Sri Lanka is more than beaches and temples. Picturesque coastal towns of Bentota and Mirissa are a treat for nature lovers. A highly-recommended experience in Bentota is the Madu river boat safari, which starts from Balapitiya. Jellyfish and prawn farms prance along the way and one can spot several varieties of birds such as cormorans and kingfishers.
The ride pauses at Cinnamon Island, where natives demonstrate the process used to making cinnamon sticks. The spice helps in reducing cholesterol, blood sugar and arthritis, and is used to make products such as aromatic oil, powder for tea and coffee, candles, soaps, hand wash liquid, drinks, jams and mosquito repellents. The cruise ends with a fish pedicure, where orange Mozambique fish gently nibble your feet as you dip them in water.
Another notable experience is a visit to a turtle hatchery at Kosgoda. Sri Lanka is home to five different varieties of turtles—Olive Ridley, Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Leatherback. Functioning primarily as hospitals for the sea creatures, these conservation and research centres receive turtles that have been accidently caught by fishermen.
The breezy half-hour drive from Bentota to Mirissa has ideal spots for a break. About 45 minutes into the journey, one hits Hikkaduwa which houses a community tsunami education centre and museum instituted after the 2004 disaster. About 20 kms beyond, make sure you stop at Galle. The historic city has paved streets, Dutch-style buildings and a famous cricket stadium.
At Mirissa, whale watching simply cannot be missed. The coastal town is known for observing blue whales. One per cent of the world’s blue whales exist in these waters, and can be seen throughout the year. The ocean is also home to sperm whales, fin whales, orcas and several types of dolphins. More than 70 cruise liner companies operate huge motorboats in Mirissa for visitors to witness these beauties. About 8 kilometres away, lies Weligama—a paradise for surfing enthusiasts. In fact, many adventure junkies come and stay in these parts for months together to indulge in surfing, yoga, jet skiing, banana boats and other recreational pursuits.
The cuisine here is an added delight for all seafood lovers, who can rejoice in spending a quiet evening by the beach munching on local grilled fish with chips and tartar sauce. However, if you have a more experimental palette, then head to one of the local food trucks to sample some fresh Sri Lankan delicacies, such as the lamprais (lump rice), kottu roti (chopped bread) and hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk).