onto their afternoon sunset cruise.

Sail Lanka luxury catamaran in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka south coast cruises need a minimum number of participants to run and they only run during the peak season (November to April) so be sure to get in touch with them early!

Dolphins off Mirissa in Sri Lanka

It’s a great way to spend the day if you love being on the water, and the group sizes tend to be quite small which means you aren’t jammed onto a whale watching boat with 50 other people. We managed to spot a blue whale and about a dozen dolphins during our trip! Read more about whale watching aboard one of Sail Lanka’s luxury catamaran here.

6. Go on a wildlife safari

Baby elephant in Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka

Going on a wildlife safari is one of the most unique things to do in south Sri Lanka. If you are visiting Sri Lanka’s south coast then I recommend that you plan a visit to Udawalawe National Park or Yala National Park.

Udawalawe National Park Sri Lanka Elephant Wildlife Safari Jeep

Udawalawe National Park is home to hundreds of wild Asian elephants and is one of the best places to see elephants in Sri Lanka, and Yala National Park has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world. If you are visiting either national park, there are some important do’s and don’ts that you should know before your trip.

Yala National Park traffic jam

As tourism grows in Sri Lanka, as does the number of safari jeeps in these parks. Many safari operators can drive irresponsibly, cornering and chasing wild animals in an attempt to ensure that their guests have successful animal sightings – but this is extremely distressing for the wildlife and unsafe for passengers.

Elephant safari in Udawalawe National Park Sri Lanka

I have personally witnessed several jeep-on-jeep accidents in Yala National Park. Please encourage your guide and driver not to chase the animals and keep a safe distance away rather than driving up close.

If you are headed to Udawalawe National Park make sure you also stop by the Elephant Transit Home, an ethical elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka that minimizes human-elephant interaction and releases elephants back into the wild once they turn 5 years old.

Ready to observe some baby elephants in Sri Lanka? Click here to book your stay at Eliyanth Udawalawe (a small riverside boutique hotel in Udawalawe) or check out other highly-rated accommodation options in Udawalawe!

Alternatively, set out on a day trip to Udawalawe National Park from elsewhere along the south coast of Sri Lanka. I have stayed at and recommend Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa and Anantara Tangalle (5-star properties within a 1.5 hour drive of Udawalawe National Park), or Talalla Retreat (a beachfront retreat around 2 hours from Udawalawe). Independent travelers can also consider staying at Sam & Lola’s in Hiriketiya (a boutique property offering two standalone pool villas – bookings via Airbnb only).

7. Tour a tea plantation

Handunugoda Tea Estate in south Sri Lanka

Bet you thought that tea only grew in the mountains of Ella, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy! Sri Lanka’s south is actually home to Handunugoda Tea Estate, about 45 minutes away from Galle.

Handunugoda Tea Estate in south Sri Lanka

The 200-acre estate offers free tours through their plantation as well as factory, and you can learn about how they grow and produce the famous Virgin White tea, a brew made from the tiniest and newest leaves.

Handunugoda Tea Estate in south Sri Lanka

Guided tea plantation visits are available during the week between 8 AM and 4:30 PM, however they may close during certain Sri Lankan holidays such as Sinhalese and Tamil New Year.

8. Spot sea turtles (in the wild)

Turtle hatching in Yala Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s south coast is home to several “sea turtle sanctuaries”. But here’s the truth: the standards of care for wild turtles are not yet well regulated in Sri Lanka, and many places try to pass as a legitimate ethical facility just by sticking the word, “sanctuary”, in their name.

What often happens is that eggs are dug up from the beach and sold to these facilities, and once the turtles hatch tourists are charged a fee to hold and release the baby turtles. Some of the “sanctuaries” that claim to be “more ethical” often still allow you to hold their adult turtles.

