“Undoubtedly the finest island in the world.” Marco Polo
Compared to a lot of Sri Lanka’s coastal towns Weligama remains pretty much untouched from overdevelopment and commercialism. The little fishing village is a hive of daily activity, the distinct aroma of seafood hits you as you wander along the less touristy end of the beach. The catch of the day ends up displayed on the ramshackle roadside stalls, the unsold haul festering until the early evening.
Weligama, which translate as ‘Sandy Village’, attracts a plethora of surfers who come from first light to sunset to ride the waves. Littered with rental surf places, beach bars and small hotels the beach is nice and fairly quiet for such a popular surfing hangout.
The town itself is not much to write home about, a riot of colour, unruly tuk tuks, motorbikes, speeding buses and local shops sums up the chaos. Apart from an alcohol shop, pharmacy and large out of place modern supermarket there’s not much for tourists, walking along the unlit roads with no pavements is a challenge in itself.
We were based at the beautiful boutique hotel, W15 which served all our group needs perfectly and was also the location of the beach wedding that we were all attending. With modern well designed rooms, a charming onsite alfresco restaurant that offers a menu of international cuisine with Sri Lankan influences, a central infinity pool and free surf boards it’s an ideal spot to kick back and relax (read more about W15 here). While most of the accommodation along the beach is low-rise one unsightly concrete eyesore rises above the rest spoiling the coastline, the Marriott, that has been completed for a while remains as yet unopened.
Just a short tuk tuk ride away from Weligama is Mirissa, another quaint small fishing town with a stunning strip of beach with an abundance of shady coconut palms. By day it’s a magnet for surfers and sun worshipers, by night the many beach bars light up transforming into lively venues with tables and chairs extended right out to the shoreline. We dined at one of the more lively places, Zephyr which has a good menu and offers live music on Sunday nights.
Lapping waves, lanterns and fairy lights, fresh caught fish on the grill, cocktails and a couple of live sets from The Slipping Chairs made for a great Sri Lankan alfresco evening (except for the very persistent mosquitos, slow service and one of our Zephyr burgers missing from the order).
Mirissa is also the port of embarkation for the many whale watching boats, we avoided the overcrowded tourist boats that lean under the weight of too many passengers and instead chartered a private catamaran from Sail Lanka. An early morning departure was a shock to the system but totally worth it to see the world’s biggest mammal, the blue whale.
As we ventured out into the deep water we spotted our first whale surface as it expelled air through its blowhole and some time later the huge creature surfaced, an amazing and surreal experience and the first of many that morning. If you are lucky you might also see sperm whales and several varieties of dolphins but we only saw the magnificent blue whales and a lone turtle on our trip. Blue Whales live off the coast of Mirissa from December to April and then they migrate to Trincomalee on the East coast).
Post whale watching we anchored in the bay where lunch was delivered by speedboat, a paddleboard and kayak were available for those who wanted to get in the water. My top tip would be book a reputable company that follows the international whale watching regulations and take seasickness tablets with you as a precaution as some of our group felt quite nauseous. I would definitely recommend a whale watching trip and chartering your own boat with a group of friends, it’s affordable and great fun.
Weligama and Mirissa are both worth a visit if your trip to Sri Lanka includes the Southern Province, lots of great places to stay and dine, beautiful beaches and plenty of surf.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2017. All rights reserved. Photos of Zephyr used with courtesy of Zephyr’s Facebook page. Additional photos used courtesy of Mira Dryden and Shehan and Melinda Tennekoon.