Mar 2-9, 2017
The first rule of traveling is never to check the weather where you are going; the forecast will always be very grim, especially if you are heading to the beach.
We were heading to 6 different beaches and low and behold, The Weather Network estimated 6 consecutive days of rain.
Judging by how it rained in Tissa, we knew that rain was a possibility and if so, tanning would not be.
We arrived in Tangalla in the afternoon and it was a hot and sweaty day (thankfully). We checked into the lovely Sea View Tourist Inn, and our room unfortunately did not provide a sea view after all.
Wasting no time, we got the scoop on the nearest beaches and made our way to the closest one: Medaketiya.
We were actually looking for Tangalla beach, but every person we asked told us something different and we ended up going to the first beach we saw.
Medaketiya beach is not the cleanest in Sri Lanka, but it was still more than adequate for an evening meal and a cold beer.
As luck would have it, Tracy began to feel sick and was full on congested by the following morning and barely able to speak because of a sore throat. Perfect for beaching. 😦
Being a trooper, she still wanted to get our beach on to the max. We had a fantastic breakfast at our guest house, put on sunscreen, grabbed a ton of Kleenex and made our way to Goyambokka beach for 9:30am.
This beach was simply beautiful. Perfect golden sand, a small size and just a handful of people. Divine!
We got a primo spot and we had it all figured out. Twenty minutes per side to tan, jump in the water to cool off, back in the sun to dry off and then shade. Repeat if necessary. Perfect tan. Guaranteed.
We really thought we were being careful, responsible beach-goers.
By the end of the day, the full extent of our errors was quite apparent. Crimson red burns extending from our ankles up to our necks, each region more painful than the last.
Tracy’s legs and stomach as well as my entire back were the worst hit.
Fuck. First full beach day fail. Rainy weather my ass!
That evening, we decided to get a beautiful view of the sunset at a beach near our hotel, but a pack of mangy dogs made that near impossible.
Instead, we went up Tangalla’s lookout tower, but on the way there Tracy stubbed her toe pretty badly and cut it wide open.
As a consolation, we arranged to have dinner at a little restaurant called Sun and Moon Villas, right next to our hotel, and the guy cooking made us the best meal we had in Sri Lanka and for a pittance of what they charge at the beach. If anyone goes to Tangalla, we would highly recommend the restaurant and the kindly man running the place.
With strep throat and extreme congestion, 3rd degree burns and a bloody, cut-up toe, Tracy was a crusader and still wanted to hit up another beach the following day.
We took a tuk tuk to Marakolliya beach, which is distinct because it is surrounded by croc-filled lagoons (although we didn’t know the croc part at first- Tracy spotted one right by us within the first few minutes).
It is a wild and beautiful beach, but the waves were too intense to fully enjoy.
Because of our burns, we stayed in the shade and enjoyed each others’ company instead.
Having exhausted Tangalla’s beaches, we made our way 15km west down the road to Hiriketiya Beach, a beach we heard about from the expat owner of “Slightly-Chilled” in Kandy.
We found a homestay nearby and stayed with a lovely family, although they had poor bathroom cleaning skills. The son was nice enough to drive us to and from the beach for free.
This beach was absolutely stunning and served as the ideal spot to learn how to surf, which was obvious because there were always 20-30 surfers bailing in the distance.
The sand was perfect and the crescent shape allowed for most large waves to break far before the beach making it great for swimming as well.
Even though we were practically fully clothed in the water, this was still one of our favourites.
No sooner had we arrived, we departed the next day for Tallalla, another 15km down the road.
We found a cheap guesthouse, the wonderful and otherwise empty (besides us) Sea Anemone Guesthouse,and for the first time in 5 beaches, were actually within walking distance to the beach.
Tallalla beach is a beach that everyone dreams about: soft golden sand, large yet fun waves, and only a handful of people. Even though most of the beaches had relatively few people, this one maybe had 10 total during the entire day.
It felt like we had the beach to ourselves. Unfortunately our sunburns relegated us to the shady confines of a lounge chair for most of the time, but the sound and tranquility of the beach were a perfect way to cap off our beach exploration of Sri Lanka’s Southern coast.
Wanting to be around some people for a change, we made our way to one of Sri Lanka’s most popular southern beaches, Mirissa.
Mirissa is extremely popular among Europeans, particularly Russians. Like Phuket in Thailand, Nha Trang in Vietnam and the Crimea in the Ukraine, when Russians see a beach they like, they kind of just take it over.
