Part one showed three areas of the west coast, now we’re going south, deep south. I’m going to show you three distinct areas of coast, all within three hours drive of each other, but each remarkably different. We’re going to start at the bottom this time, and work back up to where I left you last time.
Tangalle and Dickwella
This stretch along the southern tip is the best place to tune out. The galle highway is quieter, narrower, and winds its way over hills and through semi-jungle, scattered villages and past fields of rice powdered with white egrets. Hotels, guesthouses and villas tend to be isolated from the township, and so although the villages bustle, there’s an easy escape in the home base.
Why you’ll love the Tangalle area
- A couple of pretty good temples if that’s your kind of thing: Mulkirigala Cave Temple in the hills (hundreds of stairs!) and Wewurukannala Temple closer to shore.
- Long vacant bays all to yourself (comparitively, anyway)
- A smashing five-star retreat in Amanwella
- Plenty of nature to be found in Tangalle Lagoon, on the beaches (turtles in Rekawa Beach), Bird sanctuary at Kalametiya, and not too far for a day trip to Yala National Park.
- Great market at Dickwella
- Less boozy backpackers and more hippies, hikers and nature lovers. (This may or may not be a good thing)
- Many would say this is REAL Sri Lanka, less touched by the tourist dollar.
What you’ll hate
- It takes FOREVER to get there (unless you get the rickety sea plane from Colombo airport to Dickwella Lagoon) – it’s a good three hours past Galle.
- There’s no tuk tuks directly outside your accommodation to take you to different restaurants at night (because you’re isolated).
- Some places are scary-isolated – down one-lane dirt tracks, over blind hills, through jungle. Again, this can be a good or a bad thing, depending on whatever paints your wagon. And your neighbours…
- It’s a little rough around the edges, and luxuries are harder to come by in some places.
- Not as cheap as you’d expect – it’s almost like they’re trying to keep the tourists out.
- Amanwella if you can afford it, particularly if you don’t like being completely isolated. Still quiet, but not spooky if you get my drift. Very luxurious and great food and wine.
- Little Pumpkin Cabana or Moonstone villas if you’re looking for a more budget option
- The very well regarded Buckingham Place for something in the middle.
- Thalassa – a huge villa on the most beautiful beach with its own cooking and massage team, or
- The Last House – a super sleepy back-block location but smashing Bawa designed villa that can be rented as a whole, or suite by suite, or even taken over for weddings.
- ShaSha’s – a tiny beach shack cooking the daily catch. You can have it cooked any way you like as long as it’s in red sauce. You can drink anything you like as long as it’s Lion Lager.
- Surya Garden in Tangalle if you need a break from the curry and want to eat Italian food.
- Villa Maya for the traditional fare, or some onsite cooking lessons (and a good winelist), and a look at the jungle behind the beaches.
- Turtle Bay – a little further east, but if you go for dinner, you might also catch a turtle procession afterwards. Has an onsite bio-dynamic garden to feed you with. Nice.
Welligama et al.
This place is all about the water. It’s the hub for all those who want to see the most beautiful of the beaches the South Coast has to offer, and partake in the activities that subsist on it. Just on from Welligama Bay is Mirissa, which captures the hearts of all who find their way there. It’s also just short of Matara, one of the largest towns on the south coast (behind Galle), which links the Southern coast to roads that will take travellers on beautiful roads north to the center of the island, or over to the Eastern coast.
What you should go for
- Whales and dolphins. The best season is December to March, but you’ll see dolphins pretty much year-round. You could even catch sight of a blue whale – awesome. More info here.
- Welligama and just north of it are arguably the best places to surf in the area. The waves are consistent and easily accessible.
- Photography – this is where you’ll see all the stilt fishermen. Go early morning if you want to get a good shot, otherwise you’ll only get the fake ones sitting up there for a bit of baksheesh.
- Beaches are beautiful – sandy for the swimming, and rocky for the photos.
- Tea and Rubber plantations to amble around just behind the palms lining the Galle Highway
- Totally chilled people – this place hits that happy medium with tourists who are super excited to be there, and locals who haven’t got sick of them yet.
What you won’t like so much
- hmmm. Not so sure – this place is pretty cool. If I have to pick something, I’d say a lack of high-end dining, but seriously, you can ditch the caviar for a week can’t you?
- Oh, and there’s shortly going to be a hulking great Marriot there. That’s probably going to utterly change the vibe, so get there quick.
- Taprobane Island – it’s the only time you’ll ever be able to book out an entire island for yourselves. It’s not cheap, but very special. Cooks and other servants included, as well as porters to carry your luggage over their heads as you make the tidal trek from shore
- Number One is one of the best on the upper end of the scale if you don’t have a big group to hit Taprobane. Beachside, not too big, pretty.
- Palm Villa comes highly recommended by Eaternal Zest‘s incredibly reliable Drina Cabral – both for its inexpensive rooms and super food (her lanka post is linked).
- Kabalana Beach Hotel is one of the best places for surfers (a super break to paddle to straight out front), but also for families, who will easily fit 4 in their big rooms. The kids will love the roaming tortoises and rabbits – just don’t let them bite you though, because you might end getting rabies shots on Christmas day like we did. (the website promotes it as a spa resort – this is a little far fetched, but it’s still good value). Those wanting a more budget surf hotel, try Dinu’s.
- Palm Villa as mentioned above. Traditional Sri Lankan food.
- On the beach. There’s a range of seafood restaurants along the sandy strip, Mirissa Eye, Sudaweli (no info) and Ocean Moon generally being the most reliable. Plastic chairs, toes in the sand, glass of lager, grilled fish – perfect.
