Quick Guide to Destinations on Sri Lanka’s South Coast

Fishing boats off the coast of Sri Lanka
Fishing boats off Dickwella Beach

The southern coast is very popular and draws MANY tourists for its stunning beaches, happening surf scene, and nightlife (although this last one doesn’t really apply to us who are in bed before 10 pm). During our 2 months in Sri Lanka, we visited the southern coast, exploring 4 different towns altogether. If you’re struggling to pick a destination on Sri Lanka’s coast, this is the guide for you!

This might sound crazy, but we are not huge beach people. Don’t get us wrong, laying on the beach is relaxing and we enjoy swimming in the ocean, but we would choose hiking in the mountains instead almost any day.

But, being on an island and having spent much of our time exploring inland, we figured we should explore the coast of Sri Lanka a bit too. Surprisingly, each coastal town we explored had a different vibe and offered a different experience. In this post, we share the four coastal destinations we visited, why they are worth visiting, and how we spent our time!

Things We Loved About Sri Lanka’s South Coast:

  • The Views: I mean, we’d be crazy to not enjoy them. The beaches in Sri Lanka have been stunning, lined with palm trees, with soft sand.
  • The Nature: Steps away from the beach you can find lagoons and a range of wildlife including peacocks, crocodiles, and mangrove trees.
  • The Warm Ocean Water: The water is always around 82-84 degrees. It felt so good to swim in, refreshing from the hot humid air, but not freezing like swimming off the coast of California!
  • The Food Options: Although we LOVE Sri Lankan food, we enjoyed a nice break for some meals with fresh smoothie bowls, avocado toast, and veggie burgers!

Things We Didn’t Love So Much:

  • The Trash: Shockingly, Mirissa town was really dirty, with trash all over the roads. Not only did it take away from the scenery but it also left a SMELL
  • The Humidity: Even after almost 2 months in this tropical paradise, we are still not acclimated to the humid air and it was sometimes rough to stand
  • The Heat Rash: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but we did not enjoy this feeling after a long day out in the heat!
Sitting on Parrot Rock in Mirissa
On the coast, we visited:

    Tangalle: The Quieter Coastline

    Reasons to Go:

    • Quieter beach escape for those not looking for a crowd
    • Stunning nature along the beach and lagoons to explore by kayak

    Reasons to Skip it:

    • Rougher waters that make swimming more dangerous
    • Not much food variety along the beach

    Tangalle is a beach town on the eastern side of the south coast of Sri Lanka. It’s about a 4-hour bus ride from Ella. Tangalle is a lot quieter than those on the western side of the south coast. This is most likely because it’s farther from the airport, but also because of the rougher waters.

    You are advised not to swim on Tangalle Beach because of the rough rip current. During our stay in Tangalle, we didn’t get in the water just to be safe. But we did get in the lagoon (in a kayak of course).

    Tangalle Beach, walking along the coast in Sri Lanka
    Walking along Tangalle Beach

    Things to do in Tangalle

    Kayaking ’round the Lagoon

    While staying in Tangalle, we rented a kayak from the owners of our accommodation and went kayaking through the saltwater lagoon. The lagoon is full of mangrove trees, trees that have adapted to living in brackish water. They have a unique look since the roots grow above the ground and can be seen twisted together above the water. While kayaking, we saw a ton of different birds, a snake, and a water monitor!

    Little Paradise on Sri Lanka’s Coast

    When checking into another accommodation in Tangalle, our room smelled AWFUL. We checked out other rooms available but they were all bad, so we decided to find a new place to stay. Right next door, we found Eagle’s Nest and had our own little cabana with AC (for half the price of the smelly place). Eagle’s Nest is located right next to a lagoon and has a restaurant on site. It’s also just a 3-minute walk from the beach!

    This was right before our workaway and sadly, we only needed to stay for a night but wish we had found this place sooner because it was a little piece of paradise. If anyone is planning a trip to Tangalle, Eagle’s Nest is the perfect nature retreat!

    Dickwella + Hirikitiya: Surfer’s Paradise in Sri Lanka

    Reasons to Go:

    • Great beaches for both relaxing and surfing!
    • Digital Coworking Space at Verse Collective (link)
    • Tasty food options for everyone including plant-based foodies!

    Reasons to Skip It:

    • Not sure what to list here, we really enjoyed this one!

