The Top Things to Do in Bentota, Sri Lanka

Fishermens boats are ubiquitous throughout the area around Bentota Beach
Fishermen's boats are ubiquitous throughout the area around Bentota Beach | © DEGAS Jean-Pierre / / Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Claire Dodd

A laid-back coastal town on the south coast of Sri Lanka, Bentota is the very essence of chilled holiday living. You’ve got friendly fishermen to mingle with, isolated beaches to more or less call your own and a sprinkling of spiritual spots that will show you the meaning of tranquillity. You can also expect first-rate watersports, river adventures, diving among irridescent fish and much, much more besides.

1. Get stuck into windsurfing

Natural Feature

Bentota River
© Martin Silva Cosentino / Alamy Stock Photo

Skim the waves at speed and feel the spray against your sunkissed skin on the open waters surrounding Bentota, a prize spot for surfing and windsurfing. Fear not if you’re new; the more tranquil waters of the Bentota River make practice a cinch. Try to come between November and April, before the wet season powers in and things become altogether choppier.

2. Visit the Brief Garden

Botanical Garden

Statues at Brief Garden, Sri Lanka
© Martina Katz / imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’d like an afternoon letting both your mind and legs wander, you’ll love these pathways decorated with jungle flowers that were once home to Bevis Bawa, brother of Geoffrey, Sri Lanka’s biggest architectural name. Since 1970 they’ve been welcoming visitors – a fantasy landscape of arty creations, statues and head-turning trees (more than 160 species). It’s just 10km (6mi) inland from Bentota for an easy, escapist day out.

3. Settle in for a Madu Ganga River Safari

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Madu Ganga River Safari
© Graham Prentice / Alamy Stock Photo

Experience paradise as you drift in the shade of the mangroves that line the banks of the Madu Ganga River, stopping by cinnamon plantations and small islands along the way. There are more than 60 outcrops dotting the river, the most unique being Satha Paha Doowa, aka Five Cent Island. It might be the smallest island along Madu Ganga – it can barely support the Hindu temple that rises from its low landmass – but it’s Instagram gold. The waters are home to flickering doctor fish and you may even spot a crocodile or two.

4. Join Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Project

Natural Feature

At this prime nesting site, you can offer to help save endangered turtles, joining a team of local people and international volunteers who work year-round to protect the precious species. Tasks include beach conservation, night patrols, community education and keeping an eye on the hatchery. Collected and rescued eggs are kept safely away from predators, with the young later released into the sea. Stay for between one and 12 weeks on a homestay, which means plenty of utterly irresistible home-cooked food.

5. Hit Bentota Beach

Natural Feature

Prized as one of the best in Sri Lanka, Bentota Beach absolutely needs to be on your agenda, so factor in at least a languid afternoon spent admiring its turquoise waters from the shade of gently shifting palms. The sea breeze keeps things cool, even when the sun is high in the sky. A number of big resorts have been established in the area and yet the long slither of sand still appears relatively untouched from the water.

6. Visit Kande Viharaya Temple

Buddhist Temple

Sitting Buddha statue, Kande Viharaya Temple
© Harry Laub / imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

The full form of this impressive 18th- century hilltop Buddha will emerge as you climb the stone steps to the summit, but the first thing you’ll see is the head. Sitting cross-legged and measuring a mighty 49m (160ft) in height, it is apparently one of the tallest likenesses of the deity in the world. You’ll also find a stupa, a 300-year-old Bodhi Tree and a relic chamber among a number of other temple buildings to explore here. Don’t rush – you need time to contemplate the magnificence.

7. Explore the Galle Dutch Fort

Ruins, Architectural Landmark

Ramparts and bastions embrace the picturesque streets of this sprawling Unesco-listed site, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and added to over the next 350 years by the British and the Dutch. The layers of history are visible as you amble about these sun-bleached colonial streets, including grand stone mansions, churches, mosques, museums and cafes. Make a stop for a cooling drink at the Amangalla Hotel and head to the lighthouse to survey the drama of the crashing Indian Ocean waves.

8. Get interiors envy at Lunuganga

Boutique Hotel, Bed and Breakfast, Villa

The main hall at Lunuganga
© Geoffrey Bawa Trust

Dark-wood beams, stone colonnades, wrought iron wrapped with lush jungle foliage – welcome to the country home of world-famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, known as the father of tropical modernism. This luxurious setting is just the ticket for a relaxing afternoon or even a longer stay, with many of the breezy but imposing buildings on the estate forming part of a country house hotel. Alternatively, drop by for a garden tour or a bite to eat – excellent Sri Lankan home cooking is the hallmark of the restaurant.

9. Go diving

Sports Center

Sri Lanka’s watersports hotspot is, naturally, a great place to get down and deep. Head over to Canoe Rock, South Reef and Hundirangala to flit between the vibrant corals. As you drift, large schools of Lionfish and Porcupinefish will shimmy about you, mouths agape. If you need guidance or if you’re new to the sport, Sunshine Diving is a reliable place to help you get into the swim of things.

10. Indulge in a spa treatment at Saman Villas

Boutique Hotel

Saman Villas
Courtesy of Saman Villas / Expedia

A dramatic, rocky headland, bashed by the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean, is home to Saman Villas, one of Sri Lanka’s top luxury accommodation options. Romance and relaxation are key here, whilst the seclusion invites you to slow down and take it all in. The Sahana Spa excels at pampering sessions including Ayurvedic traditions, among them a blissful Indian head massage.

This is an updated version of an article by Jayani Senanayake.

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