The right words to describe the beachside town of Bentota, south of Colombo in Sri Lanka, are a mixture of relaxing, peaceful and idyllic. And frankly, they don’t go far enough: this is luxury that won’t cost you a fortune, and will surprise you.
Recently listed in the New York Times’ Top 52 Places to Go in 2015, Sri Lanka doesn’t disappoint.
We stayed in Bentota at the tail-end of a 14-day tour of Sri Lanka while adding a holiday to a friend’s Hindu wedding in Colombo.
During our trip, we saw the chaos of the roads and cities, and the magic of cultural UNESCO World Heritage sites like Sigirya, Kandy, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the ancient port of Galle, natural heritage sites such as the Central Highlands, and much more.
Bentota was the perfect end to our trip. Staying at the famed AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa, we had the chance to sample Bentota’s delights in terms of beach, sand, cocktails and spa massages.
But there’s more to Bentota than just lazing by the beach – although you can quite easily do that for a week.
Bentota’s turtle hatcheries
Turtle eggs are a rare treat for the poorest in Sri Lanka – digging up a mother turtle’s eggs to sell to restaurants and shops to get by. Turtle hatcheries were started in Bentota to buy eggs from poachers, and to protect the sandy beachfronts where turtles lay their eggs.
A trip to one of the many turtle hatcheries offers an interesting look at how Sri Lanka is protecting the vulnerable turtle. You can help release just-hatched turtles into the coastal waters if you get your timing right, too.
Bentota for the adventurist
Para-sailing, wind surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving, fast-boat tours and water-skiing are all options in and around the warm, calm waters of Bentota and the nearby river. If you’re after a slower pace, you can go fishing or canoeing, or hire a bodyboard on the beach.
Tourism in Sri Lanka is cheap and cheerful, and the operators take their safety roles seriously to ensure repeat business.
You can even cheaply rent a scooter and do your own driving on the roads – note that people beep their horns a lot more than you might expect!
While we enjoyed a beachside four-course dinner at AVANI, there are a plenty of top options in Bentota, especially if you like seafood.
Malli’s Seafood Restaurant is highly recommended and just across the way from AVANI, while Restaurant Diya Sisila offers another option if you leave making a booking too late. Both will probably have the freshest and cheapest seafood you’ve ever had.
Local architecture in Bentota is distinctive and famed. Brief Garden is the house and garden of renowned Sri Lankan landscape architect Bevis Bawa, the older brother of architect Geoffrey Bawa, who designed AVANI. Established in 1929 on the grounds of a former rubber plantation, both Bawas developed the property, until Bevis’ death in 1992. Bevis was a hedonist, and openly gay despite the heavy criminal penalties in play in what then was called Ceylon. It’s an oasis, just 10km out of Bentota, and worth a trip.