Lisa Owen

If you’re looking for beachside paradise but don’t have cash to splash, then you might want to take a look at Sri Lanka.

Here budget travellers can live large for less. There are a lot of beachside towns to choose from along Sri Lanka’s south coast - including Hikkaduwa, Bentota, Tangalle, Unawatana and Mirissa - so you can easily find your own slice of beach paradise.

My first memory about my arrival to Sri Lanka’s coast was the smell of incense, curry and the sea. As my train travelled down Sri Lanka’s west coast from the capital Colombo, the ocean ran parallel with the right side of the tracks – gleaming turquoise blue in the bright sun. In some spots the sea was so close to the tracks you could almost touch it. The smell of sea salt permeated the air as we rolled past tiny beach towns – some filled with seaside hotels while others were lined with shanty houses.

Beaches of Sri Lanka

My destination was the beachside town of Hikkaduwa – one of Sri Lanka’s hot spots for the backpacking crowd. I secured a dorm bed cheaply with breakfast only a few minutes’ walk from the beach, so I could start and end my day with a swim in the turquoise water.

The ocean in this part of the world is like a bath, it’s so warm. Even at 7.30am, you can easily jump in to wash off the sweat already clinging to you from the humid air.

After my morning swim, my hostel would serve me a pot of fresh brewed tea teamed with delicious mango, papaya, watermelon and banana. I sat out on the patio, already baking in the sun at 8am in the morning, sipping my tea and listening to the sounds around me of birds, and families chattering and going about their daily routine.

Sunset was also a highlight in Hikkaduwa, and you could often see turtles swimming near the shore as the sun went down.

Sun setting on Sri Lankan Beach

Hikkaduwa is well known for its scuba diving centres and there’s lots to choose from. After saving on accommodation, my splurge was trying out scuba diving for the very first time with Poseidon Dive Centre.

I signed up to their discovery dive experience with two others to see if scuba diving was for me. I’ll admit that I’m scared of deep water so I wasn’t sure how it would go. First we were led through the basics of scuba diving and led through the equipment. Then we hopped on a boat for our dive down to 12 metres.

Scuba diving in Sri Lanka

My first attempt was a complete fail as I freaked out when we descended a couple of metres and all I could see was deep water ahead. I quickly ascended, calmed down while the very patient instructor treaded water by my side, and then I tried to descend again. The second time, I managed to descend down to 12 metres and swam around for 40 minutes. I was so glad I did. There was an underwater wonderland waiting for me off Hikkaduwa Beach as we went through caves and saw coral reefs, starfish and octopus.

If beach parties and bar hopping are your thing, then the beachside town of Mirissa is the place to be when the sun goes down. It’s also a great spot by day, offering long stretches of beach to relax and work on your tan.

Sri Lankan Beach

If you want to get a little off the beaten path in Mirissa, seek out Secret Beach near the harbour. Just before you reach the harbour you’ll see a handwritten sign saying Secret Beach on the left, follow this street and then head down to the beach along dirt tracks. If you can’t find the way, locals will be able to help you. When I went to Secret Beach, there was no one there and it was a great little spot with a view over the ocean and out to the harbour lighthouse.

When you’re hungry or need a drink, you’ve got plenty of choices to enjoy a meal with a view. Dozens of beach bars line the sand - although it won’t be the cheapest meal you’ll have in Sri Lanka. But you will be centimetres away from the ocean as you sip on a mango lassi or dig into a spicy Sri Lankan curry.

Cocktail on the beach.

Other activities you can enjoy in Mirissa are snorkelling, whale watching or a yacht cruise.

Things You Should Know:

  • You can reach Hikkaduwa by train from Colombo’s Main Train Station, Colombo Fort. Cost for a second class ticket is extremely cheap and can be bought 15 minutes prior to the train’s departure. The train journey takes about 90 minutes to two hours. You can also catch a bus but it will take longer due to many drop offs and pick-ups on the journey.
  • Mirissa is not on the train line, but there are many buses from Hikkaduwa that will get you there. Look for the buses headed for Matara.
  • You will be asked at least 20 times a day if you need a tuk tuk. The tuk tuk drivers are friendly though and take no for an answer, but it does get a little annoying after a while if you really just want to walk. Tuk tuk prices are very negotiable so name your price.
  • It’s very expensive to get to and from Colombo Fort from the airport by taxi - and taxi drivers prey on tourists hoping they don’t know the transport options around them. Your best bet is to leave the airport grounds and catch a tuk tuk either to the Bus Station right near the airport or the Negombo bus station. You can also jump on a train. The train line runs right near the airport and you can get on at Katunayake Station to get to Colombo.
  • There’s a range of accommodation options in Sri Lanka’s south ranging from first class resorts to homestays to backpacker hostels. Even in high season (November to February), you can find budget accommodation when you get there but may want to book ahead if you’re wanting something beach side.
  • Don’t forget the insect repellent. Mosquitoes are rife in Sri Lanka so you’ll want to spray yourself with repellent before going out at night.
  • If there’s no breakfast offered at your Mirissa accommodation, just listen out for the Beethoven tune on the street. This is a bakery on wheels and circles around town each morning.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.