Head to picture-perfect Mirissa for days spotting blue whales in the Indian Ocean and evenings filled with freshly landed seafood dinners on golden sands. This southern Sri Lankan beach town has an idyllic stretch of aqua-blue shoreline, beautifully framed by palm trees and wooden restaurants. It's also got a lively energy at night when the bars on the coast turn into clubs. Out on the water, you might even spot turtles from Mirissa's small surf break.
Look out for Mirissa hostels with rooftop terraces and plenty of indoor chill-out areas. To add a little luxury to your stay, there's even a place with a spa. You'll find a brightly painted house, an outer space themed spot with curtain-lined bunks and an option just a few minutes' walk from the beach. Some also have female-only dorms. Get to know the local culture by choosing a Mirissa hostel in a homestay-style space run by friendly Sri Lankan owners.
Mirissa's pretty compact; it's made up of the beach, a handful of streets and a harbour where locals fish and travellers take boat rides out to see whales and dolphins. Go on a short jaunt through the jungle at the eastern end of the beach to discover a tiny sheltered cove where you can swim and sunbathe. Weligama, which has a longer sandy stretch that's a favourite with surfers, is around a 20-minute drive away. The city of Galle makes a popular day trip: head there to check out its temples and UNESCO-registered 17th-century fort.
On Mirissa Beach, turn right to take on the surfing reef. You can also seek out turtles swimming in the sea while snorkelling. If you'd rather rest with a page-turner, the glittering, palm-fringed sands will invite you to do just that. Whale-watching season is between November and March, but you can still sometimes spot them breaching in the ocean outside these months.
Mirissa is about a 3-hour drive from Bandaranaike International Airport near Colombo. Jump in a taxi or a private shuttle transfer or opt for the airport express bus into Colombo's Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal, then change there for Matara. From Matara, grab a 35-minute rickshaw ride to Mirissa. You can catch rickshaws around the local area, as well as to Galle and the surf beach at Weligama. If you'd rather ride with the locals, hop on a bus or train.