Best for… urban beach
Not the most beautiful beach, granted, but Mount Lavinia’s overriding advantage is its location – it’s right on the outskirts of the capital city, Colombo. Whilst you won’t want to spend the duration of your holiday here, there’s plenty to keep you busy for a couple of days. During the day there are beach and water sports to try out. Island Scuba can expertly guide you around the historical wrecks and tropical reefs in the area if you want to give diving a go. For the less actively inclined, whilst this beach isn’t great for sunbathing it’s a lovely spot for wandering. In amongst all the B&B’s you’ll find some quirky little gift shops – look out for the one advertising its “poo paper” made from elephant dung. Mount Lavinia really comes into its element at night, however, offering a more relaxed dining experience than in other areas of the city. Beachfront Buba is popular for partying, as it regularly puts on live music.
Best for… relaxing
Mirissa strikes a happy balance of everything that’s good about being by the beach. It’s got beautiful sunsets, seafood restaurants, laid-back bars and a nice array of shops selling silk bags, the loose-fitting island wear you’ll spot everyone floating about in and lots of trinkets and treasures you might want to take home as gifts. It’s especially great though if you’re after the quintessential beach experience – lounging around with a good book and soaking up some much-needed vitamin D. If you ever get bored of that, then it’s probably time for a massage. Secret Root, hidden away down a pathway off the main road, remains unbeaten for the magical, tingly excellence of its full-bodies.
Best for… romance
Uppuveli in the Eastern Province is not terribly easy to get to overland – from Colombo the journey takes anywhere between six hours on an air-con bus to nine hours on the overnight sleeper train. It’s more than worth the journey though. Plus, it’s a treat that visitors can get here at all - this area saw a great deal of fighting during the Sri Lankan Civil War, which only drew to an end in 2009. The relative peace and quiet is part of Uppuveli’s attraction at the moment, especially if you’re in search of alone time with someone special. Largely undeveloped (although that is changing rapidly as big bucks resorts cash in and excited tourists descend), this beach offers a genuine glimpse of arcadia. As soon as your feet touch the fine white sand, and you look out to some of the calmest, clearest waters the Indian Ocean has to offer, you’ll forget every worry you ever had. One thing you mustn’t forget though, is to explore nearby Pigeon Island, a marine national park a short boat ride away. For true romance, head 27km from Trincomalee to Kuchaveli. At Jungle Beach you can stay in accommodation designed to make you feel you’re staying in a luxurious tree house.
Best for… surfing
This colourful place on the east coast of the island is so captivating it has even inspired a line of technicolour beachwear – Arugam-Bay – which, by the way, comes highly recommended if you touch down in need of some decent flip-flops. Surfers from all over the world have been coming here for years, sometimes staying for the duration of the season that runs from around May to October. And it shows – this village resort is well set up for surfers, with its string of affordable beachfront bungalows and crashed-out bars playing Bob Marley. Although this part of the island was badly hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and also suffered during the civil war, you wouldn’t know it from the fun, friendly vibe that prevails now. Expect most businesses to be shut if you visit out of season – with many surfers having followed the waves elsewhere on the island, bar and bungalow owners can’t justify the costs of opening. That said, Arugam Bay is a pretty, off-beat place to explore any time of year.
Best for… a night
If you’re looking for beer on the beach with a banging soundtrack - this one more than does the job. Not quite as big and scary as old hippy hangout Hikkaduwa, 22km away, Unawatuna just feels like a fun place to be. Walk along the lantern-lit strip any evening and you’ll see (but mostly hear) plenty of options for dinner and dancing. Chili Café is a great spot for a big bottle of Lion later in the night, as they host a fine selection of DJs.
If the hangover isn’t too bad the next day, there are some great day-trips to be had along this stretch of the south coast. Just a 15-minute tuk-tuk ride away, UNESCO-listed Galle Fort has to be top of the list. You can spend a whole day there, rummaging through its boutique shops, exploring its galleries and feasting on Sri Lankan rice and curry in its cafes. A quick warning though – change out of your bikini and cover up first. The Fort’s community is traditionally conservative and won’t appreciate shoulders on show.
Warning: You are only allowed to take around £30 worth of Sri Lanka Rupees into this country. It's therefore advisable to exchange your Holiday money upon arrival into this country. More information is available here
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