There are many problems with interrupting the natural hatching process and touching wildlife – do your due diligence before you support one of these places, and read reviews from other tourists before you go. Here is a good article to read on sea turtle hatcheries in Sri Lanka and also this paper from 2017 which states the following:

“The contribution of turtle hatcheries towards conservation of sea turtles is highly debated, and the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) in Sri Lanka holds the view that management practices of the hatcheries are not conducive to the conservation of sea turtles. The prime motive of the current hatcheries in operation is profit, relying on tourists for their viability.”

I decided to visit one “turtle conservation project” in Koggala so that I could verify the reviews and provide a first-hand account of what really goes on at these turtle sanctuaries in southern Sri Lanka. We paid 500 Rupees per person as an entrance fee, and was given a quick tour of the single-room facility.

The guide introduced the various turtle species and showed us a few of the resident turtles – he claimed that the turtles that live long-term at the facility are all injured and could not survive in the wild, and that any turtles that have recovered from injuries are released back into the ocean. There were a few turtles that had lost limbs due to accidents, and while the water in their tanks looked clean, the concrete tanks are extremely small.

Turtle sanctuary in south Sri Lanka

What truly bothered me was a few red flags – there is clear signage saying not to touch the turtles, yet the guide (and other tourists) constantly picked up the turtles or touched their shells. He even tried to put turtles in our hands a few times and we declined.

Next, the guide had told us that hatchlings are only released during the evening to increase their chance of survival when the predators are not around. However, when we asked at the reception area we were told that hatchlings are released throughout the day, and that it would cost 1500 Rupees to release 1 baby turtle.

Turtle sanctuary in south Sri Lanka

Finally, although we had paid a 500 Rupee entrance fee each (approximately US$3, which is cheap as chips and I’m happy to pay it if it goes towards the operation of a legitimate sanctuary), it wasn’t long before the guide asked us for a tip.

Given the research results and lack of transparency as well as mixed messages from the facility, I can not recommend that you visit a turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka – at least not until more oversight and regulations are in place. I also recommend reading this article on hatcheries in Sri Lanka.

Caged turtle nest on a beach in Sri Lanka

The good news is, many places along the coast (such as Anantara Tangalle) put up cages to keep the eggs safe until they hatch, and you often don’t need to pay a fee to go see them as all beaches in Sri Lanka are public.

There are also a number of wild sea turtles in Unawatuna bay, Dickwella beach and Hikkaduwa that come in daily as they are frequently fed by tourists (sigh). I would encourage you not to touch wildlife and simply observe them from a distance.

Ready to book your south Sri Lanka holiday? For 5-star luxury options check out Cape Weligama, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa and Anantara Tangalle. For a laid-back beach retreat check out Talalla Retreat, or base yourself in Hiriketiya for a few days – we run Sam & Lola’s (named after our dogs!) and offer two standalone pool villas within walking distance from lots of fantastic restaurants and cafes.

9. Visit Galle Fort

Galle Fort Lighthouse in Sri Lanka

Galle Fort is one of the most famous places in Sri Lanka and a great day trip destination. Spend a day wandering through the fort and walking along the walls dating back to the 16th century.

Pedlar Street in Galle Fort Sri lanka

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a good place to pick up souvenirs for friends and family, and is also home to the beautiful Galle Fort Lighthouse surrounded by palm trees.

Fort Printers Main Entrance Galle Sri Lanka

If you have more time in the region, stay overnight in the fort at one of the restored heritage buildings – we loved the Fort Printers. There are also several excellent day spas in Galle Fort: I recommend Spa Ceylon for an incredible full-body massage. Head on over here to read my full guide to visiting Galle Fort!

10. Practice Yoga

Yogawinetravel Strength & Serenity Yoga Retreat in Sri Lanka

Though Yoga in Sri Lanka is not as ubiquitous as in other places like Bali or India, there are a growing number of yoga retreats in Sri Lanka that you can join.

Sri lanka yoga retreat

Alternatively, many places along Sri Lanka’s south coast offer 75-90 minute drop-in Yoga classes at approximately US$15 a pop.

