Two hours South of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo lies an oyster shaped beach once named ‘Best Beach in the World’ by Discovery Channel Television.
In recent years, Unawatuna has established itself as a ‘must see’ tropical beach destination with a wide range of accommodation, eating and attraction options.
Each day in this tourist hamlet tuk tuk drivers line the streets in anticipation of a busy day.
Visitors are disturbed awake by the sounds of monkeys and birds in the trees and the honk of mobile breakfast trucks. And if you can sleep through that, about mid-morning, a fish monger walking a cart down the street, will wake you with a ring of his bell or the sound of his voice calling out to locals in Sinhalese (the language spoken in most of Sri Lanka, pronounced; singhalees) for anyone wanting freshly caught fish.
In this isolated piece of paradise there exists a pleasant blend of localisation and tourism leading one to believe that they have been adopted and the outside world no longer exists. You see, once you turn right off the main road from Galle onto the 1 kilometre road that is central Unawatuna you don’t and won’t leave again until you need cash and/or want to purchase alcohol to consume in your accommodation.
The beach side suburb does not have either an ATM or a liquor store.
My family of four spent three weeks in this paradise beach resort town in March/April 2015. Our days were spent doing school work, swimming at the beach, eating roti, a wickedly hot signature curry, and getting to know the locals and vice versa.
Here are a few things to know about worldschooling at Unawatuna Beach in Sri Lanka.
Worldschooling in Unawatuna
We were greeted by smiling faces daily. Locals are genuinely inquisitive without being intrusive and want to get to know us, likewise they were forthcoming about their life sharing both joy and loss equally.
However, the wifi was not great at our homestay and we found ourselves spending hours in café’s or restaurants on our laptops, until the power ran out or we had had enough. We broke the school work up by running across the hot sand and diving into the cloudy turquoise water to cool off.
We were told many times that ‘April is the hottest month in Sri Lanka’ and as March turned into April we were able to verify this first hand! It was hot.
To ensure we saw a little bit more beyond our beloved stretch of beach, we hired a tuk tuk driver to whisk us to beautiful locations near Unawatuna for day trips.
Delawella beach, where we saw two turtles swimming in the water right in front of us, was a family favorite. Kataluwa beach, home to iconic stilt fisherman working in clear waters, was another favorite local spot.
We also enjoyed visiting Koggala Lake, where we took a boat cruise and stopped on the tiny Cinnamon Island to witness the harvesting and preparation of cinnamon and another island with a small Buddhist temple. There are also a number of turtle farms in this area. This was an excellent opportunity for the kids to learn about local farming and food industries.
The newest beach in the world?
This isolated and idyllic beach destination was devastated by the massive 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. In addition to the tragic loss of life, the beach, which of course provides a livelihood for the towns people, was severely damaged.
Ten years later the beach is unrecognizable to returning tourists, who have seen it at its best and now stripped bare exposing tree roots and rocks along the shore line.
In an attempt to manipulate the tidal movements and enable sand to be collected on the rocky shore once more, the local government built a rock wall on the Western side of the beach. This intervention successfully resulted in sand returning to the beach but as the tidal current historically hits the Eastern side, the sand returned but pooled on the Western end effectively stripping the other side completely bare.
The local government then brought in a ship heavy with new sand and began pumping sand onto the barren shore. When we arrived the pumping was still underway and we could see sand spitting onto the shore via a long pipe running from an anchored ship.
We also heard the machinery each day, when it was calm enough, removing the controversial rock wall in an attempt to return the beach back to its natural beauty. The fact is the oyster cove already has two natural reef break waters slowing waves as they come in from the Indian Ocean.
Conversations with café and restaurant owners helped place the image in our minds but we still could not believe that only four weeks before our arrival the beach was bare and the sand we were walking on was so new. One giveaway was the quantity of shells, mostly broken but not crushed, exposed within the excavated sand.
In celebration of the completion of the beach reclamation, the towns people organized a celebration on the beach and invited both locals and tourists. They arranged a ‘Pirith chanting festival’ to bless the new beach with ornate beach lights and a large marque, with the festivities going well into the night and culminating in a fireworks display.
While we visited this location for the first time and during a time of renewal and regeneration we felt welcomed and completely at home. The locals in Unawatuna have so much to look forward to considering the unexpected adversary that has beset them. They are genuine, warm and just plain friendly. This is a beach destination that makes you feel as though you could leave your room unlocked because there is no obvious threat of theft or danger in any way.
We can’t wait to visit here in a years time and witness for ourselves the success of the beach rejuvenation project.
Have you visited Unawatuna Beach with kids? I’d love to hear about your experience there!
This is a guest post by Christie Hamilton, an Australian mum on a twelve month career sabbatical. Along with her husband, she is worldschooling her daughters, while also sneaking in some time to relax together. The entire family is determined to enjoy the quieter side of touring and spend extended stays in remote locations around the world. Be sure to follow their global adventures here!