- Dewmini Roti Shop – for, you guessed it, roti. It’s a world-famous take-out that must be visited for a quick lunch.
- The Fortress gets mixed reviews, but is probably the best bet for upper level dining in their restaurant ‘Pepper’. They also have a great wine room that can be booked privately and 2000-odd wines available. If alcohol is not your thing, you can have a traditional tea ceremony performed for you in their T Lounge. A bit north of Welligama, near Koggola.
And now, almost back up to Galle, we find my favourite. This is where the Walton family retirement pad will be eventually (along with the other retirement homes in the Drôme, Red Hill and the hinterland of Byron Bay – something that is only waiting until we are billionaires). I’ve raved about Unawatuna before, so I won’t go too heavily into it, only to differentiate it from Thalpe. Unawatuna is hectic, and where you go to play. Thalpe is where you stay – we’re talking high-walled luxurious private villa, staff included. Probably a pool, likely beachfront. Lobster fishermen selling the daily catch to you over the sandstone wall. Olive green polished concrete floors, crackled like a chinese 100-year-old egg, reflecting the geometric rows of palm trunks. Margaritas in the hammock watching kids collect sea shells and the sky turns amber. Quiet beach, busy road. Home cooked food to die for. Staff you cry with when you leave.
Why you’ll never want to leave
- You’ll get totally pampered – most villas have private chefs, people who will shop for you (yes, you can even send them out for wine), access to in-house spa treatments, book shelves filled with old literature and board games, the list goes on.
- Meals are usually provided at market cost rates.
- The beach is surprisingly quiet. Because there are no large hotels and most of the accommodation has its own beachfront, the only other people you are likely to see on your patch are the odd neighbour and locals down for a dip or a fish.
- Thalpe is easy to get to – only 5 minutes drive from the end of the Colombo Freeway, meaning you can get there in under 3 hours from the airport on a good day (4 on a bad one). It’s also perfectly positioned for day-trips to all the other beach areas previously mentioned in both this post and the last.
- It’s a classy area – no bums, no touts, no drunken Aussie tourists (except people like us locked up safely behind the villa walls), no music blaring all night (except at Cantaloup, and occasionally at Fleurts when there’s a private party).
- But you won’t get bored – you can always catch a 300 rupee tuk tuk to Unawatuna Beach when you want some vibrancy.
What will drive you mad
- If it’s really hot at night and you have no AC and have to leave your window open, the waves might wake you up. (or the traffic if you are the unlucky one in the roadside bedroom)
- Your private chef will make you really fat, and you’ll return home to discover that although you previously thought you could cook, you actually can’t.
- You pay for the privilege (nice villas start at about $400US per night, going up to $1500 – fine for a big group, but poor you if you are only a couple). You will also have to tip the staff very well, because they will take care of you better than your own mother.
- If your companions are really boring you may well frizzle in ennui (or drown in margaritas).
- You might not be able to walk to other establishments for a change, because you will be in a very lazy state. You might have to pay for a tuk tuk, and you might need to wait up to two minutes for one to pass.
- You won’t get a lot of ‘culture’, because you will probably only ever leave the villa to eat at another villa, and so the only Sri lankans you will meet are your own lovely personal staff, someone else’s lovely personal staff, or the occasional fisherman.
- If you’re going to rent a villa, get in touch with one or more of the following – they will help you decide what is best for you:
- For Eco and Tourism friendly offerings only, stick with www.srilankatravelandliving.com
- For some fab personal service and super knowledge go with www.srilankainstyle.com or villasinsrilanka.com
- And for the largest section, try www.privatehomesandvillas.com
- Personally, we have stayed in the charming Villa Tusk and sprawling Kingsleys Pearl and would recommend both.
- Apa Villa and the Frangipani Tree are probably the better known suite villas – i.e. couples can take just one room – and absolutely stunning
- Budget travellers are probably best staying in Unawatuna at Thaproban House or The Villa, but if you want a feel of Thalpe, then try Shanthi or Jasmine inn, or Sri Gemmnu for a budget Ayurvedic health stay.
- At home – you have a private chef, for goodness sake. Ask for traditional sri lankan breakfast, including rice cakes, egg hoppers, sambal with maldivian fish, fresh fruit etc. For the other meals, Devilled prawns are a regional speciality, or just ask for curry, and you will be presented with about 10 small dishes of veggies, chicken and fish. Have curd with local treacle for dessert.
- Apa Villa will take bookings for non-residents. They do a lemongrass soup that made me feel like I was truly alive for the first time (and great curries) – nice wines too. They also have a villa in the hills that is worth a visit.
- If Villa and Wijaya are a couple of secret gems also known for their cuisine – again, you must book, so they get enough food from the market.
- Fleurts (previously known as Nico’s and still is according to tuk tuk drivers ph +94776642271) is a french fusion restaurant that could probably do with a larger menu and slightly lower prices, but has a super chef. Not only that, they have a dreamy beachfront pool that you are allowed to swim in. Good place for lunch, particularly if your villa doesn’t have a pool. They also party hard some nights here.
- Cantaloup is where to go for a drink and a boogie. Their Sri Lankan traditional curry is excellent, and they also have a (small) pool diners are permitted to use.
- Kingfisher in Unawatuna is where all the locals recommend. Typical beachside restaurant with all the expected, but just a bit friendlier and with colder beer than all the others.
So – together with this post, and part one, I think I’ve given you not only the reason to go to Sri Lanka, but some good tips on where you might find your paradise. I’d love to hear about any other experiences you’ve had in the area – please add them in comments. And below, a couple more photos to set you drooling.