About a 2 hour drive south of Colombo along the famous Galle Road, is arguably Sri Lanka’s most popular beach resort of Bentota which offer superb swathe of golden sand and a string of luxury resort hotels. Development here has been more muted than its neighboring Beruwala, with hotels laid out at discrete intervals along the beach and a far more relaxed and hassle-free atmosphere. The southern end of the beach is also home to some of the most appealing top-end accommodation options along the west coast, with a number of delightful boutique hotels and villas hidden amongst the palm trees.
Bentota is also renowned as the watersports capital of the island. Backing the
beach, the calm waters of the Bentota lagoon and river offer the ideal setting for myriad activities ranging from canoeing to jet-skiing, wind-surfing, and more. It’s also possible to arrange eco-friendly boat rides up the river, exploring the Bentota Ganga’s tangled waterways, mangroves swamps and marine life.
Between the beach and the river, Bentota village offers an interesting slice of local life – although it’s impossible to explore for long before being seized by a local tout. There are a couple of interesting local Buddhist temples here: the kitsch Wanawasa Raja Maha Vihara, and the most atmospheric Galapata Vihara, dating back to the 12th century, which legend claims was built by a minister of Parakramabahu the Great (1153-86), the famous ruler of Polonnaruwa. The temple is said to have been linked by a maze of subterranean tunnels to other temples in the area.
At the southern end of Bentota beach, the pioneering Sea Turtles Conservation Project (open daily from 6am to 6pm) is one of the most important of the many turtle hatcheries that have been set up along the west coast. Sri Lanka is an important turtle-nesting site, though turtle populations have been severely threatened by the poaching of eggs and disturbance of nesting sites. The project buys eggs from locals, buries them in the sand, then releases the newly hatched turtles into the sea by night, a few days after they have hatched. It’s possible to see the new hatchlings in holding tanks before they arc released, and they also keep a few specimens of each of the five species for a few years for study and exhibition before releasing them back into the ocean. The project was badly affected by the tsunami, which destroyed most of its equipment and washed away most of its stock of turtles, and so is greatly in need of support.
On the far side of the headland from the Sea Turtles Project, the village of Induruwa is home to another fine stretch of beach, even quieter (and notably cleaner) than that at Bentota. Though it is now slowly being colonized by a further crop of hotels and guesthouses, it remains one of the nicest and most soporific destinations along the west coast.