Ambalangoda doesn’t have the beauty of Bentota, or the vibe of Hikkaduwa. But it does have a popular artistic tradition of much interest to tourists. Furthermore, Ambalangoda possesses a long stretch of wild beach you can explore all to yourself, giving you a feeling of seclusion hard to find on this coast.
The beach is, thankfully, a good distance from the main road and packed with catamarans and fishing boats. For this reason the beach in town is not so suitable sunbathing as Hikkaduwa or Unawatuna further south. Instead it is great for exploring and witnessing Sri Lankan daily life.
However, both beaches at the extreme southern and northern ends of town are picturesque, great for walking and nearly always empty, though perhaps a little close to the main road. As a rule, be wary and follow the local advice about where to swim, as there can be dangerous currents.
Ambalangoda is well-known for mask-making and as a centre for south coast traditional dancing. Masks are made for three types of dancing rituals: kolam, which tell satirical stories of traditional Sri Lankan colonial life, sanni, or devil dancing masks, used in an exorcism ceremony to heal people of persisting ailments believed inflicted by demons, and raksha masks, used in festivals and processions. Now they have become more important as one of Sri Lanka’s most sought-after souvenir, and the streets of Ambalangoda are lined with shops from which leer these sometimes demonic-looking but somehow attractive creations.
Seven kilometres inland is south Asia’s longest (35m) reclining Buddha statue, located at the Sailatalaramaya Vihara. At Balapitiya, five kilometres from Ambalangoda, boat trips can be taken up the Madu Ganga (river). This shallow body of water, its estuary and islets, make up the complex coastal ecosystem of the Madu Ganga Wetlands, declared a Ramsar Site in 2003. Possibly the last remaining area of pristine mangrove forest in Sri Lanka, it is home to 303 species of plants and 248 vertebrate animals including many bird species.
The village of Meetiyagoda near Ambalangoda is the only place in Sri Lanka where the gem, the moonstone, is found. You can visit the narrow, deep shafts from which it is mined, or at least gaze down them. Moonstone carries a sheen, seen on the surface of the stone from certain angles. It is like a floating light, the finest of which is bluish in colour.