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Sri Lankas Most Popular Beach – Unawatuna

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Unawatuna is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Sri Lanka and is the most “famous” beach in the country. It is a lovely banana-shaped beach of golden sand and turquoise water, surrounded by green palm trees!

It was the first beach we visited in Sri Lanka. We chose not to stay at one of the fancy and expensive hotels along the beach of Unawatuna, but a few kilometers away at a guesthouse. We walked to the Unawatuna Beach on two separate day trips.

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The beach is popular with tourists, and part of the beach is occupied with sunbeds for rent.

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In the afternoons, Sri Lankan families come to the beach to enjoy some swimming in the sun.

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At the west end of the beach, there are some rocks and stairs that lead up to a small hill with a pagoda and a big Buddha statue. It’s a nice little walk with a beautiful view overlooking the beach.

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Buddha Statue

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Unfortunately, Unawatuna is not all paradise. The place was devastated by the tsunami in 2004, and the rebuilding was done in a hurry and many of the owners rebuilt their hotels and restaurants on the actual sand. The result is that half the beach is gone, and there is actually not that much sand left to play on. It´s a shame.

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Behind the beach, in between palm trees, is Unawatuna center. It is basically one street full of small nice restaurants and shops selling souvenirs, clothes, water, jewelry and so on.

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Unawatuna Beach is really beautiful, with great swimming, but not our favorite beach in Sri Lanka. Too busy with sellers and too crowded with tourists for our liking. I also got a jellyfish sting on my leg while swimming, which really hurt! That might also have something to do with me not loving this beach that much.

We really loved BentotaMirissa Beach, and Tangalla Beach, and would probably rather go back there than visit Unawatuna again.


Where To Stay In Unawatuna

Unawatuna offers a wide selection of accommodation for all budgets, and you will have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to stay. Below are some of our favorite accommodation options in the Unawatuna area.

Sergeant House
This small luxury boutique guesthouse is getting rave reviews right now. The hotel is in a colonial-style building with stylishly decorated rooms in a modern style. The pool and garden area is lovely and the chef serves up a delicious mix of Thai, Sri Lankan, and western specialties. It's wonderfully secluded and quiet yet Unawatuna beach with all its restaurants is just a short walk away. The staff is friendly and helpsome. There is a Spa offering some fantastic Ayurvedic massage.
Click here for latest prices

Gloria Grand Unawatuna Hotel
This brand new hotel is close to Unawatuna beach, but still a bit away from the town's busy main street. So you can get a good night's sleep, and still be close to the beach.
Click here to check the latest prices

Ocean Crest Hotel
This is a brand new hotel. The swimming pool looks amazing and its located right by the sea.
Click here to check the latest prices

Kingfisher Hotel
If you want to stay in Unawatuna Beach/ center, this seems like a very good deal with excellent service and location. It does not have a swimming pool, but the sea is right outside your hotel room. Each room has a balcony with an awesome view of the ocean.
Click here to see the latest prices

Budget

Thaproban Beach House
You can't get closer to Unawatuna beach than this hotel located just steps from the shore.  Rooms are large, clean, and comfortable with private bathrooms, air-con, minibar, and a flat-screen TV. You can enjoy fresh seafood served in the beachfront restaurant every evening.  The staff is great and serves a tasty breakfast.
Click here for latest prices

Damith Guest House
We stayed here for one week and liked it a lot. It is one of few budget hotels in the Unawatuna/ Galle area with a swimming pool. The hotel is relatively new, and the owner Damith is a great guy that can fix and book everything for you. He has worked in the tourist industry in Unawatuna for a long time, so he knows everything there is to see and do in Sri Lanka.

Make sure to try the Sri Lankan curry and rice - it is delicious!  The hotel is located on the hillside a fair bit away from the rather overly touristy Unawatuna Beach. We walked to the beach a couple of times, and it took about 30 minutes. With a tuk-tuk or taxi, both Unawatuna beach and Galle are about 10 minutes away. There is free wifi in the restaurant/ by the pool.
Click here to check the latest prices

Can you picture yourself on the Unawatuna Beach? Please share your opinion in the comment area below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please share and like it on social media! Thank you so much! 🙂

 

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Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

16 Comments

  1. Hey Maria! Beautiful pictures! May I ask you what type of camera you use? Also, do you do any editing before adding them to your site? They are absolutely perfect!

    Thanks,
    Brian

    Reply
    • Hi Brian, and thank you for the amazing compliment! 🙂

      We are working hard trying to improve our photography, so it is fantastic to hear that you enjoy our photos!

      I’m actually a little embarrassed to tell you what camera we are using :). We had our camera bag stolen in Bangkok a while back, and in it was most of our camera gear.

      So all the photos on the website is taken with our backup camera, an old Nikon D90 dslr from 2008. It is actually not a bad camera, but it is getting a bit old.

      We shoot in RAW mode on the camera, so we do have to edit the pictures in Adobe Lightroom before posting them to the blogpost or the gallery.

