Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is blessed with beautiful beaches all around the island. Between December and April, it is also blessed with spectacular weather on the South Coast due to the peculiarities of monsoon climate.
The secret is well and truly out, and now if you rock up expecting to be sitting by yourself on a stretch of golden sand with nothing but monkeys and coconuts for company, you might be in for a rude surprise.
Of Mirissa, the latest version of the Lonely Planet says “Crack open a coconut, slip into a hammock and rock gently in the breeze, allowing the hours, days and even weeks to slip calmly by.” While Mirissa is one of the best beaches to swim at on the coast, it is now known more for rowdy beach parties that pump bass throughout the cove until 5am each morning. One local told us they were expecting 2000 people on the beach for New Years.
If you are looking for somewhere a little quieter or less crowded during the high season, you might be better off looking past Mirissa, Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa. Here are some the best alternatives that we have found (in no particular order). There are many, many more stretches of golden sand, turquoise waters and friendly locals, so don’t be afraid to get in a tuk-tuk and explore!
Wijaya Beach, Thalpe
Well known to ex-pats and those who visit Sri Lanka regularly from the middle east, Wijaya is a gorgeous little beach nice and close to Galle and Unawatuna. There is a shallow reef that protects the bay and makes it great for swimming (or floating), there are rockpools to explore, plenty of sand to sit on and beautiful sunsets in the afternoon.
The coolest part about Wijaya though is its resident population for turtles, who regularly swim around the reef and hang out in the bay. We stayed there for four days and saw one every time we went swimming.
We would be remiss not to mention Wijaya restaurant, which does tasty pizzas and has a fantastic row of chairs facing the beach. It’s a great spot to order a cocktail, put your feet up and watch the waves roll in.
Hiriketiya Beach, Dikwella
Hiriketiya beach has to be one of the most perfectly constructed natural formations in the country. The tight, wineglass shape bay simultaneously provides a safe spot to swim, easy beach break to learn surfing and a couple of great reef breaks for more experienced surfers.
The relatively narrow beach and lack of construction mean that when you are out in the water, most of what you can see is jungle rather than large hotels (looking at you, Mariott Weligama). It’s also set nearly a kilometer from the Matara highway, so unlike many beaches on the coast there are no rushing buses or screeching horns to contend with.
There are a handful of places to eat and drink, and it has a small town community vibe – dirt roads, barefoot restaurants and friendly staff. Beach House has fantastic wood fire pizzas and cold beers, while Dots Bay House often has stuff going on – plays, live music and local markets. Verse Collective is the best spot to watch the sunset.
Hiriketiya is walking distance to nearby Dikwella, which has its own stunning beaches, supermarkets, bus station, ATM’s and wine shops. There are also some fantastic places to eat delicious rice and curry, short eats and kottu in abundance.
Silent Beach, Goyambokka
This is all about the beach. Hundreds of meters of white sand, palm trees and crashing waves. When we were there between Christmas and New Years, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. This beach is postcard perfect, a beautiful spot to wander up and down, sun bake, ready your book or enjoy the serenity.
We accessed the beach by walking from nearby Moon River – it is not far from Tangalla, maybe 5-10 minutes on the bus (or tuk-tuk). It is set well back from the road so you cannot hear or see any traffic. At one end of the beach is the exclusive $1000 per night Amanwella resort, but don’t be put off by this, the beach is open to anyone and is mostly empty! There are a couple of places to get snacks and drinks at the other end.
This beach takes a little more confidence to swim at – the waves and be heavy and closed out. Be careful and watch out for rips or stick to the bay in front of the resort where it is a little calmer.
Habaraduwa Beach, Thalpe
This is a beach that for us raised more questions than answers. By Sri Lankan standards this is a pretty massive beach – it is at its widest perhaps 50m from the edge of the jungle. You can walk along it for kilometers and when we visited we saw less than 5 people along the whole beach.
We wondered if perhaps there was some reason we didn’t understand – dangerous rips or jellyfish maybe – that meant you shouldn’t swim there. But it was absolutely gorgeous. It’s worth a visit just to wander along the expansive white sand beach and breathe in the fresh air.
There seemed to be a mix of small hotels and fancy villas along the shore, so there are plenty of places to stay.
Madiha Beach, Matara
Madiha beach shares quite a few of the same qualities as those above. It’s a decent distance from the busy road, there are plenty of accommodation options and a good mix of places to float and surf.
There are the requisite palm trees, friendly locals and reefs to explore. At nearby Polhena you might spot some turtles and other marine life. It’s fairly easy to get to from either Matara or Mirissa, and there is no shortage of local restaurants offering fresh seafood and great curry.
Also conveniently located at Madiha is one of our favourite spots for a drink in Sri Lanka – The Doctor’s House. This hostel / restaurant is centered around a 200 year old former hospital, and they have used the space so well. Instead of building right up the boundary, they’ve kept it pretty low key with a huge beer garden filled with palm trees, grass and swings. They have a wood-fire pizza oven and often live music or marketplaces. It’s an amazing spot to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sunset over Madiha beach.