Welcome to Tangalle, bordered by sandy bays & colourful reefs !
Located in Hambantota district, Tangalle is a sleepy beach town bordered by sandy bays and colourful ocean reefs. This scenic group of villages around Tangalle offer a harmonious setting for a holiday with a subtle mix of culture and relaxation, a Sri Lankan version of a Tuscan holiday minus Italian ice cream.
Tangalle derives its name from ‘ran-gala’ or golden rock. According to a legend, a holy man took a meal here and blessed the area by turning a rock into gold. Tangalle can also be translated as ‘projecting rock’, as the area was once protected from the sea by such a rock.
Tangalle has always looked towards the sea. A seaport for the Dutch and the British, Tangalle today thrives both on fishing and a growing tourism industry.
The old houses bear a typically colonial charm, something that enhances the exotic feel of your holiday. Tangalle experiences mild climate around the year but its blue skies, clear waters and shimmering sands are best visited from November to April, making it a perfect getaway when it is winter in the West.
How to get to Tangalle, Sri Lanka and how to move in and around
Tangalle is well connected by road. If Tangalle is your first destination in Sri Lanka, you can drive here directly from the International Airport in Negombo. The 200 km distance can be covered in about 4 to 5 hours.
Some intercity buses have a direct service to Tangalle like No. 2 from Colombo, Galle and Tissamaharama (the journey from Tissa lasts 2 hours and costs around Rs.130). Bus 32-4 runs between Tangalle and Colombo.
If you wish to get here by train, just remember that the nearest train station is Matara, about 35 km away. From there you will have to hire a car or a three-wheeler to reach Tangalle.
Top attractions in Tangalle in Sri Lanka
Located at the edge of the shoreline, the Tangalle beach has a Robinson Crusoe feel to it. There is a unique mixture of shorelines with golden sands washed by waves and crystal-clear turquoise waters shaded by swaying coconut trees.
The narrow strip of beach and the adjacent lagoon offer interesting opportunities for both adventure sports and relaxing leisure activities. Visitors to the lagoon who are keen on birds can feast on the multitude of indigenous bird species. Nature lovers can also look out for turtles or lend a careful ear to the ocean and catch the sounds from whales afar. You can also hire a bike and explore the area here.
If you like some adrenaline-filled activity, Tangalle Lagoon is great for kayaking or spotting crocodiles in the murky waters! Please note that as currents in this area are quite strong, kayaking here is not suitable for amateurs.
By the shores of the lagoon, you can find fishermen who will offer to take you on a tour. Often it is a round trip of the lagoon to get to know more about the flora and fauna that only locals are familiar with. Photographers and nature-lovers are sure to enjoy this tropical mangrove ecosystem. The price tag varies on the number of people in your group but a little bargaining is a must here.
Tourist spots around Tangalle in Sri Lanka
Mulkirigala Rock Monastery
The large rock temple and monastery complex at Mulkirigala lies 20 km north of Tangalle. Standing at an impressive 676 feet above the surrounding plains, this monastery comprised of seven cave shrines.
While the monastery may look pale in comparison to the Sigiriya structures, it is worth a climb for its beauty and the view of the surrounding area from the top. It contains relics dating before the Christian era. Some additions made during the colonial period, when these caves were renovated, can also be seen.
From the main entrance at ground level, you start your visit on a clearly defined path. First, you will pass a rest stop and a monk’s residence, the Sanghavasa. Then, you reach the ticket office and the Lower Terrace section, where the caves contain inscriptions from 2nd century BC. Take a left here to proceed to the Lower Terrace.
On your way you will see many sacred Bo trees. It is said that Lord Buddha himself planted these saplings on his visit to the island, makinh the trees here special.
The first cave temple is past one such Bo tree. This cave, referred to as the Cobra Cave temple, was built quite recently (in 1808)). It contains a statue of a reclining Buddha. The walls contain artwork depicting Kataragama, Vishnu and Vibhishana and the roof has floral and natural designs.
The second cave temple, Paduma Rahath, also has a reclining Buddha statue and a dagoba inside. There are also paintings from animal stories drawn on the front walls.
From the ticket office, instead of taking a left, if you go straight, the path becomes very steep. This will lead you to the Bodhi tree Terrace and the third cave.
This third cave has standing, seated and reclining representations of the Buddha as well as wall paintings showing important scenes from Buddha’s life. There is also a small shrine dedicated to Hindu gods nearby.
The old temple complex and the next four caves are further down this same path. You first pass an ancient stone doorway with floral and animal markings. This is the Parana Viharaya gateway to the old temple.
Eight standing Buddha and other seated Buddha sculptures can be found in the fourth cave. The work is distinctly Kandyan and is finely detailed. You can even see decorated columns (another typically Kandyan art form) here.
The fifth cave, Aluth Viharaya, was renovated in 1918 and is one of the more well preserved temples here. There is a majestic doorway decorated with arching dragons inside which you can see a standing, seated and reclining Buddha.
