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If you’re planning a trip to Tangalle, Sri Lanka, you’re likely ready for some laid-back beach time. And you’re headed to the right place. Tangalle has some beautiful beaches to choose from.
But even certified beach bums need a break sometimes. After spending a few days (or weeks, because some of us take the beach seriously) chilling out on the sand, listening to the crashing waves, and sipping a mango smoothie, you might be ready to waddle away from your patch of paradise to see what else Tangalle has to offer. Luckily, you have quite a few options.
Here is a list of things to do in Tangalle, Sri Lanka, that don’t involve lounging on the beach.
Things to do in Tangalle Sri Lanka
Mulkirigala Rock Temple
If you’re interested in gaining a deeper cultural understanding of Sri Lanka, taking a day trip to the Mulkirigala Rock Temple is a must while in Tangalle. Similar to Sri Lanka’s more iconic Sigiriya Rock, the Mulkirigala Rock Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple that has been carefully carved into the mountainside.
Each of the seven caves contains statues and paintings depicting various religious scenes and figures. As someone who is fairly unfamiliar with Buddhism, I was interested to get a closer look at a religion so many of the locals practice.
What Sam and I most enjoyed, though, was the beautiful scenery. The temple is built in such a way that it blends almost seamlessly in with its natural surroundings, and the aesthetic is quite lovely. We particularly enjoyed the views from the top, though each level offers a unique perspective.
The highlight of our visit was seeing—and obsessively photographing—the family of friendly monkeys that live on the side of the mountain. I still squeal like a five-year-old every time I see monkeys in the wild because they are just so darned cute!
Tips for Visiting the Mukirigala Rock Temple
- Wear shoes that are easy to remove. Because shoes are not allowed inside the temple buildings, choose footwear that isn’t too difficult to remove (i.e. This might not be the time to try out those super cute gladiator sandals you got for half price).
- Take a sarong. Knees should be covered when visiting the temple. Because the weather was hotter than a convection oven the day we visited, I wore shorts and simply wrapped a sarong around my legs when we entered the temple. I’m pretty sure I would have melted if I wore pants.
- Be prepared for a workout. When you visit the rock temple, expect to burn off some of that kottu and roti you’ve been gorging on for the past two weeks. Mentally prepare yourself to climb enough stairs to make Jillian Michaels’ thighs burn. Some of the steps are quite steep and somewhat precarious, so visiting the rock temple would be challenging for travelers with limited mobility.
- Hire a tuk-tuk for the day. Because the temple is located about a 30-minute drive from Tangalle Town, we recommend hiring a tuk-tuk driver who will drive you to the temple, wait outside while you’re exploring, and then drive you back to your guesthouse afterward. Our guesthouse owners negotiate a price with our driver for us.
- Be firm if you don’t want a guide. Soon after we arrived at the temple, a friendly local came up to us and engaged us in conversation. We soon realized that he was hoping to become our paid guide. We firmly told him no, and he eventually left us alone.
- Be prepared to pay the foreigner price. Many of Sri Lanka’s attractions charge a significantly higher price for foreigners than for locals. We paid 500 rupees to enter the temple.
The Hummanaya Blowhole is worth a visit if you need a break from lazing on the beach. It is the only known natural blowhole in Sri Lanka, and it is located about seven miles away from Tangalle Town.
Expect to see the water spray roughly every ten minutes, although some eruptions were bigger than others.
Though it is considered a “tourist attraction,” we saw more locals visiting the blowhole than foreigners.
Tips for Visiting the Hummanaya Blowhole
- Wear sturdy shoes. In order to reach the blowhole, you will need to climb over some rocky, uneven ground. Sam and I wore flip-flops and both wished we hadn’t! We recommend wearing either sturdy sandals or athletic shoes to avoid injury.
- You might get wet. You never know when the blowhole will erupt, and if you’re standing too close, you might get wet. I made the mistake of standing right up next to the guardrail and got sprayed in the face, much to the amusement of everyone around me.
- It’s in the middle of nowhere. Though we spent most of our time in Tangalle at the beaches around town, our excursion to the blowhole took us solidly out of the “tourist” areas. We enjoyed seeing rural Sri Lanka.
- Visit when the sea is rough. The rougher the sea, the more spectacular the blowhole will be. If you’re not sure which day to visit, your guesthouse owner might be able to help you decide.
- Hire a tuk-tuk driver for the morning (or afternoon). As we did with our day trip to the rock temple, we hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the blowhole and return us to our guesthouse afterward. He even escorted us up to the blowhole. Our guesthouse owners arranged the transfer and negotiated the price.
- Foreigners have to pay more. As is customary in Sri Lanka, foreigners are charged a much higher entry fee. We paid 250rp each.
- You *might* get ripped off. When we were leaving the parking lot after visiting the blowhole, a man came up to our tuk-tuk and asked us to pay a “parking fee.” We suspected that this fee might be a scam—though we have no way to know for sure—but we decided to pay it anyway, since it didn’t seem worth our time to haggle over something that only amounted to one or two USD.
