On approaching Tangalle, the first aspect to attract the gaze of the traveller are the intensely blue bays, which once harboured Dutch and British ships. No longer do foreign sailors linger there, but foreign tourists do, for it is considered one of the best bathing places in Sri Lanka. Even tea planters from the hills travel south to laze in the warm waters.
There are not many places on the western and southern coasts where you can walk along superb sandy shores for kilometres hardly seeing another soul. So, if you are looking for a low-key beach destination, then Tangalle is the place to go. As well as housing budget travellers, Tangalle has its fair share of mid-range and exclusive accommodation.
There is little to see in the town, though a few Dutch buildings display characteristics of Dutch architecture such as the courthouse, the island’s oldest rest-house (1774), and the residence of the district judge. The Dutch also built a fort, though it has now been transformed into a prison.
Tangalle encompasses the adjoining villages to the west Goyambokka and Pallikaduwa, and to the north, along the arc of bay, Medaketiya and Medilla. It is Medilla beach and the stretch beyond to Rekawa that’s most enticing. Your feet sink deeply into the fiery sand scattered with shells. There are shelves of rocks and coral in the sea, visible from shore, which create pockets of safe swimming, though it is best to ask nearby guesthouse owners as there can be dangerous currents.
Swimming is safest at Medaketiya, where most of the budget accommodation is located. From here, under overhanging palms, you can stretch out on the beach and relax leaving the time fly by.
However, Tangalle has many worthwhile surrounding attractions. At the Hoo-maniya blowhole, seven kilometres west in Kudawela, jets of water spray 15m into the air through a crevice in the rock. It is best viewed at the height of the monsoon season in June.
There’s the magnificent rock temple of Mulgirigala, although it’s 20km inland, and Wewurukannala Temple a few kilometres beyond Hoo-maniya, home to the tallest (50m) Buddha statue in the country.
Ten kilometres to the east, at Rekawa, is a turtle nesting site run by the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP). TCP pays villagers to protect turtle eggs laid on the beach. November to April and full moon days are the best time to go and watch turtles laying eggs.