6 of the very best beaches in Sri Lanka

As Sri Lanka’s status as a world travel destination grows, more and more visitors are flocking to the island’s tropical shores. After a long civil war, Sri Lanka is safe once more and travellers from across the world are waking up to the island nation’s world-class cuisine, history and culture. It’s no wonder that Sri Lanka is gaining a reputation as one of the globe’s fastest growing holiday spots. Yet for most travellers to this country, one question takes priority over all others: where are the best beaches in Sri Lanka?

Although not breathtaking in the same picture-postcard way as the nearby Maldives, the beaches of Sri Lanka are truly stunning in their own right. Visitors can expect warm, turquoise waters and powdery sand across the island, with a handful of beaches offering the fabled white sand that so many look for in a tropical paradise.

Currents and winds can be strong in Sri Lanka, which is why the island is famed for it’s quality surfing. Yet there are still plenty of sheltered spots where the waves often amount to little more than a ripple upon the shore, ideal for the relaxed visitor.

Another big plus of Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches is the opportunity to snorkel or scuba-dive with sea-turtles, sharks and even whales. Due to the island’s position in the Indian Ocean, diving tends to be seasonal.

October to May is the high season for diving on the west and south coasts, and May to October the optimum time to experience the island’s north-east coast.

The far left end of the beach is home to Parrot Rock and this is where much of Mirissa beach’s activity is for the sportier visitor.

Mirissa Beach - An all-round beach that won't disappoint

  • When to go: December – March is the high season when the South coast is warmest.
    April – September the weather is still great and prices are cheaper than in high season.
  • When NOT to go: October – November is the monsoon period.
  • Where is it? On Sri Lanka’s south coast. Close to Unawatuna (see map below).
  • Ideal for: All types of traveller really.
  • Sand and water: Golden soft sand. Clear waters which can get choppy from time to time depending on winds and current.
  • TripAdvisor sentiment: 4.5/5 – Mirissa takes plenty of praise from users who rate the beaches perfect blend of development and traditional Sri Lankan charm.
  • Our rating: 5/5 – Possibly the very best beach in Sri Lanka, Mirissa beach is a real crowd pleaser. Young or old, poor or posh; Mirissa ticks all of the boxes.

A sleepy little town right at the very tip of Sri Lanka’s South coast, Mirissa is quickly gaining a name for itself as the nation’s very best beach. Not only is it staggeringly beautiful, yet Mirissa is still to fall under the spell of overdevelopment such as the South coast’s other two big favourites; Unawatuna and Bentota.

That said, things are gaining momentum quickly in Mirissa. The sooner you visit the more likely you will get a taste of just why people love this gorgeous beach so much. Whether its the famous whale-watching tours, a day spent surfing, or simply enjoying the famous sunset, Mirissa is a true delight for all who come to stay.

Whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

The far left end of the beach is home to Parrot Rock and this is where much of Mirissa beach’s activity is for the sportier visitor. Snorkelling and surfing are extremely popular around this rocky section of the beach (the rest of the beach is rock-free, so perfect for swimming!), just be careful of the strong currents that are known to switch at any moment.

There’s plenty of accommodation at Mirissa, another reason this is truly one of Sri Lanka’s best beaches. These are all of the guesthouse type yet range from a simple shack with a mosquito net and a fan right up to push options complete with linen bedsheets and room service.

What you should know about the whale watching tours

Mirissa, Sri Lanka

When it comes to whale watching tours in Mirissa, I strongly recommend you do it only between the months of December to mid-March, when the waters are calm and thus the chance for sighting is much higher as well as the experience being much better. The official (boat) tours, which start early in the morning, come at around 6000-6500 rupiees per person (adult). If it would happen that you do not spot any whales, most of the tours offer a 50% refund policy or a next-day free tour.

In between sun-worshipping, snorkelling, surfing or any other of the many activities, travellers can grab a bite to eat at one of several beach-restaurants (note you can get your feet easily wet as the waves come in) serving fresh seafood and delicious smoothies made with local tropical fruits like coconut, pineapple and papaya.

To reach Mirissa, visitors should first head to Weligama which is just to the north of this idyllic beach settlement. From there, taking quick bus into town from the main terminal is very simple.

The best time to visit Mirissa, as with the rest of Sri Lanka’s southern region, is from September to April. Rains are rare and the sun is at it’s hottest at this time of year.

In the morning, the water is so calm that it’s almost like a pond.

Mirissa’s popularity is growing all of the time, so its probably a good idea to visit either in the earlier or later months of the season to really enjoy the calm ambience that the beach does so well.

Around Christmas and New Year both the town and beach can get very busy indeed, with prices doubling and even trebling in some areas. That said, Mirissa is still a cheaper option than nearby Unawatuna beach.

