Sri Lanka is a small drop-shaped island located south of India in the heart of the Indian Ocean. This beautiful island is also known as the “Tear of India” because of its unique shape, and geographical location.
It’s well known for its natural beauty, gorgeous green landscapes, delicious food, impressive parks, amazing wildlife, friendly people, and beautiful tropical beaches.
The island is regarded as a paradise for snorkelers. Its tropical climate is ideal for snorkeling, as you can expect sunny skies and calm water pretty much all year round. That being said, there are some considerations you need before deciding when to go snorkeling in Sri Lanka.
The most paramount being that there are two different monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka:
- From May to October, the southern and western areas of the island are affected.
- From November to February, the rainy season affects the north and east of the island.
If you have in mind a particular area for snorkeling, be sure to plan your trip when that area is not affected by the monsoon. Otherwise, the weather will ruin your plans due to a lack of visibility – which is pretty important when you’re snorkeling!
Snorkeling in Sri Lanka’s waters offers a unique experience due to its natural beauty, crystal clear waters, and the rich biodiversity beneath the surface.
Top 10 Snorkeling Spots in Sri Lanka
To help you plan your trip, we have put together a comprehensive list below which shows you the top places to snorkel in Sri Lanka as well as giving you an idea of what you can see in each spot and how safe it is.
Hikkaduwa is Sri Lanka’s most popular Marine National Park. It’s a small town situated on the southwestern coast of the island. Hikkaduwa is considered one of the most popular snorkeling locations in Sri Lanka due to its beautiful coral gardens and impressive marine diversity.
The snorkeling area is located only 200 meters from the beach, and its waters are only 4 meters deep, which makes it excellent for the less experienced snorkelers.
What can you see in Hikkaduwa?
In Hikkaduwa, you’ll come across a colorful reef consisting of about 60 different species of coral, which is home to over 170 species of tropical fish. Within this array of sea life, you can often find sea turtles, crustaceans, snappers, wrasses, angelfish, butterflyfish, and parrotfish.
Mirissa is our second-best option for snorkeling in Sri Lanka. You can find this astonishing snorkeling spot on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka. Like many other locations, Mirissa offers breathtaking opportunities for snorkelers. Mirissa is considered the best beach on the south of the island.
This beach is known worldwide for its beauty and crystal clear waters. Besides, its shallow waters also make it a favorite spot among amateur snorkelers.
Mirissa offers five different places to snorkel, with Parrot Rock being one of the most popular.
What to Expect from Mirissa?
Imagine yourself swimming next to some of the most majestic sea creatures. That’s what you can expect from Mirissa. It’s clear waters grant visitors, and snorkeling enthusiasts with a fascinating experience, as this famous diving spot is inhabited by various species of sea turtles, dolphins, tropical fish, and astonishing blue whales.
You can take a tour that will take you to the whale watching area. These tours have qualified personnel to guide you through your adventure. If you are a whale-enthusiast, you shouldn’t miss this opportunity.
Also, it is one of the few places where you can enjoy night snorkeling, a whole new experience for those who want to observe how nightlife evolves in these shallow waters.
3. Pigeon Island
Pigeon Island is a National Marine Park and the second Marine Sanctuary in Sri Lanka. Its name comes from a large number of blue rock doves that nest in the area. Pigeon Island is on the east of the island (I know, an island within an island – weird, right?) of Sri Lanka, 2 km off the coast of Nilaveli. You can reach Pigeon Island by boat, which takes about 15 minutes from the mainland.
What can you see at Pigeon Island?
Pigeon Island boasts some of the best coral reefs in the country. On this idyllic island, you can find about 100 types of coral reefs and 178 species of fish.
Pigeon Island offers a unique experience for the more adventurous. Here you can have one of the most fascinating encounters with sharks. Its numerous reefs are home to many Blacktip Reef Sharks as well as several species of sea turtles such as the Hawksbill Turtle, the Olive Ridley, and the Green Turtle.
Kirinda is a small village located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The beach of Kirinda is one of the most popular spots among snorkelers as it has two of the most important coral reefs, ‘The Great Basses‘, and ‘Little Basses‘ reefs. These magnificent reefs run along the entire southeast coast of the island. To reach the Basses, you will need to take a 45-minute boat ride from Kirinda.
The seas around Kirinda are usually pretty strong and turbulent. The best time of year to visit these shallows is between March and April when the waters are calmer. It is for this reason that this site is recommended only for experienced snorkelers.
Surrounding the reefs are numerous sandstone rock formations that are home to a variety of marine life. The reef area is also very popular with divers as it is home to several shipwrecks.
What can you see in Kirinda?
The reefs of Kirinda are home to an extraordinary abundance of life. Among the coral, you may stumble upon manta rays, groupers, tuna, grey sharks, snappers, porpoises, Napoleon wrasses, angelfish, and a variety of colorful tropical reef fish.
Pasikudah is the ideal place for amateurs to take their first steps into snorkeling. Here the water is so shallow that you can walk several kilometers into the sea. Pasikudah is on the east coast of Sri Lanka. The Pasikudah coastline has one of the most extensive areas of shallow reef water on the island of Sri Lanka and in the world.