Tangalle Lookout Tower
For a great vantage point, head to the Tangalle lookout tower on the west side of town. The stairwell was surprisingly wide and easy to climb, and the views from the top were gorgeous. The best part? Entry is free!
The guesthouse where we stayed happened to be right across the street from the tower, so we had easy access.
Tips for visiting the Tangalle Lookout Tower
- Visit at sunset/sunrise. For the prettiest views, we recommend visiting at sunset or sunrise. We climbed the tower just before sunset, and Sam was able to take some breathtaking photos.
- No handicap access. The climb was fairly easy compared to some towers we’ve climbed (particularly in Europe!). Most children would be able to climb the steps. For travelers with limited mobility, the climb might be difficult.
The local market is near the bus depot in town. Though the market is fairly small, we enjoyed getting out of the “tourist” areas and seeing where the locals shop. The fresh produce and spices are definitely a feast for your senses!
Tips for visiting the Tangalle Market
- Visit early in the day. In general, food markets tend to be at their liveliest first thing in the morning.
- Try some fruit. The fruit in Sri Lanka is delicious. We practically lived on Sri Lankan bananas (which are much smaller than bananas we have back home) during our stay. The pineapples were also really good.
- Sample fresh hoppers. One food item you will encounter a lot in Sri Lanka is hoppers, which are sort of like crepes but with a thicker bottom and often served for breakfast. We bought some from a woman in the market who was frying them fresh right in front of us, and they were super tasty.
Watch the Sea Turtles at Rekawa Beach
Okay, so this activity technically does involve the beach. But since it is not of the swing-in-a-hammock-sunbathing variety, we thought it was still fair game for this list.
Rekawa Beach, which is about a 20- or 30-minute tuk-tuk ride from Tangalle Town, is the place to go if you want to see sea turtles in action. Depending on when you visit, you may be lucky enough to see the turtles laying their eggs or the baby sea turtles hatching.
When we visited in early February, we saw a sea turtle mama burying her eggs in the sand and then return to the sea. The experience was quite amazing!
Tips for Watching the Sea Turtles
- Expect to join a guided tour. When our guesthouse owners suggested we visit Rekawa Beach to see the sea turtles, we expect to hunt for them on our own. Instead, our tuk-tuk driver took us to the Turtle Conservation Project Turtle Watch visitor center where we joined an official tour with a trained guide. We paid 1,000 rupees for the excursion.
- Prepare for a late night. We didn’t even head to the beach until after dark, since the turtles were most active at night. We returned to our guesthouse after midnight. Since we were still super jet-lagged at the time, we had a hard time staying awake!
- Expect downtime. Turtles are notoriously slow animals, so it should come as no surprise that the egg-laying and hatching process is not particularly speedy. We had to wait for quite a while for a mama sea turtle to dig a hole deep enough to deposit her eggs.
- Listen to your guide. Though the tour operators stressed the importance of not using flash photography or crowding the animals, many of the people in our group ignored the rules and caused the turtles unnecessary distress. If you choose to participate in a sea turtle-watching excursion, please listen to your guide. Witnessing the sea turtles is an amazing privilege, and bystanders should not interfere with the process.
- Hire a tuk-tuk driver for the evening. Rekawa beach is best accessed via tuk-tuk. We recommend hiring a tuk-tuk driver for the entire evening. Our guesthouse owners arranged for a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the beach, wait for us while we were on the tour, and then drive us back to our guesthouse afterward.
Sample local cuisine
One of Sri Lanka’s biggest draws is its incredible cuisine. Though Sri Lankan food has some similarities to Indian food, it is packed with its own unique flavor and varies by region.
We enjoyed sampling as many local dishes as possible during our month in Sri Lanka. Though we found the food prices in Tangalle to be slightly more expensive than elsewhere in the country—most likely due to the proximity to the ocean—we had no trouble finding delicious food at an affordable price.
Tips for eating in Tangalle
- For cheaper food, head away from the beach. Those beachfront views typically come with a higher price tag. We found that food prices were more affordable at restaurants that were not located directly on the beach. That said, sunset views of the Indian Ocean are sometimes worth a few extra rupees!
- Eat lots of rice and curry (for lunch). One of the foods I was most excited to try in Sri Lanka was rice and curry, which typically involves heaps of rice with at least five or six types of curry. Just be warned that rice and curry is traditionally considered a lunch staple and might not be fresh or available for dinner. Our favorite rice and curry experience was at the Tangalle Rice and Curry Restaurant.
- Indulge in affordable seafood. Because Tangalle is located on the coast, there was no shortage of seafood options. Though I would just as soon drink sewer water than purposely ingest anything that came from the sea, Sam indulged in fresh seafood for a fraction of the cost we would pay at home.
- Beat the heat with fresh juices. After spending the afternoon roasting in the sun, nothing feels better than a fresh fruit juice or smoothie. I typically drank at least one pineapple or papaya juice per day during our time in Tangalle. They were so refreshing!
Would you tear yourself away from the beach to check out some of these attractions?
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