A guide to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka: 9 awesome things to see and do
Our insider's guide to Sri Lanka’s most popular beach town, Unawatuna, featuring all the best things to do in Unawatuna.
Includes the famous Dalawella rope swing, surfing spots, and the most delicious brunch on the southern coast!.
Unawatuna, Sri Lanka's most popular beach town, is a place you either love or hate.
For us, it was a mix of both.
We enjoyed that there was a bit more life here than other Sri Lankan beach towns, with a vibe similar to that of backpacker haunts in Thailand or Cambodia. Hipster cafes that wouldn’t look out of place in Bali lured us in with their delicious menus, and the nightlife was definitely the most happening in all of Sri Lanka. During the day we lazed on the surrounding beaches, visited Galle Fort, and spent time shopping (or at least looking) in the many little boutiques and market stalls popping up around the place.
On the other hand, recent years have seen ramshackle and destructive development deprive Unawatuna of its former glory, leaving us feeling a little unsatisfied. Family homes now sit alongside large-scale hotels, and what used to be the kind of paradise you could only read about now resembles something more like concrete jungle, aimed solely at tourists. The issues are largely caused by the 2004 Tsunami, which devastated the area and led to rampant and mismanaged rebuilding, causing widespread erosion on the once pristine beach.
But even with the negatives laid bare, we still think Unawatuna is a place you should at least pay a visit to on your travels to Sri Lanka, especially seeing as the area surrounding Una has a great number of activities; we just wouldn’t recommend staying too long (and of course, being aware of your own environmental impact when you do travel here).
So if you decide to include it on your Sri Lankan adventure, here’s our guide to try best things to see and do in Unawatuna.
the best things to do in unawatuna, sri lanka
Rope swing fun at Dalawella and Wijaya Beach
To this day we're still amazed that a simple rope swing could have single-handedly turned a country into a travel 'hot spot', yet that's exactly what happened here in Sri Lanka. The rope swing at Dalawella beach, just south of Unawatuna, went viral on Instagram and before long every single visitor to the country wanted 'that shot'.
In all honesty, we thought about giving this a miss - it just felt a little gimmicky for our travel tastes. But we’re also suckers when it comes to FOMO, and eventually decided to give it a go. The verdict? It’s definitely worth it.
Yes, our photos turned out well, but more importantly, it really is a heap of fun and definitely one of the best things to do in Unawatuna! The best time to visit is during early-mid morning when the sun is still rising yet not too harsh, or during golden hour as the sun sets. It costs 500r for 5 or so swings, depending on how busy it is.
There's also a beach swing just a short walk away at Mihiripenna beach which swings over the natural lagoon. This swing is slightly cheaper, at 300r and is best visited for sunrise.
Where | Dream Cabanas, Dalawella, and Mihiripenna beach
Cost | 500r pp (Dalawella), and 300r pp (Mihiripenna beach)
Eat brunch at Skinny Tom’s DELI
Mim found Skinny Tom’s Deli during a morning stroll along the main street of Unawatuna, and boy are we glad she did. As it turns out, Skinny Tom’s has a bit of a cult following on the southern coast, and after two weeks of rice and curry at every meal, we were ready for a Melbourne-style brunch and coffee. Skinny Tom’s was a lifesaver!
We had a Sri Lankan/Western infusion brunch of poached egg hoppers and the shakshuka hoppers respectively, both of which were absolutely delicious. The coffee was also great.
There’s also traditional brunch on offer, as well as cakes and other sweets. We’ve also heard that their coconut crushed ice drinks are insanely good, and everyone around us seemed to be enjoying one… The pull of a fresh roasted coffee was too strong for Mim though!
Where | Skinny Toms Deli, 147 Dewala rd, Unawatuna
Cost | 800r - 900r for brunch, 300r - 500r for coffee
Swim at Unawatuna main beach
Despite spending five nights in Unawatuna, we spent so much time beach-hopping along the coastline that we actually spent only one day on Unawatuna beach, relaxing and swimming to our hearts content. To be honest, after the hustle and bustle of Colombo, the heat of Galle, and the crazy busy surf at some of the other beaches, it was perfect.
