The South

Southern Sri Lanka overwhelms the senses. The landscape is one of utter beauty; the radiant green rice paddies and forest of swinging palm trees contrast with beaches of ivory‐coloured sand and an ocean of rich turquoise. No matter what you’re after you will find it here. You can dive across glowing coral reefs or learn to surf on gentle sandbars. The culturally inclined can soap up works of Buddhist‐inspired art in lonely caves; for the naturalist there are huge whales splashing through offshore swells, and leopards moving like spirits in the night.

A sense of romance and wonder sweeps up all visitors to this coastline; after all, this is the land where people dance across fire on monsoon nights, fisherman float on stilts above the waves and turtles crawl up onto moonlit beaches.

Highlights:

Balapitiya

A two‐hour drive south from Colombo, either along the coastal road or by train, you'll find Balapitiya, a small, picturesque village with golden soft beaches. While Balapitiya still seems "untouched" by mass tourism it’s only a short drive away from Bentota, one of Sri Lanka's major beach resorts. To the south Aluthgama, famous for its mask carving, the surfers’ paradise of Hikkaduwa and the historical city of Galle are within easy reach. Balapitiya is traditionally a fishing village and you can see the scattered small fishing hamlets bordering the beach. Fishing trips and/or river safaris can easily be arranged. Sweet water lagoons and the ‘Madu River’ with their amazing flora and fauna are making Balapitiya also attractive for ECO tourists and bird watchers.

Hikkaduwa

This fun coastal town located 14 km from Galle was the first (1960's) of Sri Lanka's beautiful beaches to be discovered by tourists. Snorkeling and diving in the clear waters are the major past time along this stretch, and is the most environmentally friendly way to see the colorful fish that dart around. The coral sanctuary found on the coast of Hikkaduwa is a large shallow body of water enclosed by a reef, decorated with layers of multi colored corals, which is home to countless number of colorful fish. Many species of fish and large turtles are found here. There are more than four different shipwrecks for diving enthusiasts to explore along with dive shops offering PADI courses and equipment. Plenty of beachfront accommodation is available.

Galle

Galle is thriving. The fortified old town is enjoying an artistic renaissance and the beautiful beaches around it are dotted with luxurious villas and classy boutique hotels. Galle’s main attraction is the 17th century Dutch Fort, a UNESCO protected World Heritage site. But Galle is also the gateway to seductive sandy coves and the coastal villages of Unawatuna, Thalpe, Koggala and Habaraduwa.

Unawatuna

This is a place of dreams; a banana‐shaped bend of boiling golden sand massaged by a gentle sea of moonstone blue. The Resplendent Isle does not get anymore resplendent than Unawatuna. You can snorkel to explore the reefs a short distance from the west end of the beach. There are several wreck dives around, as well as reef and cave diving. If you don’t mind the increasing hustle and bustle, there’s still plenty to enjoy, including a decent, if heavily developed, stretch of beach, a good selection of places to stay and eat, plus varied activities ranging yoga to cookery classes, while in recent years Unawatuna has begun to compete with Hikkaduwa as Sri Lanka’s beach‐party capital, with noisy discos thumping out beats along parts of the beach during the season. The resort also remains busy all year round, making it a good place to visit.

Ahangama

This area is home to the most consistent, and possibly the best surf in Sri Lanka. It is a very low‐key area with plenty of cheap, surfer‐friendly accommodation and a scattering of pretty beaches. Many little shops are close by, perfect for your daily needs. Little beach restaurants offer fresh seafood and provide excellent views overlooking the picturesque Bay. Ahangama is still a "secret" destination visited mostly by surfers and “insiders” looking for a place to relax away from the crowds.

