Beach Hopping on South Coast of Sri Lanka: From Mirissa to Galle

posted in: Asia, Beaches, Sri Lanka | 24

My pre-trip research on the South Coast of Sri Lanka had me so confused. Mirissa, Tangalle, Weligama, Unawatuna, Galle …..where should I stay? What should I do? Each one of them seemed magical. Thankfully, a little in-depth research gave me a solution to this dilemma. All I had to do is take a day trip from Mirissa to Galle –  a perfect beach hopping tour touching each of these places – allowing me to see the best of South Coast of Sri Lanka.

Mirissa beach - the start of our day trip to Galle
Mirissa beach – the start of our day trip to Galle

A lot of people embark on this trip from Mirissa to Galle after a hearty breakfast. However, we chose to do this beach hopping in the latter half of the day for we were not very keen on spending a lot of time in Galle. Frankly speaking, I felt that was good enough.  I got enough time at the beaches as well as a good tour of Galle Fort. It was actually, quite refreshing and fun to do this day trip. It showcased the various shades of the Southern coast of Sri Lanka. And that is the main reason why you need to include this in your list of things to do in Mirissa.

When it comes to Mirissa attractions, you must not miss the whale watching tour here. Explore the world of blue whales through my own Mirissa Whale Watching Tour.

Setting off from Mirissa to Galle

Our hotel manager was quite helpful in outlining the various options to get to Galle. We could pick from local buses to taxis and tuk-tuks. Given that I wanted to stop at the various locations, a taxi or a tuk-tuk seemed to be the best bet. The total journey time was just one hour and the roads pretty smooth. My Dottie and I voted for the Tuk Tuk – for that mode itself spelled adventure to us. My hubby wasn’t very thrilled for he deemed it to be uncomfortable owing to his height. Guess with two women votes against him, he did not have a choice and so, we booked ourselves for the post-lunch beach hopping tour to Galle.

The time when my hubby tried his hand at the Tuk Tuk in Hampi
The time when my hubby tried his hand at the Tuk Tuk in Hampi

I even checked the option of a self-drive – either by bikes or a tuk-tuk. While that was allowed a few months back, owing to some accidents, the rental services were withdrawn. I am sure that given a chance, my hubby would have loved to try his hand at driving the tuk-tuk and would have been a little less grumpy. I saw him wistfully eyeing the driver’s seat as we boarded our red tuk-tuk. “Next time” – I told him as we zoomed off towards Galle.

Stop One enroute from Mirissa to Galle – Weligama

15 minutes into our ride and we reached our first beautiful beach – Weligama. The name “Weligama” means a Sandy Village. Quite like Mirissa, the beach here is popular with the surfers. It was a close rival to Mirissa when I shortlisted my places to visit in Sri Lanka. From Diving to Snorkeling and Fishing, there is plenty of things to do in Weligama. I only decided against it in favor of the quiet charm of the Mirissa beaches.

Weligama Beach - Our first stop enroute from Mirissa to Galle
Weligama Beach – Our first stop enroute from Mirissa to Galle

There were two interesting sights on the Weligama beach. A looming isle of Taprobane dominated the backdrop while in the foreground were the famous stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka. Our Tuk-Tuk driver shared the little history about both these. The isle of Taprobane was occupied by a villa that was built by a French Count de Mauny. The original name of the island was “Galduwa” – which means “rock island” in the local language. It was the count who renamed it after the Greek name for Sri Lanka. The private island changed many hands and is now owned by an Australian – Geoffrey Dobbs.  It has been visited by several celebrities and continues to be a luxury retreat for those who are looking for some peace and calm.

Taprobane Island - on the way to Galle from Mirissa
Taprobane Island – on the way to Galle from Mirissa

The Tsunami of 2004 did affect the island but with careful care, the greens were back and the retreat still functional. I could see a road leading to the island but that as I understand is a more recent development. Earlier, it was all about ferries and boats to get to the isle.

The Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka

The Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka definitely needs a separate section. The men on the poles are icons of the country and you will find them on practically every memorabilia sold here. What used to be an occupation for the livelihood has slowly receded to a tourist attraction. The Stilt fishermen are largely visited by the tourists to Weligama, Ahangama, Mirissa and Unawatuna.

Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka at Weligama
Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka at Weligama

The unique practice of Stilt Fishing came about during World War II. The local fishermen put up long vertical poles along the reefs, sunken ships and broken aircraft. A small horizontal branch allowed these fishermen to sit on these poles, inches above the water surface. This prevented their shadows from covering the water while giving them access to the fish-rich area. The fishermen would then cast their lines for the small mackerels and spotted herrings. They would then, store their catch in bags tied to the same poles. The catch was then sold as a livelihood for these fishermen.

Close up of the Stilt Fisherman
Close up of the Stilt Fisherman

It wasn’t as easy as it looked. In fact, catching fish in this manner was almost like art and which is why this type of fishing is also, referred to as Artisanal Fishing. Over the years, the catch caught with stilt fishing ceased to provide pennies to these fishermen. The traditional style was slowly abandoned. The Stilt Fishermen who now practice, do so only to showcase the traditional skill as a tourist attraction. Most of these fishermen ask you for money when you start clicking them. The price ranges from 500 LKR to 750 LKR. Some of them also, allow you to try out Stilt Fishing – where you catch a fish and release them back into the water.

Luckily for me, I found a pair of genuine fishermen who were least bothered about my camera. I merrily snapped them up. Though they looked amazing against the blue waters, I wish I had caught a few silhouettes during sunset. Guess, we cannot have them all – can we? 😉

Turtle Hatchery at Ahangama

The Tuk Tuk ride continued down the Southern coast. Most of the drive was close to the coast. The next stop we made was close to the Ahangama beach, at the Turtle Hatchery. The entire coastline of Sri Lanka has these non-profit turtle hatcheries. Even during my first visit to Sri Lanka, I visited a hatchery close to Bentota. I personally wasn’t very keen on visiting another one but felt that it was important for my Dottie to know the world of Turtles – especially since we had a snorkeled with a turtle the previous morning.

Snorkeling with the turtles in Mirissa - our first encounter with the turtle
Snorkeling with the turtles in Mirissa – our first encounter with the turtle

Now, this part of my beach hopping experience between Mirissa and Galle left me feeling very contradicted. On one hand, these hatcheries had sprung up with an intention of conservation of the turtles. At the same time, the way they were managing a few things made the whole thing touristy. Take, for example, the way they protected the eggs. The fishermen around the place would find them and bring them to the hatchery for a small price. The hatchery would then bury them in a sandpit and let them hatch in a safe environment naturally.

The Sand Pit for burying the eggs at the Turtle Hatchery at Ahangama
The Sand Pit for burying the eggs at the Turtle Hatchery at Ahangama

Once they hatched, the babies were kept in a small tank for a few days before they were released into the water. So far so good!  However, instead of letting them run into the water naturally, for a price per baby, a tourist was allowed to carry them till the water and then release them. Not sure if that bit helped the turtles or disturbed them.

There were a few turtles that were rescued from the sea. One with a fin that was cut off by a motorboat, another was a blind one and so forth. The good thing was that they were being rehabilitated in the water tanks there. Again a good deed but the questionable thing was the size of the turtle to the concrete tank.

Baby turtles at the Hatchery
Baby turtles at the Hatchery

I walked around the hatchery with mixed feelings. The guide there was knowledgeable and shared all the relevant stats and behavioral traits with us. He told us some astonishing things like how a female turtle that was born here would imprint with the Earth’s magnetic field and come back after 30 years or so to lay her eggs in the same place. He also, told us that without the eggs protection program, the chances of survival of the turtle babies were less than 5%. One thing was certain that the tour was very educational – in every sense. However, like every enlightening process, it also got us to question a few things.

