Tissamaharama (Tissa) and Yala National Park – Sri Lanka

Tissamaharama (Tissa)

Most people who visit Sri Lanka will visit Yala National Park, but not many will spend time in the nearby town of Tissamaharama (or Tissa for short), which is a shame because it's a really nice place to spend a night or two. So rather than rushing through and only seeing the bus station, why don't you spend a night or two to take in the sights and recover from that 4:30am Safari trip. 

The town itself is small, there aren't many places for dinner so we ate at the hotel, more on that below. There are however plenty of small bakery's along the Main Street, our favourite was Hambantota, we stocked up on Gull buns for our safari trip and then the 3 hour bus to Ella the next day. 

Tissa has its fair share of Buddhist temples just like any other town in Sri Lanka, the best one is Yatala Wehera, if you keep walking a few minutes along Tissamaharama road you will come to Galkanumandiya, I don't really know how to describe this place other than "ruins", it's absolutely incredible and kind of similar to Stonehenge in the UK. 

The countryside surrounding Tissa is mostly rice farms and wilderness. We were woken up on our second morning by approximately 30 monkeys crossing over our hotel roof, it was such good fun, the best type of wake up alarm ever. 

Yala National Park

Tissa is the perfect base for anybody visiting the Yala National Park, it's only a 30 minute drive (the closest town to Yala) and there are dozens of different tour companies based in Tissa. Your hotel will help you arrange your tour, we paid $44/pp for a 5 hour private tour, there is also the option to share your vehicle with another couple and the price drops to $31/pp. 

We were lucky enough to see a small family of elephants in the park, as well as lots and lots of other creatures, including crocodiles, wild pigs, buffalo etc. 

Where To Stay:

The Nature Resort was absolutely perfect, the rooms were clean and the hotel manager was very helpful. The food was fantastic but the restaurant is very small so you will need to place your order at least a few hours in advance to give the chef time to go and buy all the ingredients etc. The traditional Sri Lankan dinner was beautiful (and cheap). 

Getting There:

It's really easy to get there from  Matara by bus, there are frequent direct buses every day. If you have a driver, ask them to stop at the blow hole at Tangalle, it costs Rs250/pp to enter, and it's. it in a very nice area so a passing visit is more than enough.


Mirissa/Weligama – Sri Lankaย 

I'm including Mirissa and Weligama in one post because they are within walking distance to one another. We stayed in the middle and spent 2 days in each town. 

Mirissa:

The beach here is a small crescent that is absolutely picture perfect, there's a small island on one end that you can walk to (you will get wet) which has a seat on the top, a perfect place to watch the sunset, and the other end of the beach is capped with a green cliff face which would look great on any post card. 

There are a few cafes built right onto the sand (like Unawatuna but not as overly developed), and the whole place has a laid back vibe. 

The harbour in Mirissa is colourful and busy, certainly worth a quick detour. 

Mirissa is famous for its whale watching tours, but we visited during low season and were told that there would be no tours during July and August because the sea was too rough. 

Weligama:

A surfers paradise, the beach here goes on forever. We walked about 25 minutes before seeing another human being, there was nothing on the beach other than the odd fishing boat and a few surfboard rental huts. 

Once you leave the Beach and cross the road, Weligama is a bit more developed that Mrissa, with more selection of restaurants and a supermarket. 

There is a small but impressive statue in Weligama, it's alleged to be over 1,500 years old. It's called the Kushtarajagala statue and is just after the railways tracks on Matara road. 

Overall Weligama was our favourite out of the two, the beach was less crowded and we had our best curry in Sri Lanka at Akila Kitchen, it's number 1 position on TripAdvisor is truly deserved. 

Where To Stay: 

We stayed at the Latheena Resort, Weligama was about a 20 minute walk west and Mirissa was about 30 minutes east. The hotel backed onto the beach. 

Breakfast was good and was included in the price. The family who ran the hotel were great and their kids were adorable. We got laundry done for Rs50/item, smaller items were free. 

I would certainly stay here again. 

How To Get There: 

If coming from Galle or Unawatuna, take any bus headed for Matara, and if coming from Matara, take the bus to Galle. A tuk-tuk will cost around Rs1,200. The train services are infrequent. 

Unawatuna – Sri Lanka

Located on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, close to Galle, Unawatuna was once voted the best beach in the world. Naturally we had to go and see what all the fuss is about.

It's quite a built up area and very "touristy", though still beautiful.

