Choosing Your Perfect Beach: A Detailed Comparison of Sri Lanka’s West, East, and South Coasts

On the hunt for the best beach in Sri Lanka? To decide which coasts are for you during your adventure on the island, what you need is a Sri Lanka coast comparison. That’s exactly what you’ll find here!

West Coast Beaches

Time from Colombo: Approx. 30 mins – 3.5 hours

Popular Beaches: Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Kalpitiya

West coast beaches are the best-positioned, due to their proximity to Colombo and the airport. Some, such as Negombo Beach and Mount Lavinia are a mere 30 to 45-minute drive away. However, as with most things in life, a little effort can go a long way, and this is also the case for the quality of beaches:

the longer you’re willing to travel up or down the coast away from the commercial capital, the better the beaches generally get. 

West Coast Beaches

For that full beach-town vibe, consider heading down the West Coast to beach towns like Bentota, Hikkaduwa, and Unawatuna. Enjoy palm-lined beaches and plenty of water sports options. 

If you prefer to journey up north along the west coast, head to Kalpitiya which is known for kite surfing as well as whale-watching excursions between October and March.

South Coast Beaches

Time from Colombo: Approx. 2 – 3 hours

Popular Beaches: Mirissa, Thalpe, Koggala, Weligama, Tangalle

South Coast beaches are beautiful indeed, and some are beacons of oceanside serenity. Take Tangalle for example, with its quiet, tranquil shores. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the West Coast beaches, all you need to do is travel further south along the coastline.

Like the west coast beaches, many of the south coast beaches offer plenty of opportunities to indulge in watersports, such as Mirissa.

Mirissa is also known as a set-off point for whale-watching excursions off the south coast (March and April are a great time of year for the increased likelihood of spotting blue whales, whose annual migratory journey takes them fairly close past the southern tip of the island).

South Coast Beaches

East Coast Beaches

Time from Colombo: Approx. 4 – 6 hours

Popular Beaches: Passikudah, Nilaveli, Arugam Bay

If you’re looking for serene beaches in Sri Lanka that somewhat resemble the waters of the Maldives, your best bet is to head to the East Coast. The island’s east coast beaches are located on the opposite end of the island from the commercial capital, Colombo, and the country’s main international airport, the Bandaranaike International Airport. 

East Coast Beaches

While this means that you have to endure a longer journey to get there, it does mean that the beaches you find are likely to be less crowded and more tranquil (and when it comes to the journey, you can always make things more interesting by planning stops at UNESCO World Heritage Sites situated in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, along the way).

When you do get there, you’ll be wowed by the sheer beauty of the clear waters. East Coast beaches such as Passikudah are known for safe waters to swim in; the waters of the ocean tend to be pretty blue and are often rather shallow for quite a way out from the shore.

This means that it’s safer to swim, especially when you’re traveling with the family. The waters are also known for being quite calm, which together with the relative shallowness of the translucent, shimmering waters, reminds one of the tranquil beaches of the Maldives. 

However, unlike the Maldives, Sri Lankan beaches have the added advantage of being a drive away from a variety of terrain and attractions from cloud forests, misty mountains, and scenic waterfalls to ziplining in the cool hillsides and tours of ancient UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

For example, if you explore the best things to do in Pasikuda with Uga Bay, one of the island’s east coast hotels, you’ll find that apart from relaxing at the beach, there are a plethora of other activities to partake in.

These include tours of ancient cities like Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya (home to a 2000-year-old sky fortress); safaris at Minneriya National Park (one of the island’s main national parks); whale and dolphin watching off the east coast (ideal times being between May and August).

East Coast beaches also stand apart from many of the island’s other beaches due to their proximity to renowned dive sites. It is off the east coast that you can dive down to the watery depths in search of various sunken WWI and WWII warships. Arugam Bay, on the east coast, is also renowned for great surfing.

Best Time to Visit Each Coast

Best Time to Visit Each Coast

Whichever coast suits your fancy, you will also have to take into consideration the timing of your trip. If you can only head to Sri Lanka over the summer holidays, for example, you might have more luck with the eastern beaches – they’re in season from April to September, during the dry season.

Alternatively, if you’re planning on visiting the island during a winter escape, consider hitting the south and west coast beaches instead – they’re the best during the high season which runs from December to April.

Each of the island’s coasts has something to offer to be sure. So make your choice after evaluating the kind of waves, beach vibes, and activities that you’re after in conjunction with the time of year that you’re visiting the country.

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