The South coast of Sri Lanka offers an exquisite coastline with some of the most beautiful beaches and a laid back atmosphere. In a lot of ways, the South is the epitome of Sri Lanka at its most traditional. Long stretches of golden beaches, palm trees lining the shore, colonial townscapes, a host of Buddhist shrines and temples, and stilt fishermen, the south coast is one of the most rewarding places to visit in Sri Lanka. If, like us, you are wanting to explore the south, then Unawatuna is a great place to base yourself for a few days. During our recent trip to Sri Lanka we spent five days here and discovered some of the best things to do in Unawatuna.
Unawatuna is a little piece of heaven. A tropical paradise home to stunning palm-lined beaches, it’s the kind of place that my dreams are made of. But, there are a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to Unawatuna. Some travellers that have visited the area a few years ago and returned recently feel that it has become quite commercialised and lost its once majestic touch. But for us, as first time visitors, we loved it. The Unawatuna things to do list seems almost endless. But here’s what we loved most about it.
Getting to Unawatuna
The trip down from Colombo to Unawatuna really isn’t far at all. You can have a look at my Sri Lanka Itinerary: 2 weeks schedule here if you want to make a few stops along the way. But, you can head straight down to Unawatuna if you like. It’s only 125 KM in distance and a taxi ride will take you about two hours. Uber is really cheap in Sri Lanka and we ended up using them throughout our whole trip to get from one area to the next.
We used Uber to get back from Unawatuna to Negombo (which is a bit further than Colombo) and it only cost us 8000 LKR. Of course, you could also use the train or the bus which would be a lot cheaper. But our luggage was quite heavy and not easy to lug around, so we opted to use Uber. A tuk tuk is also an option if you are travelling light.
Best time to visit Unawatuna
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate with distinct dry and wet seasons. However, it has two different monsoon seasons, and an “inter-monsoon” season which will affect different parts of the island at different times. The good news is that this means that no matter when you visit Sri Lanka, it will always be dry somewhere on the island.
For the West and South coast, the recommended time to visit is between December and April since this is the dry season in these regions. But keep in mind that over Christmas and New year it can get quite crowded and prices are escalated. You best off going early December or later in January when the crowds have died down a bit. The fewest rainy days are experienced between December and March. Temperatures are pretty much constant throughout the year – with a high of 30°C and low of 22°C.
Visit Dalawella Beach
While Unawatuna beach is the biggest and most popular beach of the area, Dalawella beach offers some peace and quiet for those looking to escape the crowds of the main beach. We actually booked an apartment close to Dalawella beach which turned out to be a great choice. The area is a lot quieter and we preferred the beach. There is a great area to swim here and there are quite a few cute and cosy bars to enjoy a few drinks or a light meal.
The main restaurant here – and beach access point – is through Wijaya beach. It’s a popular restaurant and guest house, that in all honesty we weren’t all that impressed by. It’s rather expensive – for Sri Lanka standards, and the service isn’t very good. Nevertheless it’s probably worth at least having a drink here.
The Dalawella beach stretches for quite a few kilometers. But the only spot that is swimming friendly is outside Wijaya. Naturally, this is the busiest area. So, one of the best things to do in Unawatuna is to walk along and explore the Dalawella beach. The further up you walk, the quieter it becomes. In fact, as soon as you pass the first bay just up from Wijaya, you are likely to be one of a few, if not the only people around. We came across some of the cutest little puppies on one of our walks and my heart nearly melted.
Dalawella Beach swing
Arguably the most instagrammed place of Sri Lanka and one of the great Unawatuna attractions is the Dalawella beach rope swing. I knew that this was something I wanted to do when we were in the country. After all, I had already seen so many of the infamous photos on Instagram and I wanted my own.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the photography skills of the top travel bloggers out there. And I’m not sure we even found the right swing. I’m embarrassed to even post my photo here but I will anyway (cringe). You see, the Dalawella beach is now covered with rope swings that have followed in the footsteps of the original place, Dream Cabana. Since it’s become such a sensation, all the restaurants, hotels and bars along the beach have set up their own swings. They each charge between 200 and 500 LKR to have a go.
Apparently the original one is at Dream Cabana. But we really struggled to find it. There is a hotel that is being built along the beach now so we convinced ourselves that perhaps Dream Cabana was gone and the hotel was being put up in its place. So, we found one of the other swings that looked good and took a few photos. It was a lot of fun, so if you’re not interested in the photos and just want a thrilling and fun experience, then anyone of the rope swings will suffice.
But, if you want that infamous Instagram photo…….it appears the original one is still there. A few days after we left Sri Lanka I came across at least three travel bloggers who seemed to have found the swing and posted their photos. So I hope you have better luck than me. I will get mine some day.
Visit Mirissa Beach
One of the best beaches in Sri Lanka is definitely in Mirissa. Mirissa on a whole is a cute little beach village that is it’s own little piece of paradise, which is why you will see it pop up on this list of the best things to do in Unawatuna a few more times. If you have more time in Sri Lanka, Mirissa is a great place to spend a few nights. But, getting back to the point. Mirissa beach is a long stretch of white sand, warm waters, and a great place to swim. It’s pretty close to perfect.
