We’ve looked at elephant-spotting, craft-buying and tea-tasting in Sri Lanka, but what about just lazing on a beautiful, tranquil beach. Here’s a brief overview of the country’s coastal regions, followed by our selection of the best Sri Lanka beaches…
Sri Lanka’s west coast shows the island at its most developed, its most Westernised, and its most tourist-oriented. A string of fine beaches, backed by hundreds of hotels and guesthouses of all sizes and standards, dot the coast from Negombo in the north to Hikkaduwa in the south. Despite increasing development in other parts of the island, the large resort hotels of Negombo, Kalutara, Beruwala and Bentota continue to serve as the main engine of the island’s substantial package-tourist industry, offering two-week stays to sun-starved European visitors, particularly during the northern winter.
The south coast is one of Sri Lanka’s most rewarding places to visit. This is the island in a microcosm: gorgeous
beaches, colonial townscapes, stilt fishermen, superb wildlife parks and Buddhist shrines and temples aplenty – not to mention the island’s most alluring selection of places to stay, from luxurious beach hotels to atmospheric colonial-era villas. Active types will find a never-ending range of things to see and do here although, despite piecemeal development around the coast, much of the region’s charm lies in its somnolent and quintessentially rural atmosphere. Innumerable comatose villages nestle in the shade of toppling palm trees, and the pace of life is unashamedly indolent.
Sri Lanka’s east coast is unquestionably beautiful, but has often seemed cursed. The entire region suffered terrible devastation throughout the civil war years, thanks to its volatile mixture of Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil populations, with clashes between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and Tamil Tigers – and widespread massacres of innocent civilians caught up in the middle of the fighting – not to mention the devastating effects of the 2004 tsunami. Lasting peace finally returned in 2007, when the SLA succeeded in driving the Tigers out and taking control of the entire area for the first time in two decades. Reconstruction since has been slow but steady, and the region is now finally looking to the future with renewed confidence. Its major towns – Trincomalee and Batticaloa – are once again bustling with life and commercial activity while ongoing development promises to finally start unlocking the massive tourism potential of the superb coast – albeit at the inevitable cost of changing its formerly remote and magically unspoilt character for ever.
Our five best beaches in Sri Lanka
A pretty little horseshoe beach backed by one of Sri Lanka’s most enjoyable villages.
2. Bentota and Induruwa
One of the finest stretches of beach on the west coast, running south from the magnificent Bentota lagoon and lined with a string of alluring hotels.
3. Arugam Bay
Famous for its surf, this remote beach and village in the far east also has bags of laid-back charm and a number of interesting sights nearby.
One of the south coast’s most intimate beaches, with a picture-perfect arc of sand screened by toppling palms – and a great place to go whale-watching too.
Proximity to the former war zone means that this superb swathe of sand remains remarkably sleepy and undeveloped – visit now before it all changes.