      Reply
  2. Great photos 🙂 ! We just returned from our trip through Sri Lanka. Which was amazing. Unawatuna was our favorite place to stick around. Can’t wait to go back.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! We also fell in love with this beautiful country, it`s food and least but not all it`s people. Sri Lanka has the best rice and curry! 🙂

      Happy travels!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  3. Hi Maria,

    Really great Blogs, especially the two week venture to Sri Lanka.
    My girlfriend and I are looking to go end of January for 10 days. So much to see!
    We have been told Unawatuna was the beach to go but it seems the other two are better for a couple nights each? Like the mix of food, quiet time and the odd party if possible. We are certainly keen on a trek in Ella, do you have any tips for that? And possible day trip to Galle and Kandy.
    What would your suggestion be for a 10 day trip. We looking to spend half the time relaxing and beach time.

    Thank you so much and can’t wait to see it all.

    Reply
    • Hi Dale,

      Unawatuna is a bit too touristy in our taste. The Unawatuna beach is also a bit small.

      We really liked Mirissa and Tangalle. Tangalle is quiet and has a stunning beach, but you can not go swimming there because of strong underwater current. Mirissa has more people, a very nice beach, and you can go swimming there although there are waves. Mirissa is great for surfing. In the evening, Mirissa beach gets turned into seafood restaurants, very cosy and great food!

      Some of our readers have mentioned Kalkudah Beach as their favourite Sri Lankan beach, so you might want to check that out.

      Galle is definitely a must visit. We did not like Kandy that much, but Lion Rock (Sigiriya) is great. And we really enjoyed the safari in Yala National Park.

      Ella is awesome! We went on several hiking trips in Ella area. We went hiking with a lovely guide that our hotel Ravana Heights Hotel recommended and booked for us. Most of these tracks are not marked and there are no maps of walking routes, so it`s probably best to go with a guide. Little Adam`s Peak is an easy and beautiful hike that you can easily do on your own.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka! I`m sure you will love it as much as we!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  4. I,be visited Unawatuna Beach in 1988 on a Day Trip from Hikkaduwa. Back those 30 years ago it was the most remote Beach in Sri Lanka. I’ve just scanned my old dia slides and found a picture of the bay with a single wind surfer on it.
    Amazing that it went from remotest to most popular

    Reply
    • Hei Kristian,

      Wow! Yeah, that is pretty amazing! Sounds like a fantastic place to visit in 1988! Now it is overcrowded with tourists, and sadly (after the tsunami) they built too many restaurants and hotels on the beach so much of the sand area is gone. You will probably hardly recognize Unawatuna today. Now you would have to go to the north and east of Sri Lanka to find those kinds of remote and pristine beaches.

      Must have been interesting and difficult to visit Sri Lanka in 1988, while it was a civil war in the country. It must have been very different from today in so many ways.

      Happy travels! Tusen takk for kommentaren (hvis du er norsk…)! 🙂

      Hilsen Maria

      Reply
  5. Hi Maria!

    May i ask if I can go to Unawatuna, Mirissa & Tangalle from Galle in one day? Perhaps I can stay in Tangalle and then I can head to Yala National Park the next day.

    Appreciate your advice on this 🙂

    Thank you!

    Regards,
    Nadirah

    Reply
    • Hi Nadirah,

      Yes, you can get from Galle to Unawatuna, Mirissa, and Tangalle in one day.

      Unawatuna is located right by Galle, we walked between those places, but you can also take a taxi or tuk-tuk (a 10 min drive one way). The drive from Galle to Mirissa is about one hour one way, and the drive from Mirissa to Tangalle is about 1-2 hours one way depending on the traffic.

      Tangalle is a great place to stay for a day-trip to Yala National Park. The drive from Tangalle to Yala is about 2 hours one way.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  6. Hi Maria,

    Thanks so much for sharing such detailed information!

    My family (9 Adults age 34 – 70 and 5 kids ages 3-12) are visiting Sri Lanka for a 8 day trip. We reach on 22nd March 8pm and leave on 30th march 4pm.
    I was thinking of doing two destinations.
    22nd March – Land
    23rd to 26th March — somewhere on the southwest coast (Bentota, Galle, or somewhere). Please let me know if you have recommendation on which town to stay in.
    26th -29th March – Nuwara Eliya or Ella.
    29th – 30th March – Colomobo (along with Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage)
    30th March – fly out

    Please let me know your thoughts on this plan.
    If you have any other recommendation for a 8 day Sri lanka trip, then please let me know.
    Also, if you have recommendation on transportation (CAR for whole duration, trains?, car on travel days) that would be very valuable. Currently I am thinking of getting 2 mini vans for the whole duration.

    Really appreciate your help.

    Regards,
    Ritesh

    Reply
    • Hi Ritesh,

      Thank you so much! Glad to hear that you like our blog and information about traveling in Sri Lanka!

      Your itinerary looks great! We love Bentota, so that would be a good option for you to spend your first three days in Sri Lanka. The driving time from Colombo International Airport to Bentota is about 2 hours one way. Hikkaduwa is also a nice beach town, but further south of Bentota (a one-hour extra drive south of Bentota). So the drive from the airport to Hikkaduwa is three hours.

