We had enjoyed the cool air and mountain views of Ella, but it was now time to get back to sea level and hopefully a bit of sun. Ella is in the centre of Sri Lanka high in the mountains and the journey down to the coast was going to take around five to six hours by coach getting to Mirissa. There are minivans in town which offer to get you to the coast in less time, but will charge around 7-8000 LKR for the trip so unless you are in a big group this is not a cost effective option. For us we chose the local bus, again.
Getting to Mirissa from Ella
There are a few direct buses that pass through Ella that will get you down to Matara which is only a short additional bus journey to the south cost towns of Mirissa or Weligama. The journey cost 240 rupees and you need to look out for the number 31 bus direct from Ella to Matara which will take around five hours then hop on another bus from Matara station (any heading towards Galle, Colombo will do) for the final twenty minute journey to Mirissa.
The Mirissa bus will drop you off on the main road through town where you can start your search for accommodation.
There is no shortage of accommodation in Mirissa, it seems everyone with a bit of land in their garden has built some guest rooms and/or turned half their house into rooms for visitors.
Budget priced rooms are available here but you will have to negotiate and get here earlyto bag yourslef one. We tried many that were full and ended up trekking around with backpacks for around 40 minutes in the heat. The rooms at 1500 LKR are tricky but not impossible to find, but if you want to stay on beach think closer to 3500 – 4500 minimum. The price range of 2000-2500 seems to be the norm for a one or two night stay and all that we tried only had cold showers, but with the heat here you will not mind the lack of hot water.
In the end we ended up moving around as our preferred guest houses were not available for multiple nights. The cheaper guest houses are either up the road directly opposite the beach where the bus drops you (Udupila Road) or on the road further north of town that loops around to Mirissa harbour (Sunanda Road) .
The first was at the Tithira Guest home (Tel: 0718291970) which was delightful (both the room and hosts oozed charm and history) and we got a room in the main house for 1500 LKR (US $12), we would have happily stayed longer but the room was booked and they could only offer us the 3000 a night new bungalow which was above our budget.
The second move was to a place in the end we didn’t like, same amenities but 300LKR extra and it lacked any charm. For our final night we moved to the Amara Guest (0773 446775) which had large rooms with a small terrace and lovely charming owners for our budget of 1500 a night, a rate that would have been cheaper if we were staying longer.
There are a few restaurants dotted up and down the main street and the more local ones will be able to fill your stomach for a few hundred ruppees with curry and rice, omelettes, roti and a huge pot of tea. If you are feeling like a treat the beach front is lined with restaurants selling seafood and traditional Sri Lankan and Chinese meals. Here you can treble your budget at around 600 for a basic meal up to 2000 for crab, fish or lobster. Most do happy hours with the cocktails between 5pm and 8/9pm where you can get a local spirit mix for 300LKR and a beer will set you back 230.
There is no wine shop in Mirissa you will need to hop on a bus for 10 minutes and head in to Weligama to buy your own. This trip will also be necessary if you run out of cash as Mirissa has no ATM’s.
We found a nice alternative on the beach in the form of the government beer shack which is positioned just in front of the Sri Lankan coastguard barracks, which also happens to be next to the turtle sanctuary. So you can gaze at turtles in the nursery tanks, watch the sandy nest piles for movement in case some cute little hatchlings are making a dash for the sea while you sip a Lion beer for the bargain price of 180 LKR. We liked it here and did just that, we got friendly with the coast guard barman who told us tales of his life at sea, let us borrow some military grade binoculars to look out to the horizon, and made sure we got to see some turtles hatch.
After our early rise to watch the whales and dolphins we decided to have a lazy beach day on our second day in Mirissa. The beach here is not large at about 1km in total length. It has beautiful white fine sand grains and is exceptionally clean. You will not find a sunbed and parasol for hire here unless you pay one of the more upmarket beach front hotels for the privilege but there are plenty of shrubs and trees on the beach edge to give you natural shade if you are happy to set your beach mat and towel down to do a spot of sun worship.
The sea is warm and the waves not too strong for the whole time we were here. There is also a nice gentle slope from the sand into the water so you won’t find yourself stepping off a sandbank and ending up in deep water. The beach has a lifeguard supplied by the Sri Lankan coastguard who have a barracks and training facility right on the beach so the place is safe for kids.
There are a few surfers around town but I think they head off to beaches further up the coast for the bigger surf and exciting waves, although you can get lessons here on the gentler breakers. Thankfully you will not find any jet skis, paragliders or speedboats to ruin your beach peace.
Mirissa has a lovely blend of nature in the form of whale and dolphin watching, the cosy atmosphere of the small village life and the romantic feel of an Asian paradise if you want to spend some cash on one of the half a dozen luxury beach front hotels on offer here. It is also a good place for the backpacking or flashpacking traveller with a good range of food and accommodation available for the long term traveller. So far it manages well to meet the needs of all of these different groups, lets hope it stays that way.