The water really is this color, it’s amazing.
Unawatuna is where we used to go to get away from the crowds in Hikkaduwa. But Una is crowded now. It’s literally where the new highway ends. So is it still awesome? Yeah. It’s also changed a lot. Here are a few places to stay, eat and some douchey joints to avoid.
Dude, we went down on a Saturday and everything was booked. Hence, can give you a pretty good review of everything from Happy Banana on down, cause they all turned us a way. There is a theory of beach prices and service that I will expand into a law below. For here, the basic premise is that the closer you are to the beach, the higher the price and shitter the service.
Happy Banana (+94 9 12250252) has some of the best beachfront with a concomitant flux of tourists. The website lists rooms at Rs. 2,500 but it has to be more than that. They, however, were fully booked and the rooms are kinda whatever.
Next to Happy Banana is Full Moon Resort (+94 912 233 0910), which is just mean and sucky. Happy Banana was out of chili paste (how?) and I went to Full Moon to ask for like a tablespoonful. They had some management meeting and said now, which I find unconscionable. I wouldn’t withhold chili paste from my worst enemy. Later a friend asked them for a Mojito (on the menu) and they said that they had a management policy against that. Seriously, fuck Full Moon. Their rooms were Rs. 8,000 for a family (occupies about four) and looked sucky. I de-recommend. Seriously, you can raise prices, but to lose track of basic hospitality is a sin.
So, anyways, on down the road. We passed Amma’s Guesthouse (landside, basic, whatever), but that was booked. We then checked at Baby Red Fish (94 773 185332), which had rooms but looked crap. You know when Sri Lankans just expand properties in a tasteless way to maximize square-footage? It was just a bunch of holes to crash in, for like Rs. 3k per room. Took a pass.
If you go way further down there’s Sunset Point, which I used to recommend, but I don’t anymore. They’re remodeling it into sad mediocrity.
Where We Finally Ended Up If You’re Skimming
Sunil Garden Guesthouse (0777 472441). Much more sophisticated than it sounds. I fully recommend. Amazing use of space with elegant seating areas, a verdant garden and simple but comfortable rooms. The main thing here is the food and drinks and service. They have proper machines and excellent coffee, including an interesting coffee/ice-cream shake. Good brownies, great cheese toast (surprisingly easy to fuck up), great tea – all served on good cutlery and pretty fast.
Sunil Garden is landside, but you can see the beach from outside, just walk through Hot Rock and you’re there. Not the best beach, though, this is down the Kingfisher road. You go down Beach Access (Wella Devale Road) and turn left at the fork where the necklace and trinket seller hawks his wares. It’s right there, round the corner, across from Hot Rock.
We paid Rs. 3,000 per room and were quite happy. This was non A/C. A/C was 7k which I think must be abnormal, perhaps because everything was booked.
Another place I know is Kingfisher, which was a great restaurant but now has become and expensive boutiquey hotel, and not – I think – in a good way. I left a camera in a friend’s room there to go swim and the staff was harassing me about going into their room at all. I mean, a hotel room where you can’t entertain friends isn’t Una at all. They also built illegally on the beach itself and when the government smashed those constructions, their beach also turned to rubble. It’s a shame because Kingfisher always had the best food, but the beachfront is now not really swimmable at all.
As you can see, hotels and eateries overlap. Most of them, however, are overpriced, have slow service, and generally suck. Happy Banana, Full Moon – I de-recommend all of them for food. They just happen to have the best beachfront so people end up there. If you go a bit further down, however, there are some gems. One is Cormoran which is down from Happy Banana. All the reviews for Hotel Cormoran online suck, so I’m not even sure I’m getting the name right. It’s something like that.
This place has great polished concrete architecture and – most important of all – amazing service. This is so rare on the beach these days. You waiter spoke English, Sinhala and Tamil and was prompt and courteous throughout. The food and drink were also excellent. A friend had the most amazing mango juice I’ve ever had (or seen) and the garlic mushrooms are damn good. Nasi-Goreng is OK, but the rice and curry is reliable and lightly spiced. They also have chili sauce. The juices are fresh and amazing and they serve alcohol so you can mix. There’s a decent swimmable beach, though when we went it was occupied by obese men, flopping around like beached whales.
Kingfisher also has had consistently amazing food, but I haven’t been there to eat since the beach got rubbleized and the place got all boutiquey. I also recommend Sunil Garden. Great coffee drinks and – while we didn’t go further than cheese toast – the food seemed thoughtful and well prepared.
The place to swim is still near Happy Banana. I lost a contact the first time I went in so I couldn’t see shit, but you can actually run into people there. We met people and had great conversations just bouncing around in the surf. That’s the cool thing about Una being so busy. It’s getting off-season, but the water is still amazing. Check out the color above. It’s amazing. I spent hours in there and came out fully prune fingers. Could’ve happily bobbed around there more.
The Southern Expressway obviously. We hopped the SEX Bus from Maharagama and saw the beach in 1:30. Got off (somewhat unofficially) at the main road (not the bus stand) and got a tuk-tuk for Rs. 250 into Unawatuna. Left from the Galle city bus stand the next day. Getting to Maharagama was a nightmare, but besides that all good. Getting around in Una you can walk.
Thing is, Una is much much more expensive than before. You used to be able to get Rs. 1000 rooms and put like six people in there. Can’t do that anymore. A decent room is like 3k and they seem pretty strict on occupancy. Food is also not very cheap, for four people to eat and drink their fill at a meal (including alcohol) will be about Rs. 5,000, maybe 4. A Gin and Tonic is like Rs. 350 (with the tonic cost amortized). A fried rice is at least Rs. 350. I dunno, it adds up.
So, I tend to favor moving down the coast, to Mirissa or Tangalle, but Una still has the tourists, the tourist infrastructure, and – most importantly – the beach. You can get there on public transit, you can find plenty of places to stay and eat, and you can swim. Unawatuna is still happening. Had a great time.