As such a Diverse Country and so much to see and enjoy, to put it very simply our trip was divided up into Beaches, Safaris and the Mountains. Having read up about the country, these three categories seemed very obvious and made our journey much easier to organise.
Known for its beautiful, tropical beaches, it was vital we spent a substantial amount of time hopping along the South-East Coast jumping in and out of TukTuks and enjoying as many of their iconic beaches as possible. Having enjoyed the very scenic train journey from Colombo down to Galle it was time to see for ourselves how special these stretches of sand really are.
As you can imagine, with so many beaches and currently quite a hot spot on the world map for travellers, the coast is lined with an endless number of hostels and hotels and so you are quite spoilt for choice.
As one of Sri Lanka’s Iconic images, the Stilt Fishermen are a must see as they are quite an impressive sight when perched on their slender makeshift bamboo stilts above the choppy shallow waters. When travelling south along Matara Road there are a couple of small cove beaches right by the side of the road in Koggala which are filled with these stilts. Each of these stilts have each been owned by a particular family for generations and have simply been passed down from father to son over the years. Despite being able to get a few impressive shots of this traditional method of fishing, unfortunately it is generally no longer a way of life but rather just a tourist attraction. As an attraction, you can well imagine they will expect some form of tip for a few photographs but do be careful as they really will try and get as much out of you as they can and they will sometimes sound ridiculous. We paid no more than 200-300 LKR but they will ask for MUCH more!
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Invited by Cantaloupe Hotels to spend a few nights with them, we were a little spoilt from a choice of two magnificent Boutique Hotels which we could honestly not speak more highly about. Wanting to be by the sea right on the water front, Cantaloupe Aqua in the region of Talpe is where we were looked after, with a spacious, modern room with glass walls and a balcony overlooking the Indian ocean.
In contrast with their beach front hotel, Cantaloupe Levels is relatively contrasting in terms of its surroundings as it is a fair distance from the water but rather perched up in the Rumasalla hills which provides for stunning panoramic views of the entire city of Galle and its harbour.
Designed to boast these magnificent views, the rooms make the most of this highlight with the entire room fronts faced with glass panels and made the main focal point. With no other hotels in the area, it does provide for a unique stay when in Galle whilst also allowing you to get away from the busy roads which line most of the accommodation along the coast. The tranquillity which radiates from around the hotel provides for the ideal atmosphere if after a little relaxation whilst lounging around the hotel and making the most of the pool and the large sunbeds which surround it.
In comparison with Cantaloupe Aqua we would say this hotel is higher up the luxurious end of the scale but none the better as they both each have their own advantages with complimentary atmospheres.
Sandwiched between Unawatuna and Talpe is the beautiful, relatively quiet cove-like Wijaya beach which sits in front of a few small boutique hotels. With a natural wave break about 50m out and stretching the length of the cove, the water within is shallow and considerably calm despite the rough waters outside. This knee deep large natural pool which was constantly filtered by the pounding waves on the rocks was a beautiful place to just lie in the water and enjoy the peaceful, pleasant surroundings. However, unlike a number of the other beaches in the area, this charming beach can be very easily missed as it lacks an obvious, inviting path off the main road and we felt a little fortunate that we came across it during many of our endless online searches. Despite not being one of the obvious beaches, we were still quite surprised as to how few people were around and would probably go as far as recommending staying at one of the boutique hotels which sit back to back with beach. We may have been lucky but it didn’t shout out as being a very hectic beach.
Moving towards Unawatuna but literally over the rocks at the Northern end of Wijaya Beach, we walked along, the deserted stretch of Dalawella Beach with not a single soul in sight. Despite being considerably different to Wijaya beach in terms of not being a sheltered cove with calm waters, this long stretch of blinding white sand, lined with coconut trees was extremely picturesque with the contrasting colours. With such surroundings lining this deserted beach, there isn’t anything quite like a stroll in the fresh salty breeze as the finest of sands squeak beneath our feat whilst sipping on a fresh coconut that a local lady just pulled from her many trees. It is also from one of these particular ladies coconut trees that people visit to have a good swing out over the waves as they move up the narrow beach.
From the calm to the storm, Unawatuna is undoubtedly the busiest of the beaches in the area which for some reason draws many visitors. Literally lined with hotels and restaurants sitting on the beach, the apparent beautiful golden crescent beach which once was is now no longer. Undeniably, it will create a very lively atmosphere and does offer an enjoyable meal and a few drinks on the beach, however it really has turned into a very touristic beach that has been taken away from the tropical, palm-lined beaches that are characteristic along the south coast. Typical to these seaside holiday resorts world-wide, the small town of Unawatuna does also have a couple of streets with your common souvenir shops as well has the local convenient shops with all your beach essentials.
As Beach Lovers we tend to avoid the heavily touristic beaches and do also enjoy the pursuit for those beaches which have that extra beauty and are not usually ventured to by your average holiday-goer. In search of these beautiful remote stretches of sand, we find there is always a little extra effort or a few extra miles required in order to get there. Jungle Beach is again no different; away from the main built up and commercial areas of Galle, it is a small secluded beach found right on the opposite side of the Bay with its only access via a steep, narrow dirt-track. This pocket of paradise wedged at the base of the surrounding forest is the type of gem we are always in search of; with clean brick brown sands, clear still waters, a stunning vivid backdrop and impressive vistas of the city, we were completely surrounded by the natural beauty away from mainstream beaches. A personal gauge we sometimes use on our travels, which from past experiences seems to be fairly accurate, are the locals. Having ventured of the beaten track, surrounded by locals and only very few visitors, if any, we more often than not find that we have come across somewhere a little special and unique.