Yoga at Salt House Sri Lanka

Look into Yoga classes at Sri Yoga Shala, Talalla Retreat, Jamu Surf Lodge, Dot’s Bay House (Dot’s Workshop), Salt House, Serene Villa and Jasper House.

11. Go beach hopping

Hiriketiya Beach in Southern Sri Lanka

Exploring the sandy coastline is one of the best things to do in south Sri Lanka. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka, and the entire southern coastline is just beach after each after beach.

Unakuruwa Beach in south Sri Lanka

However, don’t just stick to the famous beaches in Sri Lanka like Mirissa or Weligama as they tend to get crowded, especially during the peak season. Some of the best beaches in south Sri Lanka are undeveloped and unnamed, and it’s not uncommon to have an entire stretch to yourself.

Polhena Beach in southern Sri Lanka

I recommend checking out Talalla Beach, Madiha Beach, Pehebiya Beach (one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka IMHO) or Kadolana Beach. If you’re after a beach with lots of restaurants and facilities, head to the horseshoe-shaped Hiriketiya Beach, which used to be a quiet paradise 5 years ago, but is now a fairly well-known beach in down south Sri Lanka.

Jungle Beach in Unawatuna Sri Lanka

You may also have heard about “Jungle Beach” in Unawatuna, as it is hyped up to be a secret beach in Sri Lanka. My personal recommendation would be to skip it as it gets pretty busy and is very small – it’s not as “secret” as you may be led to believe.

Blue Beach Island Nilwella Sri Lanka drone photo

Another hidden beach in southern Sri Lanka is Blue Beach Island. This tombolo can be found in the fishing village of Nilwella, about 20 minutes away from Hiriketiya. It is a popular camping spot and you can walk to the rocky outcrop during low tide.

Blue Beach Island Nilwella Sri Lanka drone photo

You might want to consider visiting some other beaches in the region as well during your trip – read more about some of the top beaches in southern Sri Lanka!

Beach clean up in Sri Lanka

Though beaches in Sri Lanka are generally clean, there is an increasing amount of trash – why not take part in a beach clean or pick up some rubbish? Some hotels will offer a bag for you to pick up trash, and many places also organize beach cleans a few times throughout the year.

Here is a community that organizes beach cleans in Sri Lanka – check out their Instagram for upcoming meet-ups, or simply do your own small part.

Wondering where to stay in south Sri Lanka? Consider staying in and around Dickwella, Talalla, Matara or Madiha for an easy base about mid-way along the coast. Ahangama is also a popular option a little further along the eastern end of south Sri Lanka. For 5-star luxury options check out Cape Weligama, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa and Anantara Tangalle. For a laid-back beach retreat check out Talalla Retreat, or base yourself in Hiriketiya bay (in Dickwella) for a few days – check out Sam & Lola’s for standalone pool villas within walking distance from lots of fantastic restaurants and cafes.

12. See the Sri Lankan stilt fishermen

Stilt fishermen in southern Sri Lanka 1

The stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka are one of the most iconic symbols of southern Sri Lanka. Once upon a time, the tradition was passed from father to son, but as time went by more people shifted to fishing boats because it was easier to fish that way.

Stilt fishermen in southern Sri Lanka

These days, you rarely see any true Sri Lankan stilt fishermen – most are there simply for the photo opportunity. Still, it’s a unique cultural tradition to witness, and I still encourage you to check out one of the stilt fishermen spots in southern Sri Lanka.

Stilt fishermen in southern Sri Lanka

There are a few dotted along the coast from Koggala through Ahangama and Midigama, and there are often at least a handful of fishermen at each spot during the peak season from December to February. This is one of the popular stilt fishermen photo spots in Ahangama.

Sri Lanka stilt fishermen

You will have to pay to take photos (which kills the magic a little but this is the norm now) – anywhere from 500-1500 Rupees is standard. If you’re lucky, you can very occasionally see actual, “real” stilt fishermen around Polhena, Madiha or Talpe.

