South coast, beach by beach: Weligama – the surfers’ paradise

Weligama is one of the most popular sea resorts in the southern coast of Sri Lanka. It’s long but not particularly pretty beach is favoured mostly by the surfers. For a non-surfer, Weligama is less attractive but more budget-friendly than the nearby Mirissa.

Cloudy sky over a long, empty sandy beach and a row of traditional wooden fishing boats in Weligama, Sri Lanka
Fishing boats at the western end of Weligama Beach

Weligama on a budget

Walliwala and Secret Jungle Beach

The cheapest accommodation I found wasn’t actually in Weligama proper but in neighbouring Walliwala. I stayed in an ensuite room for just $4 a night. Although the room was basic and dark, I could use a large roof terrace with a sea view. I later moved to a more expensive, but brand new dorm in a hostel with a garden where the owners were much more friendly.

The author sits in a meditation pose on a roof facing palm trees
Morning yoga on the roof

There weren’t many places to eat or shop in Walliwala. There is a family-run, morning- time bakery on the way from the Walliwala bus stop towards the beach, selling sweet buns wrapped in old school notebooks. Every afternoon, a mobile bakery in a converted autorickshaw stops at the Jungle Beach. There’s also one shop near the Walliwala bus stop. A roadside restaurant near the Walliwala bus stop sells traditional breakfast for 80-100 rupees.

Weligama

The Weligama centre is busy and noisy, so I wouldn’t recommend it to stay there. However, the area near the bus station is a perfect place to find a cheap meal. I found two very modest looking, local eateries where I could have a large portion of rice, dal, two veg curries and sambal for just 100 rupees. There are also lots of street sellers selling buns or fried snacks near the bus stand. Unlike Walliwala, Weligama has many shops, including a large Cargills supermarket.

Be aware that many sellers in local shops are dishonest. I checked 4 different shops trying to find the cheapest sun screen. The price for the very same product varied from 650 to 900 LKR! Similarly, a shop keeper in Walliwala would routinely try to increase the maximum retail price (MRP) of products by 15%.

Weligama beaches

Weligama’s main beach stretches for many kilometers along Weligama Bay. The surfing schools line the beach, standing literally one next to the other. It’s easy to understand why, as the waves are perfect for learners. The sea is shallow for a long time while the waves aren’t high. For the bathers, this type of waves is the worst, as they keep on breaking right at you much before you properly immerse. No wonder 99% of people in the water are surfers.

A large Weligama Bay with sandy beach and shallow waters full of learning surfers
A huge Weligama Bay

At the west end of the beach there is some stinky canal and lots of fishermen boats. You can find there also stilts: wooden poles with a simple seat immersed in water, used by the men posing as fishermen for money.

Wooden poles stuck in shallow sea used by stilt fishermen and fishermen getting on their wooden boat in Weligama
Stilts at western end of Weligama Beach

Jungle Beach, Walliwala

The tiny Secret Jungle Beach in nearby Walliwala is much nicer than the main Weligama beach. The red cliffs closing the bay from one side make it quite picturesque. Like in Weligama, the place is frequented mostly by surfers who take over half of the beach. Four wooden poles covered with a palm leaf roof is the only source of shade on the part of the beach used by the bathers. This little-known spot luckily isn’t busy- I never saw there more than ten people at a time. Swimming is possible if the sea is calm, as two breakwaters offer a shelter. However, due to a sudden drop, from knee to neck height swimming doesn’t feel safe on the days with high waves.

Sun rays lit the sea in Jungle Beach Bay in Walliwala the red cliffs with a holiday resort visible in one end of the bay
Jungle Beach in Walliwala

I heard that in the early morning the sea is sometimes perfectly still and you can see the turtles if you go snorkelling at the nearby reef. During my visits, the reef seemed too far into the rough sea to venture. Beyond the reef surfers play with really high waves.

A man at the surfer gear rental would try to convince you to go for snorkelling with turtles for $25. It is not necessary. You can easily see the turtles yourself in many places along the southern coast for free (eg. Turtle Bay in Mirissa or Mihiripenna).

A young Sri Lankan man sitting on a stilt immersed in the sea, angling. A red rock cliff rising behind him.
The ‘real’ stilt fishermen in Walliwala

The most exciting thing I saw in Walliwala was a young man fishing on a stilt far in the distance. He clearly wasn’t posing for tourists as they weren’t any around. He spent a long while sitting on a stilt immersed in the sea, alone with his rod, undisturbed by anyone.

If you like nature, I recommend taking a walk from Jungle Beach to Kumbalgama. You’ll pass by wetlands teeming with birds such as egrets and Indian moorhens. Staying in Walliwala, I’d seen a multitude of small colourful birds, peacocks and even a mongoose.

Clumps of greenery in backwaters near Jungle Beach in Walliwala, each tree full of white herons
Wetlands just behind Jungle Beach

Kushtarajagala Statue and Sri Agrabodhi Viharaya

A nice walk through a Walliwala village took me to Kushtarajagala Statue (Statue of the Leper King). An ancient, human-size figure carved in a large boulder most likely represents Buddha of Mahayana tradition. Seeing it won’t take you more than 5 minutes but as you’re already there you could pop in the nearby temple (5 min walk away).

An ancient statue of a standing Buddha carved in a stone in Weligama
Ancient Kushtarajagala Statue

Sri Agrabodhi Viharaya

As soon as I climbed the top of the hill where Sri Agrabodhi temple stood, I realised it was worth to come here. The board in English said the stupa, the temple and the bodhi tree all dated to BCE. The temple looked modest from the outside but had a colourfully painted interior. I just started looking around when a man approached me and started telling me about the temple. I cut in immediately, clarifying I don’t need a guide and have no money to pay for such services. He assured me he was not a guide and would be happy to give some explanation for free, which indeed he did. Weligama city centre was just a15 min walk from the temple.

The white washed walls and sculpted entrance to a small ancient Buddhist temple in Weligama
Sri Agrabodhi temple in Weligama

PRACTICALITIES

How to get to Weligama?
Weligama has a large bus station in the centre and a couple of bus stops along the main coastal road. The railway station is also close to the city centre.
For Jungle Beach the nearest bus stop is Walliwala and the nearest railstation Kumbalgama.

Prices [in Sri Lankan rupees as of February 2019]
975 a bed in a 4-bed dorm in Walliwala (brand new)
750 night in a double room ensuite (cold water) in Walliwala
280 2nd class train from Colombo fort to Weligama
150 bus from Balapitiya to Weligama (68 km)
150 5-litre water bottle
150 snorkel rental from a hostel for a full day
100 coconut rice and dal at a roadside restaurant in Walliwala
100 lunch (rice and curry selection) at a cheap eatery in Weligama
90 one pineapple
45 bus from Walliwala to Unawatuna beach (20km)
30 bus from Weligama to Matara (17km)
28 bus from Walliwala to Mirissa
20 bus from Weligama centre to Mirissa (6km)
10 bus from Walliwala to Weligama (2.5km)
15 sweet roll from a local bakery
10 a fried snack from the street

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