A couple of kilometres beyond Weligama, the village of MIRISSA is one of the most appealing places to spend a few days next to the sea in southern Sri Lanka. The beach here is one of the nicest along this stretch of coast, with a fine swathe of sand tucked away into a pretty little bay, backed by a dense thicket of coconut palms – particularly lovely at night, when the lights go on and the sands transform into a magical tangle of fairy lights. It’s not exactly unspoilt, but development remains refreshingly low-key for the moment, confined to a string of fairly rustic little restaurants and modest guest-houses, with a merciful absence of big resorts and a lively but pleasantly low-key atmosphere, attracting a youngish crowd of mainly independent travellers.
Mirissa has also developed into Sri Lanka’s leading whale-watching centre, with excellent chances of seeing blue and sperm whales close to shore. There’s reasonable swimming, though conditions vary considerably along different parts of the beach, so it’s worth asking at your guesthouse about where’s safe to swim before venturing into the water. You can also snorkel here, though you won’t see much apart from the occasional pretty fish. Snorkelling “safaris” and numerous other watersports, including sport fishing and sea kayaking, as well as cruises around the bay and beyond, can be arranged with Mirissa Water Sports.
Over the past five years, Sri Lanka has emerged as one of the world’s major whale-watching destinations, thanks largely to the work of pioneering British marine biologist Charles Anderson, who in 1999 first proposed the theory that there was an annual migration of blue and sperm whales between the Bay of Bengal and around the coast of Sri Lanka to the Arabian Sea (heading west in April, and returning in the opposite direction in Dec/Jan). Anderson’s theory led to the dramatic discovery that Sri Lanka was sitting alongside one of the world’s great cetacean migratory routes, with sightings of these majestic creatures almost guaranteed for large parts of the year, and the possibility of seeing both sperm and blue whales (as well as spinner dolphins) in a single trip.
Mirissa is perfectly placed for whale-watching expeditions, being where the continental shelf on which Sri Lanka sits is at its narrowest, with ocean depths of 1km within 6km of the coast – ideal whale country. Sightings are most regular from December to April (with Dec & April being the best months).