A Guide to Whale Watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

After what seemed like a week in Galle, we had seriously itchy feet and were both ready to move onto somewhere else. The question was where, and after hours deciphering our hitherto trusty Lonely Planet guides confused and confusing reviews on the southern beach towns we settled on Mirissa.

Our reasons were twofold. First fold – it’s one of the best places to spot a whale. Second fold, and I quote; ‘Mirissa is a place for sitting and being, not doing’. Sold.

It was super easy to get to Mirissa from Galle, again just hopping on a bus, paying the equivalent of about 20 pence and settling in for a standup ride of hairy overtaking on a steep bend, and 90 mph averages. Fun.

We had already booked a place to stay for the night, Calidan Homestay, really near to where the bus dropped us off. The owners welcomed us by grabbing our bags, and I was personally escorted to my room by this charming little porter. Also know as Thierry Henry (look at his cute little t-shirt!)

This cute Sri Lankan kid Stole my heart. Mirissa.

This cute Sri Lankan kid Stole my heart. Mirissa.

One too many

We plumped on Raja and the Whales, because of the amazing Trip Advisor reviews as well as the fact they have a great ethos regarding the whales. There are obviously a few rogue traders out there who hassle the whales to get a money shot, despite Sri Lankan laws to protect them, but Raja and his motley crew have a very strict policy on how they approach the whales — never getting too close. It also seemed amazing value compared to the other recommended tour operators (£23/$30 each compared to £75/$100!)

We emailed and booked for 6 am the next day. So, what to do that evening……

We thought it would be rude not to explore Mirissa and her famous beach and relaxed ‘après swim’ so headed straight down (about three mins walk, joy!)

We grabbed some lunch from the nearest place we could find, and had a little sunbathe……we then decided it would be a great idea to enjoy happy hour. An early start, I hear you say – pah, we laugh in the face of no sleep! Several Arrack and sodas later plus ‘one last beer’ that we didn’t need, we were dancing home feeling pretty happy about life. Then the alarm went off.

To be honest, I didn’t feel nearly as rough as Oli (and I told him so) so when you hear what happens later feel free to laugh at me. I deserve it.

fishing boat in blue sea

Spot the whale

We boarded our boat, which was quite a big fishing boat with a top deck for the brave folks.

There were life jackets for everyone, putting my mind at rest – you know what happened to the Titanic – and we were all immediately offered a ginger cookie to settle our stomachs, and tea/coffee.

At this stage I should remind you of my deathly fear of ALL boats, in particular, of fishing boats. I’ve never been sea sick, just anxious we will sway side to side until the boat meets the foam and we capsize. Odd for someone who grew up by the sea, sure, but I can give a thousand reasons why being on a boat is the absolute devil.

Captain Raja gave us a talk on safety, and in particular on how he will approach the whale, see below.

diagram of how to approach a blue whale

Cr: Raja & The Whales

Choppy times

Once we headed off, sea sick puppies were dropping like flies around us and two women took to a bed (kindly provided by the crew) for the WHOLE trip. Bad times for them, and those around them (watching/hearing multiple vommers is horrendous).

blue whale in sea at sunrise in sri lanka

One hell of a choppy Sri Lankan sea….with a blue whale somewhere in there.

We saw our first whale after about an hour. It was quite far away….but as Raja slows the boat right down, you can really hear, and see it blowing water out of its blowhole before diving down and showing us its tail. Amazing.

I was hoping for the whale noise, you know the one…..see Finding Nemo if not. It was epic regardless. Then we saw a couple more…..then one SO close. So, so, so close thought he must have almost been touching us.

The blue whale is the biggest mammal in the world, so to have one swimming so close to you it would take about a minute to reach it was pretty epic.

It was above the water for about 15 seconds before diving – long enough for Oli to get a sneaky pic. Really tricky when the ocean is so choppy. Which neatly brings me onto the next bit, which I wouldn’t read if you’re squeamish.

After we saw another whale, and I walked round to the front to try to get a good view and take a picture – something overcame me……and I tried to get to the toilet in time.

But suddenly someone had sat me down, held a pink plastic bag in my face – and was simultaneously rubbing my hand (I had pins and needles because I was hyperventilating) and putting pressure on my wrist which stops sickness.

I threw up, a lot. So the bag had to be changed, it was done smoothly you’ll be glad to hear. Someone then appeared, mopping my face with a cold flannel and another hand thrusts a water in my hand and tells me to gargle and not to swallow.

The only possible thing I could now need, is smelling salts. I guess should have swooned for that. I felt loads better by now, and almost hugged Raja’s amazing crew for being such legends.

If you ever go to Mirissa and want to whale watch, do it with them.

Next stop – Tissamaharama to visit Bundala National park. Leopards and elephants and crocs, oh my!

L x

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