After a few months living in the USA, my husband and I decided to take one month off as digital nomads to work on our personal projects. After considering a few options, we quickly narrowed it down to Sri Lanka. We had visited back in 2013 and immediately fell in love with the beautiful landscapes, food and friendly people. We considered several towns but ultimately chose Tangalle, a fishing town in the south of Sri Lanka, to be our base for a few weeks of work & play.
After doing some research about South Sri Lanka, we learned that Unawatuna, Mirissa, Weligama and Tangalle have some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Tangalle quickly draw our attention as we learned that is not as developed and commercialized and still keeps the local charm. Less tourists meant quieter beaches and more affordable prices too!
Mirissa vs Tangalle
When I googled best places to visit as a digital nomad in particular, Mirissa always popped up as a recommendation and I wondered what the key differences were between these two. Now that we’ve visited both, we understand that Mirissa is far more advanced in the facilities offered to tourists that want to mix work and play. You can easily find nice cafes with free WIFI and the nightlife is also much more vibrant and lively. It is much easier to find established yoga retreats and surf schools in Mirissa than Tangalle, too. On the other hand, many visitors agree that Mirissa can feel touristy at times and it definitely cannot beat the beauty of the beaches in Tangalle. In our case, we prioritized nature and quietness hence Tangalle won us over.
- Related posts: Top 5 things to do in Mirissa – Sri Lanka
Understanding the seasons
The south of Sri Lanka has two seasons: High Season from November to April, known for its low rainfall and calm sea; and Low Season from May to October known for its rough waves and high tides.
We visited during the low season in July and while the sea was indeed rough, there were some beaches with milder waves such as Goyambokka, Talalla and Hiriketiya where we could swim without issues. Despite the sea conditions, we absolutely loved spending time in all the beaches and the fact that we had the whole place pretty much to ourselves. The weather was also fine – a couple of showers here and there but mostly sunny days.
On the flip side, we did feel that the town was a bit sleepy and many of the beach restaurants were closed – they told us many shop owners migrate to Arugam Bay during Tangalle’s low season. It wasn’t an issue for us at all, but it is probably wise to keep these two distinctive seasons in mind when planning your visit to avoid disappointment.
Cost of living in Tangalle
We felt Tangalle was super affordable and great value for money. Here’s some standard costs for your reference:
- Accomodation: $10-$15 USD for single bed; $20-40 USD for queen bed
- Lunch at local eatery: $2 – $4 USD*
- Dinner: $4 – $6 USD*
- Yoga lesson: $7 – $10 USD*
- Tuk Tuk ride around town: $1 – $3 USD
*prices per person as of July 2018
It’s worth mentioning that there’s in fact a “local price” and “tourist price” so be ready to negotiate rates if you think you’re being quoted too much. Since we visited during low season, we had the advantage to enjoy local prices most of the time as businesses (especially tuk-tuks) were eager to get customers.
Since we planned to spend time on our projects, it was a must for us to stay at a hotel with good WIFI and comfortable environment where we could sit down and work on our laptops. We decided to stay at Grand Residence in Goyambokka, given its convenient location and facilities. We were happy with the choice – the internet connection was super fast and consistent (we could even upload our YouTube videos!) and we also had a large balcony with a desk. As far as we are concerned, there are no co-working spaces in Tangalle or western style cafes with free WIFI so it’s important to choose a hotel with good internet connection and a comfortable seating area. For a quieter and productive experience, you should definitely consider accommodations away from the big roads as they tend to be very noisy. Some popular areas to stay at (besides Goyambokka) are Hiriketiya and Tangalle Beach.
- Browse hotels in and around Tangalle here
Things to do
These are some of the activities that people can enjoy in and around Tangalle:
- Beach (some favourites are Silent Beach, Goyambokka Beach, Tangalle Beach, Hiriketiya)
- Surfing in Hiriketiya
- Yoga & Ayurveda Massage
- Wildlife safaris
To learn more about what Tangalle has to offer, check out my previous post A Guide to Tangalle
The best way to move around Tangalle and its vicinity is by local bus. It’s cheap and easy to use. At the beginning I was a bit shocked at the speed they go at and how impatient the drivers are, but once you get the hang of it it’s totally fine.
For the more adventurous, hiring a scooter is a great option and provides more flexibility.
Otherwise, there’s plenty of eager tuk-tuks drivers that can offer a ride pretty much anywhere for an affordable price (if you spend a few minutes negotiating, that is!).
Food is extremely cheap if you’re willing to eat like the locals. Rice & curry can be as cheap as 200 rupees ($2.70 USD) per person and staple snacks like roti and hoppers are usually a couple of cents. When we felt like we needed to give our stomachs a break, we would buy fresh vegetables and fruits at the local market that opens on Wednesdays and Sundays (next to the Tangalle central bus station) and cook meals at our hotel.
Another thing we indulged in was fresh coconuts! There are so many stalls selling them for very little.
There is a supermarket chain in Tangalle town where you can get local and western style food staples and toiletries. We tried to buy groceries at the local market as much as we could as they are fresher and more affordable but having a supermarket as a back up option was really convenient.
On the other hand, some of the things that we realized are hard to find are electronics (for example, SD cards or chargers), western-style clothing and souvenirs. For clothing especially, don’t expect to find modern dresses or swimwear – better pack your own from home!
If you’re thinking of spending time in Sri Lanka as a digital nomad, chances are you’re also attracted to the wellness options available – and you won’t be disappointed! Although yoga is not as popular as in India, there’s plenty of affordable yoga sessions concentrated near Tangalle Beach. Since we were staying in Goyambokka and we had extra space in our balcony, we decided to get a yoga teacher give us private lessons at our hotel. We were referred to a lovely German lady that has lived in Sri Lanka for more than 15 years and specializes in Hatha Yoga, which is what we usually practice. She was really good at customizing the practice to our abilities and taught us a bit of meditation too.
(If you’re interested in private yoga lessons in Tangalle, send me a message below and I’ll share her contact details!)
If body massage is your thing, then you’ll also find endless options for Ayurveda massage in particular. From budget options to luxury spas, there’s something for everyone.
Nightlife can only be found on the beach front at Tangalle Beach. Other than that, to be honest nightlife is pretty much non-existent during off-season.
The positives of Tangalle as a digital nomad destination
To recap, here’s some reasons we totally recommend Tangalle as your hub on your next digital nomad stint:
- Affordable living expenses
- Safety (very important!) & friendly locals
- AMAZING beaches and interesting culture
- Great weather
- Delicious food & high-quality fresh markets
The downsides of Tangalle as a digital nomad destination
Our experience in Tangalle has been extremely positive and would do it all over again in a heart beat! However, I thought I’d sum up some of the downsides too so that you can decide whether Tangalle would be a good option for you or not. As much as we loved it and would absolutely recommend it, we want to keep it real too!
- Lack of co-working spaces and free WIFI on public areas/cafes
- Quiet nightlife
- Strong contrast between high season and low season (hence need to consider timing of visit according to your priorities)
Don’t let that discourage you, though. In our case, the positives outweighed the negatives and most of all, we were able to get a lot of work done without breaking the bank. If you are toying with the idea of doing something similar as we did in Tangalle, please leave me a message down below. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. Thanks for reading!
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