Stern Russians notwithstanding, this beach was exactly what we had been looking for: beach bars and restaurants, lookout points, parties and, most importantly, it was the launching point to one of the best places in the world to watch blue whales!
Our first day was spent doing laundry, scoping out the beach and finding a reputable and sustainable operator to go whale watching with. Literally everyone there is running their own whale watching ship. There are claims on the beach of how many whales are seen per day, with some companies even making claims of seeing orcas and whale sharks – ha, the former cannot even be seen in this part of the world!
The following morning, we wanted to see some of southern Sri Lanka’s famed stilt fishermen. This practice apparently came to be during World War II due to a limited amount of resources as well as limited space at the beaches for conventional fishing.
These men would anchor long branches into the rocks and sit precariously on a horizontal rod and wait all day until they caught a sufficient amount of fish.
We were told that the ideal place to find these fishermen was along the south coast between Weligama and Koggala. We asked around and decided that Midigama would be the area where we would try our luck.
Along the road, via local bus, we saw some of the iconic crucifix-shaped fishing stilts, but no fishermen in sight.
When we got off the bus in Midigama, we first admired the amazing waves and brave surfers attempting to ride them.
The problem with Sri Lanka’s stilt fishermen is that, following the devastating 2004 tsunami, many lost their lives as well as their livelihoods. Some moved inland and started working in agriculture. Seeing the photographic allure and tourist dollars that posing as stilt fishermen could bring, many men started portraying these fishermen and wearing traditional clothing.
The actual number of real fishermen is unknown, but they still do exist; rather, it’s just not as easy to find them.
Unfortunately, our boys are only actors (we think), but it still makes for great photos of a dying (or an already dead) profession.
If you go, we did see some fishermen using stilts without any tourists watching from our bus near Ahangama, so this may be your best bet to see the real deal…or maybe they were just practicing before the tourists arrived.
We made it back to Mirissa before lunch and decided to get our tan on for the first time since we burned ourselves in Goyambokka. We were both looking like lepers due to the sheer amount of skin peeling off our bodies, but at least the pain and itching had vastly subsided.
Even though we barely had any sun exposure and were only in the water for less than a half-an-hour total, Tracy still managed to burn her shoulders, although not nearly as bad as the other areas.
That evening, I climbed the large rock separating the two beaches of Mirissa and we watched a beautiful sunset again over happy hour beers.
The next morning, we woke up around 5:00am and were driven to the Mirissa harbour. We were going whale watching, despite many others we talked to backing out due to large majorities of passengers getting seasick.
Blue whales are the largest animal that has ever lived (even larger than any dinosaur!) and, for some reason, their migratory patterns lead them to the waters surrounding Mirissa and an area known as the Dondra Head. This area is said to contain the world’s largest number of blue whales, making this the best place on earth to see them.
Within a 40 minutes of leaving the harbour, we saw two swimming side by side with distinctively powerful geysers of water emanating from their blowholes as they breathed at the surface.
They were far away, but it was still easy to appreciate their massive size, as their huge backs and tails gracefully slid in and out of the water.
Soon we were speeding towards Dondra Head and, along the way, litterally hundreds (possibly over a thousand – our driver estimated 2,000) of dolphins were chasing our ship and making the Asians on our boat make bizarre excited noises with every appearance.
Before long, we, as well as the other companies’ boats, were all at the Dondra Head and all vying for the closest blue whale sighting.
Some boats saw one and immediately started chasing it, seemingly sending this massive animal into a panic.
Our boat kept its distance and ended up seeing it as it fled the other boats.
We were waiting for another whale to resurface, when a massive one came out of the water just a few hundred meters away from us.
From this distance, their size was absolutely mind-boggling. Blue whales can measure up to 30m long, and weigh up to 180 tons!
As soon as the last whale dove back under the water, our boat attendant said we were heading back to the harbour.
While the other boats would chase and terrorize whales for maybe another hour or so, our operator believed that these animals, being highly intelligent, can become stressed from this daily game of Ishmeal and Moby Dick, and once we got our pictures, we would let them be.
A few people on our boat felt gipped, but Tracy and I understood and respected their practices, and actually sought out this reputable company. As a bonus, we were already back to Mirissa by 9:30am and could enjoy the beach one final time before making our way down the coastal road towards Galle, our next destination.
Seriously though, if you love beaches and hate people on them,or love beaches with a lot of people on them, then Sri Lanka has what you are looking for! So go there, but just don’t check the weather forecast! (And, if you are like Tracy, bring lots of sunscreen, Kleenex and a first-aid kit!)