The sixth cave, Naga Viharaya, contains images of Buddhist disciples (“Bikkus”) as well.
Finally, the Parinirvana Viharaya, the seventh and final cave, shows images of the Buddha’s death, grieving Bikkus and distribution of Buddha relics.
Once you have visited all the seven caves, you can continue walking up an impressive staircase carved out of the rock. On some occasions when you reach the top, a monk will bless you for completing this journey.
Locally referred to as the Raja Maha Viharaya, the complex is reachable only by private transport (ideally your chauffeur-driven car or a tuk-tuk). To get here from Tangalle, take the Beliatta-Weeraketiya Main Road, and you will find the complex about 2 km from the Mulkirigala Junction.
A heady mix of culture, architecture, religion and history, Mulkirigala is definitely worth the trip.
Dickwella is a tranquil beach town that is perfect for unwinding after a hectic cultural tour of the country. No matter when you go, Dickwella has something to offer: postcard-worthy views of the Indian Ocean, a chance to laze on the beach, an opportunity to learn about and support local handicrafts or mingle in the crowds during Buddhist feasts.
Dickwella is best known for its colourful, lively and large street market held on Saturdays (8 am till dusk) right next to the beach. Although it is mostly centred on fruits, fish and vegetables, it gives the traveller an opportunity to shop for pottery, basketwork and other unique souvenirs.
Dickwella comes alive from May to July when three Buddhist festivals, Wesak Perahera, Poson Perahera and Esala Perahera are celebrated. The atmosphere here gets electric and colourful with vivacious processions that include caparisoned temple elephants, dancers, musicians and entertainers.
At Dickwella you can enjoy the long sandy stretch of beach. The sea, protected by reefs and sandbars, is rich in aquatic diversity and a great place to enjoy a safe swim or snorkel around to spot colourful tropical fish.
If you would like to help support local families by buying fair-trade products, you might want to consider visiting the Dickwella Lace Centre. The centre, founded to re-build the livelihood of women affected by the Tsunami in year 2004, helps revive the dying art of beeralu (traditional lace making). Besides shopping for lace products, you can visit the production unit, a traditional lace museum and the training facility. Visitors can also learn about the history of the craft and experience real time bobbin lace production. In all, the centre helps sustain over 100 families.
Not far from Dickwella is Sri Lanka's largest seated Buddha statue at the Wewurukannala Temple (see below).
Located in Dickwella, a short tuk-tuk ride away from Tangalle, the Wewurukannala Vihara houses the largest seated Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. Being a functioning monastery, the site is different from other ancient ruins on the island.
The main attraction here is to climb the eight floors to reach the head of the Buddha by taking the staircase covered with a series of comic strip like frescoes narrating the life of the Enlightened one. The most impressive part of the temple are the halls containing real-life size portrayals of demons torturing humans in what could be a horror movie version of hell. The statues are quite graphic and shocking, but almost unique to the island as most Viharas around the country do not hold them. You will also be curious to pop into the temple museum that holds a large clock made by a Sri Lankan watchmaker in 1926 that still serves to mark the hours of service at the temple.
Entry fee: Rs.200 for foreigners. You do not have to pay the extra donation.
Madunagala Temple Hermitage
Situated some 40 km from Tangalle, the Madunagala Temple Hermitage is a stone structure situated in the jungle at the end of a 12-kilometre dirt path bordered by cacti, thorny bushes and small shrubs.
The temple being quite isolated, a visit is sure to get you engrossed with the surroundings. On your way you can spot peacocks, peahens, wild boars, deer, etc. and hear the calls of many wild birds.
The Madunagala Temple Hermitage was founded by a preacher, Sri Gnananandabhimana Mahanayake Mahimi, during the heydays of the Anuradhapura period. It is said that he travelled far into the woods looking for solitude and preached sermons to wild animals. A statue of him can be seen at the entrance to the temple and his dwelling can be seen atop the hill.
This temple is still a place of worship and you can see monks going about their daily activities. For meditation, they retreat to seats cut into the rocks. The meditation area is not open to visitors but you can see the main dining hall where the monks prepare their daily meals. Hot springs, believed to have healing powers, supply water to the entire complex.
The rock murals along the temple are very well preserved and narrate the history of this area in detail. You can also see more recent ones that feature the Dutch and Portuguese colonization of Sri Lanka.
When visiting the temple hermitage, be observant of the rules. Do not wear short dresses as this is perceived as offensive. Long skirts for the women and long trousers for the men are the best suitable attire. It is also better to make this trip in the morning, as the forest area tends to become very dark after sunset.
Tangalle has some good beaches too!
One of the many beaches on the coast of Tangalle, Medaketiya is all golden sands and blue waters. Unlike other beaches, it is quite safe to swim in Medaketiya.
