Unawatuna is a lovely tiny beach town in southern Sri Lanka and a favorite among travelers. Filled with trendy cafés, boutique shops, and restaurants, the vibe is probably the liveliest we experienced in the whole country, along with Ella town.
Just about a two-hour ride from Colombo, Unawatuna is a great place to base yourself and explore the Southern tropical portion of the country – from visiting Galle Fort to learning how to surf in Weligama or watching the sunset from Mirissa’s famous Coconut Hill, you can do it all from here!
Fun fact: the origins of the town name are not entirely clear, but the most accepted theory suggests that it comes from the Sinhalese “una-watuna“ which means “fell into the saltwater“ and refers to the story of a shipwreck that occurred off the coast.
Best Time to Visit Unawatuna
The best time to visit Unawatuna is during the dry months of December to March. October and November are also great options – not so hot but also not rainy. It’s worth noting that we visited in July in the middle of the monsoon and experienced sunny weather and heavy showers only by the end of the day.
Fun fact: Sri Lanka has two main monsoon seasons which occur in opposite parts of the country. From May to September, the Southwest of the country is affected, and from December to February, the Northeast. Therefore all beaches in the southern part of the country are best visited from mid-October to March.
How Long to Stay
Whatever your first plan is, chances are you’ll likely extend your stay here! We recommend at least 3 days to enjoy it fully but 5-7 if you plan on having Unawatuna as a base to explore the neighboring beaches and attractions.
How to Get to Unawatuna
Unawatuna is located about 150 km South of Colombo and can be reached by car, train, and bus, with the train being the cheapest and most popular option among budget travelers.
🚗 By car or taxi: if you opt to rent a car or get a taxi, you can get from Colombo Airport to Unawatuna in about 2 hours via the Southern Expy. Note that this is a toll road – last time we checked you’d need around 1200r only for the tolls.
Note: A fair taxi price from Colombo Airport to Unawatuna should be around 60-75 dollars, although, with the economic crisis in the country, you can expect prices to be on the more expensive side. We recommend reading our full budget breakdown for the most updated information before your trip.
🛺 By tuk-tuk: if you prefer to have more flexibility during your time in Sri Lanka, we recommend the most authentic way of travel in the country – renting and driving your very own tuk-tuk with TukTuk Rental!
Hot tip: For a special discount with TukTuk Rental, use our code “wheretoflow” when making a booking!
🚌 By bus: there is a bus that runs from Kaduwela Public Bus Stand to Galle on a daily basis, but the only way to get tickets and know its schedule is by going there in person.
🚂 By train: there is no direct train from the airport to Unawatuna, so you first need to get the Colombo Express bus (500r or €1.50) to the city center and then head to the Fort Railway Station to take the train from there to Unawatuna. Second-class tickets cost around 250r or €0.75 and the journey takes about 3 hours.
Tip: This train line goes all the way to Matara and it’s the cheapest option to travel between the southern beach towns.
Where to Stay in Unawatuna
Unawatuna Beach is where most of everything is located so we’d recommend staying in this area. Jungle Beach is where most of the high-end resorts are.
Note: We highly recommend staying at a guesthouse or a small boutique hotel – local-owned. Not only to support the people whose main income depends on tourism but also to connect and learn from them. The greatest stories we have from our time in Sri Lanka are from the time we spent with locals.
Tip: if you’re super on a budget we highly recommend La Villa – super simple but the owners are lovely and the dinners we had at their veranda were some of the best we’ve ever had.
Where to Eat in Unawatuna
This small town has plenty of options for you to try a bite of everything – from traditional Sri Lankan curries to Mexican tapas and that good old cappuccino & pastry combo.
🍔 Western: check out The Hideout Unawatuna for great Mexican food
Getting Around Unawatuna
There’s a lot to see around Unawatuna and you can do so by tuk-tuk or by renting your own motorbike. You can arrange tuk-tuks almost everywhere on the streets, just hail them down with your hand and make sure to agree on a rate beforehand. Motorbikes are usually available for rent at the tour operator shops on the main street – a fair price for a day should be around €6-10.
Things to Do in Unawatuna
Unawatuna is the most popular beach town in Sri Lanka for good reason – great beaches, buzzing nightlife, and lots of hipster cafes make this a place you might never want to leave! Some of the best things to do here are:
🐚 Go Beach Hopping: Unawatuna Beach is great, but the best part about it is that there are so many other beaches you can easily visit from here. You can walk from Unawatuna to Dalawella and swing from a palm tree, or take a 30-minute ride to Weligama and Mirissa and learn how to surf, or even head to Hikkaduwa to see turtles.
🌴 Visit Galle Fort on a day trip: Galle Fort is recognized as a UNESCO heritage site – all to preserve its extraordinary history. Conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century, fortified by the Dutch in the 1700s, and ruled by the English until 1948, its beautiful old buildings now house boutique hotels, trendy cafes, and hipster shops – all just a 10-minute ride from Unawatuna.
☀️ Hike to Jungle Beach: a hidden gem not many tourists know about just yet, this beautiful beach is located just an easy 30-minute hike away from Unawatuna and you can find all about it in our Jungle Beach – Best Hidden Beach in Unawatuna post.
🥳 Party on the beach: if you’re a big partygoer then Unawatuna is just the place for you! Parties usually take place in the many bars on the beach, although we did find those to be a little on the expensive side. The bars on the main street are usually cheaper and also offer a great vibe.
Unawatuna on a Budget
🏠 Accommodation: the cheapest accommodations start at €7-15 a night for hostel dorms and €10-30 for budget private rooms. Rooms with AC start at around €25+ a night.
🍔 Food: local food ranges between €1-4, averaging €2 per dish. Western dishes range between €4-10. You can also find really good local beers for as little as €2.
🚗 Transport: as mentioned before, you can rent a motorbike for around €6-10/day. For tuk-tuks, you can expect to pay a minimum of 500r or €1.50 for a short ride.
🎟️ Activities: the main paid activity that you can’t miss is the rope swing in Dalawella, and it costs a couple of euros only.
Note: we visited Unawatuna on a budget in July 2022. We managed to stay at a budget of around €18 per person per day. Note that we didn’t rent a motorbike and did mostly everything with tuk-tuks, by train, or by walking.
Unawatuna Travel Tips
- In case of an emergency, the best hospitals in the area are Hemas in Galle and the General Hospital in Karapitiya.
- There are a few ATMs available on Galle Road, with the Commercial Bank ATM being the most reliable one. We highly recommend using Wise or Revolut debit cards when traveling for lower withdrawal fees.
- You can also exchange cash at the many tour operator shops on the main street. Note that they give less money for smaller notes, so the 50 and 100 notes will get you better exchange rates.