Last blog, we travelled from Hikkaduwa to Mirissa, along the south coast of Sri Lanka. With lots of beach time and swimming! Now, we head to see some of Sri Lanka’s incredible wildlife and lots, lots more.
Stop 5 – Tangalle & Stop 6 – Rekawa
Spend – We spent one night in Tangalle, you could spend more but it depends what you want to do. There are some nice, relatively quiet beaches where you could spend a few days but we were mainly in Tangalle as the hotels in Rekawa were so pricey. If you’re in the area to visit the Rekawa Turtle Conservation Project, we recommend getting to Tangalle in the morning, booking a tuk tuk to take you to see the turtles later that evening, and then enjoying the local beaches for just one afternoon.
Getting there – We were going to get the bus there to save money when we were quoted 4,000 SLR by tuk tuk drivers from Mirissa (£20!). The bus in comparison would have cost us about £1 each but would have required us to change buses once and then get a tuk tuk from Tangalle bus station for another £2-3. The owner of the Ever Green Guesthouse was so keen to take us to Tangalle that he dropped his price from 5,000 SLR in his car to 2,500 SLR (£12.50). This included stops at Sri Lanka’s Southern-most lighthouse and a nearby temple and took a couple of hours. So we accepted his offer and off we went!
Stay – We stayed at The Nest Residence, a quiet Sri Lankan home-stay in Tangalle with a very kind family. It was on offer as we booked it late so only cost about £6 for the room (no air con, but there was a ceiling fan). They made us a huge dinner of curries and rice, followed by kurd and honey, for about 1,400 SLR (£7) for the both of us. We said we didn’t want breakfast and would just get a roti on the way to Tissa so we could save money the next day. However, they ended up making us breakfast for free anyway as they were concerned we wouldn’t be able to buy anything to eat as it was a public holiday!
The owner’s brother arranged to drive us that night to Rekawa to see the turtles for 1,500 SLR (£7.50). That included the return trip (about 20 minutes from Tangalle to Rekawa) and him waiting for us during the visit. He also gave us a lift to the bus station the next morning and helped us get on the right bus to Tissa for just 200 SLR (£1).
The home-stay can be a little hard to find, so you definitely need a tuk tuk or taxi driver to take you from town. If you can book far enough in advance we’d recommend speaking to the owner and getting his brother to pick you up from the bus station if that’s how you’re arriving.
Eat – At the home-stay. Their food is delicious and otherwise, you’re quite far from the local restaurants.
Do – Visit the Rekawa Turtle Conservation Project for 1,000 SLR each (£5). Every night, they take a controlled group of tourists down to the beach where (if you’re very lucky) you’ll see one or two sea turtles laying their eggs! As mentioned in the previous blog, there are some Turtle Hatcheries in Sri Lanka with dubious reputations. They often pay fishermen money to bring them turtle eggs they’ve dug up from the beach and let tourists play with the babies. We really wanted to see turtles but in a way which helps the animals.
You’re not guaranteed to see a turtle in Rekawa, but you know that the team there never pay fishermen for the eggs, ensure the eggs stay in the nests and protect the turtles from any over-enthusiastic tourists. They were very strict and it was good to see they really care about the conservation project. They don’t allow the group down to the beach until they’ve got confirmation that a turtle is there and they’re settled and at a stage where they won’t be too disturbed by tourists arriving. They ban all flash photography and torches and no one is allowed within the turtle’s eyeline, so they aren’t upset by anything unusual. This didn’t make for optimum photography conditions, but we didn’t mind! Here’s a blurry pic under a singular staff member’s red light, which doesn’t bother the turtle as much.
It was magical seeing such a huge turtle laying her eggs, carefully covering them and then crawling back into the sea. For us, this was the best way to see turtles in the wild in Sri Lanka.
Stop 7 – Tissa, Stop 8 – Yala National Park & Stop 9 – Kataragama
Spend – We stayed two nights in Tissa which was perfect. Arriving about lunchtime on the first day, we were able to organise our safari for the next day and explore the town in the afternoon/evening. You could do everything in one day if you wanted.
Getting there – We got the direct bus from Tangalle to Tissa. It cost about 200 SLR each (£1) and took roughly 2 hours. It was lots of fun and everyone was lovely, with the conductor making sure we knew when to get off and other passengers helping us to get seats. We then hopped in a tuk tuk for about 100 SLR from Tissa bus station to our Guesthouse.
Stay – This is a top recommendation for our whole stay in Sri Lanka so far – you HAVE to stay with Jaya and his family in the Elephant Camp Guesthouse if you’re visiting Tissa. He is the most lovely, fascinating man and cannot do enough to make your stay memorable.
On our first day, we organised our visit to Yala National Park with Jaya and then he took us out in his own car to see the local fruit bats in the trees just outside Tissa. He gave us lots of recommendations of where to eat and what else to do, and then the following morning he dropped us near the local temples to explore before our safari.
When we came back in the evening, having ordered simple rice and curry for dinner, his wife had cooked us a Sri Lankan feast and then Jaya proceeded to serve us not one but two desserts followed by the local spirit Arrack!
The following morning, even though we said we wouldn’t order breakfast so we could save some money, he gave us tea, bananas and crackers to set us up for the day. He then drove us to Ella, stopping at so many sights on the way that it must have taken him about six hours and he only charged us 6,000 SLR (£30) for the whole day.
We’ve never stayed in such a welcoming, lovely place in the whole six months since we started travelling. If you are planning on visiting Yala National Park, please, please use Elephant Camp Guesthouse and tell Jaya that Abby and Patrick sent you!
Eat – At the Elephant Camp Guesthouse, for the most incredible Sri Lankan food!
Do – As we said, Tissa has some beautiful temples, archaeological sights, and huge swarms of fruit bats to see. Plus some very playful local monkeys. So if you do have time to spend two nights there, we’d recommend it. However, Yala National Park is the big draw.
Our half day safari was booked through Jaya and cost about £62 for the two of us. That included everything, the jeep picking us up and dropping us off at our accommodation (as well as of course taking us round the park), a great English speaking driver and guide who honestly has the best eye sight on the planet as he spotted so much wildlife for us, plus entry to Yala which is pretty pricey in itself. £62 was a complete bargain for a private safari. The group ones were a similar price and we saw those jeeps stop by the animals for a matter of seconds and then leave. Our driver waited at every animal until we were ready to go.
We weren’t lucky enough to see the elusive Yala leopards but we didn’t mind, we saw so many elephants, so close up, as well as crocodiles, a mongoose, lots of monkeys, spotted deer, lizards of all kinds, plenty of fascinating birds and buffalo. It was an incredible afternoon.
There’s also an elephant that gets right up to the road on the way into the park because he knows he can get fruit from tourists. This is, however, punishable by a fine and not a good idea for the elephant – so if you do see him, try to stick with just staring at him in awe!
We really wanted to visit Kataragama, a Buddhist pilgrimage town between Tissa and Yala, so Jaya organised for us to stop here on the way back to the guesthouse. Kataragama is fascinating, especially if you can do as we did and stop during a holy festival to see all the hustle and bustle of people visiting the temples and performing various ceremonies. If you can organise to stop there while in Tissa, it’s well worth it.
See all of our photos from Tangalle to Kataragama below: