The coast south of Colombo is home to Sri Lanka’s biggest concentration of resort hotels, catering particularly to a German and, increasingly, Russian clientele. This is the best-established package-holiday area on the island, and some parts, notably the main stretches of beach at Kalutara, Beruwala and Bentota, have largely sold out to the tourist dollar – if you’re looking for unspoilt beaches and a taste of local life, these aren’t the places to find them. Away from the big resort areas, pockets of interest can still be found, particularly at the lively town of Aluthgama, backing the Bentota lagoon, and Ambalangoda, the main centre for the production of the island’s eye-catching masks. Further south lies the old resort of Hikkaduwa, still one of the liveliest places along the coast, with good surfing, snorkelling and diving.

Heading south out of Colombo, the heaving Galle Road passes through a seemingly endless succession of ragtag suburbs before finally shaking itself clear of the capital, though even then a more or less continuous ribbon of development straggles all the way down the coast – according to Michael Ondaatje in his celebrated portrait of Sri Lanka, Running in the Family, it was said that a chicken could walk along the roofs of the houses between Galle and Colombo without once touching the ground. The endless seaside buildings mean that although the road and rail line run close to the coast for most of the way, you don’t see that much of the sea, beaches or actual resorts from either.