As well as its hill country settlements, ancient ruins, wild life and rich cultural heritage, Sri Lanka can boast enough beaches for every month of the year.
Sri Lanka’s first beach resort was Negombo, developed for tourists as it is the closest beach to the main international airport, a mere 5km distant. Tourists can be basking in the sun within an hour of leaving the plane. Some quiet stretches of the beach are maintained by the tourist hotels, while other parts are busy with fishermen with their boats and nets.
The season for the beaches of the east coast begins in April. Surfers and the determined young-at-heart make for Arugam Bay. This cove just south of Pottuvil, where the A4 from Colombo meets the east coast, comes to life as surfers surge to catch the right wave.
There’s a more sophisticated beach lifestyle further north where the long stretch of sand lapped by calm waters at Passikudah is becoming the newest beach resort in Sri Lanka with fine hotels opening up. Further north is the enormous natural harbour at Trincomalee, which has two fine beaches, at Uppuveli and Nilaveli, with opportunities for snorkelling and diving.
Jaffna, some 400km north of Colombo on the west coast (and now accessible by train as well as road), has a small beach lined with whispering casuarina trees and a long stretch of sand washed by shallow sea.
The closest dedicated beach strip to Colombo is at Mount Lavinia. That’s where locals do their thing – early morning joggers and, in the late afternoon, families taking a stroll. Beruwala, a small town 58km south of Colombo, is considered to be the first dedicated beach resort town along the southwest coastal belt. It was originally a fishing and trading village known as Barberyn where Arab traders of ancient days would use its natural harbour. It has a flourishing early morning fish market.
South of the bustling coastal town of Aluthgama across a broad river, Bentota is famous as a sprawling seaside resort set under an endless canopy of palm trees. It has a large, river lagoon ideal for all kinds of water sports. However, for action after a day lazing on its beach, head for Hikkaduwa, 97km south of Colombo, renowned for its after-beach activities with dozens of small cafés, bars and seafood restaurants as well as lively hotels and guesthouses to suit all budgets.
There are two attractive and very popular sandy coves in the deep south, Unawatuna with its recently replenished golden sand beach and easy-going charm, and the more commercial Mirissa with its surfing corner and organised whale-watching expeditions by boat. Towards the east, on the way to the Yala National Park, there are several secret beaches waiting to be discovered around Tangalle, that are never overwhelmed with visitors.
Whatever the month in Sri Lanka, there’s a beach for every moment.
Royston Ellis (www.roystonellis.com) is a British author resident in Sri Lanka since 1980.