There are all sorts of beaches in Sri Lanka, from long-established destinations lined with big resort hotels and attracting a package-tour clientele through to boutique boltholes and undiscovered patches of sand with nothing but you, your beach towel and a lot of palm trees (though they’re getting increasingly rare with each passing year). We’ve put together ten of the most popular beach destinations below, working anti-clockwise around the coast, although there are plenty of other smaller and less discovered places out there too.
Major beach developments are mainly clustered on the west coast, within striking distance of Colombo – this is where you’ll find most of the big resorts and package hotels. Places along the south coast are generally smaller and quieter, and with far fewer resorts (although plenty of upmarket boutique guesthouses and villas), getting increasingly sleepy the further from the capital you get. The east coast remains relatively undeveloped as a result of its distance from Colombo and due to the civil war, during which time much of the area fell under the control of the rebel Tamil Tigers.
Negombo‘s close proximity to the international airport makes it Sri Lanka’s most popular stop-over destination, and the town also has good hotels, lively nightlife and plenty of sand.
Sri Lanka’s most seductive and upmarket beach destination, Bentota boasts a string of superb hotels both large and small spread out along a sweeping swathe of perfect white sand.
The faded old package resort of Hikkaduwa is now reinventing itself as a one of Sri Lanka’s busiest backpacker beaches.
Many indie travellers rate Unawatuna the island’s number-one beach destination, with a pretty beach, buzzing atmosphere and one of the island’s liveliest after-dark scenes.
The enjoyably low-key and still largely untouristed beach of Weligama is set around one of the island’s most beautiful bays.
The drop-dead gorgeous south coast beach and whale-watching centre of Mirissa is now increasingly rivalling Unawatuna in popularity.
Sleepy series of sweeping beaches and picturesque coves strung out along the coast either side of the small town of Tangalla.
Way out east, Arugam Bay boasts the island’s best surfing, quirky cabana architecture and an enjoyably alternative atmosphere.
The modern mega-development of Passekudah offers with a chain of swanky new resorts set around a beautiful east coast bay.
Uppuveli and Nilaveli are two of Sri Lanka’s most off-the-beaten-track beaches, with huge swathes of largely deserted sand on the road to pretty much nowhere.
Colombo Sri Lanka in a Day … idyllic temples and bustling bazaars
Explore Sri Lanka’s Galle Fort … historic stronghold on the southwest coast
Romantic Sri Lanka … share the love on one of Asia’s most romantic islands
Sri Lanka Family Holidays … something for all ages and interests
Sri Lanka Grand Tour … see the very best in two weeks
Sri Lanka Hill Walk Around Ella … hike through hills and tea plantations
Sri Lanka Journey through History … explore three thousand years of Sinhalese Buddhist art and architecture
Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle … the heart of the island’s most ancient kingdom
Sri Lanka’s Historic Anuradhapura … mapping your way through the myriad ruins and monuments
Sri Lanka’s Kandy in a Day … explore the temples, museums and music of the cultural capital
Sri Lanka’s Polonnaruwa … touring the stunning ruins and shrines of a great medieval capital
Wild Sri Lanka … take a walk on the wild side through Sri Lanka’s spectacular landscapes and national parks