Backpacking the South Coast of Sri Lanka: the highlights

Backpacking the South Coast of Sri Lanka: the highlights

Backpacking Sri Lanka: A travel guide to Sri Lanka's Southern coast and the beaches of Tangalle, Mirissa and Hikkaduwa for the independent budget traveller

The South Coast of Sri Lanka is of course for many tourists the main reason to come to Sri Lanka in the first place. After exploring Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage in the north, the tea plantations in the hill country and the wild life parks in the east I also headed south to enjoy my last week at the beach.

Again Sri Lanka’s Southern coast did not disappoint me. The south has a lot to offer even for those like me who get restless after sunbathing on a beach for a day or two. In this post I will share with you the best places to visit on the south coast of SRi Lanka, where to stay and where to eat.

Best places to visit on the South Coast of Sri Lanka: From East to West

1. Kirinda

Kirinda is a local beach near Yala National Park. From Tissamaharama it is a short 30 minute bus ride. In the weekends it is busy with locals who visit the local temple.

This is not a beach to take out your bikini. The families that come here with their children are not used to see tourists. The women can be seen fully clothed with their feet in the water watching their sons splash around. Kirinda beach is the perflect local beach experience to see how Sri Lankans enjoy their weekends.

2. Tangalle

I spent a couple of days in the quiet beach town of Tangalle. After two days of sunbathing and enjoying fresh grilled fish dinners I was still enjoying this place, despite the strong currents in the sea that made swimming impossible. The secret was the food and the restaurant scene.

My last evening I discovered a new family restaurant at the end of the beach boulevard. They were the friendliest people I met in Sri Lanka. The owner just opened 2 months ago but they were clearly overwhelmed with their own success as they ran out of forks and knives.

Despite a powercut the mothers owner prepared everyone’s orders in the dark. Still, it was one of the best fish I had. At the end of the night the owner had a big smile and confided to us that since he opened he never had so much guests as tonight.

3. Mirissa

My main reason for visiting Mirissa is because it is the best place in Sri Lanka to go whale watching. Several tour operators do whale watch safari’s offering the same for a similar price.

I went with Raja and the whales. It is slightly more expensive, but they are very professional and also use their trips to gather data for research and conservation efforts. We saw dozens of spinner dolphins and finally several blue whales. It was amazing to see these majestic animals up close.

Besides the whales Mirissa also has a lovely beach and a selection of very nice restaurants. Don’t miss the Dewmini Roti shop in town for the best and most creative roti’s. At night the restaurants at the beach will display the catch of the day. You can choose the fish you like to eat and they will grill it for you.

5. Galle

After several beach days I was ready to see something else. From Mirissa I went to Galle for the day to explore a bit more about my own history. Fort Galle was once the trade center of the dutch VOC and many dutch merchants and soldiers once stayed or even lived here.

The dutch allowed the Sri Lankans to keep their autonomy as long as they got monopoly on the spice trade. The dutch Reformed Church still displays the graves of the dutch people that died here. In old dutch, I can read that there were doctors, lawyers and accountants among them, while most women were simply housewifes of their husbands.

Apparently some dutch people still own property in the fort and together with the government they make an effort to preserve the history. Walking through the quiet and clean alleys with the renovated colonial houses it felt almost like a different country. Furthermore, there are some excellent restaurants and cafes here. It was a welcome change after some days at the beach.

6. Hikkaduwa

Hikkaduwa was probably the first place in Sri Laka that I did not like. There were a lot of Russian tourists and the beach was close to the main road. Not exactly an idyllic beach spot.

The waters were very calm tough, so it was good to swim and the snorkelling above the Marine park was nice. Also there are two wild leatherback turtles that always come close to the shore in front of Chaaya Tranz hotel . It was my first time I saw such big turtles in the wild.

7. Kosgoda: Turtle conservation project

The southwest coast is quite known for the turtles that come and lay their eggs. Sri Lanka’s turtles are not faring as well as Sri Lanka’s protected elephants. Along the coast several small projects have opened up to increase the survival prospects of baby turtles, because they have a lot of risks to overcome before they can safely reach the sea.

