South of Beruwala, Bentota is another major beach resort of the island with many large hotels with beach fronts, beautiful sandy beaches and shallow waters. There is a popular fresh water lagoon which is a popular water racing location
A 100-acre National Resort complex at Bentota singles it out as one of the most popular beach resort areas on the island. The Bentota River, which forms the boundary between the island’s western and southern provinces, is ideal for boating excursions. With a well equipped centre for water sports including deep sea diving, Bentota also provides a variety of interesting sites including the 12th Century Galapata Viharaya. Beaches also attract nature lovers and conservationists who plot the movements of turtles swimming up to lay their eggs in the warm sands.
Bentota is 65 km from Colombo and is a popular and fully geared tourist resort. Before the era of mass tourism and the consequent construction of the National Tourist Resort of Bentota, the first foreigners to stumble upon this charming spot, must have been Arab merchant sailors, who also discovered Beruwela in the 11th Century a little further north. However it was the Portuguese who in the 17th Century, built a small fort at the mouth of the Bentota or Bentara Ganga. This wide river marked the southern extremity of Portuguese held territory in the island, as Dutch sails appeared on the horizon further south. The Dutch used the fort during their rule, as a resting place for stagecoaches plying between Colombo and Galle. Later the British converted this simple halt into a rest house for travellers. Its idyllic location and tranquility made it a popular haven. By the 1970s, the rest house had become a hotel, opening the door to the commercial strip marking the resort today.
The main Galle road crosses the placid Bentota River as it meets the ocean. Here calm seas lap beautiful beaches and both sea and river are ideal for sailing and water sports. The wide golden beaches become even wider during the southwest season, when the monsoon sets in on the northeast coast. There is a resort centre just after the bridge near the station, with several hotels, a bank, post office and a shopping centre. The resort has provided much needed local employment and prosperity in the area.
Surprisingly, village life and traditions do not appear to have suffered and as a result age old rural ways persist. The country lanes behind the hotels and shops still lead to rustic scenes and the close juxtaposition of the two is pleasantly surprising. Local industries apart from fishing, include supplying the by-products of the coconut i.e. oil, coir, copra, toddy and arrack.
All along the southwest coast you may see the tops of coconut trees connected together by rope. Toddy tappers balance precariously along these in a tropical high wire act, treetop to treetop, tapping the sap of the young flowers. Early morning and evening you can see these lithe men perched high above the ground as they empty the pots of toddy, oblivious to the fact that there is no circus safety net below them. The local population caters to the tourism in the area too. Many villas take in paying guests, while fresh produce from the land and sea grace the tables of the hotels.
The Elpitiya road just after the bridge will take you a few kilometres inland to the Galapota Vihara, built in the 12th Century. A maze of underground tunnels link Galapota with other temples in the area. The beaches along this stretch attract many turtles that land here to lay their eggs and several turtle hatcheries have sprung up nearby, as part of a turtle conservation project.