Sri Lanka,  travel

Things to do in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s south coast is home to some incredible beaches and some great spots to stay and explore. Unawatuna is a popular pick for sea and sun, attracting visitors with its stunning beaches, great food and buzzy beach bars.

My first trip to Sri Lanka started off with a restful stop in Mirissa. I was so enchanted by the golden sand, restaurants right on the beach and gorgeous palm trees that I could not think of a better way to begin my most recent trip. Always the explorer, I wanted to pick somewhere new and came across Unawatuna, not far from historic Galle.

Unawatuna beach

Unawatuna is a popular Sri Lanka beach area, busier and buzzier than Mirissa. Although it was still quite peaceful when we visited in December 2021, right as the country was opening back up for tourism following the pandemic.

It’s a great pick if you like a lively beach scene rather than off the beaten track and want to explore the surrounding area. Here’s my pick of things to do when spending time in Unawatuna.

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Unawatuna Beach

Sri Lanka beach Unawatuna. Golden sand beach in sunshine
Unawatuna Beach

Unawatuna’s main beach is a long stretch of pristine golden sand lined with restaurants. It is the perfect spot to hang out for the day, grabbing lunch from one of the restaurants and maybe a cocktail or two.

It’s a very clean beach (there always seemed to be people out and about keeping it clean). Expect rougher water than some of the other beaches in the area. It isn’t as well protected.

Unawatuna Beach
Unawatuna Beach

At night, soak up the atmosphere with some cocktails on the beach.

Cocktails at an on-the-beach bar

Jungle Beach

Jungle Beach Sri Lanka

Jungle Beach is more popular with the locals and was lively with BBQs, singing, football, and families swimming when we visited on the Sunday of our trip. Further down is a quieter spot where you’ll have more space.

I’m sure there is a very easy way to get there and no doubt one of the local tuk-tuk drivers can drop you off, but we decided to walk there from our accommodation. This took us right through the jungle in very high humidity. A swim was very welcome on the other side.

The water here is calm and great for swimming. We spent some time snorkelling around the cove and enjoying the atmosphere.

It probably would have been higher in my ratings if I hadn’t gotten stung by something (I assume a jellyfish) while snorkelling and broken out in a huge rash so we didn’t stay as long as planned. The beach offers a lot of spots for shade, unlike other beaches. Matt really liked this but as I like to soak up the sun, I found it more difficult to find a sunny spot once the tide came in.

Snorkelling and sunbathing at Dalawella Beach

Dalawella Beach near Unawatuna
Dalawella Beach

My favourite beach in Sri Lanka so far was Dalawella Beach. Dalawella Beach is located just outside of Unawatuna and is most easily reached by tuk-tuk.

What makes this beach so incredible is the lagoon. The shallow crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkelling and expect to see a lot of sea life. Among the rocks, you can spot a variety of tropical fish. Our tuk-tuk driver said how turtles are often seen here. I thought we wouldn’t be lucky enough to see one. As I was snorkelling along I came to what seemed like a huge wall of silver fish. But as the wall of fish parted I came face to face with a loggerhead turtle nearly the size of me. Later, a smaller green turtle swam underneath me. It was the most incredible part of the entire trip for me, just peacefully watching the turtles swim about.

Because it is protected, it is the perfect place for calm swimming.

Between snorkelling sessions, we relaxed on one of the sun loungers we had rented for the day for about $1 from a local restaurant. We were able to order fresh juices through a fence, along with some freshly cooked dal with coconut roti for lunch. I’ve certainly never eaten dal on the beach (with a proper plate and silverware no less) but I’d do it again!

You’ll also find a popular Instagram spot on this one, the swing. It sounded too touristy for my taste so we skipped it. But if you want to grab a snap, you’ll find it outside the Dream Cabana guesthouse, right on the beachfront. It costs about 500 Rupees.

Koggala Turtle Hatchery

Nearby to the beach in Koggala, there’s a turtle sanctuary which I never did make up my mind about. The centre looks to increase the area’s turtle population by hatching eggs found on the beach and releasing the babies into the wild, along with rehabilitating injured turtles. All causes I can fully support but I just didn’t know if I knew enough about the place to make any recommendation.

Baby turtles at Koggala turtle hatchery

Day trip to Galle

White lighthouse surrounded by palm trees in Galle, Sri Lanka

The historic fort town of Galle is well worth a day trip while in Unawatuna. Surrounded by fortified walls, the city was founded by Portuguese colonists in the 16th century and has also been under British and then Dutch rule during its history.

Wander through its streets, checking out the shops and cafes. You’ll find the white lighthouse, an iconic symbol in the city, as you walk around the walls. Spend the day exploring, shopping and eating.