    Dickwella and Hirkitiya are technically separate towns/beaches but they are right next to each other and within a short walk so often paired together. This area is less popular than the destinations listed below but still well-known along the coast of Sri Lanka. We stayed in Dickwella but explored and ate in Hirikitiya too.

    Stray dog in coast town, Sri Lanka
    One of the many stray dogs along the coast

    Things to do in Dickwella + Hiriketiya

    Budget-Friendly Beach Beds

    Dickwella beach is a perfect place to relax. The water is great for swimming and the beach is lined with covered beds that are super cheap to rent for the day! We rented a double bed cabana for roughly $1.50 USD and could stay all day if we wanted. It was perfect for us, Ty could stay in the shade and Sam could move her bed into the sun.

    Hirikitiya is popular for the surf scene. Since we aren’t surfers, we can’t comment on this but did see a ton of surfers out on the water. The small cove is STUNNING with bright blue water.

    Between the two, there are plenty of places to eat in the area. We LOVED the rice and curry buffet at Garlic Cafe and various options at a cute little shop called Duni’s Hoppers.

    Mirissa: A Little Bit of Everything

    Reasons to Go:

    • Snorkeling with sea turtles
    • Nice beach to relax + swim + surf
    • Great food options, cute cafes, and plenty of vegan foods
    • Nightlife + good to meet other travelers

    Reasons to Skip It:

    • Seems like there are more tourists than locals
    • Can be expensive because more tourists = tourist prices
    • Not the cleanest streets (trash is everywhere along the road)

    We spent almost an entire week relaxing in Mirissa. Although we were not so comfortable in the heat and humidity (hello heat rash) we still enjoyed our time there.

    Mirissa is a popular beach destination between Weligama and Matara on the coast of Sri Lanka. The beach itself is beautiful with the gorgeous climbable Parrot Rock, Coconut Tree Hill, and various small coves like this one filled with sea turtles.

    There is no shortage of food options here either from local rice and curry buffets to food with a western twist and vegan nice cream! We wrote a whole post about the food we enjoyed in Mirissa here.

    Things to do in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

    Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

    While in Mirissa we snorkeled with SEA TURTLES. We don’t have any pictures because we didn’t bring our phones in the water but it was such a cool experience. We rented gear right on the beach and hopped in the water.

    Sri Lanka is home to 5 types of sea turtles but the Green Sea Turtle is the most common. The guy who rented us the snorkel gear said it was most likely the Green Sea Turtle that we saw, but Olive Ridleys are also common in the area.

    Cooking Class in Mirissa

    Also while in Mirissa, we took a cooking class! We love taking cooking classes to learn more about the local cuisine and hopefully be able to cook up some tasty dishes back home. In this class, we learned to make eggplant, plantain, and banana flower curries, along with daal and coconut sambal. We made fresh coconut milk for the curries using the coconut grater too! Everything was super tasty. We were the first official customers and had such an amazing time. Definitely check it out if you’re heading to Mirissa!

    Galle: History on Sri Lanka’s Coast

    Reasons to Go:

    • UNESCO World Heritage Site
    • Great for history lovers because of Dutch Fort + Museums
    • Unique Architecture
    • Homemade ice cream

    Reasons to Skip It:

    • Not the top destination for beachgoers
    • More “expensive” because it’s a top tourist destination
    • Colonization History

    Galle is one of the top tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. Because of this, and the fact that it’s focused on colonization history, we were hesitant to go (sometimes things are just too touristy). However, when trying to fill our last bit of time in Sri Lanka, we figured we would stop as we made our way up the coast and were happy we did.

    The Galle Fort was first constructed by the Portuguese in the 1500s but was expanded by the Dutch in the 1600s. It was controlled by the Dutch until the British took control in the late 1700s. The fort was originally the capital of the island and was a popular trading port for over 200 years.

    We spent a few hours roaming around the fort, stopping at sites including the National Museum, the Reformed Dutch Church, the Clocktower, the Lighthouse. We also enjoyed some homemade vegan ice cream and bubble tea while exploring within the fort walls. Homemade ice cream seemed to be common in Galle Fort because we saw a handful of other places advertising this treat!

    Sri Lanka’s South Coast

    There’s honestly so much to explore along the southern coast of this paradise island. In each of these 4 towns, we found a unique experience to enjoy. Each town was different with its own vibe and the things it offered.

    Along the southern coast, there’s something for everyone, from relaxing on the beach to finding a new adventure, from hitting the waves to eating all curries.

    South Coast in Sri Lanka
    Parrot Rock, Mirissa