Sri Lanka’s famed South Coast is a land of mystical beauty; where fishermen perch on stilts under the setting sun, elephants roam wild through the jungles and turtles crawl upon moonlit beaches to lay their eggs.
Whether you’re interested in beaches, wildlife safaris, historic culture or simply good old R&R, the South Coast is one of the most rewarding parts of the country to visit. You could easily spend a week here by basing yourself at one or two of the towns along the coast, and taking day-trips to explore the surrounding areas. From shopping and sightseeing in historic Galle Fort to whale-watching in Mirissa; snorkling and surfing in Tangalle or wildlife safaris in Yala and Udawalawe National Parks, you won't run out of things to do anytime soon.
When to Go
December until March is the best time to visit, with perfect beach weather. From June through October you'll find lower prices and quieter beaches — but also frequent monsoons in this part of the country.
Things to Do
Sri Lanka's South Coast is dotted with quaint beach towns, historic forts and breathtaking National Parks. Most travellers choose to base themselves out of one or two locations and make day-trips to the surrounding areas:
Galle – Sri Lanka’s perfectly-preserved colonial town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see destination for visitors to Sri Lanka.
Koggala – A small beach town on the edge of a lagoon, Koggala is famed for its stunning beaches and coastline.
Tangalle – One of the largest towns along the coast, Tangalle is a popular base for visitors looking to enjoy the beaches as well as the wildlife safaris further to the east.
Yala National Park – The largest and finest of Sri Lanka’s 22 National Parks, it’s home to herds of wild elephants, sloth bears, migratory birds and the highest concentration of leopards anywhere in the world.
Udawalawe National Park – This popular National Park is one of the best places to spot herds of wild elephants as they roam across the arid landscape.
Mirissa – This quiet beachside village boasts some of the country’s finest beaches, and is well known for its whale watching.
Matara – Located in-between Galle and Tangalle, this sprawling commercial city is home to a 16th century Dutch Fort and is the last stop on the coastal rail line (for now).
Kataragama – One of the country’s holiest spots, this collection of jungle temples and shrines draws devotees of all religions every evening, accompanied by the sound of drum beats and conch shells.
Mulkirigala – Sometimes known as ‘Little Sigiriya,’ this peaceful collection of rock temples is filled with centuries-old cave paintings.
NOTE: Travel information such as flight, train, bus and boat schedules and fares are subject to constant change. The information below is intended as a basic guide only; please check with the relevant companies/authorities before planning your journey.
Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) is the only international airport in Sri Lanka and is located about 30km north of the capital. From Colombo, you can transfer to a prop-plane via Cinnamon Air for the short flight to Bentota, Koggala or Dikwella.
Train travel is the most scenic way to travel along the coast, as the route hugs the shore closely with lovely views over the Indian Ocean. The inter-city Coastal Train travels from Colombo to the last stop in Matara (4.5 hrs), stopping at Galle along the way. From there, you can transfer to a car for the remainder of your journey. Construction is currently underway to extend the line further up until Beliatta and Hambantota. Trains and stations are clean and safe, and tickets are reasonably priced.
Travelling around the South Coast is best done by hiring a car with a driver, which can be booked in advance. The drive from the airport to Galle takes approximately 2 hours, with an additional half hour to Mirissa and an additional hour and a half further on to Tangalle. Inter-city buses also depart regularly from Colombo to major towns, including Galle, Matara and Tangalle, although these are generally slow and crowded. Keep in mind that the Southern Expressway is the busiest road in the country and can get congested during peak periods.
Hiring a car or van with a driver is the easiest way to get around the coast. Most hotels can assist with the necessary arrangements, or else you can easily book a driver through travel agencies in town. Within the downtown areas, tuk-tuks can usually be hailed along the streets for travelling short distances. Public transport is generally non-existent along the coastal areas.
Sri Lanka offers a 30-day online tourist visa, or ‘ETA’ for citizens of most countries. Singaporeans and citizens of the Maldives and Seychelles are exempted from visa requirements, although it’s always advisable to check before making travel plans.
Sri Lanka uses the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR), although US dollars are widely accepted and even preferred by many establishments. US$1 is roughly equivalent to LKR 130. Visit xe.com for the latest exchange rates.
Health & Safety
Sri Lanka’s South Coast is generally a very safe place. As always however, travellers should still take precautions against pick-pocketing and snatch thefts, especially when walking in dimly-lit areas. Mosquitos can be a concern depending on the time of year, as they can carry dengue fever as well as malaria in the northern parts of the country. Use mosquito repellent when outdoors especially during dawn and dusk. It is not advisable to drink tap water; bottled water is cheap and readily available.
Rules & Regulations
Sri Lanka only recently ended a bloody, decades-long civil war, and the scars still run deep beneath the surface. The majority of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, and strict rules govern the country’s religious sites. It is an offense to take a photo with your back turned to any statue of a Buddha or to pose alongside them, which is regarded as disrespectful and can result in a fine. Religious tattoos (especially tattoos of the Buddha) and images are also prohibited, and visitors are advised to cover up any visible tattoos that can cause offense.
Learn the Lingo
Sri Lanka’s official languages are Sinhala (spoken by the majority Sinhalese) and Tamil (spoken by the minority Tamil and Muslim groups). English is widely spoken in urban areas.
Hello – Ayubowan
How are you? -- Kohomada
Thank you – Isthuti
My name is… -- Mage nama…
How much is this? – Kiyeda
Have a nice day – Subha davasak