Unawatuna main beach is one of the most famous beaches in the country, and is popular with both tourists and locals alike. The best place to swim is in the middle or to the south of the beach, where there are less people and less boats.
Alternatively, you can rent a sun bed and relax, order cocktails and curries from the beachside bars, or take an afternoon stroll up to the pagoda at the north of the beach and watch the sunset.
The only thing to watch out for is the numerous sellers plying their wares on the beach, who are pretty persistent and can get quite annoying after a while.
Where | Unawatuna main beach
Relax at Jungle beach, Unawatuna
Jungle beach was suggested to us by many of the locals as one of the best things to do in Unawatuna, so we decided to spend a morning hiking there to see what all the fuss was about.
After a 30 minute walk through the jungle, we landed on the beach situated in the bay of Galle and overlooking Galle Fort.
The first beach, which was packed full of locals enjoying their Sunday swim, was a little polluted for our liking, with plastic just about everywhere. However the second beach, just a short walk away was much nicer and far less busy. That said, as we were leaving it seemed to be the place for locals to come and spend the afternoon drinking and pumping music (and, a few told us later, occasionally get into fights) - which definitely isn’t really our scene for a beach day.
While it's not the best beach in Sri Lanka, it's far quieter than Unawatuna main beach, and definitely worth half a day visit.
If you're hungry or thirsty, there's a little beach hut selling fresh seafood and refreshments on the beach.
Where | Jungle beach, Unawatuna
How to get to Jungle Beach | From Unawatuna main beach, fellow Yaddihemulla Rd, until the junction, then turn right onto Jungle Beach road and follow the signs all the way to the beach. The walk should take 20 minutes.
Alternatively, catch a tuk tuk to Jungle beach, which should cost no more than 200r.
Enjoy the views from the Japanese peace pagoda
Located in the forest on the hillside north of Unawatuna beach is the impressive Japanese Peace Pagoda. Constructed in 2005 by Japanese monks as part of a scheme to build peace temples in conflict zones, the monument serves as a beacon of hope for people all over the world.
It's now become a popular tourist attraction and on, with incredible views over the bay of Galle towards Galle Fort and the perfect place to take in the always impressive Sri Lankan sunsets.
Make sure you're respectful when visiting; this is a working religious monument.
Where | Japanese Peace Pagoda, Bona Vista Rd, Unawatuna
party on the beach in unawatuna
Although we're not huge partygoers (we're too old you!), we did manage to spend one night out enjoying the Unawatuna nightlife at Kingfishers' notorious Saturday night beach party. With some good house music and 2 for 1 beers, we had a great little night out before retreating just after 12pm.
It's worth noting that Sri Lanka is definitely not a party destination, but if you're someone who does like a party, Unawatuna is THE place.
The main street is filled with many bars which offer 'happy hour' specials in the afternoon and into the early evening, which are the perfect place to get the party started.
Kingfisher Hotel , is probably your best bet for a proper party, and they hold their beach party every Saturday night, which fills with tourists, expats and locals ready to boogie. The party doesn't really kick off until 10-11pm, so enjoy pre-drinks elsewhere before arriving. The booze here is also insanely expensive - we paid more than London prices for a 330mL beer at the bar.
We've heard of other parties occurring during the week, so it's best to ask the locals or 'beach boys' where the party is at on any given night.
What | Kingfisher Hotel
Where | Devala Road, Unawatuna
Reviews | Check Tripadvisor reviews of Kingfisher here
Learn to surf in unawatuna
Sri Lanka is a famous surfing destination that caters to everyone, including beginners like us. Probably the best thing we did while travelling in the country was learning to surf, as it was cheap, warm, and the instructors were great too.
While Unawatuna might not be the best place to learn on the Southern Coast, it is possible with Bona Vista Bay your best bet for learning. You can book surf lessons on the beach or in town.
Alternatively, head south towards Dalawella, Talpe and Weligama, or north towards Hikkaduwa.
Lessons range from 2500 - 6000r while board hire ranges from 250r - 500r per hour.
Spend a day exploring Galle Fort
In our opinion, Galle Fort is one of the unmissable points of interest on any Sri Lankan itinerary. There’s just something about the narrow, bustling streets and crumbling colonial relics; the scent of exotic spices in the air, and the incredible tropical vibes, that we absolutely couldn’t get enough of.