Unawatuna beach: with clear turquoise waters lapping gently upon white sand and lazy-looking palms providing shade from the sun, this really is everything that a tropical beach should be, and much more besides.

Unawatuna Beach - A tropical paradise with strikingly clear waters

  • When to go: December – April (high seasons) when the South coast is driest and warmest. To avoid the crowds, try to go in the shoulder season of July – September.
  • When NOT to go: May – June and October – November see monsoons come to the area.
  • Where is it? On Sri Lanka’s south coast, which is popular and very easily accessible (see map below).
  • Sand and water: Powdery sand with crystalline turquoise water.
  • Ideal for: Families and couples.
  • TripAdvisor sentiment: 4/5 – Although undoubtedly beautiful, some users have complained of over-development which has led to large crowds, too many buildings and litter problems at some parts of the beach.
  • Our rating: 4/5 – A must-visit beach for anybody going to Sri Lanka, Unawatuna hits all of the sweet-spots that a real tropical beach should. We strongly advise visiting in the early or later parts of the season to avoid the (often quite large) crowds.

Undoubtedly one of Sri Lanka’s most famous (and most beautiful) stretches of beach, Unawatuna is an absolute must for any visitor to the island. With clear turquoise waters lapping gently upon white sand and lazy-looking palms providing shade from the sun, this really is everything that a tropical beach should be, and much more besides.

With the atmosphere geared very much towards a young traveler crowd, Unawatuna beach is resplendent with no-frills bars, restaurants and cafés offering ice-cold beers and simple seafood meals from morning until late.

Unawatuna is somewhat more shielded than much of the south coast, meaning that the waves here rarely rise to more than a few feet, ideal for swimming and splashing around in-between sunbathing sessions or cocktails. However, visitors need to be aware that currents can be stronger in some areas of the beach than others, so it’s wise to stay in areas frequented by other beachgoers just to stay safe and extra care should be taking regarding children. In addition, there are a growing number of concerns regarding litter in some areas of the beach.

Some beach bars offer sunbeds & parasols for FREE

Just go to the bar and order a drink when you feel like it. Brilliant!

One thing I really liked about Unawatuna is that you can find beach bars that offer sunbeds/parasols. For free! Unlike many other beaches around the world, the waiter would come to you asking for your order the moment you lay down. Not here though. Some beach bars are really relaxed about it.

Although they would want you to buy a snack or a drink from their bar, they will not come every now and then to bug you about it; in fact, they won’t come at all!

Nearby Unawatuna town, which lies just behind the beach, is brimming with guesthouses ranging from the cheap and cheerful to more gilded options that include breakfast, balconies and plenty more creature comforts.

To reach this jewel of the south is easy, as visitors need only take a 10 minute bus from the nearby city of Galle. Alternatively, a taxi or three-wheeler can take you straight to the beach for just a few rupees more.

The best time to visit it certainly from September to April, when the skies are at their clearest and the beach is soaked in sun from dawn until dusk. Naturally, prices in the town vary according to the season, with some room tariffs doubling in the more popular months and even trebling during Christmas and New Year.

Although extremely popular and for the most part pretty crowded, Unawatuna remains for many the ultimate tropical beach experience in Sri Lanka, complete with warm turquoise waters, powdery sands and coconut-cocktails. If all of this sounds appealing, then Unawatuna will always be hard to beat.

Arugam Bay – a surfer’s paradise: in the morning you can learn to surf with one of the dozens of local schools.

Arugam Bay - A surfer’s paradise

  • When to go: April to September (high season) is when sun-worshippers move to this part of Sri Lanka, the East, while the South coast receives lots of rain. Peak season for surfing is May-August. As always, to avoid the crowds, try to go in the first or final few months of the season.
  • When NOT to go: October – January sees lots of rain.
  • Where is it? Located on the East coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam is very easy to get to.
  • Ideal for: All but truly perfect for more active visitors.
  • Sand and water: Golden sand that’s soft under foot and deep-blue water. Don’t expect calm waters.
  • TripAdvisor sentiment: 4/5 – Visitors to Arugam Bay describe an unspoilt gem of a beach that’s wide enough for each sun-worshipper to have their very own dedicated slice of paradise. Of course, the quality of the surf here makes it super popular amongst the extreme sports crowd.
  • Our rating: 4/5 – Another must-visit beach. Although popular and by no-means a secret, Arugam bay is less developed than Unawatuna and other beaches in the south, making for a laid back vibe.

If Unawatuna is ground-zero for beach bums, then Arugam Bay is definitely the place to be for the more active visitor to Sri Lanka. This is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka for a number of reasons, yet top of the list is Arugam’s famous point-break, which many see as the ultimate surfing location in all of Sri Lanka.

Although oriented towards the thousands of surfers who flock to Arugam every year to ride the bay’s fabled waves, the scene here appeals to all types of traveler with its free and easy vibe that for many makes time stand still.