Medilla, Goyambokka and Mawella Beach
Tangalle is made up of several villages, and the bay side settlements of Medilla, Goyambokka and Mawella are now included in its territory. Each little settlement has hotels offering accommodation and access to the sea to suit every budget:
Medilla is to the east of Tangalle. The beach is marvellous and offers enough space for kids to play around and build sand castles. Depending on the time of the year, the sea is safe to swim.
Goyambokka is quite upmarket and is slightly more elevated than the other adjoining beaches. This offers you a beautiful aerial view of the beach. The hotels here are more expensive but the price includes access to private beaches.
Mawella is 6 km to the west of Tangalle town. This 3 km beach is mostly hidden away and thus secluded. It is also very wide and thus excellent for swimming and diving. Resorts at Mawella have affiliations with accredited diving schools and can help you arrange for diving sessions or classes.
Some exciting things for your children to do in Tangalle!
Rekawa Beach Turtle conservation Project
Rekawa Beach is just as calm and peaceful as the rest of the beaches in this area, except that Rekawa is also the site of many turtle watches. If you visit the place anytime between April and September, you can see many species of green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles that come ashore to lay eggs.
Spotting the turtles at Rekawa is an exciting experience because it all happens at night – especially if your kids are the kind that love to stay up past bedtime! Using lanterns and torches, you can spend the night on a moonlit beach, waiting for turtles to come, lay their eggs and return to the sea. In the dark, the whole scenery has a mysterious hue to it. Enough material for an unforgettable story when you get home.
PLEASE remember that flash photography and loud noises are PROHIBITED as they will scare the turtles.
From Tangalle it is better to leave your hotel at around 8 pm and reach the Rekawa by taking a three-wheeler (you can negotiate a round trip for about Rs.1500). Entrance fees for the Rekawa Beach are Rs.1000 for adults (Rs.500 for children). You normally get a refund if you do not see any turtles.
Your visit can take about two hours in all. So make sure you have had dinner before leaving.
Learn to surf
Widely considered to be the best in all Sri Lanka, the surfing schools at Tangalle are simply great in providing personal lessons. The instructors take care of every aspect of your trip from start to finish. Once you book a lesson, most schools pick you up at your hotel in a three-wheeler. Some provide towels and refreshments too.
As most instructors are familiar with the needs of tourists, they will make sure you are at ease, even if you have never caught a wave before in your life. Most teachers are trained rescue guards in case anything goes wrong.
You can learn to surf as a family. Groups are generally small - only about 4 people at a time - and you are sure of getting personalised advice and be closely monitored.
Your hotel can prepare a snack for you before you leave in case you wish to spend the day at the beach.
Kudawella Blow Hole
The Kudawella Blow Hole, locally called the Hummanaya, is a natural feature located some 7 km from Tangalle. It is a short tuk-tuk ride away from Dickwella (for about Rs.200). Reaching the place is quite a trip as the roads are almost always muddy and at one point you will have to park and cover the remaining distance on foot. There is parking available and some locals will offer to take care of your car for a fee. From the parking area, it is a 15-minute walk to the blowhole. The road has recently been made into shallow steps, which makes it a bit easier for visitors. If the smell of dried fish is something you cannot bear, this is not an outing for you.
On your way, if you lend a careful ear, you can hear the sound of the blowhole in the distance. Once you reach the end, you will see a long crack in the ground. This can seem a bit boring at first, but every 15 minutes, depending on the tide and the swell at the sea, water shoots out of tiny crevice between rocks up to 120 feet high in the air with a loud sound.
Please note that if the sea is calm or if there is no wind, give this outing a miss as you are bound to be disappointed.
From here, you can also take a short walk to the beach and the surrounding rock pools. The rock pools are great to dip your feet in as they have warm water, colourful fish and bright green seaweed.
If you are of the adventurous type when it comes to tasting food, you can sample some fish snacks and ginger beer on your way!
Great things to see or do in Tangalle in Sri Lanka
Fishermen leaving or returning
Aside from the tourism business, Tangalle is important for Sri Lankan economy as it is a fishing village. Early in the morning, fishermen take their boats out to sea and return with the day’s catch. Workers at the quay unload the cargo, clean and gut these fish. The products are then auctioned off and local vendors travel further inland to sell the catch. Watching the colourful fishing boats and the morning bustle can be a unique experience at Tangalle. Do not hesitate to grab the chance of lending a helping hand if the locals haul in a boat.
Deep Sea Diving
Deep Sea Diving in Tangalle is quite popular at Mawella Beach, 6 km to the west of Tangalle. Resorts here can help you locate a diving school that can rent equipment and supply instructors.
Diving centres at Tangalle are PADI-certified. Instructors speak fluent English and are very knowledgeable about the seas. You can take a few classes if you are a beginner.
For the more experienced, a dive into the deep will offer spectacular views of coral, Scorpionfish, Pufferfish, Barracudas and the indigenous Humphead Parrotfish.
Turtles, lobsters and even whale sharks make an appearance if you are lucky!