From the curving tropical shoreline and gentle waters of Mirissa Beach, we continued along the south coast to Tangalle Beach, an impressive sweep of sand and crashing waves.
In the main part of Tangalle, the fringe of coconut trees is set farther back from the water, like a mirage across a stretch of desert. The shoreline slopes down to the ocean, which sluices over hidden rocks and crisscrosses up the beach, so that the waves don’t lap the shore in an even line, but slurp up in jagged starts and stops. Though not as conducive to swimming as Mirissa Beach, Tangalle Beach feels more magically remote, more vast. Where are all the people? I wondered.
EZ and I traversed the sprawling beach in the hot sun. At first we tried to cool ourselves by walking along the shore. Though we moved in a straight line, in certain areas the water didn’t reach us, in some areas a bit of froth gently lapped our feet, and in others the volatile waves swarmed us up to our waists, nearly pulling us down. We quickly learned to walk farther back from the shore. Then we sought the sanctuary of shade.
We found that beneath the shelter of the coconut trees, a sprinkling of restaurants and inns offered hammocks and cabanas. That’s where all the people were. And it made sense in the high-noon heat. EZ and I followed suit, grabbing some cold drinks and snacks before settling in hammocks overlooking the magnificent ocean at a safe distance. Peace descended upon us as the coconut fronds filtered the sun to a more pleasant, drowsy warmth.
We roused ourselves from our languid lounging when our stomachs began to rumble. Fortifying ourselves with more cold beverages, EZ and I began once more to trek across the sand until we came upon a brushy hillock with a sign for The Lounge.
The Lounge, true to its name, is a cute hut-style restaurant/bar open to the beach and filled with comfortable seating options. And the food is quite tasty, especially the fresh seafood, of course.
While we enjoyed The Lounge, EZ and I were surprised by the sparseness of restaurants on the beach compared to Mirissa. Then we discovered that in Tangalle, the main strip wasn’t so much on the beach, as overlooking the beach. On the dirt road elevated above the beach, we found a line of adorable hut-like spots complete with string lights, hammocks, and menu boards.
So many awesome places with a spectacular view of the beach! And yet, the crowds were sparse, owing to the dip in tourism. It blew my mind…comparable places in California would be packed with partiers, with lines out the door and sky-high prices. Actually, those beaches aren’t as nice as Tangalle, so they’re not even really comparable.
Tangalle Beach feeds into a lagoon, adding another layer of biodiversity to the area. Our hotel happened to be situated right on the lagoon, so we enjoyed even more beauty as we breakfasted before setting out to the beach.
Outside our window, lay an assortment of tropical birds. Like, literally outside our window. A toucan and a peacock, a regular pair of peeping Toms.
Arts and Crafts
Not too far from the beach, the dirt road with the string of restaurants also holds some arts and crafts shops. EZ and I bought some beautiful batiks from Indika Art Gallery, which also sells paintings, carvings, and other art pieces, many of them created by the owner himself, Indika.
We also wandered into a shop that sold ceremonial masks. One particularly large, striking mask caught our eye; it had nine mini-masks hanging off each side of the main mask. The shopkeeper told us the story behind it:
Long ago in Sri Lanka, during ancient times, the queen became pregnant with the king’s child. However, the king rode off on his elephant to fight a war before he knew that she had conceived. As the queen’s pregnancy progressed in his absence, she developed a powerful craving for mangoes. There was just one problem: mangoes were out of season.
Her servants searched far and wide across the land, but could only uncover one single, solitary mango for the queen. But it was perfect: A large oval rosy-gold, sweetly fragrant, ripened fruit. They brought it to her. The queen accepted the mango, her handmaiden at her side. The handmaiden was the queen’s best friend since childhood. As such, she assumed the queen would share the mango with her, especially since the handmaiden also craved mangoes; they were her favorite.
