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Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

Travel Guide and Insider Tips for Enjoying Unawatuna

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Unawatuna Sri Lanka

Perfect water at Unawatuna, Sri Lanka.

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Unawatuna is the most popular tourist choice of the south beaches in Sri Lanka. While the calm water and smaller waves don't make for good surfing, Unawatuna is the best pick for swimming and a family-friendly beach.

Consisting of a small bay protected by coral reefs, Unawatuna can be covered on foot without needing to dodge buses on the busy main road. The relaxed atmosphere lures plenty of Russians and Europeans throughout the year and gets even busier with Sri Lankans who come to enjoy their weekends.

Getting Around in Unawatuna

Although a multitude of tuk-tuks are on offer, all places in Unawatuna can be reached by walking, either along the beach or on the paved access road that parallels the beach.

Walking from one end of Unawatuna to the other takes around 15 minutes.

Insider Tips for Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

  • There is no ATM in Unawatuna; bring plenty of cash. You'll need to take transportation in either direction on the main road to Galle to find a bank.
  • The yellow king coconut drinks seen everywhere on the beach can be purchased for 40 rupees each in shops; ask them to open the coconut for you. Coconuts sold on the beach go for 150 rupees each and are not always fresh.
  • You can buy your own alcohol for far cheaper at the bottle shop located on the main road at the northeast corner of Unawatuna. If facing the water, walk left until the end of the beach then cut over to the main road.
  • Ignore anyone that approaches you on the access road; plenty of scammers and a horde of tuk-tuk drivers make a living by hunting tourists.
  • Free Wi-Fi doesn't always work, even when a signal is present. If you really need internet access, try it first before committing to a drink or meal.
  • Mosquitoes are a big problem around Unawatuna; you can purchase spray and coils in local shops. Read secrets for how to avoid mosquito bites.

See more about common scams in Asia that you may encounter in Sri Lanka.

Accommodation

With plenty of choices, competition is fierce between hotels and guesthouses. Prices for accommodation are not fixed and are often made up on the spot, depending on how many people, how you are dressed, and how long you intend to stay. Longer stays are given significant discounts, so be sure to mention if you intend to stay a week or longer.

For something different, inquire at 'The Yellow' -- a small restaurant on the northeast side of the beach. With only one room located above the restaurant directly on the beach, you'll have complete privacy and an amazing view from your private terrace and glass-walled room.

Small guesthouses with gardens line the access road and are often quieter and friendlier than hotels located directly on the beach.

Eating

The choices for fresh seafood on the beach at Unawatuna will make your head spin. While all the big restaurants proudly display their catches, that doesn't guarantee that seafood is fresh and did not come out of the freezer. You'll need to choose your own fish from the ice to be sure about what you are eating.

Yellowfin tuna is the cheapest and most popular choice at beach restaurants. You can enjoy a tuna steak, fries, and simple salad for around US $6. Many restaurants tack on an automatic 10% service charge.

The Kingfisher restaurant -- best reached by walking southwest on the access road -- is extremely popular and offers the highest quality food and service on the beach for only slightly higher prices.

Jina's Vegetarian Restaurant on the access road is run by a friendly Buddhist chef who cooked in the UK and puts plenty of love into each small-but-delicious offering.

Shopping in Unawatuna

Unawatuna isn't particularly great for shopping; you'll have far more choices in nearby Galle. The beach access road hosts numerous souvenir shops selling wooden masks, handicrafts, and jewelry shops selling locally mined moonstone items.

Avoid supporting bad habits by not purchasing anything made from turtle shells or marine life. See more about responsible travel in Asia.

Things to Do in Unawatuna

Aside from swimming and soaking up the sun with a book in hand, there aren't too many things to do in Unawatuna. Although surf schools exist along the access road, they typically drive students to better waves at one of the nearby beaches.

  • Snorkeling: The best opportunity for snorkeling near Unawatuna is at the semi-hidden Jungle Beach. See detailed instructions for getting to Jungle Beach, Sri Lanka, without paying for a guide.
  • Scuba Diving: Sea Horse Divers located directly on the beach offers PADI Open Water courses and day trips for diving. Pricing is in euros.
  • Boat Rides: Glass-bottom boats take people out to the reefs, however, seeing marine life takes a bit of luck. Prices are based on a full boat rather than per person, so the more people the better.
  • Rent a Motorbike: Renting a motorbike is the best way to see Galle, the Dutch fort, and the surrounding areas -- just remember to drive on the left and to yield to the reckless bus drivers! You'll find the fairest motorbike rental at the corner of the beach access road and the main road to Galle. Prices start around US $5 per day. Fuel is siphoned out of the scooters so you'll need to turn left on the main road and go directly to the petrol station on the right just before entering Galle. Learn more about driving motorbikes in Asia.

When to Go to Unawatuna

Unawatuna receives the most rain during the summer months. Peak season begins around mid December and prices for accommodation go up significantly in January.

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