In Tissamaharama (usually shortened to Tissa), eyes are automatically drawn upwards and outwards. Upwards to the tip of its huge, snowy-white dagoba and outwards, beyond the town’s confines, to nearby wildlife reserves crawling with creatures large and small. With its pretty lakeside location, Tissa is an ideal mellow base for the nearby Yala and Bundala National Parks.
Thalpe & Koggala
Beyond Unawatuna, the road runs close to the coast through Thalpe, Dalawella and Koggala, and on to Ahangama and beyond. This is posh country, with beautiful albeit narrow beaches and a long stretch of walled estates and hotels. Along this part of the coast you will see stilt fishermen perching precariously like storks above the waves at high tide.
Weligama (meaning ‘Sandy Village’) is an interesting blend of lively fishing town and beach resort. The sprawling main settlement and coastal road is somewhat scruffy and not that easy on the eye, but you'll find the sandy beach is attractive once you're away from the main section; there's a couple of cove beaches west of the centre.
Yala National Park
Yala is Sri Lanka's most famous national park. Forming a total area of 1268 sq km of scrub, light forest, grassy plains and brackish lagoons, it's very rich in wildlife and you're virtually certain to encounter elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes and monkeys. Plan your trip carefully, however – such is Yala's appeal that the main tracks and viewing spots can be crowded.
Ahangama & Midigama
The Ahangama and Midigama area are home to the most consistent, and possibly the best, surf in Sri Lanka. Development is ongoing in parts, but for now it remains a relatively low-key region with a mix of surfer-friendly accommodation and the odd villa. The shoreline consists of slim sandy bays and rocky outcrops, though the highway often runs very close to the shore.
Bundala National Park
Much less visited than nearby Yala National Park, Bundala National Park is an excellent choice for birders, and you've a good chance of spotting crocs, wild boar, mongooses, monitor lizards, monkeys and elephants. Most people visit on jeep tours from Tissamaharama. Bundala is open year-round, allowing wildlife junkies to get a wet-season fix.
Oceanside Kirinda, 12km south of Tissa, is a place on the edge. On one side its sandy streets and ramshackle buildings give way to a series of magnificently bleak and empty beaches (heavy undertows make swimming here treacherous) that are perfect for long evening walks. In the other direction, tangled woodlands and sweeps of parched grasslands merge into the national parks.