Sri Lanka’s tropical west-coast beaches offer staple holiday fun from boutique to budget. Let Red Dot advise on your perfect choice.Photo Credit: Dhanush de Costa
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Wadduwa & Kalutara, the first beach settlements along the west coast coming from Colombo, have a reputation for fine mangosteens – a luscious small purple colour fruit found in abundance along wayside stalls in July/August. Explore Kalutara’s colonial past with a visit to the Richmond Castle, an old spice-plantation mansion which can be reached by canoe down the old Dutch canals. Take a cycling trip inland through spice, fruit and rubber plantations. These are available for serious mountain bikers as well as families just wanting a leisurely afternoon ride. The beaches widen at Beruwela, which has a golden strip of mile-long beach, largely favoured by mid-range beach hotels of traditional style. For an unusual outing here, consider the Brief Gardens - a 25-acre estate which was the lifelong work of the celebrated landscape artist Bevis Bawa. A day excursion to the central rainforests of Sinharaja is also possible.Bentota is blessed by the lazy waters of the Bentota River, ideal for watersports and boat trips. Bentota’s broad sandy beach with gently-shelving sands offer safe swimming making it one of the most appealing Sri Lankan destinations for a traditional and relaxing family holiday. Continue your journey further south to Ambalangoda where the mask carvers and puppet makers predominate. The turtle hatchery at Kosgoda plays a vital protective role for the turtles that lay their eggs on the beach annually, and is well worth a visit. The characterful town of Hikkaduwa attracts the backpackers, independent travellers, and generally a younger crowd. Its range of budget accommodation, scattering of simple but decent restaurants, beach bars, and beachside nightclubs gives it something of the mood of a resort in Goa or Bali.
The choice is widespread and value for money largely excellent, but be wary of some special offers that you may see in the package-hotel sector, especially outside peak times. Special offers can either be a bargain or a hint that a hotel is faltering. Check our profiles, decide on your priorities and ask us for advice. We generally recommend the beaches of Bentota (especially the southern end), Induruwa, Kosgoda, Balapitiya and Ahungalle. Wadduwa and Kalutara have several appealing properties for those wanting to be closer to Colombo and the airport. Beruwala, in our view, have been scarred by the 1970’s development of large scale “package resort” hotels, although the Eden Hotel is a sound choice and can offer some splendid special offers.There are several Geoffrey Bawa designed hotels along the west coast, including Heritance Ahungalla, Lighthouse Hotel in Galle, Blue Waters in Wadduwa, Bentota Beach Hotel and Lunuganga – Bawa’s country retreat and tranquil landscaped gardens – which is open to guests for just four months of the year from December to April. Families travelling with children might like Max Wadiya or Sri Villas in Induruwa; Amaya Reef – a mid-range hotel in Hikkaduwa; or several hotels close to Bentota’s watersports, such as the 5-star Taj Exotica, Bentota Beach Hotel or the simpler Serendib. Among the best budget options are Garden Beach Hotel and Cinnamon Gardens. For those seeking the benefits of Ayurvedic healing and wellness, we recommend the Siddhalepa Ayurveda Holiday Resort in Wadduwa. Lotus Villa in Ahungalla and Paradise Island Health Resort in Bentota takes in guests only for Ayurvedic treatments.