Street view of Galle Sri Lanka

Japanese Peace Pagoda

Japanese Peach Pagoda in Unawatuna

Not far from Jungle Beach, you can stop by to check out the Japanese Peace Pagoda, situated on Rummasala Hill. Built in 2005 with help from Japanese Buddhist monks, the pagoda symbolises peace in a country that at the time was in the midst of a civil war. A sense of calm surrounds the round white temple. It is worth spending a few reflective moments here.

In the evenings, you can hear the monks chanting all the way to the beach in Unawatuna.

Take a day trip to Mirissa

boats on the beach Mirissa Sri Lanka
Beach in Mirissa

We didn’t visit Mirissa from Unawatuna as I had stayed there on my previous trip. But is a great place to visit and I’d highly recommend spending a day (or more) in this lovely beach spot. It’s located about 45 minutes from Unawatuna and the best way to get there is by taxi.

Mirissa’s beaches are beautiful, there’s good surf and when night falls, plenty of beach bars to hit up. It is also a popular spot to go on a whale-watching tour. You can find out more about things to do in Mirissa here.

Where to eat in Unawatuna

From the line of restaurants and bars lining Unawatuna’s beachfront where you dine with the waves coming up near your feet, to family-run places tucked into the jungle, cafes, pizza and more, Unawatuna will certainly offer up a lot of choices to the discerning foodie. Even a pumpkin curry served up at one of the shabbier beach restaurants (I cannot remember which) got a seal of approval from me.

Here are a few of my favourite places to eat in Unawatuna:

  • Wasantha’s Sri Lanka Cuisine – My absolute favourite place to eat in Unawatuna was Wasantha’s Sri Lankan Cuisine. Everything was just so flavourful and wonderful. This family-run and friendly restaurant is tucked along Yaddehimulla Road and also offers cooking classes, should you wish to sign up. It might have even been my favourite meal the entire trip. Even the dessert was spot on.
  • Kabala Sunset Cafe – we had a great seafood dinner and cocktails at this beachfront restaurant.
  • La Boheme – Great pizza and dessert at this boho cafe away from the beach strip.
  • Skinny Tom’s Deli – A popular cafe for breakfast, brunch and lunch serving up desserts and healthy options.
  • Sea Waves Restaurant – Another spot offering up local fare and where you can take cooking classes.
Dinner at Wasantha
Tuna steak dinner at Kabala Sunset Cafe

Getting to Unawatuna

This depends on what time of day you are going. Both times I have been to Sri Lanka, I have arrived on evening flights and planned to head straight to the south coast for some relaxation. At this time of evening, there aren’t any more trains to Galle, so I’ve hired taxis for the 2.5-hour journey. This costs about $50 and I’ve found the service to be really good.

If you are travelling earlier in the day, there are direct trains from Colombo to Galle. You can find train times here. From there it is an easy tuk-tuk to Unawatuna.

Where to stay in Unawatuna

Infinity pool at sunset at a villa in Sri Lanka

We loved where we stayed in Unawatuna, Land’s End Villa, which was an independent bed and breakfast perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea with an infinity pool, big balcony and great breakfast where you can watch the sea while peacocks and lizards roam around on the rocks. It wasn’t too far of a walk to the main beach and great restaurants.

There are quite a few other B&Bs and resorts in the area to consider, ranging in price from about £10 to £150 per night.

There’s a huge newer resort in Unawatuna that I really felt like it took away from the charm of the area and recommend avoiding.

Other things to do in Unawatuna

  • Go to the spa – we went for massages at The Sanctuary Spa while we were there
  • Take a cooking class – book at Wasantha’s or Sea Waves
  • Learn to surf – you’ll find a few surf schools dotted along Unawatuna Beach and the area provides some good conditions for beginner boarders

What to avoid in Unawatuna

Tuk tuks offering to take you to Koggala Lake

A lot of tuk-tuk drivers will start telling you about this lovely lake in Koggala and offer to take you there. We thought hey why not have a look only to find ourselves trapped between some men trying to sell us a boat trip and some others trying to get us to go into a spice garden (which are normally very scam-tastic). Say you’ve already been to avoid them trying to take you there.

Not bringing cash

The main ATM in Unawatuna charges a lot and doesn’t let you take out very much. It also only actually worked once. There are others but they are a bit further away. And almost nowhere in Unawatuna takes card. This even included our accommodation. We got the main part of our money out at a service station that our taxi driver stopped at on the way down or you can change some currency at the airport. Otherwise, it was a trek to ATMs along Galle Road which also only let you take out a small amount.

Maybe? Turtle hatcheries

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