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SRI LANKA’S SOUTH COAST: 99 PROBLEMS BUT A BEACH ‘AINT ONE

After a week hiking in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country and a day of bumpy safari in Uda Walawa, it’s time to hit then road again. My body is aching so I’m pretty excited about the prospect of kicking back on the South Coast’s famed palm-fringed beaches I’d read about.

My friend from Uni, Tash, flew down to join me for a few days respite from hectic New Delhi, where she works. We met up in Galle, a picturesque colonial town made up of cobble stone streets where pretty churches and mosques sit side by side. It’s a gentle introduction to Sri Lanka’s south coast – a chilled out town with historic architecture and interesting shops to browse.

Our exploration started at the waterfront, not far from the lighthouse, where you can pay a few rupees to pose for photographs with snake charmers. Before I knew it, India’s Dr Doolittle had thrust a 3 metre python into my arms and with Tash egging me on, was doing my best Britney Spears impression much to the amusement of other tourists and touts alike.

Doing my best Britney impression

Doing my best Britney impression

Some people visit Galle only fleetingly for an afternoon meandering its pretty streets but I’d thoroughly recommend spending the night to really soak up the charm of this colonial town. Stay within the fort are itself to be within walking distance of the restaurants around Church Road and Pedlar street. There’s a fabulous spa on Pedlar Street which we visited for a pampering session.

We blew our budget completely on pre AND post dinner drinks at Living Room Lounge. Wander through the velvet curtains to discover sequinned sofas and ethnic wall hanging. It’s got a kind of a bohemian-boudoir vI’ve which feels like you’ve been transported straight to a sumptuous riad in Marrakech. The extensive cocktail list concocted by lots of scantily clad bar men kept us entertained for several hours.

Living Room Lounge in Galle

Living Room Lounge in Galle

If you’re sick of rice and curry already, Rocket Burger is a must for lunch. High quality beef patties are served medium rare between cloud-like buns. We tried the Gringo and an unusual Korean-inspired burger with green chilli and sesame sauce, finally satisfying my craving for some Western grub.

From Galle, we explored the South Coast’s beaches, which offer something for everyone – from chilled out surf spots to secluded sunbathing beaches. Here are our favourites:

DALAWELLA

This remote beach is spared the hoards of tourists who flock to Unawatuna, perhaps down to the fact it’s not given much of a mention in the Lonely Planet and hasn’t been over-developed in the same way that Mirissa and Unawatuna have. The main draw for this beach, aside from the postcard-perfect palm trees that arch out into the sea, is the fany loud Wijaja Beach Restaurant.

Dellawella beach

Dellawella beach

Sit back and order yourself a passion fruit mojito from your sun lounger, watch the sunset and then stay for a candlelit dinner under the stars. We returned here again and again for their wood fired pizzas, fruity cockails served in jam jars and seared tuna steaks.

Walk left and you’ll reach our favourite guest house in Sri Lanka – King’s Palm Village run by the amiable German and English speaking Yamuna, we rented a spacious double set around an attractive garden for just 3000 rupees and enjoyed breakfast looking out on the India Ocean.

One of my favourite stays in Sri Lanka... King's Palm Villa

One of my favourite stays in Sri Lanka… King’s Palm Villa

Walk right and you’ll reach a more secluded little beach with a swing into the sea and a jutting out rock which is perfect for watching stilt fishermen at sunset.

WALLAGAMA

Highly recommended for two reasons …

1) It’s got the BEST hostel on the island, the recently opened Hangtime Hostel run by two young Aussie guys. In fact, I’d go to say it’s in my top 10 hostels of all time.

2) The waves. Anyone can learn to surf on this beach. Even me, despite the fact that I have the upper body strength of a newborn kitten.

Hanging at Hangtime Hostel

Hanging at Hangtime Hostel

Hangtime is a brilliant place to put down our roots for a few days. You’re a short tuk tuk away from Mirissa if you want a sunbathing beach or to haggle for BBQ fish on the beach, but the Roti Shop next door is a cheap and delicious place to carb load after your surf lesson.

The bed that rocks - Hangtime hostel

The bed that rocks – Hangtime hostel

We took yoga sessions on the rooftop garde at sunset and felt triumphant after a rather bossy and unsympathetic Sri Lankan surf dude called Jason managed to get us standing up on our boards within the first 20 minutes. The aptly named Hangtime is simple that… the perfect place to lol on the bar swing with a smoothie or tuck into a plate of pasta from the comfort of your beanbag.

UNAWATUNA
Despite the negative write up in Lonely Planet, Unawatuna is still your best bet if you want a lively beach holiday and somewhere to have a drink in the evening. The Saturday we arrived, we were told by a Russian crowd (of which there are many here) that there was a party that night at the provocatively named Happy Bananana… It was the night out we’d been craving in a country where night life generally winds down at 10pm.

Friday night at Happy Banana

Friday night at Happy Banana

We had dinner on the beach and meandered down at about 9pm when the place was just starting to fill out with a friendly mixture of locals and tourists. It’s a bit of a dive in all honesty, with grim toilets and a sweaty dance floor, but we met a big group of backpackers and made our own fun. If you’re looking for a night out, this is definitely your best bet.

MIRISSA

This whale watching hotspot attracts sun worshippers and a few surfers who flock to it’s yellow sand shores. In the evening, the beach is lit up with restaurants playing reggae and trying to flog their catch of the day. Be sure to  haggle over whichever red mullet or mahi mahi takes your fancy.

During the day we bartered with a few touts on the beach for a whale tour. We’d heard that blue whales had been spotted the previous few days but our trip was pretty uneventful with the exception of a pod of playful dolphins and a very choppy 4 hours at sea. Most operators let you go out again free of charge if you don’t spot a whale but after our sea sickness-inducing voyage, I can’t imagine many tourists take up this offer!

early morning view before whale watching tour

early morning view before whale watching tour

BACKPACKING IN HEELS TIPS

– Push the boat out, literally, and check into a double at Hangtime Hostel – where fishing boats have been repurposed into quirky double beds.

– Sip cocktails in the eclectic Living Room Lounge. This was our best discovery, nestled in the backstreets of atmospheric Galle fort.

– Dine beneath the stars at Wijaja Beach Restaurant. Don’t even get me started on their coconut and passionfruit cheesecake – no cheesecake will ever compare.

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