South of Aluthgama, BENTOTA offers a further clutch of package resorts, plus an outstanding selection of more upmarket places. The beach divides into two areas. At the north end, facing Aluthgama, lies Paradise Island (as it’s popularly known), a narrow spit of land beautifully sandwiched between the choppy breakers of the Indian Ocean and the calm waters of the Bentota lagoon, though sadly none of the few hotels here really lives up to the setting. Backing Paradise Island, the tranquil Bentota Ganga provides the setting for Sri Lanka’s biggest range of watersports, along with interesting boat trips up the river. The southern end of Bentota beach (south of Bentota train station) comprises a wide stretch of sand backed by dense thickets of corkscrew palms – one of the most attractive beaches on the island, although somewhat spoilt by the unsightly amounts of litter that get dumped here. This is also where you’ll find one of Sri Lanka’s finest clusters of top-end hotels and villas, set at discreet intervals from one another down the coast. Many of the hotels in the area are the work of local architect Geoffrey Bawa– it’s well worth splashing out to stay in one of his classic creations, whose artful combination of nature and artifice offers an experience both luxurious and aesthetic. Despite the number of visitors, Bentota beach remains surprisingly quiet, particularly south of the station. Unlike Hikkaduwa or Unawatuna, there’s virtually no beachlife here, and the oceanfront lacks even the modest smattering of impromptu cafés, handicraft shops and hawkers you’ll find at Beruwala – it’s this somnolent atmosphere which either appeals or repels, depending on which way your boat’s pointing. If you’re staying at Aluthgama or Beruwala and fancy a day on the beach here, you can eat and drink at all the guesthouses and hotels listed below; most also allow non-guests to use their pools for a modest fee.