Many of the other beaches in Sri Lanka have a lot of rocks, which make them not ideal for swimming. Mirissa is one of the few beaches that is just about rock free. Well, at least has a long stretch of sea that is perfectly safe to swim in. There are also some great waves here, but the sea isn’t too rough.
If you want to have a drink or bite to eat, there are plenty of low-key beach shacks and restaurants to choose from. We came across a great happy hour at one of the beach bars here. We expected high prices – we are used to the beaches of Europe – but it cost no more than what we would have paid at the inland establishments.
Day trip to Mirissa Secret Beach
We visited Mirissa twice during our stay in Unawatuna because we loved it so much. It’s about a 40 minute bus ride from Unawatuna. The bus is cheap and fairly easy to use – once you’ve figured the system out. We also had a tuk tuk ride back on our second day because we weren’t up for using the bus. On one of our visits we decided to check out the secret beach which we had read about online.
A tiny secluded beach and not the easiest place to reach, you are guaranteed to find some peace and quiet here. We decided to walk along the roads from just off of Mirissa beach to get there. We were misinformed online – apparently the walk was only about 20 minutes. But, I can assure you it’s a lot longer. And it’s not an easy walk since it’s very hilly. Just search on Google maps for Secret beach bar and get a Tuk tuk driver to take you there. We ended up getting a tuk tuk back. You don’t want to face those uphills going back.
Secret beach is very beautiful. There’s only one little bar here – secret beach bar – and a few locals who sell water and a few other refreshments. They also rent out snorkelling gear. We rented out some gear for 500 LKR and it’s possibly the best snorkelling that we’ve ever done. We were in Mauritius a few weeks earlier where we blown away by the sea life, but what we saw here was even more magical. If you’re in the area don’t miss the chance to snorkel.
Day trip to Galle
You simply can’t go to the South of Sri Lanka and not visit Galle. This is one of the top Unawatuna things to do. There are a few unique places to visit in Galle. It’s not the usual Sri Lanka experience. But, what you really want to do here is check out the Galle Fort. It isn’t filled with the typical Sri Lanka architecture, but has tons of influence of the British, Dutch, and Portuguese.
You can walk all along the walls of the fort for free and get some great photos along the way. The Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one that really charms and captivates. The best and probably most popular spot here is the Galle Lighthouse. This is one of the most recognizable features of the Fort and a great place to snap a photo.
We only spent half a day in Galle – I don’t think you need much more time there. There’s a bus from Unawatuna that stops only a few meters from the start of the fort. The trip is only about 20 minutes long and cost a few rupees – it was really cheap. So if you are looking for things to do in Unawatuna, definitely take a trip to Galle.
Hike to Jungle Beach
Jungle beach is a “secret beach” in Unawatuna that really isn’t all that secret. Everyone will tell you about it and everyone will ask you if you’ve been there. We were very excited to visit Jungle beach because of the hype surrounding it. There are two ways to get there – hike for about 30 minutes through a forest-like area or have a Tuk tuk drop you off at the top road and take a short 5 minute walk down.
We opted for the hike because it sounded exciting – and it was. Essentially Jungle beach is just around the corner bay of Unawatuna beach. But since you can’t get there by sea, you need to walk through the jungle area. We came across a few cute restaurants and bars along the way. We also bought a coconut from a local lady to quench our thirst – she keeps them ice cold so it was very refreshing. The walk was great and highly recommended. We stopped to take a few photos along the way.
Unfortunately, we weren’t all that impressed when we eventually reached Jungle beach. It was extremely busy, as in we could hardly find a place to sit. And it was so noisy. There was music blaring – we could actually here it before we even reached the beach. We didn’t end up staying because it was so crowded and not very pleasant. It was however a Sunday, so I’m not sure if it’s any different during the week. It does look like a beautiful beach and the hike there is definitely worth it. Perhaps if you visit during a different time you will have a different experience.
Visit Coconut tree hill in Mirissa
Yes, Mirissa has made it onto my list again. This is one of the best things to do in Unawatuna because you don’t want to miss it if you are in the area. Scrolling through Instagram you have more than likely come across the popular “palm tree forest” photo. Well I had and I wanted to see it for myself. I have somewhat of an infatuation with palm trees. Their size, the beauty, the feelings they invoke, and possibly the association that I make between them and the beach. I just love palm trees.
Anyway, just like the beach rope swings is at the top of the “Unawatuna things to do list,” well visiting coconut tree hill is the thing to do in Mirissa. It will take you between 10 to 15 minutes to walk up there from Mirissa beach. Or you can just ask a Tuk-tuk driver to drop you off there.
We visited at midday and it was beautiful. The views are incredible – there’s nothing like being surrounded by palm trees on a cliff overlooking the infinite sea. We hear that the best time to visit Coconut tree hill is early morning or for sunset.
Why visit Unawatuna
So that’s my roundup of some of the best things to to in Unawatuna. It’s a truly beautiful and unique destination that deserves a lot of love. The South coast of Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. So whether you stay in Unawatuna, Mirissa or maybe one of the surrounding areas, make sure you take the time to explore. I would love to visit Sri Lanka again and see a different part of the island. But, I would also certainly go back to Unawatuna.