As a surfing beach, the water here is not quite as calm and clear as Unawatuna or even Passikudah further north. Yet what visitors to Arugam can expect is powdery golden sands, palms aplenty and incredibly friendly locals who will do anything they can to help.

Many see Arugam as one of Sri Lanka’s best beaches because it allows visitors the luxury of choice. In the morning you can learn to surf with one of the dozens of local schools, then in the afternoon retire to your hammock beneath the swaying palms and read your favourite book or catch up on social media.

The best time to enjoy Arugam is from April to September, when Sri Lanka’s southern beaches are out of season and the east coast is at it’s driest and sunniest. Beware, this is considered to be high season in Arugam and so that will be reflected in the crowds and prices at this, one of Sri Lanka’s best beaches.

Reachable by taxi, bus and three-wheeler alike, Arugam Bay is less-popular than Unawatuna yet visitors to Sri Lanka’s surfing mecca shouldn’t expect to have the beach all to themselves.

As one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful beaches, Arugam is popular all year round and visitors should expect a social, inclusive atmosphere that culminates during evening’s spent swapping traveler tales over beer at the many beachside cafés here.

Passikudah Bay: with pond-like waters lapping against untouched white sand, the waters here can be incredibly calm and so are ideal for swimming.

Passikudah Bay - A hidden gem on the northeast coast (best for swimming)

  • When to go: High season is from April to September, when sun is all but guaranteed day-in day-out.
  • When NOT to go: October – January sees lots of rain.
  • Where is it? North East coast. Regional hub Batticaloa offers buses just a short journey away (see map below).
  • Ideal for: A great beach for swimmers due to calm waters, anyone with a sense of adventure can go.
  • Sand and water: Pure white sand that’s lapped with calm, crystalline waters. Passikudah is among the most picturesque beaches in Sri Lanka.
  • TripAdvisor sentiment: 4/5 – Visitors love the friendly locals, natural beauty and laid-back charm of the area.
  • Our rating: 5/5 – A must-see for anyone seeking authentic culture.

Not far from the north-eastern hub of Batticaloa, this idyllic bay makes it into our list of Sri Lanka’s best beaches not only because of its undeniable beauty, but because Passikudah Bay is something of a hidden gem by all accounts.

That’s right, one of Sri Lanka’s very best beaches is also one of it’s lesser known. Who Would have thought it? Although the time when visitors to Passikudah would have the entire beach to themselves with nothing other than a few cows for company has long since passed, this is still very much an unknown quantity for the vast majority of visitors to Sri Lanka.

With pond-like waters lapping against untouched white sand, the waters here can be incredibly calm and so are ideal for swimming. The beach itself isn’t home to any guesthouses, with most of those located in the town area just a few hundred metres away. As ever, these are simple, clean and amicably run by locals who are always ready to lend a helping hand for whatever reason.

Towards the far end of the bay are two or three brand-new five-star developments that provide visitors to Passikudah Bay with the option of spending some time in the lap of luxury. It is always worth checking the price of a night or two in these plush resorts, it’s probably a lot less than you imagine. Most guests are wealthy Sri Lankans and they tend to stay on the beach area immediately adjacent to the hotel. By venturing just a little further, you can enjoy one of Sri Lanka’s very best beaches as if it was your own private stretch of sand.

Visitors can reach Passikudah from nearby Batticaloa city via bus, taxi and three wheeler. Like Arugam, the best time to go is from April to September when the monsoons are at bay and visitors can enjoy clear sunshine. Although busier during this period, the beach itself never gets overly crowded like Arugam, at least away from the developed areas around the luxury hotels.

Bentota beach: white/golden sand, clear blue water and swathes of swaying palms. Classic tropical bliss.

Bentota Beach – #1 beach on TripAdvisor (very comfortable & close to Colombo)

  • When to go: May – June. High season is from December – April when the South coast is driest and warmest. To avoid the crowds, try to go in the shoulder season of July – September.
  • When NOT to go: October – November see monsoons come to the area.
  • Where is it? On the island’s Southwest coast, not far from the capital Colombo (see map below).
  • Ideal for: Featuring very high on most Sri Lanka itineraries, Bentota is perhaps the country’s most popular beach for locals and tourists alike. Maybe it’s the great snorkelling here.
  • Sand and water: White/golden sand, clear blue water and swathes of swaying palms. Classic tropical bliss.
  • TripAdvisor sentiment: 4/5 – Some complaints of overcrowding and litter issues but for most Bentota provides blissful relaxation. As of April 2017, this is the nation’s Number 1 beach according to Tripadvisor.
  • Our rating: 4/5 – One of the highlights of this part of the island, Bentota is great for visitors looking to remain in touching distance of the capital as well as for those who need a little more comfort during their stay.

