What I discovered in my travels throughout the island nation of Sri Lanka is that sometimes logistics and transport over the geographically small area can be a challenge. That being said, there is always a way to get from A to B. There are taxis at travelers disposal day or night if you are willing to pay, and the price is right. For the independent budget traveler navigating Lanka can be done on the cheap, but might require some planning and grit.
Arrival and getting going
I flew into Colombo airport with a mission to get to the much-touted beaches of the South Coast of Sri Lanka as my first priority and port of call. It is easy to get there inexpensively by train out of Colombo and the journey follows the coastline which is spectacular. Getting to the central train station in Colombo is simple. When you are heading out from the airport arrivals area directly across the road (while still in the airport boundary) is a bus stop which serves as a shuttle into Colombo. I took this option, it was inexpensive at a few dollars, clean, efficient and convenient. Even more convenient was the left luggage service which for about $2 a day kept my large pack at the airport freeing me up to carry just a few kilos while exploring this fascinating and beautiful country. You will find the desk for left luggage outside of departures right next to arrivals. The shuttle will take you within walking distance to the Colombo train station or a Tuk Tuk will be a couple of dollars, set the price first and ask for a direct route to the station.
Depending on your arrival time at Colombo airport and when you can make it to the train station you can consider heading straight to the coast. If you are as impatient as I was to get there go for it, but only if you can avoid peak hour. I don’t say this lightly. Avoid peak hour at all costs, anytime after 4:00 PM should seriously be reconsidered. Don’t even consider it with a large pack. By all means, if getting close and intimate with the armpits of one hundred other commuters is your thing then be my guest. To put it in context, it was the most confronting train journey I have ever had. Outside of peak hour, you have amazing coastal views the entire way, a simply spectacular teaser to the beaches you are bound for. It is a cheap, clean and easy to navigate and will only take a couple of hours.
First stop Unawatuna
My first little piece of paradise I chose to call home for a couple of days was Unawatuna. This coastal village offers a large horseshoe harbor of clean golden sand lined with palm trees. There are gentle waves and allowing safe and carefree swimming for all abilities. Sri Lanka offers very good value for money and great choice in accommodation options. Basic hotel rooms, guest houses, and resorts can all be found in Unuwatuna at pocket-friendly prices. Many of these front onto the beach or will at the very least get you ocean views from your room. Your dining options are all casual affairs right where the sand meets the water, for lunch or evening meals. There is a great selection of healthy whole food cafes and juice bars dotted up and down the road parallel to the beach which can get you going for about $5 and a healthy start to the day.
After kicking off with a healthy breakfast there are a number of yoga schools and studios if you desire to get a stretch and some namaste in. For a pulse inducing and sweat-generating walk head up to the Japanese Peace Pagoda and Buddhist stupa for ocean views. Or just Jump in a tuk-tuk, take in the serenity and surrounds and maybe stroll back down the hill for a slightly more leisurely pace. And there is, of course, the beach. It is after all likely to be the main reason you have come down to the South of Sri Lanka. You can select a daybed from the front of a resort or restaurant, relax in the shade of your own personal umbrella and enjoy the sun, have a swim and great hospitality on hand to meet your hydration and nutritional needs.
Next stop Mirissa
After a couple of days in Unuwatuna I kept it simple, followed the same formula and headed to the next beach on my list, Mirissa. A little further East by train the town of Mirissa sits on a road running parallel to a strip of beach with a more secluded cove on the far Western end. The beach stretches a couple of kilometers in length.
Mirissa offers a couple of fully serviced hotels and resorts at the Western end and mid to budget range lodgings which all front onto the beach on the South side of the road and all the way to the Eastern end. The short time I spent in Mirissa involved little else than relaxing and enjoying the sun and surf. The beach here varied from calm conditions to rideable waves for bodyboarders. Food was cheap and simple and quick bites to eat or full-on meals can be picked up surf side.
Its a wrap in Matara
Just a little bit further down the train line headed East is Matara. Despite being considered a major city in Sri Lanka, and a commercial hub for Matara District it really is little more than a charming small town. It has a strong population base and is the administrative center of the Southern coastal area of Sri Lanka. For this reason, tourism is not the sole source of activity here. You can enjoy visiting the local markets just near the intersection opposite the bus station, cruise along Beach Park where the local kids pull up their bikes and seemingly spend hours in small groups or walk over the footbridge to Parevi Duwa Buddhist temple to leave an offering and ask for a blessing.
There are just a small handful of large resorts in the mid to high range to choose from in Matara and a great way to wrap up a few days or a week of beach hopping before traveling back to Colombo on any one of the busses and trains that leave throughout the day and into the evening. Or you can continue to explore some more of Sri Lanka and head inland to see what this amazing island has to offer.