Like its many different regions, Sri Lanka has had a variety of names throughout its history. It’s been called Lanka, meaning “all that glitters;” Serendip, a word of Arabic origin that translates to “serendipity” in English; and Ceylon, the designation given to it by British colonialists. Whatever its numerous visitors have chosen to call it, Sri Lanka has always been the place of legends.
The exotic nature and outlandish beauty of its Southern Coast have now become an open secret among beachgoers, yogis, and adventurers seeking something new.
Here are a few things you should know before setting off to explore (and surf) Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast!
BASICS: UNDERSTANDING LANKA LIFE
A haven of surf, sun, yoga, meditation, healthy cuisine, and charming boutique hotels, Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast offers an incredibly laid-back atmosphere, which can be credited to the wave of surfers that have flocked to its beaches over the past few years. Lanka life is more than a mere nomenclature, though — it’s a new approach to local life that involves an appreciation of the region’s beauty, as well as maintaining a sense of harmony with the natural environment.
Residents eat well, sleep well, and rub shoulders daily without any sense of aggravation, even despite the influx of young expats who have begun opening chic boutique hotels and restaurants along the coast.
In the words of Sri Lankan-born British author Romesh Gunesekera, “Whether we live in Sri Lanka or Malaysia or India, the U.K., or the U.S., we face similar issues of understanding, remembering the past that has made us, and seeing the future we want.”
TIPS: THE BIG KAHUNA
Before you book your trip to this island nation, consider the following travel tips.
Visas and Immunizations
Apply for a visa well in advance, and also keep in mind that you may need specific vaccinations prior to your travels.
If you’re only able to stay for a week, plan your trip well. There is a wide variety of things to see and do in each area, so it’s best to have a general idea of what suits your interests and tastes ahead of time.
Remember to set aside the cost of transportation fares in advance in order to avoid being overcharged since the fees vary from Tuk Tuk to Tuk Tuk and taxi driver to taxi driver. A private chauffeur can also be arranged through some hotels in the area, but that will require additional fees. If you’re planning on renting a moped, however, make sure that you have comprehensive health insurance before you go — there are no rules on the roads of the Southern Coast, and accidents are plentiful.
When shopping, be prepared to bargain. There are plenty of open-air markets and street boutiques in both the capital and along the coast. Depending on which season you decide to visit, prices can increase or decrease significantly.
Wine, beer, and mixed drinks are not served in many local hotels, so remember to purchase your own at one of the off-license stores in the area. Note that tobacco sales are likewise limited to particular places.
Boards can be rented anywhere along the coast, so it’s not necessary to bring your own. Consider asking your hotel for recommendations, so as to avoid getting stuck with poor equipment. Or, use the opportunity to purchase a new board at one of the local shops, like Ceylon Sliders or the Doctor’s House. If you’re an amateur or novice, be sure to research the best surf schools in the area as well, as the quality of instruction differs a great deal along the beach.
Yoga studios abound throughout the coast, so, again, it’s best to ask a local or someone at the hotel for a good recommendation.
What to Bring
Along with your standard travel gear, I’d recommend packing a small flashlight for walking along poorly lit streets at night, a raincoat for if it rains, a pair of quality walking shoes for trekking, and bug spray for obvious reasons. Be sure to leave your guidebook at home, though — the best activities in the area are always discovered by asking around.
What to Do
If you’re not busy surfing or enjoying a day of yoga, take a tour around Koggala Lake, spend a day at the Good Spa in Weligama, or visit the town of Tangalle.
What to Avoid
Like any vacation destination, the Southern Coast has its fair share of tourists traps, such as Galle Fort and the overcrowded beaches of Unawatuna. Head to some of the less well-known towns, villages, and beaches instead.
What to Respect
While in Sri Lanka, it’s important to be mindful of and respect the local language and culture, the religion of its inhabitants, and the natural settings of the coastline. In other words, no plastic or polluting!
When to Go
It’s best to visit at the beginning or end of high season, which runs from April to October. Flights and hotel fares tend to be much more costly during these months and the coast is often saturated with bigger crowds.
Other Things to Note
As with many tropical locations, there are numerous stray cats and dogs on the streets of Sri Lanka. Though most aren’t aggressive, particularly those on the beach, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
PLACES TO EXPLORE
Once you’ve made it to Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast, be sure to check out these locales.
- Ceylon Sliders, Weligama: Fresh, homemade iced teas and tempting Buddha bowls.
- Kat’s Coffee, Unawatuna: Homemade baked goods and an amazing lunch menu.
- Skinny Tom’s Deli, Unawatuna: To-die-for baps, or bread rolls, homemade baked goods, sandwiches, coffee, iced teas, and plenty more.
- Cantina Lanka, Kabalana: The best tacos on the island.
- Salty Swamis, Galle: A café, surf shop, and gallery.
- Soul Café, Weligama: A café, bar, and surf shop all in one.
- Sun & Soul Café, Midigama Beach: Delicious milkshakes, coffee, and cakes.
- Kats Café, Unawatuna: Locally sourced, handmade rice and curry bags.
- Soul and Surf Kit at Ceylon Café, Kabalana: Features brands such as Coto, Da Fin, Dick Pearce, Eq, the Felloway Finisterre, Gulfstream, Kardo, Neon, Otter, Riz, Salt Gypsy, and Ross Concept.
- Ceylon Sliders, Kabalana: Bikinis, sandals, beach bags, and surf gear.
- Nomad Cafe Boutique, Weligama: Handmade dresses, jewelry, and t-shirts.
- The Doctor’s House, Madiha: Handmade boards, board shorts, bikinis, and t-shirts.
- Fish Market, Weligama: Selection of fresh fish of the day and beachside dining.
- Food Market, Galle: Fresh local fruits, cheeses, meats, and fish.
BEST BEACH BARS
- The Doctor’s House, Madiha: Funky ambiance and the best cocktails in town, served with live music and sunset views.
- Wijaya Beach, Unawatuna: Sunset views and beachside cocktails.
BEST SURF SPOTS
- Weligama Beach Break: A long stretch known for gentle bay breaks and its best beach for beginners.
- Kabalana Surf Point aka “The Rock”: Chunky A-frames and shallow reefs make it a ‘shortboarder’ favorite.
- Gurubebila Point aka Coconuts: A-frame breaks ideal for the intermediate and advanced.
- Rams at Midigama: Strong A-frame wave breaks that are perfect for the advanced.
- Hikkaduwa Reef: Long rides from the left, barrels to the right, and a deep reef make it another great spot for beginners.
- Mirissa Beach Break: Prime location for longboarders.
The unspoiled beauty and coveted breaks of Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast appeal to barefoot travelers and salt gypsies from all walks of life. A culmination of gratitude, harmony, and an appreciation for the little things in life infuse Lanka life with a love of good living that’s hard to find elsewhere and impossible to forget.