The UNESCO world heritage listed Galle Fort is home to chic boutiques, cafes and hotels, although there are still many pockets which make you feel as if you’ve time travelled to the 1700’s.
There are a heap of must sees (we've written a blog post about the best things to do in Galle Fort) including:
Explore the exterior and interior of the Galle Fort, and visit the historical sights
Eat at Poonies, which serves the best Thali bowl we've ever eaten!
Shop till you drop. Galle Fort has the best shopping we encountered in all Sri Lanka
Watch the technicolour sunset from the Fort walls
Where | Galle Fort, Galle
How to get there | By tuk tuk from the Unawatuna, which should cost around 300r.
Alternatively, take a local bus from Unawatuna junction, which should cost around 60r.
Read more | Our ultimate guide to Galle Fort
enjoy fresh fruits and local experiences at Galle Markets
Just north of Unawatuna (7kms) are the vibrant and colourful fruit, spice and flower markets of Galle.
The bustling markets are home to some of the best fruit we’ve ever tried, and the local shopkeepers are more than willing to let you taste all types of weird and wonderful tropical fruits. Make sure you try Mangosteen, a weird lychee type fruit which is absolutely delicious. Oh, and the pineapple... always have the pineapple.
The markets are also a great place to stock up on spices and curry mix. We couldn’t resist stocking up on a dhal mix, one of our favourite Sri Lankan curries. The spices here are about a 10th of the price of the ones within the fort walls, so it’s well worth the walk out to visit.
We also met some wonderful people around the markets, who took time out of their day to show us around the area and teach us more about the local way of life.
What | Galle fruit market
Where | Sea St, near Galle-Colombo Rd, Galle
A map of the best things to see and do in unawatuna, sri lanka
Visiting Unawatuna? Download this map to your phone and follow our recommendations for the best things to do in Unawatuna!
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO unawatuna
WHERE TO STAY IN unawatuna
Honestly, in our view AirBnB is your best option when looking for cheap accommodation in Sri Lanka. We used it almost exclusively throughout our trip!
If you’re a fan of AirBnB, there are heaps of options available in Unawatuna.
Search for accommodation and book using our code and receive up to £30 off your booking.
If you’re after a more luxurious splurge, Unawatuna is filled with mid to high end hotels, many with incredible views over the coastline.
HOW TO GET TO unawatuna
Definitely the most scenic way to get from Colombo to Unawatuna is via train, which runs along the palm fringed coast the majority of the journey.
The Colombo Fort to Unwatuna train departs 3 times a day, with the earliest departure at 6:55am and the final departure at 18:05. It takes around 2.5 - 3.5 hours. Alternatively, you could catch the train to Galle, and a local bus or tuk-tuk from Galle to Unawatuna (7kms - 300r).
Cost | 190r per person for 2nd class, 105r per person for 3rd class
Departure Times | From Colombo Fort only: 0655, 1425, 1805
If you prefer your creature comforts (air-conditioning), there’s a a direct bus from Maharagama bus station (in the suburbs of Colombo) to Galle, which follows the newly completed inland highway. You’re guaranteed a seat, and the air-conditioning is a welcome relief in Sri Lanka. You can then catch a tuk-tuk (7kms - 300r) or local bus (60 - 80r) from Galle to Unawatuna.
We did this many times (the fun of having to pick up a repaired drone from Colombo!) with no issue.
Cost | 360r - 400r per person
Departure Times | Every 20 minutes from 5am - 16:45pm
If you’re on a very tight budget, it’s also possible to take the local bus from Colombo to Galle, and Galle to Unawatuna, however we don’t recommend this option due to the exceedingly long and tedious journey. The local bus will leave from Colombo Fort bus station, and costs 100r per person.
WHEN TO VISIT unawantuna
Anytime from October - April is a good time to visit Unawatuna, as the monsoon rains have passed and the temperatures are fairly stable. That being said, the absolute BEST time to visit is between February - April, when low rainfall and calmer seas provide the perfect weather to explore.
We’ve been told to avoid visiting during early January, when Sri Lankan holidays occur and Unawatuna is teeming with local tourists.
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