The most popular of Sri Lanka’s west coast beaches, Bentota is famous for its pedigree as a diving and snorkelling spot that astounds visitors time and again with a plethora of underwater beauty.

Easily accessible from the capital Colombo, Bentota features on almost every Sri Lanka travel itinerary for this exact reason. Yet the beach is long enough to never seem overly crowded, whilst it has been kept in pristine condition by conservation efforts that ensure Bentota upholds its reputation as one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka.

Visitors can expect a range of accommodation options, from budget digs all the way up to enormous village-like resorts that offer every convenience imaginable. Prices here are generally more expensive than the east and south coast due to Bentota’s proximity to the wealth of Colombo, meaning that the ambience is cultivated toward more of a middle-class, family-centric vibe.

Nonetheless, visitors to Bentota will be able to enjoy the beaches powder-white sands and paradisal waters whatever their bank balance or interests. And that’s exactly what makes Bentota one of Sri Lanka’s very best beaches.

Without doubt the best time to hit Bentota is from September to April, with the absolute peak of the season coming around Christmas and New Year as families look to enjoy their vacation in the island’s sunniest, driest weather.

Of course, prices rocket during this time and so any visitor to Bentota, one of the most famous beaches of Sri Lanka, should bear this closely in mind.

Uppuveli beach: days are spent snorkelling, diving or swimming in-between sessions of navel-gazing in the sun.

Uppuveli Beach - Untouched beauty and awesome diving

  • When to go: The beach can be enjoyed at any time of year. High season is from April to September, this is also the best time to dive because the water is by far at it’s clearest.
  • When NOT to go: October – November see monsoons come to the area. April can be extremely hot.
  • Where is it? Located on the island’s extreme North East coast. The best way to reach Uppuveli is by passing through Trincomalee and taking a short bus to the beach (see map below).
  • Ideal for: Young bohemian travellers flock to Uppuveli to enjoy it’s local charm and enjoy cheap seafood in unpretentious cafes.
  • Sand and water: White sand, clear blue water and swathes of swaying palms. Classic tropical bliss.
  • TripAdvisor sentiment: 4/5 – Visitors rave about Uppuveli as an as yet undiscovered gem of a beach and urge others to enjoy it before overdevelopment takes it’s course.
  • Our rating: 5/5 – A real must for younger travellers looking for simple accommodation at rock-bottom prices and stark natural beauty.

For so long off limits due to it’s key-role as a battleground during the Sri Lankan civil war, the nation’s far north-east coast is now recognised as home to some of Sri Lanka’s very best beaches.

This is no more true than in the case of the beach at Uppuveli, a pristine stretch of coastline that so-far remains untouched by the hands of mass-market tourism. How long this will last is anyone’s guess and so the advice would be to go now, whilst this stretch of tranquil paradise remains intact and as beautiful as it currently is.

The accommodation here will be some of the most spartan anywhere in Sri Lanka, often nothing more than a bed in a pokey room with a fan (if you are lucky) and a mosquito net (essential in Sri Lanka’s north). Yet this really won’t matter as you will only be using the room to store bags and catch enough sleep before getting back out onto the glorious beach out front.

Windswept and wild yet with just enough shelter to sunbathe and swim, Uppuveli is as good a beach as any in all of Sri Lanka. Although this isn’t the most stunning beach in the country, the whiter than white sands and turquoise waters of Uppuveli combined with it’s intimate, local feel make it an unmissable experience for any visitors seeking an authentic experience in Sri Lanka. Days are spent snorkelling, diving or swimming in-between sessions of navel-gazing in the sun. Whilst at night there are a few spots scattered around for a beer or two and a chance to meet fellow travellers.

The snorkelling and diving are great here, just make an inquiry at one of the small businesses running inexpensive trips from the beach at Uppuveli. Wildlife includes a multitude of tropical fish and crustaceans yet the real draw of a diving trip at Uppuveli is the chance to see wild sea turtles up close, which divers almost always will.

From Trincomalee the beach is just 6km, allowing visitors to take a bus, taxi or three wheeler depending on budget and preference.

As with all of the north and east of the island, the optimum time for a visit to Uppuveli is from April to September. Yet those who find themselves here outside of this period will notice a lush green environment nourished by the rains with an even more laid back ambience than usual. There are certainly worse places to be out-of-season and besides, the sun still tends to shine for most of the time.

Tell us what you think about Sri Lankan beaches

I’d love to hear your experience of Sri Lankan beaches in the comment area below!
Have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me!

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James Connolly
About the author

Im an experienced traveller who has spent considerable time exploring Sri Lanka's beaches, cities, hillsides and villages. After falling in love with the island nation's delicious food, breathtaking beauty and warm-hearted people, I now spend time encouraging others to visit Sri Lanka.

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