But the queen ate the mango without offering any to her beloved handmaiden. She devoured the mango, every last juicy, fleshy shred of it, as the handmaiden looked on in growing resentment. This secret bitterness continued to burn like a coal in the chest of the handmaiden, until finally the queen’s belly rounded and the king returned from war, happy to hear of his wife’s condition.
“The baby is not yours,” the handmaiden lied to the king, when the queen was in another room. It burst out of her mouth, the product of the seeds of animosity she’d broodingly cultivated since the mango incident.
The king, immediately enraged at being so publicly betrayed and cuckolded, ordered his soldiers to kill the queen. As the queen lay bleeding and dying on the ground, she pled to the Lord Buddha to spare her child, given its innocence.
Unbeknownst to the king, the child was indeed spared. The queen was laid to rest in the graveyard, but the living baby was raised by graveyard demons. When the boy reached maturity, the demons told him the story of his parents.
Hearing of the betrayal that befell his mother, the little prince sought revenge against his father and the handmaiden. The demons gave him 18 balls of poison to spread disease and death across the land. Fueled by rage, the prince wreaked havoc with these powerful balls.
But the Lord Buddha, hearing the cries of the distressed, innocent people, discovered the cause of the devastation. He approached the prince and admonished him for targeting innocent people, encouraging him instead to use his powers for good.
Buddha transformed the 18 balls of poison into 18 balls of healing. The prince took heed of the Buddha’s words and used the balls to heal the land, becoming a purveyor of good.
The mini-masks on either side of the main mask signify both the 18 balls of poison and the 18 balls of healing.
Farther away from the beach, and deeper into the town, the area becomes more commercialized, bustling with retail shops and marketplaces.
As we rode through town to get some cash from the bank, we spotted some impromptu processions along the road.
Across town, on another part of Tangalle Beach, lies the luxurious five-star Anantara Peace Heaven resort. While EZ and I didn’t stay there (it’s pretty pricey), I tried to see if I could get an ayurvedic massage at the resort, since the spas along the beach seemed kind of sketchy. Well, the resort spa was fully booked, but EZ and I were allowed to walk around and enjoy a drink at the bar.
Let me tell you, this place is classy. At the entrance, you are greeted by a Kandyan dancer in full regalia. You walk across a bridge over a pond to reach the lobby, where women dressed in tasteful saris play drums and sing folk songs in a circle. The staff is there to assist you even before you realize you need assistance; their uniforms appear well-made, of good material, but in Sri Lankan styles—tunics and sarongs for the men, traditional saris for the women. The grounds are lush yet meticulously maintained; immaculate, yet bursting with birdsong and the meowing-like mating cries of the peacock.
It’s a luxury experience that weaves in Sri Lankan culture in a highly curated, somewhat surreal manner.
Also, the bar overlooks the beach. Not the great, wide beach with choppy waters that EZ and I had explored earlier. No; the resort seems to have its own private beach, which happens to be a gorgeous, secluded crescent teeming with coconut trees.
Sipping our beverages, EZ and I people-watched as high-end tourists of all backgrounds — from rich Sri Lankans and Indians to wealthy Europeans and Asians — sauntered onto the beautiful patio in their linen garments and mingled with charm and grace. I wondered how far beyond the resort they ventured to set foot.
During our stay in Tangalle, EZ and I decided to take a short morning trip about 30 minutes away to Hummanaya Blowhole, which is considered to be the second largest blowhole in the world. A blowhole is a marine geyser, where sea water shoots up from a port on a formation of sea caves. Like Old Faithful on the water.
Unfortunately, when we went, it was off-season for the blowhole, which relies on stronger tides for a full geyser experience. We even called “hoo-hoo!”, which is supposed to beckon the burst, but to no avail.
But we still enjoyed a scenic walk around the area.
Tangalle was a great end to the beach relaxation portion of our trip. Once tourism heats up again, the strip of restaurants and bars will be a lively scene indeed. But for now, we enjoyed the quiet time in the hammocks, the serene and tasty meals with stunning views, the natural beach beauty. Fully rested and ready for adventure on safari…in Yala!