Despite having beautiful white sands, Pasikudah beach is rarely crowded. This secluded spot is a secret only locals know.
What’s under the surface at Pasikudah?
Pasikudah’s reefs are teeming with a wide selection of sea life, which includes dolphins, manta rays, whales, and reef sharks.
Located about 30 km from Galle, Weligama is another of the many places in southern Sri Lanka that attracts many tourists for once again, as you guessed, its shallow waters. This makes it ideal for snorkelers. Weligama stands out for its spectacular rock formations that host a rich undersea fauna. The maximum depth at Weligama is 20 meters.
There are three areas in Weligama which are preferred by snorkelers:
- Prince Heinrich Patch
- Yala Rock
- Bridge Rock
What can you see at Weligama?
As we already mentioned, Weligama is known for its rock formations. Among them, you can find lots of coral and sea creatures like clownfish, triggerfish, moray eels, and stingrays. Also, if you go between November and April, might be lucky enough to see some sharks and whales.
7. Polhena Reef
Polhena is one of the most beautiful beaches near the city of Matara. It is on the southern coast of the country. Polhena is extremely popular among nearby residents, but few visitors are aware of this location. And they don’t know what they’re missing!
The beach is bordered by a coral reef 4 km long that serves as a natural breakwater, making its waters some of the most peaceful in the entire country.
Polhena reef was one of the most affected during the 2004 tsunami. However, several organizations took on the task of restoring and creating an artificial reef that houses all the species belonging to Sri Lanka’s beautiful ecosystem.
What can you see at Polhena?
Tropical fish and big sea turtles love to swim among this coral reef. The reef is inhabited by a group of Green Turtles, which have gained popularity among visitors for their friendliness shown towards humans – which makes it one of the best places in the world to see these incredible animals. This reef is also an important breeding ground for countless species of tropical fish.
Once again, the southern coast of Sri Lanka provides us with a heavenly spot for snorkeling. Unawatuna is another one of the most peaceful bays of the country. This coastline is protected from turbulent waves by an impressive reef. Below the surface in Unawatuna, there are nearly 14 shipwrecks that offer the perfect backdrop for a snorkeling adventure.
Unawatuna stands out for having two beautiful places to snorkel:
- Jungle Beach: this is a small bay surrounded by jungle to the northwest of Unawatuna. A few meters from this beach, you’ll find Buona Vista Reef, which has some of the best-preserved corals in the country
- Rock Island: this is another of the most attractive places among snorkeling lovers due to its crystalline waters and brightly colored marine life
What to expect from Unawatuna?
Get ready to enjoy the most exotic aquatic fauna of Sri Lanka. Many marine species live in these waters, but among the most abundant are black corals and species like the Napoleon, and Golden Moray Eels.
Kalpitiya is part of the Puttalam district in western Sri Lanka. Although it is a relatively unknown destination, Kalpitiya is of great importance in Sri Lanka’s conservation efforts. The importance of Kalpitiya is that it has the largest coral reef in the country, the Bar Reef. It has a depth between 2 and 8 meters, but in more distant spots, it can increase to about 40 meters.
Bar Reef is located 3 km from the coast and takes an hour by boat from Kalpitiya’s shoreline. The reef is a protected sanctuary since 1992 and is home to a wide range of tropical species. Located in the northwest of the country, the best time to visit is from February to April.
What can you see at Kalpitiya?
If you like the idea of exploring beautiful coral formations under refreshingly clear waters, this is one place you should not miss during your time in Sri Lanka.
At this reef, there’s about 156 species of coral and 283 species of fish.
No other location on our list has as much biodiversity as Bar Reef. Among the species listed above, you can see manta rays, reef sharks, sea turtles, and mollusks.
Like many other snorkeling places in Sri Lanka, the coastal waters of Negombo are protected against strong waves by its coral reef. The reef has contributed to the development of natural shallow environments that are full of vibrant and colorful marine life. It’s also a safe place to snorkel for people of all abilities.
It is advisable to take a tour here early in the morning, as many aquatic species tend to hide among the reef crevices as sunlight pierces the surface. It takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the snorkeling spot by boat from the shore.
What can you see at Negombo?
Negombo is known for having one of the most colorful and buzzing marine ecosystems in Sir Lanka. Among the species that inhabit the area, you can find hermit crabs, a large number of clownfish, sea anemones, sea cucumbers and starfish.
How Safe Is Snorkeling in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka offers plenty of idyllic underwater-scenery for snorkelers. There is a myriad of fascinating locations where you can engage in snorkeling and enjoy connecting with a mesmerizing marine world. The landscape is as vibrant and varied above the water as it is below. Sri Lanka’s waters are home to an incredible diversity of sea creatures.
The majority of Sri Lanka’s coastline is known for crystal clear, calm, and shallow waters. Its shallow waters are perfect for both experienced and amateur snorkelers.
In many places, the coral reefs themselves offer protection to their visitors, as they serve to soften the waves making those areas one of the safest for swimming.
In Sri Lanka, there are plenty of certified PADI training centres that will help amateurs master the art of snorkeling. Their experienced instructors can help you get started safely – and what a place to give it a go!