Things to do in Unawatuna:

The Beaches:

The main beach in Unawatuna is a crescent of golden sand, with cafes and bars built right onto the sand. Most rent sun beds for free as long as you buy something. We went during low season and it was peaceful with just a few other tourists, but it gets really busy during high season.

To escape the masses for a while, take a short hike (about 45 minutes) to the hidden jungle beach, also named the secret beach although not much of a secret anymore. If you don't fancy the walk then you can take a tuk-tuk the majority of the way there. Even though you can no longer guarantee the beach to yourself, it's still incredibly peaceful and the sea is a lot calmer.

Dalawella beach has the Instagram famous rope swing, and not much else, it's about 20 minutes walk from Unawatuna and another perfect getaway from the crowd. If your lucky you might even see a few of Sri Lanka's famous stilt fishermen. Sadly the sea was to rough for them on the day that we visited.

Buddhist Temples:

The Japanese peace pagoda is the perfect detour on the jungle beach walk, they do ask that you have shoulders and knees covered at this one, and like all the others, you will need to remove shoes. It's free to visit but there are donation boxes scattered around.

The Unawatuna Devol Devalaya is right at the tip of Unawatuna beach. You don't need to be too covered up but swimming costumes are a no no. You will likely be shown around by a local who is happy to take photos for you and will expect a small tip for his time.

Visit Galle:

Less than a 20 minute drive away, Galle is the perfect day trip, either take a tuk-tuk or one of the many busses heading that way from the main road. See my post on Galle by clicking here.

Night Life and Dining:

Being a more developed tourist destination means more choices when eating out, our favourites were:

Bedspace Kitchen, number 1 on TripAdvisor for good reason!

Coconut Style, for traditional rice and curry at really low prices.

Marcos, hidden down a narrow side street and authentic Italian food (the owner is from Italy)

There is also quite a good nightlife (more so in high season) in the many bars along the beachfront. Alcohol is quite expensive in Sri Lanka, about the same as you would pay in the UK.

Look After Yourself:

The gym was only Rs300/day, and we both got massages from the many different spas on the main street, we also spent a lot of our time on the balcony with a book.

Yoga was advised in a few different places every morning from 7am, but I never got out of bed on time ๐Ÿ™‚

Where To Stay:

Sadly for the second time in Sri Lanka (and luckily the last) the hotel was not worth recommending.

How To Get There:

Unawatuna has its own train station but service isn't very regular, you may need to go to Galle first then take a bus (headed toward Matara) or tuk-tuk to Unawatuna. From Galle is less than 20 minutes.

Galle Fort – Sri Lanka

Galle is located on the south coast of Sri Lanka and is about 2 hours from Colombo (see 'Getting There'). Perfectly located for trade routes to Europe, Galle was previously occupied by the Portuguese before the Dutch and the English had a go, the old town is built within European style walls complete with a lighthouse and only one gate in and out. The new town has since expanded outside the walls but most people come to visit the old town and the walls themselves. 

Inside the walls the streets are incredibly clean and cater fully to tourists, there are plenty if boutique hotels, quirky cafes and handmade gift shops.

About a 30 minute walk from the fort is the Sea Turtle Hatchery, it costs Rs500/pp and you only need about 30 minutes there. As well as hatching babies they also take in injured turtles and the staff do a really good job explaining all the different species etc.

There are other hatcheries in Sri Lanka who let tourists release babies into these a but you can't do that here. A baby released during the day on its own has an almost 100% death rate, it's an unethical practice and the staff in Galle Hatchery really seem to care about the welfare of the animals. 

We chose to stay overnight but if you're short on time, Galle can certainly be done as a day trip from Unawatuna. There were lots of direct busses from the Main Street in Unawatuna, travel time is approx 30 minutes. 

Where to Say: 

The hotels inside the fort were quite expensive, we stayed about 25 minutes walk away at the hotel Hasara. It was a great budget option, basic but had A/C and a free breakfast. Worth noting that it was up a very dark path with no street lights, either take a torch with you (we just used my phone) or take a tuk-tuk for Rs200. 

Getting There:

From Colombo there are a few trains per day, we visited the tourist information stall in Colombo the day before who told us that we couldn't pre-book tickets for this train and that tickets were Rs80/pp and the journey was about 2.5 hours. When you get to Galle station you can take a tuk-tuk for around Rs100. 

We had abit of a disaster in Colombo and Sean got serious food poisoning, we didn't know what the bathroom situation would be onboard and it didn't seem fair to have him sitting vomiting into a bag the whole trip. We asked the receptionist to book us a private driver which cost Rs9,000, which is completely over the average, but we were desperate and in no position to negotiate. The drive took 2 hours.