Mirissa is a small fishing village in the southern part of Sri Lanka. It is popular with tourists for its beaches and other ocean related activities, such as whale watching, surfing, and snorkeling and scuba diving. The waters around Mirissa are usually rough and very choppy most of the year, and like Yala, it’s susceptible to cyclones and monsoons, so the waters during that season are even rougher than usual. December and January are exceptions, when the norm is for the waters to be calm.
For a place attracting so many western tourists, I found the accommodations to be lacking in quality. The “resort” rooms are actually just guest houses, that don’t provide soap or shampoo. The toilets don’t work that well, and the hot water is flaky.
That didn’t stop the rooms from being expensive. For a room with air-conditioning and within walking distance to the beach, rooms are USD 65+ (we booked a family room that was USD 70 per night). Mind you, the hotels don’t accept credit card, so USD 70 in cash was pricey given that half the ATMs we encountered didn’t accept foreign cards, and the most of the ones that did, wouldn’t give out more than USD 100.
Most of the transportation in Mirissa is done by using tuk-tuks, by walking, or by using your trip’s hired driver/tour guide.
That being said, our whale watching tour company provided complimentary pickups from hotel to docks, so we used that. And, because we had communications issues with our driver (who wasn’t a tour guide) and knew how lost he got 99% of the time, we took a tuk-tuk back. This tuk-tuk cost us about Rs. 200 for 3 people, for about 8km.
Most restaurants around the beach area are only open for dinner. The beach itself has a few cafes, though I’m not sure what they have on the menus, other than drinks. There are a few restaurants a little way away from the beach where you can get lunch. Expect to pay a tuk-tuk around Rs. 100-200 for the ride per way. Expect to pay the equivalent of USD 10 per person per meal.
Credit card acceptance is very poor. Be aware that ATMs are also limited in their acceptance of foreign ATM cards, and the ones that do may not give more than USD 100 or USD 200 of cash per day.
Mirissa is in the south, so the weather is warm and humid all year. However, May to September is rainy season, with July and August (and possibly June) being monsoon season. Even in the winter, there can be brief storms lasting for no more than an hour, but this is uncommon.
Watch out for cars if you’re walking around town because there are no sidewalks, and many drivers drive erratically at best. If you are walking, it’s best to walk on the side of the street opposite to traffic and to wear light colored clothing.
There are a lot of insects around Mirissa, so make sure to use the mosquito nets in your hotel rooms and any other insect repelling tools the hotel has. I didn’t need mosquito repellent though (and I usually do).
Hours: No hours, but best to go during daylight hours.
Time to spend: 45 min – 1 hr
Parrot Rock is a rock formation a few feet into the sea, and is easily accessible by walking during low tide. You can get a nice view of the beach from the top.
Warning: It’s a little dangerous – there’s a portion of the rock which is narrow and a little steep with no railing or actual steps, so it’s crucial to be careful when going up or down the rock.
Verdict: Worth it (good for pictures), but skip if scared of heights or low on time.
Cost: Varies by tour operator. If you book locally, it’s cheaper, but the cost ranges anywhere from USD 20-100, though price doesn’t guarantee quality. (My tour was one of the cheaper ones, but very good).
Hours: Must be at docks by 6:45AM, boats leave at 7AM. Return depends on water choppiness and by tour operator. Typically, the tour ends around 11:30AM.
Time to spend: Approximately 6 hours, including roundtrip travel time between hotel and docks.
Mirissa is known for whale watching. The best times to go are during December and January, not simply for the calm waters, but this is also the best time to spot whales. The species of whale that are visible tend to be the blue whale. Whale watching takes place from around 7AM to 12PM, unless the tour operators are recalled back from the waters being too choppy (they’re required by law to return).
Verdict: Worth it – Don’t miss.
Other Sites and Activities
Mirissa has many tourists who visit this place for the surfing. From my observations, though, the surfing seemed to be ok. The waves didn’t seem to be that good, though a few people were able to catch some waves.
You can also go snorkeling and diving. However, I’ve been advised on two things: you can only go when the waters are calm (tour operators cancel when the waters are dangerous), and you need a diver’s certification to dive. With respect to the second item, some tour operators are lax about the quality of the diving certification, it’s crucial to get proper training and a meaningful certification before going diving in Mirissa, to reduce risk of injury or death should something change in an instant (which it tends to do there).
Whale Watching Tips
If you’re susceptible to motion sickness or know that you get sea sick, take a sea sick pill. They’re the most effective if you take them about an hour before departing. The tour company should give you the pill free of cost (ours did).
It’s also a good idea to eat a very light breakfast, in the event that the waters aren’t so calm even in December/January. Pickups for whale watching are between 6 and 6:30, and the tour operator boats depart the dock around 7AM, and they provide a light breakfast box, in case your hotel didn’t pack one.
It may behoove you to bring items that protect you from the sun, but beware – it gets windy, and I saw a couple of hats get blown off of peoples’ heads. And, because waters can get choppy, sunglasses are at risk too. It’s better to simply use sunscreen. Additionally, there was a lot of water that splashed on deck and some above deck, so be mindful of that particularly with your cameras.
Also, with respect to the water choppiness, it’s very important to hold on to something to keep yourself steady and from injuring yourself. If you’re trying to take pictures of the whale, make sure to keep yourself and your belongings, especially your camera secure. I found from my tour that even holding onto the railing, I still got thrashed a bit, and was bruised and sore all over afterwards from attempting to keep myself steady.
I believe most of the boats have a bathroom on board. I don’t know of their amenities (toilet paper and soap), but it might be a bit rough to try to use the bathroom on open waters.
It’s a good idea to tie down your belonging to the rails to keep them from falling into the ocean.
There are several tour operators, most (if not all) of whom guarantee a whale sighting. This means that if you didn’t spot a whale on the day of your tour, they give you the option to rebook free of cost. This wouldn’t be helpful if you only have a day, but it’s nice to know that you have this option. That being said, I’d highly recommend using “Whale Watching with Geet” (you can see my review of them here). This was my tour operator, and they were excellent, and they had reasonable prices.
Mobile devices will most likely not cut it for pictures – there’s just too much motion from the whale and the boat. They’re great for videos though, as long as you can keep the phone or tablet somewhat steady and you don’t drop it. If you have to use a mobile device, please get a wrist tether, otherwise your phone or tablet might end up as an offering to Poseidon. For point and shoots or DSLRs, you need at least a 150mm zoom.