Surfari time: best beaches in Sri Lanka

written by
Dre Roelandt

updated 22.04.2024

Roughly the size of Ireland, Sri Lanka may be diminutive, but it packs an awful lot in between its palm-fringed shores. Poised above the equator in the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has a coastline fringed with numerous golden beaches. Wondering which of these sun-kissed sandy stretches to visit? Read on for our overview of each of the country's coasts and to discover the best beaches in Sri Lanka for you.

1. For surfers: Arugam Bay Beach

This remote village is located on the island’s southeast coast, near Yala National Park. With waves rolling in all the way from the Antarctic, Arugam has earned something of an international reputation in the surfing world.

This conclusively puts it on the list of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. The surf season runs from April to October and you can rent boards right on the beach if you don’t have your own. If you’re not into surfing, swim in the well-protected inner bay, explore the mangrove lagoons and soak up the chilled-out atmosphere. Tours of nearby Pottuvil Lagoon are easily arranged, as well as motor-boat trips out to sea in search of dolphins.

The local community have strongly and successfully resisted the development of major hotels. But plenty of casual lodgings are available in quirky village guesthouses and relaxed beachfront bungalows and cabanas.

Absorb Sri Lanka's ancient culture at Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa on this tailor-made trip to Sri Lankan culture and coast. Journey south to colourful Kandy with its temples and tea factories, followed by a relaxing stay on sandy southwest beaches.

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Sri Lanka's Best Beaches: Sunset as seen from Elephant Rock near Arugam Bay © Shanti Hesse/Shutterstock

One of the best beaches in Sri Lanka - Arugam Bay Beach © Shanti Hesse / Shutterstock

2. For watersports: Bentota Beach

The southern end of Bentota Beach is home to a nice collection of small-scale luxury hotels marking it out as a stylish alternative to the west coast’s louder resorts. Just south of the train station, you’ll find a broad swathe of sand in front of thick thickets of palms. It’s one of the most winsome beaches on the island.

 Bentota is  Sri Lanka's watersports hub. At Bentota’s northern end, you’ll find Paradise Island. This thin spit of land separates the Indian Ocean and the tranquil waters of the Bentota Lagoon. Behind the beach, the calm waters of the lagoon are perfect for kayaking and jet-skiing, while boat trips up the river to explore the mangroves and tangled waterways are easy to arrange.

For the ultimate experience, pick the best season for your adventure with our guide to the best time to visit Sri Lanka.

Where to stay near Bentota Beach:

Or see our guide to our favourite boutique hotels in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's Best Beaches: Golden sands and palm trees at Bentota Beach

Bentota Beach — one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka © EvgeniiSakaliu/ Shutterstock

3. For whale-watching: Mirissa Beach

This laid-back beachside village sits in the south of the island near the Dutch Fort and port city of Galle. Mirissa's fine stretch of sand are backed by palm trees, while its clear waters and lively waves make it ideal for both swimming and surfing. But development here has mainly been driven by Mirissa’s emergence as the whale-watching capital of Sri Lanka.

Numerous whales can frequently be spotted reasonably close to the shoreline. Additionally, multiple tour operators based in the village offer boat trips to see them during the season, which runs from December to April.

This beach is also lively after dark with a thriving bar scene that glows with charming strings of fairy lights.

Discover the tea plantations, waterfalls and hill country of the Central Province before being whisked away to the golden sands of Sri Lanka’s glorious Indian Ocean beaches on the south coast on this tailor-made trip to Sri Lanka Deluxe. From whale watching to soaking up the rays, this trip offers a relaxing escape to Sri Lanka. Our trips are designed by local travel experts and are completely customisable.

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The pretty little bay of Mirissa near Galle © inigolai-Photography / Shutterstock

4. For backpackers: Hikkaduwa Beach

Hikkaduwa is another south coast beach that’s especially popular with backpackers. It’s an energetic spot, featuring plenty of restaurants, bars and shops. Each July, Hikkaduwa hosts Beach Fest, a five-day music festival that draws international DJs and revellers galore.

The surf is another attraction that brings people to this shore, with the season running from November to April. You'll also be able to experience outstanding snorkelling at the Coral Sanctuary just a couple of hundred metres offshore. A word of advice, it’s illegal to take coral and shells out of the country.

Where to stay near Hikkaduma Beach

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Sri Lanka's Best Beaches: Picture perfect Hikkaduwa on the south coast

Picture perfect Hikkaduwa on the south coast © Thomas Dekiere / Shutterstock

5. For a classic: Unawatuna Beach

Five kilometres southeast of Galle and neighbouring Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna is a little quieter but still has a buzzy atmosphere. While its selection of restaurants and bars means that it’s sadly lost the sleepy charm it once enjoyed, it’s small enough to have retained an intimate atmosphere. The beach arranges itself in a graceful horseshoe shape that’s only about one kilometre from end to end.

