Mirissa is city located on the south coast of Sri Lanka and famous mostly for the large number of whales swimming not far from the coast of the city. Naturally because of this reason the tourists started coming to do whale watching tours in Mirissa. to these majestic animals in their natural habitat and not on TV or some aquariums. But is it really worth it to take a boat tour to see the whales or is it just a tourist trap?
A few years back my friend went to travel in Sri Lanka and one day she called me and said that she did a whale watching tour in Mirissa on the boat and it was an incredible experience. So as soon as I knew that we are going to explore this country we made space for this experience in our program. And full of expectations, hopes and excitement we went to Mirissa to see the whales.
The first evening we got to Mirissa we went looking for a boat tour. Why didn’t we book the tour online? Unfortunately to book online costs more than to buy it at the office. We were looking for something not too crowded, and we found a boat nor too big, nor small at the beach where two guys had a place set up. The ticket price was Rs 7000 ($37) per person, but we didn’t need to pay upfront except a small deposit Rs 500 ($2,5). They wrote our address down and ask us to be ready at 6 AM for a pick up. That suited us, we got guaranteed that if the whales won’t be there we will get another tour for free the next morning. We also were not afraid of no one showing up at our hotel since we didn’t pay yet. So with big expectations and fully satisfied we went to bed.
The next morning at 6 AM the tuktuk was waiting for us to take us to the marina. We paid at the boat, where the guy asked us not to tell the other tourists how much we paid and that it was some kind of a special price for us. I wonder if he says that to all the tourists. Our boat was nice, a bit smaller than the others, which I liked, but still quite crowded. On the first floor the crew served tea and coffee and before starting the engine we were offered a pill for those who has a sea sickness, which I thought was very nice of them.
And so we were on our way. The sea was a bit rough, but nothing that makes you uncomfortable. We were riding for around 40 minutes where all the boats were gathered, so that was a whale’s spot. We drifted for a while and the captain said we have to look further to see a whale and that it takes some time. But we didn’t mind, of course, it is wild nature and you cannot expect anything actually, the whales might be here today and might not and we just hopped to see something. So that is what I saw “something”.
We drifted for a while and then a tour guide screamed “there!” and everyone started looking around “where?”. He pointed somewhere far away and said there is a fountain. I didn’t see anything, oh my bad, didn’t pay attention I guess. The boat moved in that direction, but it was gone. After a while exactly the same situation repeated, something far away, some kind of a water splash that all the tour guides saw and ran from a tourist to a tourist pointing in the right detection while I saw nothing.
All the boats moved in the same direction trying to race each other and sometimes we saw a small plane flying around the whale spot. Two hours after I was wondering if I will see anything at all today. People started to get bored and at that time we were served a breakfast. It was a box with a pastry and a small sandwich and a bottle of water. After breakfast we got more energy and more hope I guess and so the boat again began to move from place to place and the tour guides where screaming “there!” and everyone else “where?”. To be frank I didn’t see anything. I tried so hard and could not see it. We change position and went from the second floor to the first and to the nose of the boat and saw nothing. And already when I gave up we saw a splash of water, all the boats raced each other to get to the spot, but that was it.
Except for one tiny speed boat with a few people that was at the right location everyone else saw just a splash of water and a fin. After that another hour or more we were looking at the water, but saw nothing. The tour guides were happy that we saw a splash since it meant that there were whales and they don’t need to give free trips tomorrow. And people were disappointed, tired and just wanted to get back home.
After a miserable morning I made a conclusion that the whale watching tour on the boat in Mirissa is just another tourist trap and the one way to do this activity right is to get a plane tour. However, if you still want to do a boat tour, my advice is to get a private small speed boat since they are faster and hope that you would be lucky.
If we had actually seen whales other than just a splash/fountain and a fin, I would say it is a good thing to do. But sadly, while you have a 95% chance of “seeing whales” you have less than 5% chance of seeing them breach, which is what we really wanted to see.
Duration: 4 hours
Is it worth it? No.