What’s the best part of the Southwest Coast of Sri Lanka?
One of the things that Sri Lanka is known for is its beaches- The Indian Ocean is one of my absolute favorite bodies of water to swim. Hit hard by the 2004 tsunami, oceanfront development is still sparse. Endless, open, cerulean beaches framed by 18-karat hued sand. The water is amazingly clean. You won’t find garbage in the water- any of the plastic bags, straws, or sundry detritus that seems to be in sea of countries still sorting out garbage disposal. 
Sri Lanka is attracting many surfers. The breaks are easy, the water is nearly perfect, and the community is friendly. Lessons, rental boards, and surf spots are readily shared.
Bentota has a lot of big semi-luxury hotels – it’s for a certain kind of tourist traveler. It’s a holiday – a very self-enclosed place – but it’s not a cultural experience. It’s equidistant between Colombo and Galle, and full of French, English, and lots of Russian people. Bentota is the new Caribbean getaway substitute for a certain kind of (Eastern) European sun worshipper.
(The east coast is where you go in the summer; during the winter – November through April – monsoon season – you’re on the west coast.)
Paradise Road Hotel. Inside-outside living or Club Villa .
Unawatuna – one of the most beautiful beaches, located south of Galle; filled with ruins of old colonial buildings. Hit hard by the tsunami.
Hikkaduwa –the beaches are gorgeous. Every sunset is amazingly beautiful. Global hippies migrated to Hikkaduwa from Goa in the early ‘70s. Bohemian vibe. Techno music all night and the wild free spirits that come with a party. Amazing during the day.
Where to stay at the beach:
Don’t stay at one of the hotels or guesthouses on the beach. Stay inland off the main road in the jungle. Belinda has amazing properties and recommendations. A former photo and film producer throughout Europe and North Africa, she knows exactly what the traveler needs—and loves Sri Lanka enough to seek out the best.
If you have the budget to keep a separate seaside stay for beach days, rent at Hug Inn. Comfortable eco furniture, good food, and friendly staff- the nicest place to chill out on the beach. Indulge in a private, ocean front room for long days seaside, but stay in the jungle. Music from the rotating beachfront bars will keep you awake all night.
Beach advice:
Don’t miss the beach & the ocean. The tide is incredibly placid during the day. If you want to swim with turtles, you can stroll North to a part of the beach with 100 year old turtles and coral. Walk ten minutes down the beach and find sand and water. And walk another 10 minutes to find waves breaking and surfers. You’ll probably only see a dozen people the entire time. (Which is why you shouldn’t travel by yourself).
The sun is incredibly strong between 10am and 4pm – stay in the shade and wear and reapply your sunscreen.  No matter how tan you get.
There are women on the beach selling lightweight tunics and sarongs for less than $5 (bargain, or don’t). When you walk on the beach, wear a t-shirt & shorts. You’ll get bombarded otherwise. It’s a public beach – not attached to a hotel. A woman in a bathing suit is a target for fairly aggressive glances, if not full come-ons, by Sri Lankan boys.
Go to Chaaya Tranz – the big hotel – and hang out by the pool and get a $15 massage at the Azmaara Spa that includes a sunscreen rub in.
You can stay out all night, stay at a ritzy resort, and hop on the bus or the train (it leaves once an hour) to get wherever you need to be.
Still recovering from the Indian Ocean tsunami, guesthouses can be found once you reach a town.
Skip the local Ayurveda massages. The masseuses are lovely, but inexperienced and cleanliness is not a priority. Azmaara Spa provides good body treatments, including scrubs and massages.
Getting around:
The bus station and train station will get you to and from Galle in 30 minutes for less than 25 cents. Tuk-Tuk’s are everywhere and take the same amount of time for approximately $10.
To get to Bentota, Hikkaduwa, or Unawatuna from Colombo, take the train or if in a rented vehicle, make sure the car goes on the expressway. Do not go via tuk-tuk unless you have a day and a lung to spare. 

A little extra:
And it’s only an hour flight to the Maldives. Go and feel very posh with nothing to do but swim and lounge. 

April 2013