The strand was seriously depleted by the 2004 tsunami but has since been plumped up with sand scooped from the seabed. Thanks to offshore rocks that break up the waves, the water at Unawatuna is safe for swimming year-round.

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Sri Lanka's Best Beaches: An aerial view down over Unawatuna Beach

An aerial view down over Unawatuna Beach © aksenovden / Shutterstock

6. For coral reefs: Kalpitya Peninsula Beach

Kalpitya is a beautiful windswept peninsula in the northwest. Lined with spotless beaches, it's bounded on either side by the sea and the Puttalam Lagoon. There are miles and miles of secluded beaches to enjoy. However: it’s worth remembering that no matter how private it might feel, nudity and topless sunbathing are illegal in Sri Lanka.

Kalpitya offers eco-lodges and amazing kitesurfing opportunities as well as superb dolphin watching. You may even spot the occasional pod of sperm whales too. The Barr Reef Sanctuary coral system has the highest level of biodiversity of any coral reef around Sir Lanka.

Planning your trip? See our Sri Lanka itineraries for inspiration.

Where to stay near Kalpitya Peninsula Beach:


Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka © Shutterstock

7. For quiet beach days: Nilaveli Beach

Some 10km north of Uppuveli is the straggling settlement of Nilaveli, home to another fine stretch of largely deserted beach. Guesthouses and hotels are sparsely scattered along the coast. The entire area retains a decidedly back-of-beyond atmosphere that makes even Uppuveli look like Ibiza. If you like very quiet days spent wave-gazing, beachcombing, snorkelling and hanging with the locals, Nilaveli is perfect.

Join us on a once-in-a-lifetime voyage exploring stunning sunny beaches; lush green mountains; unspoilt forest trails and breathtaking world heritage sites. This all-encompassing tailor-made trip to affordable luxury in Sri Lanka includes accommodation, private transportation and a variety of excursions and activities. 

Where to stay near Nilaveli Beach:

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Nilaveli beach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka © Shutterstock

Nilaveli beach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka © Shutterstock

8. One of the best beaches in Sri Lanka: Hiriketiya Beach 

On the south coast, the area around Dikwella is gradually becoming more popular with travellers looking to escape the increasing development further to the west. 

Nearby, the village of Hiriketiya and its horseshoe-shaped beach is becoming one of the south coast’s most popular surfing destinations.  At the moment it’s very small scale with just a few guesthouses. You may want to visit this unspoiled beach before it becomes the next big tourist spot.

Where to stay near Hiriketiya Beach:

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Surf beach Hiriketiya, Dikwella, Sri Lanka © Shutterstock

Surf beach Hiriketiya, Dikwella, Sri Lanka © Shutterstock

9. Tangalle Beach

Strung out along one of the south’s most stunning stretches of coastline, Tangalla (or Tangalle) is among the best beaches in Sri Lanka, with a string of simple guesthouses – and a handful of upmarket hotels and villas – dotted along the coves and beaches that line the oceanfront here.

Tourism has never taken off quite as much as the entrepreneurial locals would like, however, and Tangalla remains resolutely low-key compared to the resorts further west. What gives the place added appeal, however, is the number of rewarding attractions in the surrounding countryside.

Where to stay near Tangalle Beach:

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Tangalle, Sri Lanka © leoks/Shutterstock

Tangalle, Sri Lanka © leoks/Shutterstock

10. For charming colonial villas: Trincomalee Beach

The oceanfront Fort Frederick Road along Dutch Bay offers fine sea views, while the Trincomalee beach that edges the road is a popular spot around dusk, when half the town seems to congregate here to promenade along the seafront and loll around on the sands. 

Beyond here lie further understated but charming rows of colonial villas, most particularly along Dyke Street, lined with colourful facades. Nearby, it’s also worth hunting out the colonial-era St Mary’s Cathedral, an imposing blue structure buried amid lush gardens. A visit here is easily one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka.

Ready to take a trip to Sri Lanka?

Our local experts can plan wonderful trips for you in Sri Lanka. Simply get in touch to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. We will then create a personalised itinerary especially, which you can amend until you are totally happy with every detail before booking. Browse our existing Sri Lanka itineraries for inspiration, and keep in mind that all of our planned itineraries can be tailored to meet your specific needs.

This article was inspired by  The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka, you're ultimate guide to travelling in Sri Lanka.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Dre Roelandt

written by
Dre Roelandt

updated 22.04.2024

Dre Roelandt is originally from the United States but lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Dre is a freelance writer and artist with a passion for travelling. They are an in-house Content Editor at Rough Guides.

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