13. Visit the Tsunami Honganji Viharaya

Tsunami Honganji Viharaya near Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka

The heart-wrenching Tsunami Honganji Viharaya near Hikkaduwa is a memorial to the thousands of people who lost their lives during the tsunami that wrecked the Sri Lankan coast in 2004. There is a small photography museum next to the statue that is free to visit, and donations are welcome to help support the children and families whose lives were affected by the disaster. An advance warning: the photos are extremely graphic and can be painful to view, but gives you some insight into the sheer devastation inflicted on the community and the resilience of the Sri Lankan people.

14. Go on a river safari

Located near the ancient Silk Road is the Walawe River which originates at Adam’s Peak in hill country and winds its way down to Ambalantota (near Hambantota) in south Sri Lanka.

You can go on a relaxing jungle river safari through lush mangroves and potentially spot birds, plants, mammals and even the occasional crocodile. Birdwatching enthusiasts will love the opportunity to see serpent eagles, kingfishers, peacocks and peahens and more.

Planning to go on a river safari or kayak through the mangroves? Look no further than Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa and Anantara Tangalle. Shangri-La Hambantota is located a short bicycle ride from the river safari entrance, and you can go kayaking in the mangroves near Rekawa or at Mawella Lagoon near Anantara Tangalle.

15. Visit a pool club

Palm Hotel Pavilion in Ahangama Sri Lanka

If you’re looking for a lazy day by the pool then book a day pass to Palm Hotel’s pavilion and restaurant. The industrial-meets-tropical hotel is open to a limited number of outside guests who are not staying at Palm.

Palm Hotel Pavilion in Ahangama Sri Lanka

You can spend the afternoon lounging by their pool and sipping on cocktails underneath the swaying palm trees – the cost of the day pass is deductible against your F&B bill.

Belika Beach Club in Nilwella Sri Lanka

We also love Belika Beach Club, a laid-back pool club and restaurant on the fringe of Hiriketiya. The cloud-shaped pool is divine on a sunny day, and the crêpes and coffee are very tasty. Belika is open to outside guests between 8 AM and 6 PM every day.

Belika Beach Club in Nilwella Sri Lanka

Another popular option is Kurumba Bay in Weligama, a multi-purpose beachfront space with several restaurants, bars, shops and pool. Heading to a pool club in south Sri Lank is a great option if your hotel doesn’t happen to have its own pool, or if you just want a change of scenery.

Ready to book your stay in southern Sri Lanka? Here are some of the best boutique hotels in the area, or click here to see more options in Sri Lanka’s southern coast!

Where to eat in south Sri Lanka

Street art in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

Looking for a great meal and fab drinks in southern Sri Lanka? Here are a few of my favorite places to grab a bite and sip on a cocktail.

Sugar in Galle Fort: Consistently fantastic grub within the fort, and service is always on point. They have a number of Western and Sri Lankan menu options – the pumpkin soup with garlic chips is incredibly tasty!

Mango margarita at Zephyr Kamburugamuwa in Sri Lanka

Zephyr in Kamburugamuwa: Zephyr restaurant is located just between Mirissa and Matara town. This beachfront restaurant has an extensive menu and killer cocktails. Don’t get confused between this one and the Zephyr at Kurumba Bay in Weligama – the one in Weli is a bar only whereas this is their full dining establishment.

Cape Weligama Hotel in Weligama: Cape Weligama is one of the best luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, and one night there will set you back nearly US$800 during the peak season. The good news is, their restaurants and bars are open to outside guests (but make sure you call ahead), and the cocktails and alcoholic beverages are very reasonably priced. They serve the most incredible food, and is one of my favorite places to go for sunset drinks and a delicious meal.

The Nook in Dondra: The on-site restaurant serves up a lovely brunch and dinner (might not always be open for dinner, so check ahead). The breakfast bagel and smoothie bowl is fantastic.