Unawatuna

We continued our journey down the South Coast.  A few meters away, close to a town called Kogalla, our tuk-tuk guy pointed out to an interesting sight. On one sight. There was a beach next to the road (which we were on) that ran parallel to a railway line which in turn was parallel to an airstrip. The Tuk Tuk driver told us that the airfield was a defence airport while the railway line was the same one that had got us to Mirissa from Colombo. The uniqueness of this sight was that all four modes of transport were in one plane – something that you do not see every day:-)

To be honest, though Unawatuna was the next beach on our list, we decided to by-pass the same and return during the golden hour.  I think that this was one of the better decisions we made on this day trip to Galle. The Golden hour was perfect to enjoy the contrasting beach of soft sand and hard rocks.

Unawatuna before the Sunset
Unawatuna before the Sunset

Unawatuna is the beach that is famous for its big rope swing. A lot of Instagrammers love visiting this beach to get their picture clicked on the swing. We, in fact, avoided the same for it was the end of our trip. Instead, we sat down on the rocks to enjoy the activity around. Surfing was on in full swing. Zipping between these surfers were water bikes. Somewhere on the quieter sides, people swam around and jumped the waves. The beach had tons of shacks and beach beds occupied by the sunbathers. Unawatuna was a happening place and yet not as crowded or boisterous as the other commercial beaches of West Sri Lanka.

Besides the main beach that we were on, Unawatuna is also, famous for its Jungle beach and the Japanese beach pagoda. Jungle beach in Unawatuna is a secluded beach that has none of the humdrum of the main beach. The Japanese peace pagoda is a recent development. Built-in 2005, it symbolizes peace and serenity in a world of constant conflict. We could have rushed to see the same but the peace on the Unawatuna beach had already calmed us down.

Galle – the final stop

Galle was the endpoint of our road trip from Mirissa. One of the major cities of Sri Lanka, it instantly made us appreciate our choice of a quieter beach destination – i.e. Mirissa. I spent a fair bit of time exploring its iconic Galle Fort. Walking along its quaint roads, trying out some ice creams, discovering remnants of the Dutch architecture – well all that requires a brand new post. That will be up next. For now, let me leave you hanging with the intriguing history of the place.

Galle Lighthouse
Galle Lighthouse

Galle – quite like the ancient port of Mahabalipuram in India, was inscribed in the texts of Ptolemy. It was an important part of the sea trading routes. Somewhere in the 1700s, the Dutch came here and took over the city. They build a lot of properties in the current fort area but soon, moved to Colombo. At a certain point, they were driven out of Colombo and returned here. Later the British took colonized Sri Lanka and took over the fort. Post their retreat, a lot of properties came back to the prominent Sinhalese families and a few to the Dutch. They say that even now these Dutch families own some parts of the fort area. What makes the Galle trip fascinating is that not only the relics of the Dutch exist in concrete but also, in the names of the streets within the fort.

I know that by now you are curious to know more and all you have to do is click through this link on a day trip to Galle. Before you go away, do tell me how you found this day trip from Mirissa to Galle.  It sure showcased more than the sandy shores – speaking of which, tell me your favorite beach? And have you added it to your list of Mirissa attractions? Here is your pin to remind you to do so 🙂

Beach hopping from Mirissa to Galle

How to get to Mirissa?

  • Mirissa does not have an airport of its own. It is 150 km from Colombo airport.
  • Road and Rail are the two options to get here.
  • For Road, you can choose to hire a taxi from the airport itself. It will take you around 3 – 4 hours and will cost you around 13000 to 15000 LKR.
  • The other options for traveling by road is to get a bus from Colombo. There are plenty of regular buses that will cost you anything between 900 to 1500 LKR per person
  • I personally recommend the express trains to Mirissa. These cost you around 200 LKR for a ticket in 2nd class. You can check the railway schedule here.

Where to stay in Mirissa?

  • You can find a lot of options fo Mirissa hotels through this website. I stayed with Sira’s Chalets that I booked through here. The hotel was right next to the Mirissa beach.

