Candlelight and torches on the beach, the soft sound of breaking waves, music from the buffers in the beach restaurants, tourists dipping their cocktails, drinking their beers and enjoying their cappuccinos, chefs on the beachside preparing their dishes, this is the Unawatuna beach scene at sunset.
Situated along a nice, intimate bay about five km south of Galle town, Unawatuna is considered as one of the finest beach resorts in Sri Lanka. It had a major make-over after the destructive Tsunami in 2004 and the termination of the 30 years’ civil war.
Tourism in Unawatuna started in the 1980s after hippies and backpackers had discovered the beauty of the beach and the charm of the village, hidden behind the jungle of the Rumassala Mountain. A tiny winding road leads you to the beach area. In the meantime numerous small guesthouses welcome tourists from all over the globe. The hippie culture has disappeared, but the relaxed atmosphere has remained. The main activities, both day and night are taking place on and around the beach. Up to the shoreline you can enjoy your drinks and meals. There are sunbeds in abundance. The small road also invites you for a stroll and to make a stopover for some snacks (shorteats), a fresh bun from the bakery tuktuk or to look for some nice souvenirs to bring home.
In fact, there is another part of Unawatuna, which is situated right on the main road between Galle and Matara; you have the advantage that here you can easily catch a bus that brings you to Galle, but the beach strip is a lot smaller between the hotels and the sea. More hidden there are also great accommodations to discover which are situated in a much quitter area for those who don’t like to be disturbed by the noise of loud disco music.
Unawatuna is a perfect destination for families. The calm sea and warm water are a pleasure for children to enjoy. Glass bottom boats are available to watch the coral reefs and the colourful underwater world. Adventurous type of people can enjoy a jetski ride or go for a diving adventure. At public holidays and weekends the beach and sea can also be very crowded with locals; they mostly don’t mix with the tourists, but flock together at the far end of the beach. So if you want to communicate with the locals (mainly youth) go there and enjoy a chat and play with them in the sea, they love to make contact with foreigners, but some are very shy. If you love the Sri Lankan cuisine, you can learn how to prepare the delicious dishes yourself. Along the road you will find some interesting cooking classes to master the skills in Sri Lankan cooking; really a nice experience!
Apart from the fabulous soft sandy beach and warm ocean water, there are many other advantages to stay in Unawatuna. There are hardly any tall apartment blocks and big hotels in Unawatuna, mainly private run guesthouses and villas, which creates a pleasant and intimate ambiance. The busy main road, which connects Galle with Matara, is for the greater part of the beach area far away, although there is busy tuktuk traffic on the small road.Moreover the fascinating historic Galle Fort is only five km north of Unawatuna and invites you for a pleasant walk through the historic streets during daytime, as well as in the evening. There are many pleasant places for sightseeing, shopping and to enjoy a drink or a delicious meal.
Nightlife is vibrant and is mainly outdoors, close to or on the beach. In the season there are disco beach parties on different locations and on Tuesday nights there is a disco beach party at the intimate small Jungle Beach, on the other side of the Rumassala Mountain, which continues until sunrise. Everywhere on the beach you can have candlelight dinners or enjoy your drinks at the many beach bars. During the weekends the middle class ‘Colombo crowd’ travels to Unawatuna via the Southern Expressway and contributes to the party atmosphere. The small road that connects Unawattuna with the main road is busy with tuktuks going and coming and strolling tourists.
Getting around the area can be done by tuktuk; a ride to the Galle Fort will be around Rps. 400, but you can also hire a bike by the day, which will give you the freedom to roam around the area as you wish; however be careful in the traffic, since the driving style can be very different from that you are used to in your country. Buses are the king of the road and tuktuks pass you on the left, as well as on the right side. Without giving notice they can suddenly enter the main road from a side street. Be prepared!
Unawatuna and the Ramayana Story
According to the epic, the monkey warrior Hanuman was sent out to the Himalayas to collect four important herbs to treat the wounded soldier Lakshman, who tried to save the beautiful Princess Sita from her abduction by the demon King Ravana. As he was not able to find the four types of medical herbs, he took a big piece of the Himalayas to bring to the battlefield to heal the wounded soldier. On the way a piece of the mountain broke off and ‘fell down’ on a place near Unawatuna, which is now known as Rumassala. ‘Una-watuna’ literally means ‘fell down’. All the herbs which Hanuman was searching for can now be found at Ramussala. The biodiversity on this spot is wider than can be found elsewhere in Sri Lanka. It makes this mountain an important pilgrim’s destination.
There is a major magnetic anomaly near Unawatuna, which Arthur C. Clarke attributes to a meteorite strike, and it is said that satellites lose their orbits with unusual frequency overhead, so instead of the Ramayana epic, the extraordinary phenomena could also be explained by the struck of a meteorite, while different other myths try to explain this special mountain hill as well.
More about the history of Unawatna
Unawatuna played an important role in the colonial history, when the Dutch conquered the Portuguese. After they had taken over their first occupation of Sri Lanka by taking the Negombo Fort (North of Colombo), the Dutch proceeded down south with their ships to capture the Portuguese stronghold Galle. A severe battle between the Portuguese and Dutch troops took place on the peninsula where nowadays the Closenberg Hotel is situated. Both sides lost many troops and the Portuguese retrieved behind the walls of Galle Fort. In the meantime the Dutch landed on the beach of Unawatuna and settled a military basecamp. In the end the Portuguese were driven out of the Galle Fort and built a collection of colonial villas for the governor and his staff, as well as for other well-to-do Dutch colonizers. The Governor’s residence was the villa of what is today’s Hotel Nooitgedagt, situated on the main road and on the spot what used to be the first military camp of the Dutch. Several of these colonial villas have been restored and converted to boutique hotels.
Excursions from Unawatuna