Habaraduwa Sea Turtle Hatchery
With Sri Lanka being a prime nesting site, visiting a turtle sanctuary, both hatchery and rescue centre was a must both for the fact that we would be able to see the majestic creatures up close (especially the very young) but also able to contribute to the worthy cause. With hatching and raising the young as well as rehabilitating the injured, sanctuaries like this one in Habaraduwa is able to do its part in maximising the numbers of young reaching adulthood, giving these delicate creatures a little head start during the critical stages of life and therefore the strength to avoid some of the very many dangers.
As we moved along the coast our next few nights were spent at the pristine Kabalana Hotel, a small modern resort of 12 semi-detached villas. Right in the heart of one of the top surf spots along the south-west coast, it provides for the perfect stay to enjoy a little bit of down time and away from the waves. Scattered with Palms, energized with bright coloured plants and surrounded by lush green lawns , the crystal clear pool at the centre of the communal area is extremely enticing and a very relaxing way to spend some time when with Ceilao Villas. With a very contemporary fresh finish and well-regulated rooms, the villa provides that optional getaway from the mid-afternoon heat after having spent the morning soaking up the sun. Modern in its layout and design, each of the villas has that additional extra edge with its exterior en-suite bathroom which gives you that opportunity to shower under the stars during the mild Sri Lankan evenings.
Kabalana, known for one of the best reef breaks in Sri Lanka is a major draw for surfers every year, both for experienced and beginners who can enjoy the varying conditions. With Main Surf Point, also known as the rock for the experienced and beach break for beginners, there is something for everyone as the Kabalana beach is also an enjoyably quiet beach for those wanting to just bask in the glorious sunshine.
In contrast to the many quiet beaches along the coast, Mirissa beach is full of life, lined with bars and restaurants. Completely different to what we had been used to, the beach would generally be busy from the early morning all the way through to late evening but did have a pleasant vibe to it. We did very much welcome the change from the quiet, relaxing beaches to something with a livelier enjoyable atmosphere surrounded by travellers.
The beach itself is a large narrow cove beach which is perfect for those wanting to spend some times in amongst the waves on a body board. With so many bars on the beach, it is very easy to find somewhere to rent a board to mess around with for a while. Although the middle of the beach was dominated by body boarders, the ends of the beach did attract a fair number of surfers over the reefs where the conditions were a little better suited for them.
Although the bars and restaurants along the beach were popular during the day, the evening is when the beach truly became alive attracting many visitors. As the tides went out, the waves died down and the sun began to set, the restaurants would fill the beach with their tables and draw many people to the local fresh catch of the day. With each restaurant having its own mini fish market out front, it was as simple as picking your fish which they would cook and serve with a selection of sides. With all the tables lit by candle light on such calm evenings, despite the large number of people it does create a very pleasant atmosphere which we felt was really nice and the perfect way to spend our evenings.
As a very obvious touristic hotspot along the coast where people converge for its beaches and decent surfing conditions, as a town, Mirissa does not have too much else to offer apart from a specific local restaurant along the back roads which was unreal. In search of some of the country’s best traditional food, we always set some time aside to visit some of the recommended restaurants. No. 1 Dewmini Roti Shop which is along the back roads off the main Matara Road serves up some beautiful local food with our favourites being the Chicken Kottu and Hoppers.
With so many hostels and hotels around the town we were after something quite central but not knowing what to really expect just booked into a small hostel set back from the beach on the opposite side of the main road which runs through Mirissa. However, knowing what we now know, one of the hostels/ hotels on the beach front, set in amongst the bars and restaurants would be amazing. Despite the large numbers of people down on the beach in the evenings, it did not get too loud as it is more of a relaxed, chilled out atmosphere as opposed to a party scene and so trying to get some sleep should not be an issue unless you are after very early nights.
Having so far hopped along the coast in tuk tuks for the relatively short journeys, it was now time to jump into the local bus and make the 2 hour journey along to Tangalle. In contrast to many of the smaller picturesque tropical cove beaches which dominate the south-west coast, Tangalle provides beautifully long, wide open beaches which are lined with large numbers of tall slender coconut trees which sway gingerly in the warm afternoon breeze.
Although there is a great choice of accommodation to choose from as you make your way along the beach, due to its extensive nature, most of these small hostels and resorts are well spaced out giving you that enjoyable aspect of being secluded and away from a busy strip along a beach front. Perched just above the beach, set a couple of metres back and simply divided by a narrow dirt track, Star Fish Beach Cafe Is a very local hostel sandwiched in-between some beautiful, vibrant vegetation. Despite being quite a basic hostel in terms of the rooms and facilities, the combination of its inviting setup over-looking the beach, it’s mouth-watering traditional food at its very own Roti Hut and its charismatic owners, created a very warm, inviting atmosphere which did also draw people from the neighbouring hostels.
As well as a popular destination for travellers, it is also a popular beach for many pregnant turtles ready to lay their eggs. With many of the guests staying in accommodations at the northern end of the beach, these turtles tend to pick the quieter southern end which tends to have far few visitors and makes for a more relaxed couple of hours laying her eggs. Fortunately, there is the possibility to go and watch these turtles at the Turtle Watch Rekawa where you are able to follow a guide onto the beach who will take you to any turtles that may be in the area. Although there is no guarantee to see a turtle, a couple of hours on the beach was well worth it as we got the chance to see a couple of turtles with one of the mothers covering up her eggs.