Weligama

Located on Sri Lanka's picturesque South Coast, Weligama still offers the charm of an idyllic fishing village while providing excellent accommodation choices, catering for all budgets and needs. Enjoy walks along uncrowded beaches, still untouched by mass tourism and be fascinated by the famous stilt fishing men. But Weligama is more than beach life. Much more. Surrounded by rubber and coconut plantations, ancient temples and spice gardens, natural sanctuaries and exotic wildlife, Weligama offers something for everybody. Another highlight is the traditional Devil Dance, a Southern Sri Lankan special. Known for its healing powers, Devil Dancers are invited to help speeding up the recovery process of illnesses, a great thing to watch and/or even participate. The ideal location of Weligama makes it a great starting point for excursions along the South and West Coast as well as for explorations of the National Parks.

Mirissa

This is the Whale watching hotspot! Yes, the Blue Whale‐ the biggest creature ever to inhabit planet earth. You can also see Sperm Whales. The best time to see them is between December to March. A visit any other time you can crack open a coconut, slip into a hammock, and rock gently in the breeze, allowing hours to slip calmly by‐ this is what the sleepy town of Mirissa is all about. It is one of the least developed southern coastal cities. However, the sea is much clear and less populated. It’s excellent for snorkelling and many of the guesthouses have snorkelling and surfing gear to rent.

Tangalla

Strung out along one of the south’s most stunning stretches of coastline, Tangalla is among the region’s more developed beach destinations, with a string of simple guesthouses – and a handful of upmarket hotels and villas – dotted along the coves and beaches which line the oceanfront here. Tourism has never taken off quite as much as the entrepreneurial locals would like, however, and Tangalla remains resolutely low‐key compared to the resorts further west. What gives Tangalla added appeal, however, is the number of rewarding attractions in the surrounding countryside, including the ‘Hoo‐manaya’ blow‐hole, the giant Buddha and gaudy shrines of Wewurukannala, and the magnificent rock temples of Mulkirigala, all of which can be combined into a rewarding half‐day excursion. In addition, the nearby beach at Rekawa is Sri Lanka’s premier site for turtle watching, while dedicated ornithologists might also fancy a trip to the little‐visited Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary, which can be combined with a visit to the mysterious plateau at Ussangoda.

Sinharaja Rain Forest

This is a world heritage site and major eco tourism destination, which can also be described as a Tropical Lowland Rainforest or Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest. Whatever its 'technical' name, it is undoubtedly a rich treasure trove of nature with a great diversity of habitats and a vast repository of Sri Lanka's endemic species found no where else in the world. Two rivers border Sinharaja: the Koskulana Ganga in the north and the Gin Ganga in the south. Bird watching in this ecosystem is particularly interesting because it is home to 95% of the endemic birds of Sri Lanka. Named as a world heritage site in 1989, this lowland evergreen rain forest is steeped in deep legend and mystery. The word 'Sinharaja' means, Lion (Sinha) King (Raja), and it is popular belief that the legendary origin of the Sinhala people is from the union between a princess and the lion king who once lived in the forest.

Udawalawe National Park

With herds of elephants, wild buffalo, sambar deer and leopards, this is the Sri Lankan national park that best rivals the savannah reserves of Africa. In fact, for elephant watching Udawalawe often surpasses many of the most famous African National Parks. There are about 500 elephants in the park in herds of up to 50. There are 30 varieties of snakes and a wealth of birdlife. A 4WD open‐top safari is the only way to see all the wonders that this protected reserve has to offer and our experienced and knowledgeable guides will make this an unforgettable experience

Yala National Park

With monkeys crashing through the trees, peacocks in their finest frocks and cunning leopards sliding like shadows through the undergrowth, Yala National Park is the Jungle Book brought to life. Yala is considered one of the world’s best parks for spotting leopards. Panthera pardus kotiya, the subspecies you may well see, is unique to Sri Lanka. With luck you’ll get to see the shaggy‐coated sloth bear or some of the fox‐like jackals, Sambars, spotted deer, boars, crocodiles, buffaloes, mongooses and monkeys are here in their hundreds. Around 215 species of birds have been recorded at Yala, many of which are visitors escaping the northern winters.