We got off the train around 6 PM, hot and sticky in Mirissa. This was unexpected since we were on an express train that was supposed to skip Mirissa to stop at the next major town Matara. The pleasant surprise cut our tuk tuk commute from 20 minutes down to 5. Tuk tuks are the main source of transportation along with some cars and some motor bikes. You should negotiate the price and agree on it in advance of the ride since they are not metered. We paid $250SLR ($1.50 USD) and off we went with now only $2 US left in our pockets.
Mirissa is a beach town that is heavily touristed because of its golden sand, clear blue waters and whale watching. Once we hit the main street it was flooded with tourists. Our tuk tuk dropped us at our accommodations that we reserved in advance knowing that Mirissa is a popular but small area. We chose to stay at the Hangover Hostel, which had great reviews on Hostel World. The hostel is new, modern and right across from the beach.
When we checked in, they upgraded our room because of a mistake on their end so instead of bunking it in a dorm, we got a large private room and bathroom with cold A/c and hot showers.
We dropped our bags and quickly put suits on to rinse the train sweat off via the ocean. Before getting to the beach, we stopped at an ATM and thankfully it worked! Our emotions had been recharged along with our cash flow.
The ocean water is, in my opinion, the perfect temperate. It’s not cold but not warm so you can stay in it as long as you like. The waves are big and fun to play in but can knock you over if you aren’t paying attention. Our cue to leave the water was when the sunlight began to dim and the waves got too aggressive for me to enjoy.
We went to a restaurant with good reviews that was clearly not in the touristy part of town because the hostel guard was surprised when we turned left out of the hostel instead of right. It was confirmed when we were the only people at the restaurant.
The walk down the main street at night in Mirissa is not a pleasant one. The two lane road is treated as four lanes so you have to watch out for tuk tuks and cars zooming by and there are stray dogs everywhere. The dogs, we have learned, are harmless but they are mangy so it can be creepy at night.
The restaurant, Adoro, is essentially someone’s home who will cook you dinner. It’s right on the water but it was very dark so we could only hear the waves crashing on the rocks. I ordered the Prawn Kottu which is a Sri Laken regular and Nate ordered a curry. They were both good and very authentic. The owner/cook was a very sweet, quiet woman. We opted for a tuk tuk ride back to avoid the unpleasantries of the walk there.
Just to reiterate, our goal in coming to Sri Lanka, and Mirissa specifically was to see Blue Whales. For those of you who are shamelessly not in the know on whales, Blue Whales are incredible. They are the largest animal on planet earth. More on them later 🙂
We booked our tour in advance. I had a specific company that I wanted to tour the whales with called Raja and the Whales. They are scientists and experts on sea life in their region and take great pride in protecting the animals. They have spearheaded the effort to maintain a safe experience for the whales by following proper guidelines and ensuring that other companies who don’t, get fined and shut down. They do whale and other sea life rescues and take important data. They are currently trying to have the shipping route that barges are constantly using moved further away from Sri Lanka because they are the cause for most whale deaths.
It was really important to me that we enjoy the beauty of these magnificent creatures the ethical way. We paid $40USD each for the tour and there are companies who do it for half that. Raja and the Whales has an excellent rating on trip advisor as well.
They sent someone to pick us up, free of charge from our hostel to bring us to the harbor at 6:00 am. We checked in, paid in cash and waited only 10 minutes before we were walking onto the boat. Before walking on, they offered sea sickness pills with a warning of drowsiness. We took them, not knowing what 7 hours on the ocean would be like. We were greeted by a crew member with hot tea in china and ginger cookies.
Once everyone was aboard they give us a run down on their principals and practices and the international guidelines they follow, clearly stating how close/not close they would approach the animals. We learned that a baby blue whale grows 160 lbs a day!! They also reminded everyone that they can not turn around and that finding a whale could take anywhere from 2-8 hours so be patient.
The crew brought out large portions of fruit for each person to munch on and then most people started to doze off from the sea sick pills. I think the crew does this on purpose so most people sleep through the long hours of whale finding 🙂
We awoke to the crew pointing out spinner Dolphins, a pod of 100 of them speeding past us, carving in and out of the waves.
