About 65 km south of Colombo is one of the finest beaches in the world: Bentota. The sand is soft and fine and the beach gently slopes into shallow water. The surf is tender, the waves break gently. But only in the season – November to April; off season, the sea is rough and risky to get into. The sunset is a glorious hue of orange and red.
The lazy can sunbath on the beach and swim or wade into the sea or go for a relaxing river cruise. The more energetic and adventurous can choose to do Windsurfing, Surfing, Waterskiing, Wakeboarding, body boarding, banana ride, tube ride, jet-ski, Deep Sea Fishing, River Fishing, Snorkelling, sailing and diving.
The scythe-shaped beach is narrow, just about four minutes to cross to reach the water. It is separated from the turquoise waters of river Bentara by a wedge of land – with a stunning landscape of greenery – on which are resorts and five star and other hotels. A 15 feet wide kutcha track separates the beach from the hotels: you step out of the hotel and you are on the beach. At the north end of the beach are the estuary and Bentara river lagoon.
Bentara river on the left of the photo
Portuguese were the first foreigners to come to Bentota. They built a small fort at the point which is deeply shadowed by tall tamarind trees, where the river meets the sea. The Dutch who came later let the fort fall into disrepair but converted one large building into a rest house for officers. The Brits who came later still converted this rest house into a sanatorium. Now Bentota Beach Hotel stands on the site of the fort. The hotel is modelled after the Dutch star forts but uses traditional Sinhalese architecture that blends with the surroundings.
Betara Lagoon and estuary and Bentota Beach Hotel
Myth is that a demon, ‘Bem,’ ruled the tota (river bank), hence the name Bentota. Then came the humans. Legend is that Bantota Galapatha Viharaya, one of a cluster of five ancient temples, was built by king Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC); the other legend is that it was built by a minister of the great Sri Lankan King Parākramabāhu I (1123–1186). It is said that the temple was linked to other temples in the area by a maze of subterranean tunnels. The temple is only four km from the beach and a must see.
Bentota Beach off season – May to October
Other points of interest are sea turtle – an endangered species – conservation project at Kosgoda, 11.5 km from Bentota; and Brief Garden, the house and garden of renowned Sri Lankan landscape architect, Bevis Bawa, located 11 km inland from Bentota.
If you have time, take the scenic train ride from Bentota to Galle, the ancient seaport Tarshish, from which King Solomon drew ivory, peacocks and other valuables, and from which Cinnamon was exported as early as 1400 BC.