Bacuzzi in Dickwella: For a laid back, authentic Italian meal head to Bacuzzi, located right across the road from Hiriketiya Beach. We loved the woodfired pizza and the saffron cream pasta was a surprise hit.

Smoke & Bitters in Dickwella: Quite possibly my new favourite dinner location in the south – Smoke & Bitters serves up incredibly tasty Asian-inspired dishes and killer cocktails. Make sure you make a reservation as it is often fully-booked.

Breakfast at Verse Collective in southern Sri Lanka

Verse Collective in Dickwella: Verse is a beachfront hostel/restaurant run by two of the most lovely South Africans. The coffee is on point, and the menu just keeps getting better. If you’re craving some avocado on toast or a tasty chickpea curry this is the place to be, they also recently built a radical teppanyaki area so make sure you book ahead for a seat at the grill.

Salt House in Dickwella: Salt House is a great place to go for lunch or a casual dinner. The coffee is strong, and the fish burger is delicious. Salt House also offers drop-in Yoga classes by the bay if you’re looking to practice some asanas.

Hoppers from Dunis Hoppers in Hiriketiya Sri Lanka

Duni’s Hoppers in Hiriketiya: A small roadside stall serving up scrumptious Sri Lankan hoppers – with a twist! We love the pink beetroot-infused hoppers and the smoothie bowls.

Bahia Cafe in Hiriketiya: Formerly known as Grove, Bahia is the new kid on the block and has a fantastic breakfast and lunch menu. Try the rosti or B.L.A.T (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato) sandwich, or dive straight into the fish tacos.

La Playa on Hiriketiya Beach in Sri Lanka

La Playa in Hiriketiya: This stunning beachfront restaurant in Hiriketiya is the hippest new joint in town. We loved their sourdough pizzas and the team is preparing a new cocktail menu. Perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Ceylon Sliders in Ahangama: This is the brand new sister restaurant of their original location in Weligama. Ceylon Sliders in Ahangama is right on the beach with a diverse food and cocktail menu – mostly western options but the location can’t be beat.

The Doctors House in Polhena Sri Lanka

The Doctor’s House in Madiha: The Doctor’s House is a seriously fun place to hang out for sunset cocktails and a chilled-out dinner. TDH serves up a mean pizza with their on-site pizza oven, and also has an amazing happy hour. For a more refined dining experience head to their brand-new restaurant, “The Upstairs”.

The Kip in Ahangama: The Kip is the place to go for a healthy yet delicious brunch. Try the pink smoothie bowl and breakfast burger, and wash it all down with an cashew milk iced coffee.

Sunset view from Lighthouse Ahangama in south Sri Lanka

Lighthouse Ahangama: For quite possibly the best sunset view in south Sri Lanka head straight to this rooftop bar at Lighthouse Ahangama boutique hotel.

Mr. M Rooftop in Ahangama: For special occasions book yourself into sunset cocktails at Mr. M Rooftop within Harding Boutique Hotel. You’ll love their happy hour deal and the sweeping views.

Coffee at Black Honey Cafe in Ahangama Sri Lanka

Black Honey Cafe in Ahangama: Tucked away from the main road is this brand new cafe concept. With award-winning flat whites and a killer brunch menu, you’ll find yourself spending a lazy Sunday morning here.

Ready to visit Sri Lanka’s deep south? You might also like these guides:

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  1. Hi, thanks for an excellent post! Planning to go for Sri Lanka this Nov/Dec for my 40th and base it around Kandy for about 4 days and the South for about 6. Lots of info about the South, thanks 🙂
    Need to decide exactly when to go – is it already crowded in the first 2 weeks of December?

    1. Hi Thea, the tourism levels have been lower this year than in the past, so you should be fine. I still encourage you to book accommodation in advance, especially for boutique hotels as they tend to have a small number of rooms on offer. Enjoy your trip!

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