After spending just 11 days in the middle of Sri Lanka climbing rocks and towers, going on an elephant safari, riding that famous blue train, hiking Adam’s Peak for sunrise, and exploring Ella I was more than ready to spend the rest of my month on the stunning beaches along the south coast!
There are almost too many to choose from, but after speaking to a few other travellers we decided to make Mirissa our base. It’s extremely easy and cheap get around with the local buses, which meant we could leave our bags in one place and go on day trips to visit a few other famous destinations. We chose Mirissa because it has a beautiful beach, a lot of restaurants and bars, a good party scene, and it was a 5-minute bus or tuk-tuk ride to the beginner’s surf beach of Weligama.
We stayed at Hostel First Mirissa, my favourite hostel in Sri Lanka. It had clean, spacious dorms with fan and AC, a big kitchen so you can make your own food (with a supermarket nearby), basic free breakfast included, huge indoor and outdoor common areas, daily activities such as snorkelling, yoga, or family dinners, a very cute dog called Nip Nip, and it was only a 2-minute walk to the beach. Perfect!
The beach here is a long, palm tree-lined strip of white sand with very gentle waves. There are a ton of beachside restaurants and bars that offer good food and amazing happy hour deals on cocktails, our favourite was Paragon. Food on the beach can be delicious but expensive, if you go inland you can find affordable local food, our favourites were Opal Food Corner, Pinki, Dilmi Roti Shop, Dhana’s Curry Pot and I & I Restaurant.
We spent almost every day at one of the beachside cafes lying on sunbeds, listening to reggae music, drinking smoothies and getting a tan, but there are a few activities to keep you busy once you’ve had enough of that. You can walk to Secret Beach, wade out to Parrot Rock at low tide, watch the sunset at Coconut Tree Hill, snorkel at Turtle Bay, or try surfing on the very small waves (you’ll need to hop on a bus out of town if you want something bigger).
Our first day trip from Mirissa was to the old colonial fort of Galle. It was originally built by the Portuguese in 1588, then extensively fortified by the Dutch from 1649 onwards. It’s been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time as you wander through the winding streets and walk along the fortress walls. It was very hot when we went so we didn’t stay for long, but it made a nice change from endless days on the beach.
We decided to stop here on our way back from Galle after hearing so many positive things about it, but it didn’t seem that great, and we were happy with our choice to make Mirissa our base. A friend of mine stayed here for a few days but they said it was very quiet, more resort holidaymakers than backpackers, not my kind of scene at all, and the beach definitely wasn’t one of the best.
This is where you’ll find that Insta-famous palm tree swing, but like all things Insta-famous, the reality is far different from those idyllic photos. If you’re there during high season you’ll be met with a queue of Insta-models in flowing dresses with flowers in their hair, waiting to get their Insta-boyfriends to get down in the sand to take that shot for the ‘gram, after paying the “entrance fee” of course. We skipped this because there are a few other palm tree swings where you can avoid all of this!
Same goes for the ‘stilt fishermen’ of Koggala beach. Unfortunately, it seems the local tradition of stilt fishermen has been turned into a tourist attraction, and you won’t find them there unless you’re willing to pay. We also decided to skip this, because I feel weird forcing local men to pose for photos that most people portray as “authentic” on social media, I never saw anyone telling the truth about how fake it is.
This is apparently one of the best beaches for intermediate surfers! I had only just learnt how to surf and I was too scared to try it here, but I heard amazing things about it. When you’re not surfing you can volunteer at Animal SOS, relax on Secret Beach, or have lunch in one of the local family restaurants.
Our second day trip was to the east of Mirissa, and our first stop was the quiet seaside town of Nilwella. Not a tourist in sight as we rode a tuk-tuk to Nilwella Fishing Harbour, a peaceful place full of colourful fishing boats that looked incredible from above. We also walked to Blue Beach Island, a tiny island connected by a strip of sand, a great place to relax and swim during the hottest part of the day without any tourists, just a lot more colourful fishing boats and a few locals.
This is another famous surf spot, a sheltered beach break suitable for beginners and a reef break perfect for intermediates. The beach itself is beautiful, a few restaurants hidden in the jungle that comes down to meet the sea. We only spent a couple of hours here but it’s definitely the kind of place I could see myself staying next time for a week or so: finding a nice hostel, a favourite restaurant, surfing every day, working on my blog, reading books, it would be an absolute dream.
I feel like this is a must-see while you’re exploring the south coast. The beach is huge, very quiet, and the water is shallow with some big waves further out so it was a fun but safe place to swim. The two sides of Dikwella beach are divided by the amazing Dikwella Resort, the beach on the west side was where the locals sat, and you’ll find twin palm tree swings outside Mahi Mahi Seafood Restaurant without a horde of tourists! The next beach over, Bathigama, is also a stunner.
The massive beach on the other side was completely deserted and it’s gorgeous. As you follow it to the east you’ll cross the river and find even more beach, stretching along the coast until it reaches the cliffs which eventually lead to Hiriketiya. It’s on this last stretch of beach where you should stay for sunset, and you’ll find one more palm tree swing, perfect for those Instagram shots, or just for fun because only a psychopath wouldn’t enjoy swinging on a big rope swing.
This is another place we missed out on, but it looks stunning and I heard some good things about it. It’s very quiet with a few basic guesthouses, resorts, and restaurants. Even if you don’t stay here it would be worth a day trip just to relax on yet another beautiful beach, it’s safe for swimming in this sheltered bay but you won’t be able to surf here.
After two weeks of partying in Mirissa most of my travel buddies had left, so I decided to move to Weligama for my last week in Sri Lanka to really focus on surfing. We had already spent a couple of hours here every day taking lessons with the very cool guys at Lucky’s Surf School, and I went from not being able to surf AT ALL to being able to catch green waves on a 7’2 hardboard! A real accomplishment for me, and better late than never considering I live in Cornwall, the surf capital of the UK (although I’m still not sure about surfing at home, it’s bloody freezing).
I spent one night at Don’t Worry, Be Happy Hostel which was nice and quiet but a little too far out of town for me, especially for walking back on my own at night. I moved to Wake Up Weligama the next morning which was much closer to everything and had a nice vibe even though it was a little cramped and needs a lot of love to bring it up to the standard of most hostels in Sri Lanka. If you’re on a bigger budget I’d actually recommend staying at Hangtime Hostel, it’s fancy and right across the road from the beach!
There isn’t much to do in Weligama except surf, which was just fine for me, but here are a lot of great cafes and restaurants to relax in while taking a break! My favourite was Hang 10 on the roof of Hangtime hostel, such a great vibe and amazing food. Other great places are Dulnetha, Crazy Burger, Baba’s Roti Shop, Meewitha Cool Spot, and Good Story Coffe Shop.
That’s it for my list of south coast beaches, but I know there are so many more to choose from, each as beautiful as the last. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments below!