Unawatuna is one of the most popular areas for tourists to visit on Sri Lanka’s South Coast. Its beautiful, palm tree lined beaches, ocean reefs and friendly local community all combine to make an incredibly worthy destination for your Sri Lankan itinerary. Based on our experience, we put together a complete guide, including the top things to do in Unawatuna, where to eat and how to get there from Colombo.
Getting to Unawatuna
If you are like us, and traveling from Colombo, this will probably be the craziest train ride you are ever likely to take. I don’t know if words will do justice to how insanely busy this journey was. I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it on the train as there were so many people crammed in. But once I was on, I was amazed at how many more people packed themselves into the train after me. We stood sweating, wedged shoulder to shoulder with the locals for over an hour before the train mercifully started to slowly empty out. And it wasn’t even until the last 30 minutes that we were finally able to grab a seat. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it made for quite the cultural experience.
The train goes every couple of hours from Colombo Fort all the to Unawatuna and cost 240LKR ($1.40USD) per person. It took approximately 2.5 – 3 hours to reach Unawatuna.
Things to Do in Unawatuna
1. Dalawella Rope Swing
One of the iconic images that springs to mind when I think of Sri Lanka. The picturesque rope swing hangs from a palm tree that has grown at a 45-degree angle right on the beach. Swing out over the water and get that perfect sunset picture!
We visited this spot a few times and couldn’t believe how busy it was for sunset. Due to its new-found popularity, prepare to wait in line and pay 500LKR ($3USD) for your turn on the swing. But don’t let this dissuade you, the swing is popular for good reason and definitely worth the visit.
The swing is located just in front of Dream Cabana at Dalawella Beach. It cost us 200-300LKR ($1-2USD) for a tuk tuk to Dalawella beach from Unawatuna.
2. Visit Jungle Beach
Slightly out of town, this beautiful, aptly named beach is worth checking out. After taking a steep hill on a tuk tuk and climbing down through the jungle on the other side of the hill, you will reach Jungle Beach. There are two beaches to choose from and they make for a very pretty little getaway from the hustle and bustle. Relax, swim and watch the monkeys swing through the trees. A really cool place to spend the afternoon. It is about ten minutes from Unawatuna town centre in a tuk tuk and should cost around 400LKR ($2.25USD) each way.
3. Chill out in the lagoon at Dalawella
Protected by a reef about 10 metres from shore, the lagoon is the ultimate oasis to relax in. The water at low tide has a constant depth of 1 metre and is slightly warmer than the rest of the ocean making it the perfect temperature to sit in all day. Amazing place to relax in holiday mode!
4. Swim with turtles
The lagoon and the surrounding area at Dalawella Beach is a great place to swim with turtles. The turtles often come and swim around the lagoon meaning you don’t even need a snorkel to see them. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any turtles in the lagoon but right next to the lagoon, in slightly deeper water, was packed with turtles. Grab your snorkel and go for a swim with these awesome chilled out dudes.
5. Climb the rock at Dalawella Beach
Another picture perfect place. The large rock protruding from the beach sits right next to an almost horizontal palm tree, making for an awesome photo. The top of the rock provides the perfect viewing platform to look for turtles and watch the surfers. A wicked spot to take in the sunset.
6. Shop at the local fruit stands
The fruit stands around Unawatuna were amazing. The range of colours on offer is a feast for the eyes. We were kind of worried that we might get ripped off here as tourists, but Unawatuna doesn’t seem to be the sort of place. Our jaws nearly hit the floor when we bought a king coconut and it was only 50LKR ($0.30USD). We didn’t have any small change and the fruit stall owner said we could come back and pay later. The people here are so trusting and it’s a really nice community to be a part of for a few days.
Where to Eat in Unawatuna
Pawana Hotel – A local hole in the wall place that was right up our alley. One vegetable rice and curry, 4 plain roti, 2 Fantas and a large water only set us back 580LKR ($3.30USD). Delicious local food and one of the cheapest meals of our whole trip.
Nanda Roti Shop – The BEST roti in all of Sri Lanka. Make sure you get the coconut roti here. It was exceptional. Another cheap and delicious find.
Skinny Tom’s – A super cool little brunch place down by Unawatuna Beach. A mix of local and western food brought together in a really modern space. The caramel shortbread here was the bomb and the twist on traditional Sri Lankan egg hoppers was brilliant. Definitely a more expensive option but worth treating yourself to once.
Le Café Francais Bakery and Boutique – Some delicious baked goods for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Pretty reasonable priced at around 220 – 350LKR ($1.25-2USD) per baked good. The chocolate croissants are well worth a nibble.
The Hideout – We had heard such amazing things about the Mexican food served here but sadly it was closed the night we went to go. Nightmare. We included it here as we were told by a few people just how good it was. Please give it a go on our behalf!
Where to Stay in Unawatuna
We stayed for a few nights at Mr Funk’s Hostel. It cost 2600LKR ($15USD) per night for a private room. It is a really chilled, little spot just outside of town. A really cool garden, simple clean rooms and a relaxed vibe made this a great place to stay. They also do group dinners most nights. The food we had was so delicious plus it created the perfect social and friendly atmosphere. The only drawback is that it’s slightly out of town but we think it was worth the extra 5-minute walk.
For more great places to stay click here.
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We had a blast exploring all that Unawatuna had to offer. Pretty beaches, cool wildlife and lots of good food made this a brilliant first stop on our budget trip of Sri Lanka. Having spent 3 nights in Unawatuna, we would recommend anywhere from 3-5 days to be the perfect amount of time to spend here.
Next stop, Mirissa!
*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.