First of all eggs are sold in the market as food and second there are several predators like dogs and birds trying to catch and eat the baby turtles. The projects buy the eggs from locals and fishermen so they can safely keep them till they hatch.

Once the baby turtles are strong enough they release the baby turtles into the sea. The most interesting fact is that where they are released is where they will come back in twenty years to lay down their own eggs, no matter how far they wander off in the ocean. Most centers let tourists release the baby turtles into the sea for a fee.

Backpackers Hostels along the South coast of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Southern coast is dominated by luxurious resorts, but because they are also popular backpacker destinations it isn’t too difficult to find cheap accomodation.

Backpacker hostels are coming up and most places along the coast now have one or two hostels. They are the best option for backpackers that travel alone and want to stay within their budget.

Another relatively cheap option on the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka are homestays. Especially if you are a couple this is a good compromise between price and comfort. On Airbnb and you will find several homestay options.

Tangalle: Coppenrath Hostel = brand new with view on the ocean

MirissaHostel First = great clean hostel on walking distance from the beach away from the noisy road.

Galle: Rapid Luck hostel

Hikkaduwa: Hikka Train hostel = cheap, but also a bit crowded.


TangalleDream Family = friendliest people and best service

Mirissa: Dewmini Roti shop = great breakfast spot, with a huge variety of roti’s)

GalleMama Galle’s Fort Roof Cafe = great quality of food and the spot to try a Sri Lankan thali

Transport along the South Coast of Sri Lanka

Travelling along Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast by public transport is easy and straightforward. You have two options. The train or the bus.

The train is an experience in itself and usually there are tickets available for short journeys along the Southern Coast, but if they are sold out there is no need to worry. There is always a bus leaving anytime soon.

Kirinda: 30 minutes by bus from Tissamaharame, From Colombo to Tissamaharame is about 7-8 hours)

Tangalle: By bus from Tissamaharama it is about 2-3 hours, from Colombo 6-7 hours

Mirissa: From Tangalle it is 2 hours by bus, from Colombo 4-5 hours

Galle: From Mirissa it is 1 hour by bus, from Colombo 3-4 hours

Hikkaduwa: From Galle it is 1 hour by bus, from Colombo it is 2-3 hours by bus

Kosgoda: From Hikkaduewa it is 30 minutes by bus, from Colombo 2 hours

Backpacking Sri Lanka: A travel guide to Sri Lanka's Southern coast and the beaches of Tangalle, Mirissa and Hikkaduwa for the independent budget traveller

There are 15 comments for this article
  1. Pingback: Top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka | Backpack Adventures
  2. Kate at 10:59 am

    Not everything is great in Sri Lanka, you should definitely avoid Colombo but everything what you described is doubtlessly places to visit! Love it!

    • ellisveen Author at 12:39 pm

      Colombo was also not my favourite city in Sri Lanka and I was also not too impressed with Kandy. But there are so many other beautiful places in Sri Lanka.

  3. Birthe (from Wandering the World) at 1:57 pm

    You’ve visited quite some spots in Sri Lanka! I must admit I don’t really know anything about Sri Lanka and I’ve never really considered visiting. I have a friend though that went a volunteered in a boys orphanage in Sri Lanka and traveled around the country for a while. She had some stunning photos. They have beautiful nature as well!

  4. Ricci – wheninmyjourneys at 6:05 pm

    What a fun day you’ve spent on those Sri Lankan beaches. Love your adventure with the wild animals, I haven’t tried whale and dolphin watching but definitely would love to go sometime.

  5. Only By Land at 2:17 pm

    Kirinda beach looks so vibrant, I’ve heard nothing but good things about this place. The images you took of dolphins and whales in Mirissa are brilliant, I know how hard it is to photograph these animals in the wild! Useful information about getting around the island too!

  6. Tracy (lifeofkuhl) at 8:36 pm

    Love the idea of having access to fresh fish everyday. So awesome to see success with entrepreneurs and seeing their dreams realized. Running out of cutlery I would say was a good problem to have 😉

  7. Stephanie Bills at 5:53 am

    The beaches of Sri Lanka are definitely a must see for me! I sadly don’t have plans set to travel there any time soon, but I desperately want to go. It looks like an incredible experience.

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