One of the main reasons to visit south Sri Lanka is for the Mirissa whale watching. Every guest house and shop on the main road will be able to sell you a boat tour, but it pays to shop around as whale watching experiences vary in price. We found most wanted to charge 3000 -4000 LKR ($22-$30) each to go on a group tour as the going rate for the trip, we managed to negotiate with Poppies Guest House tour desk for 2,750 each.
Mirissa Whale Watching Boat Trip Costs
You should note that the
price doubled the day after our trip as the Sri Lankan government has imposed a new tax on the boats going whale and dolphin watching. It’s another one of those quite expensive tourist initiatives by the Sri Lankan government that we mentioned in our cultural triangle posts.
The Mirissa Whale Watching and Dolphin Tour - What to Expect
The whale watching season in Mirissa runs from November through to April, with the best chance of sightings from December to March. You will have a chance of spotting Blue Whales, Fin Whales and even Sperm whales in these waters along with a variety of dolphins.
Your day will begin at 6.30am so this trip is not for those that like a lie in. In our case this included a tuk tuk from Poppies guest house to the harbour (about 1km away). You will complete your registration form and then get pointed to your boat and asked to put on a day-glo life vest. All the boats (there were about 10 getting ready for sea that morning) seem in very good repair and they do take safety seriously which is something of a rarity in some parts of Asia.
You will eventually set off from the harbour at 7am once the boat is full – there are seats for 24 on the bottom deck and pads to sit on for a further 10 people on the upper deck. The journey out to the shipping lanes (which happens to be where the whales are likely to be seen) takes around an hour and a half and the crew spend this time preparing your breakfast which consisted of a couple of pieces of buttered bread and plate of fresh fruit with a small bottle of water. Not the most elegant of meals but it did the trick for those of us who weren't sea sick.
Even though we had a very calm sea the small boat does get rocky so when the crew offer you seasick pills as you set out from the harbour take them, some didn't and ended up looking a bit green and feeding the fish with the contents of their stomachs for most of the journey.
Once you reach the main sighting area the crew will get on top of the boat and use their skills to spot the whales. On our trip we always seemed to be a fair way from the whales as they surfaced and blew the fountains from their blow holes. By the time we had neared they had filled themselves with air and were on there way back down under the ocean.
We managed to spot around six whales in the hour, with one exciting close encounter and also one whale was kind enough to give us a tail flip for good measure, but was too quick for me to capture this on the camera. Although we had seen these great creatures we were a little disappointed that we weren't closer for their main show of blow hole fountains and tail flips, but we left feeling reasonably happy.
On the way to the main area we had also spotted some stingrays and a few flying fish as well. We had not seen any dolphins though which have to be my favourite sea mammal. You can get me a little bit giddy when spotting a whale but I will go completely gooey at the sight of dolphins bouncing around in the sea. So I settled into my seat and decided to try and get forty winks on the 90 minute journey back to the harbour.
Just as I was nodding off John shook me and said the magic word “dolphins”. I woke myself up grabbed my camera and looked out expecting to see a couple of the creatures in the distance. What I got instead was a real treat. The boats engines were cut and instead of a pair of these magnificent mammals there was a pod of about forty of them to the left of the boat (not sure whether that is port or starboard) heading in a line cavorting, jumping, darting and generally being very dolphin like right across our path. This treat lasted about five minutes as the last of the pod made their way past and we were treated to a real show that I could not have dreamed of. The day was now complete.
We got back to the harbour at about 11.30 after our slower progress back to shore. It took around two hours to cover the 9 nautical miles back to port where we made our way back to the hotel.
Mirissa Whale Watching, Boat Basics
The boats are safe and while filled to capacity there was always room to find a spot to try and grab your pictures of the whales and dolphins. Other people we spoke to who took the trip on different days had amazing whale watching experiences, so it really is the luck of the draw. Most whale watching trips, guarantee another trip if you don't see the whales for free, ask at the time of booking. The boats have a toilet on board which is perfect if you need a pee or feel embarrassed at heaving your sick off the side of the boat. For those with a smoking habit you can also puff on board at the back so you needn’t let nicotine withdrawal spoil your nature trip!!
A great day out, even if you now have to pay almost double the cost we did. So much more satisfying seeing these creatures in their natural habitat than in a sea life centre in one of the tourist hot spots around the world.