Sri Lanka’s Southern coast is of course for many tourists the main reason to come to Sri Lanka. 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.
Backpacking Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast: From East to West
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mirissa: Hostel First (great clean hostel on walking distance from the beach away from the noisy road)
Hikkaduwa: Hikka Train hostel (cheap, but also a bit crowded. owners are very friendly)
Mirissa: Dewmini Roti shop (great breakfast spot, with a huge variety of roti’s)
Tangalle: Dream Family (friendliest people and best service)
Galle: Mama Galle’s Fort Roof Cafe (great quality of food and the spot to try a Sri Lankan thali)
Transport along Sri Lanka’s southern coast
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
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.