Travel Tips for a day trip from Mirissa to Galle

  • You can opt for a bus, taxi or a tuk-tuk in order to go to Galle. However, note that the bus will not stop at any of the beaches. You will have to hop off and catch the next bus if you choose that option.
  • Tuk Tuk rides cost anything between 1500 – 2000 LKR for a half-day trip to Galle. This is the cost of a round trip. The driver will wait for 2 hours or so at Galle. He will also, be happy to stop at the key beaches that I have mentioned in my journey above.
  • There are bike rental and Tuk-Tuk rental companies that allow self-drive. Check with your resort for them. You can also, book a few of these bike trips online. Here is a link that can help you book a bike tour covering Weligama, Matara and Mirissa.
  • Carry plenty of sunscreen with you. A hat, sunglasses and lots of water are also, recommended.
  • There are enough places along the way to grab a snack or meal.
  • The road trip is a maximum of one hour. The additional time would be the one that you choose to spend on various beaches.

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24 Responses

  1. Mayuri Patel

    I love reading the post and I must say you had such an adventurous journey in tuk tuk. 🙂
    My favorite beach here is Weligama so dreamy its shore.

    • Ami

      Weligama was indeed quite a fun beach with a variety of things. Personally, loved Mirissa the most.

  2. Clarice

    Your post just made me miss the beach. The sand looks so fine and white. It would be such joy to walk barefoot on it.

    We would love to have the opportunity Sri Lanka someday. I will make sure to enjoy their beautiful beaches. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Ami

      The beaches are highly recommended in Sri Lanka, especially the North and South coast for they are not touristy. Hope you can get there soon.

  3. Ambica Gulati

    I would like to drive a tuk tuk–sounds so much fun. But this is really a cool place. I have been studying turtles lately and this hatchery sounds so good. And I must see the fishermen on stilts too. So many plans I have made.

  4. Lisa

    I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but it looks fabulous! I do love the look of Unawatuna Beach, I wouldn’t mind being there right now! I can imagine it’s popular with Instagrammers too lol. I understand what you mean about the conservation of turtles; it’s exploitative but I also understand they need to make a living. What can you do?

    • Ami

      I look at it this way – at least there is some good that is being done by preserving the eggs and letting them hatch in a safe environment. To their understanding, they do seem to be trying to make it work. Guess that is the only positive way to look at it.

  5. Mijia Eggers

    The Stitt fisherman is an interesting scene. How long does it take them to actually get a fish in that way? The islands are less influenced by the tourists. Nice places to have holidays.

  6. Arnav Mathur

    Sri Lanka is one destination that is way too high on my travel list. Would love to visit the turtle sanctuaries, and witness the eggs hatching, and then seeing their journey into the open water. The beaches look so picturesque, and am damn sure that it will be 10 times more beautiful underwater.

    • Ami

      Trust me they are. Did get an opportunity to explore underwater. Scuba post coming up while snorkeling already there for you to see 😀

  7. Martha

    Sir Lanka is so immensely beautiful. I love that the island hopping experience exposed you to some many diverse parts of the culture. I would be most excited to see and learn more about the fishermen on stilts and the sea turtle hatchery. All the islands looked so beautiful that I would gladly visit them all a second time!

  8. Parnashree Devi

    Sri Lanka sounds quite exciting after reading your posts. Beach hopping in a Tuk Tuk sounds exciting as well. I really liked Weligama beach. It seems offbeat. The stilt fishing scene is just amazing. Sri lanka is high on my list now.

    • Ami

      All the beaches in the southern coast of Sri Lanka are lovely. Each one is pristine. Am sure you will love them when you go

  9. Judy

    Sri Lanka has been on my list for long now and your post has certainly inspired me more to plan a trip there soon especially the southern cost and its islands. Mirissa looks mesmerizing.

  10. Yukti

    I have been to Sri Lanka but missed Galle due to lack of time. Now after reading your post, I now have to plan again. Whale watching at Mirisia beach must be fun. Weligama beach looks stunning.

  11. Shreya Saha

    I would love to visit Mirissa and Galle. Getting around by a tuk-tuk seems to be a great idea where you can get a driver who is also a guide. I really liked the Weligama beach among other places.

    • Ami

      My personal favorite is Mirissa itself followed by Weligama. And yes, the tuk-tuk guys do share information quite like a guide.

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