The crew came back around and served everyone eggs, cooked how you liked it, with chicken sausage and toast. These guys were really impressive and attentive. Everyone dozed on and off after we ate until it was time to see what we all had hope to see, a blue whale. In the distance we saw a formation of other boats and ours was heading that way. Everyone new a whale sighting was eminent.
The forty other people on board all made there way to a photographic spot not knowing where to actually look. In the distance our crew shouted out 1:00! And from far away we saw the spray of a whale, like a geyser. I don’t think they could be sure it was a blue whale until we got closer, but the crew can differentiate characteristics like the height of the blow.
The mysterious creature slipped back under before our boat got close enough to see anything. They told us be patient, 12-17 minutes later it will surface again. We all waited on bated breath. Nate used that time to take power naps while I was basically hanging of the boat to get in front. A crew member yelled again 10:00!! And lucky for me, that was my sight line. The whale surfaced and his small dorsal fin signified that it was indeed a blue whale!
A blue whale is huge, but they don’t jump out of the water and dramatically fluke like other breeds like killer whales or a humpback. They slither, so you catch glimpses of their blue/gray silky bodies in the ocean when they surface. The money shot is seeing their notable dorsal fin as they elegantly fluke down into the water.
We did this routine about four times waiting for him/her to go under then resurface. The other boats that surrounded the whale had each peeled away at different times after catching a glimpse. Raja and his crew stayed out the longest and we got the best views after all the other boats had taken off. The whale unexpectedly surfaced about 20 meters from the boat and everyone gasped! The crew seemed taken by surprise by how close she/he had come to the boat.
After that crowd pleasing moment, we returned back towards Mirissa beach. The journey back took us two hours. The crew handed out ice cold juices and cakes for our enjoyment, we were all on a high from the experience! In summary, it took us seven hours to complete out task but a well run tour made it feel like a blink of an eye.
When we got off the boat and were dropped back to our hostel, we immediately ran into the ocean again for a midday swim. We knew it was our last day at the beaches in Sri Lanka.
We needed shade so we sat under a thatched roof beach restaurant and ordered a late lunch. Mediocre touristy food but there was no more commuting left in us after being on the boat for so long. After getting more sun and beach time any human needs in one day, we went to the hostel for showers and a nap.
By the time we returned to the hostel, the power was out. Being so hot from the boat, a cold shower was welcomed. The power came on about 30 mins later, and we were beginning to understand that this was a regular occurrence in Sri Lanka. Generators are king.
Our evening plans were to get pizza and figure out how to get to our next location. A pizza place just off the beach had amazing reviews so we went for it. Mirissa has probably 15 beach front restaurants that are full of tourists, as they offer freshly caught and displayed fish that they will cook up for you.
We had heard it is over priced and the good seafood really goes to the market first, so we chose to avoid these places. The pizza was excellent, the Italian owner imports his ingredients and makes the Italian sausage, salami and sauces in Sri Lanka. I am a pizza snob but and it was really good.
We discussed our options over dinner on how to get to the hill country, our next destination. Everything we have learned either from reading or asking people is that there are two options. Option one is a six hour public bus ride for $2 with no a/c and no guaranteed seat or you can hire a driver to take you for $75- $100 and it takes 4.5 hours.
You can see the dilemma. Nate took things into his own hands and started asking everyone is they wanted to ride with us and split the cost of a hired driver but we had no luck because apparently we are traveling this country backwards, which makes sense now that we understand what airport we landed in.
The bus ride experience, as “fun” as it sounded, was not for us, so we ultimately decided we would hire a driver and pay for it using our “splurge budget”. We finalized dinner and walked next door to the beach bar that was hosting the nightly party. Each night in Mirissa, one bar has a DJ and cool lights and is the hang out, they even set off fire works to alert the tourists which bar is hosting it.
It wasn’t very happening though, we had a Lion beer and walked along the beach back to our hostel which was now obvious to us that it was how most people got from place to place instead of playing chicken on streets.
Our final morning in Mirissa we did a much needed workout in our room, since we had not done anything since we left Australia. Just thirty minutes of intensity to keep allowing us to eat and drink with somewhat of a clear conscious.
Nate negotiated a driver from the restaurant for 10k rupee so we went back to the hostel to gather our belongings and wait for his arrival. He picked us up and off we went, in all our glory… privately, expensively and in cold air condition.