Mirissa is making a comeback!
On 11 May, the Department of Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management demolished unauthorised structures on Mirissa Beach.
Owners and staff of 23 establishments watched helplessly as their livelihood, albeit acquired without permission to begin with, was flattened to the ground.
The Mirissa beachfront remained reminiscent of the destruction for the months to come; what was once party central for the southern coast is forced to rebuild, many from the ground up.
Mirissa beach has been and will always be superior to the rest.
Why is Mirissa beach so special?
Its residents will give you varying answers; the beach is unblemished, its inhabitants keep it clean, its perfect for hard-core surfers and many others you’ve heard a million times. But one thing that you probably wouldn’t know is that, according to the locals, Mirissa beach has superior sand; “the sand on this beach, it doesn’t stick to you”.
If you test it out, you’ll notice for yourself, the sand truly isn’t impossible to get off, as most beach sand is, and one is thankful for it after spending a couple of hours gadding around.
However, the lesser known sand factor is not all what’s up about Mirissa beach; it truly is as immaculate as the locals insist and it’s largely thanks to the varying beachfront properties, who keep it spotless, primarily on personal interest, but regardless, it gets the job done.
It would seem that Mirirssa is simply gorgeous all year round. While holiday season (November – April) will certainly attract more visitors, even during the usually ‘off-season’ period (May – October), there’s still a hefty crowd pouring in.
Young British couple, Alex and Martin Solly said, “We heard that September would be a good time to visit as it is considered ‘off-season’ but it looks like it’s still a hot spot.”
They also added that they did a lot of Instagram research before setting off to Sri Lanka, and Mirissa was the most picturesque of them all, and they noted down all places that people have raved about online and decided to visit them.
It is true that Mirissa beach is beautiful, but when you’ve had enough of strolling down its shores, there’s still quite a bit of exploring left to do.
The 200 step climb to Kanda Vihare: a demanding task at best on a good day, making the climb during the off season rains is simply on an entirely other level of difficulty. Yet, it is one of the most rewarding experiences, when one finally completes the 200-or-so steep climb and reaches the temple at the top. You then find out that there’s an alternate route that is far simpler, but where’s the fun in that?
Coconut Hill: if you’ve been on Instagram at any given moment in your lifetime, you’re most likely to have come across this famous land mark from Mirissa South. It is a gorgeous hill top complete with a cluster of coconut trees situated in the most aesthetically pleasing manner. Perfect for an Instagram photo op, and even more perfect, to gaze into the vast blue sea from a fantastic vantage point.
Giragala: constantly making it to ‘must do in Mirissa’ lists, the Giragala is a massive rock situated a ways into the ocean, with a pathway leading to it from the beach. When the tide is not high, during the dawn of the day, one could walk up to the rock on the land strip and climb up to it and be surrounded by the ocean.
Secret Beach: the name was penned by a local, Suranga, who is also the owner of the Secret Beach Bar. He said, “Locals don’t often come down here, it is quite secluded and the pathway that leads to this, which is a lot easier now was actually arranged by foreigners for themselves.” Secret Beach is a cosy little strip of beach, kept pretty spotless by the Secret Beach Bar owners and crew, and it is a fantastic little spot, hidden away from the usual hustle and bustle which frequently accompanies the Mirissa beach.
Snake Farm: carried out by an Ayurvedic doctor, the grandson of D.G. Jemis Appuhamy, the Snake Farm is a misleading title as it isn’t so much a farm, rather a conservatory. The owners conduct a communal service to the local farmers, and villagers; educating them on how to handle the particularly poisonous snakes and providing Ayurveda medical care to those who are bitten. The snakes in their care are fed and tended to with so much affection, and it is a completely free service. For any and all visitors, the management allows a fantastic observation of each snake and their behaviour in a completely safe environment.
Whale watching, dolphin watching, deep sea diving and snorkelling: if one finds themselves in Mirissa, whale and dolphin watching is pretty much the thing to do, costing around Rs. 6,000 – Rs. 7,000 at any travel agency; it’s an exhilarating experience to be had at least once in your life. Snorkelling (Rs. 2,500) and Deep Sea Diving (Rs. 7,500) which is done accompanied by an experienced diver is also an activity abundantly available in Mirissa for those who are feeling a little adventurous.
Accommodation in Mirissa is never scarce; if you’ve booked early. There’s an abundance of Air BnBs, hostels, luxury hotels and regular hotels to choose from. However, come tourism season, there won’t be a patch of concrete available for you to lie down on.
If you’re looking for a convenient spot, within close proximity to the beach, and Mirissa’s famous party scene, then Sira’s Chalets is your ideal place to be. Situated right on Mirissa Beach, it is a quaint little BnB offering air-conditioned chalets with a sea view terrace and free Wi-Fi. Featuring a restaurant and a garden with sunbeds and hammocks, it is located in Mirissa South, 82 km from the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport. Complete with an attentive service staff, friendly and well versed in the Mirissa tourism scene, you will be right where the party is at.
If you wish for more a luxurious stay, the southern coast of Sri Lanka is never lacking of big name hotel chains, and the more recent growth of hostels are perfect for backpackers and budget travellers enjoying the island at their own pace.
Post demolition Mirissa is still a thriving tourism hub
You simply can’t keep a good thing down. Despite the beach front still looking somewhat in disarray, many of the beachfront establishments have scaled back and rebuilt. Not quite at their former glory, but gradually making progress.
However, the Mirissa residents are still angry.
Zephyr, which was once a leading beachfront restaurant drawing in hordes of tourists was one of the properties subject to the demolition and a member of Zephyr’s crew Anthony said, “They didn’t clear anything after the demolition, and in our case some of my colleagues were still inside the building when they struck it down. There was no concern for our safety; there were gas lines that could’ve been struck potentially causing some serious damage.”
Another local group of travellers on the beach, added, “Many of these properties have been here for over 20 years, these establishments are what makes Mirissa beach so popular; what the authorities should be doing is establishing an infrastructure where Mirissa beachfront can grow, and continue to earn foreign revenue. These are not the actions of a responsible authority.”
Many of the beachfront property owners shared a somewhat similar opinion that the authorities were unaware of the nature and extent of the business that goes on in Mirissa beach. Adding that “there’s a reason why Mirissa beach is so popular and it’s certainly not the luxury hotels that exist inland. Many of the visitors visit the beach come from all around the southern coast, including backpackers and hostellers who come to the beach for a day or two to enjoy it.”
Regardless of who was at fault, it is an absolute shame that Mirissa beachfront businesses had to suffer such circumstances. However, the locals and business owners alike are hopeful that Mirissa beachfront will soon regain its former glory and continue to bring in foreign capital to the island as it has for many years prior.
By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Photos Krishan Kariyawasam