      From Bentota, you can easily do a day trip to Galle. The old Portuguese part of Galle is beautiful and well worth a visit. The drive from Bentota down to Galle is about 1,5 hours one way.

      Nuwara Elia vs Ella depends on what you want to see and do. If you want to go hiking, then Ella is the best. But the town Ella is not as nice as Nuwara Eliya town. There is much more to see in the town Nuwara Eliya itself compared to Ella. Check out our guide on things to see in Nuwara Eliya. But if you head to Nuwara Eliya, bring warm clothes as it is pretty cold up there especially in the evenings and nights.

      Have you considered visiting Kandy on 26-29 March, instead of Nuwara Eliya or Ella? Kandy is closer to Bentota/ the southwest coast (about 4 hours drive from Bentota one way) and closer to the Elephant Orphanage than Colombo (about 1-hour drive from Kandy one way). You can read our article about Kandy here.

      As for your last night (29-30 March), I recommend that you stay in Negombo instead of Colombo as Negombo is much close to the airport (only a 10 min drive). It takes 1 hour, sometimes even more, to drive to the airport from Colombo depending on the traffic and wherein Colombo you are staying. You should especially consider staying your last night in Negombo instead of Colombo if you want to do a day trip to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The drive from Colombo to the Elephant Orphanage takes 2,5 – 3 hours one way while from Negombo it takes about 2 hours one way.

      An itinerary for you could be:
      22 March – Land at Colombo International Airport, drive to Bentota (2 hours drive)
      23-26 March – Bentota with a day trip to Galle (1,5-hour drive one way)
      26-29 March – Nuwara Eliya (a 5,5 – 6 hours drive from Bentota one way) or Kandy (4 hours drive from Bentota one way)
      29-30 March – Negombo, a day trip to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (2 hours drive one way) or do the Elephant Orphanage on a day trip if you visit Kandy

      Transport
      Since you are 14 people and only have 8 days in Sri Lanka, I recommend that you rent a couple of vans for the whole duration of your trip. It is much more convenient and faster than the train and bus, and you are more flexible.

      You can pre-book a car from the Airport to Bentota, which you can easily book here (12Go Asia). On our latest Sri Lanka trip, we had a driver called Sadun for half of our Sri Lanka trip (two weeks). We were four people, my mum and dad visited Sri Lanka for the first time. Sadun is a great driver and also a fantastic guide. You can book him through TourHQ.

      You can read more about transport in Sri Lanka here

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  7. Hi,
    Kudos to you and your partner. Such an excellent travel blogs. Have been going through your blogs and travel guide. We are visiting SriLanka during 30th Dec 2019 to 7th Jan 2020. We will be a group of 9 consisting of 6 adults and 3 children (My parents and in-laws with my 3 kids). Have planned an itinerary for the same as follows:-
    30th Dec to 1st Jan (2 nights): Colombo
    1st Jan to 3rd Jan (2 nights): Kandy
    3rd Jan to 4th Jan (1 night): Nuwara Eliya
    4th Jan-6th Jan(2 nights): Bentota /Galle/Unuwanta
    6th Jan to 7th Jan (1 night-have flight at 2.30am): Negombo

    I am a bit confused on traveling from Nuwara Eliya to Bentota. The journey is long with kids and old people on board.
    Kindly give your valuable suggestions.

    Reply
  8. Hi Prativa,

    Thank you so much for your words about our blog! Really appreciate it!

    Your itinerary looks great!

    But yeah, as you say, the drive from Nuwara Eliya to Bentota is about 6-7 hours depending on the traffic so it might be a bit too long for the kids and parents/ in-laws. You have two options:

    Option 1:
    Rearrange your itinerary to something like this:

    – 30. Dec – 1. Jan: Colombo International Airport – Kandy (3 hours drive), 2 nights in Kandy
    – 1. – 2. Jan: Nuwara Eliya (3 hours drive from Kandy), 1 night in Nuwara Eliya
    – 2. – 4. Jan: Colombo (5 hours drive from Nuwara Eliya), 2 nights in Colombo
    – 4. – 6. Jan: Bentota (1-2 hours drive from Colombo), 2 nights in Bentota
    – 6. – 7. Jan: Negombo (2-3 hours drive from Bentota), 1 night in Negombo

    Option 2:
    Skip Nuwara Eliya and add an extra night in Bentota or Unawatuna instead. Then you have time to do a day-trip to Galle which is a wonderful little town.

    The drive from Kandy to Bentota is 3-4 hours so it is a bit shorter than the one from Nuwara Eliya to Bentota. You itinerary will then look like this:

    – 30. Dec – 1. Jan: Colombo International Airport – Colombo (1-2 hours drive), 2 nights in Colombo
    – 1. – 3. Jan: Kandy (4 hours drive from Colombo), 2 nights in Kandy
    – 3. – 6. Jan: Bentota (3-4 hours drive from Kandy), 3 nights in Bentota/ Galle/ Unawatuna area
    – 6. – 7. Jan: Negombo (2-3 hours drive from Bentota), 1 night in Negombo

    Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

    -Maria-

    Reply

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