On Sri Lanka’s southwest coast you can experience beautiful beaches, surf adventures and incredible wildlife – all without breaking the bank.
Here’s how to have a long weekend in Sri Lanka on a budget…
THREE THINGS TO DO
There’s one way to guarantee you’ll fit right in on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast – grab a surfboard. From October to May, the region is a surfer’s paradise, thanks to its endless sunshine, warm blue water, beginner-friendly beaches and challenging reefs – not to mention the plethora of places that’ll wax, fix, rent or sell you a board. Plus, the area is relatively off the radar of mainstream travellers (for now), so the beaches are rarely crowded. If you’re new to the sport or just a little rusty, your best bet is to contact one of the many surf schools and book in some sessions. Stay at Sion Surf Camp (see below) and you get a lesson in the morning followed by a surf session later in the afternoon. They even film you in action so you can study how to improve your form. Alternatively, more experienced surfers can just borrow a board and go. The road that runs through Ahangama, Midigama and Weligama is littered with surf shops; Weligama in particular has loads of roadside surfboards available to rent, and you can grab a fresh coconut to drink on the beach while you’re there.
Handunugoda Tea Estate
For a break from the breaks,head back to dry land and take a tuk tuk to the Handunugoda Tea Estate. This working plantation offers a fascinating peek into colonial life – the
machines used for harvesting the tea are nearly 150 years old. You’ll get a guided walk through the plantation and be shown the famous Virgin White Tea. Legend has it that centuries ago, the plant was harvested only for the emperor of China and his family, and was picked at dawn using golden scissors. These days the process is somewhat less complicated, but still requires that the tea be (a) not touched by human hands (workers wear gloves) and (b) only the tips are used. After a stroll through the spice garden (the estate also harvests cinnamon, coconuts, rubber and more) you’ll arrive at the plantation owner’s house to be treated to a fresh cup of tea and a slice of sweet chocolate cake.
See a life coach
You wouldn’t necessarily think of life coaching as a holiday activity, but it could just be the perfect occasion for it. As Verity Mace, life coach and co-owner of luxury surf villas Ebb And Flow Jungalows, notes, “People suspend reality when they’re on holiday and can often see possibility that are not there when they’re stuck in the everyday ‘stuff ’ of their lives.” She runs hour-long clarity sessions in locations around Sri Lanka, but will visit your hotel or villa too. +9472 225 7928. veritymace.com
Water for elephants
Sri Lanka is blessed with lush jungle scenery, exotic wildlife and some truly stunning national parks, but unfortunately, many are not accessible from the southwest coast without spending a significant amount of time (and rupees) to make the journey. You can still get a taste of Sri Lankan wildlife though at Water For Elephants in Boosa. Visitors to this jungle attraction feed and pet the gentle giants before taking a short ride to their watering hole, where you can join your guide in washing the elephant using coconut husks. Wear clothes that you’re happy to get wet in – Lily the elephant can get a bit mischievous!
Raja And The Whale
There are plenty of places offering whale-watching tours, but this local family business is the best. They run the most eco-friendly tours, strictly adhering to the guidelines of the WDC (Whale And Dolphin Conservation). Tours depart at 6.30am from Mirissa Harbour, and can last from two to eight hours, depending on how long it takes to find the blue whales and sperm whales (and usually some dolphins too). The price includes a hearty breakfast on the boat. Just keep in mind that the Indian Ocean can be pretty lively, so you might need to take seasickness meds if it’s been a while since you used your sea legs. Trips run from November to April.
THE BEST BEACHES TO TRY…
Forget about surfing for a moment – for pure relaxation (and envy inducing holiday photos) head to the picture perfect sands of Thalpe. Located close to buzzing Unawatuna, this beautiful beach has golden sand, calm turquoise waves and coconut palms. Perfection.
This pretty stretch of golden sand has a real party vibe to it, and it’s one of the best parts of the southwest coast if you’re looking for some nightlife. There are plenty of
beach bars and hotels nearby to keep you entertained.
One of the most popular beaches in the area with surfers, the beach breaks of Weligama are very beginner-friendly, although the waves do get pretty big in January and February. If you’re coming from the north, ask your tuk tuk driver to pull over just after the big Marriott Hotel that’s under construction. Here, the beach is a lot quieter.
WHERE TO STAY
Sion Surf Camp
We’ve fallen in love with this charming lodge in Ahangama. Run by British couple Lee and Angie, it’s the perfect spot for a laidback beach break overlooking the surf, with hammocks by the sea. The rooms are lovely – clean and comfortable with hot showers, mosquito nets and Wi-Fi. The daily rate includes breakfast and dinner, and there’s a package that covers morning surf lessons and afternoon surf sessions, with an option to add yoga classes. Or you could opt to laze in a hammock all day – that works too.
Tel: +94 77 502 4602, Dhs210 per night, sionsurfcamp.com
Photo: Aimee Isakson
Cheeky Monkey Guesthouse
The rooms at Cheeky Monkey may be a bit basic, but there’s plenty to recommend a stay here. Friendly owner Baba knows everything that’s going on in the area, and is happy to offer recommendations and help you organise taxis or tours (he also owns the surf shop next door). An outdoor chill-out area overlooking the ocean road is a great place to socialise, and the views from the rooftop at sunset are second to none.
Tel: +94 71 924 8686, Dhs150 per night, holidayinsrila.wix.com/cheekymonkey
Sun & Soul
A boutique hotel with just a handful of rooms, this is a peaceful spot to spend a few days. The price includes breakfast in the charming café, and it’s one of the few places where you can get a proper cup of brewed coffee. Relax after a day of sightseeing by crashing on a beanbag in the outdoor reading area.
Tel: +94 77 266 5221, Dhs200 per night, sunandsoulsl.com
THREE THINGS TO EAT WHILE YOU’RE IN SRI LANKA…
Sweet or savoury, these crispy flatbreads are a Sri Lankan staple. We like our roti stuffed with curried vegetables. Top tip: Mama’s in Midigama is the best place to get your roti fix.
This side dish, which combines shredded coconut, chillies, caramelised red onion and lime, is a perfect storm of sweet, savoury and spicy.
Choose from regular hoppers, a bowl-shaped crepe, often with a fried egg in it; or string hoppers, which are thin rice noodles that come with dhal or coconut gravy. You won’t be disappointed by either.
FlyDubai flies direct to Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo twice a day, from Dhs1,200 return. flydubai.com
Getting to your hotel
One of the biggest (and only) expenses in Sri Lanka is getting from the airport to your destination. Try to get your hotel to organise a transfer. A taxi from Bandaranaike International Airport to the coast should cost around Dhs300.
Most people zip around in tuk tuks or rent a moped. Don’t be afraid to haggle on price; some tuk tuk drivers will even wait for you while you surf/eat/explore.
Photos: Stacey Siebritz