Beyond Unawatuna: Beat the crowds at Sri Lanka’s lesser-known beaches

A lone fisherman during a beautiful sunset at Thalpe Beach. Pic: Sarah Crake/Shutterstock

IF your guide book recommends Unawatuna beach for serenity, it’s out of date.

Sri Lanka’s beaches are booming and this year travelers need to go further afield to find solitude on the sand. But don’t fear, you won’t have to go too wildly off the beaten track to find a place to plonk your sarong.

It is no longer a deserted paradise but, compared to other popular sun seeking Asian destinations such as Thailand and Bali, there is still a “just-discovered” feel to Sri Lanka, even in the more popular spots.

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So, there’s no need to go hurtling off the tourist trail to spend a week in a shack with no running water. Just head past the package tour parade on the west coast and slip into the rhythm of the somewhat sleepier south.

Here are a few tips to avoiding the crowds.

Avoid Unawatuna

A beachside restaurant along Thalpe Beach. Pic: lulu and isabelle/Shutterstock

Once described by Discovery Channel as the “world’s best beach”, Unawatuna is now sadly overdeveloped and heaving in high season. Ditch the bikini for a while and hang out in Galle, a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site and colonial town perched above the ocean.

Stay at the boutique hotel Fortaleza within the fort walls and try a whole snapper cooked with Sri Lankan spices at Elita restaurant.

Tiptoe down the coastline and you’ll find Thalpe and Dilawela beaches where the pace is relaxed and activity sparse. If you have time on your hands, this stretch of seashore is perfect for renting splendid villas, often the weekend activity of choice for many Galle expats.

Don’t miss Mirissa

Pic: Travel landscapes/Shutterstock

A visual feast of tropical loveliness, Mirissa is no longer an isolated getaway. You might have to put up with a few sizzling Europeans in questionable swimwear drinking fizzy beverages and swaying to house beats but what’s the price of bliss?

Head east past Parrot Rock and the calm beach here is a notch down in tempo. Nothing beats the waves lapping at your toes as you pick from a smorgasbord of super fresh seafood at one of the many beach shack restaurants.

If you get bored of lobster then try the curry and rice at Gunes Cuisine in the village where, if you sit out on the balcony, you can watch turtles and huge monitor lizards in the canal below.

This expanse of ocean is one of the best in the world to see the elusive blue whale. But if you take a tour be warned that it can get very choppy out there.

Go wild at Tangalle

Spend some serious alone time at Tangalle. Pic: RewazK/Shutterstock

Beyond Mirissa, you get to Tangalle’s more tempestuous territory. The shoreline is windswept and you should choose your swimming spots very carefully.

The payoff is mile after mile of deserted paradise. Base yourself at Medakitaya which has a knot of cute guesthouses opposite a swimming bay. Dilena Beach Inn has sun beds in the daytime and fragrant king fish curry at night.

Rent a scooter and explore the beaches east of here, particularly Marakolliya and Rekawa, famous for turtles. You can go miles without seeing another human being. For now.

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