Arugam Bay is a magical place on the East Coast of Sri Lanka. It’s a bit of a trek, but it’s worth it, whether you’re a surfer or not. As it’s hosting the Red Bull Ride My Wave competition now, we thought we’d do a quick guide.
Arugam Bay is far, and you generally have to go thru the hills. It’s best enjoyed as part of a tour, after a night in Kandy and Ella. You can also take a flatter detour through Matara and Hambantota. There’s full directions by car/train/bus here: Arugam Bay – How To Get There.
When To Go
Arugam Bay is a seasonal town. The beach is in season from around June until September/October. That also means that during this time the place is packed and even the most basic places are booked out.
Where To Stay
Our favorite place is the cabanas at Hideaway ($50-150, room only), which is actually on the land side but situated in a nice garden. And they have great food. Another place across the street that can accommodate large groups is the Bay Vista Hotel (around $100), and it has beach views. Danish Villa also comes recommended, seems to be going for about Rs. 10,000 (on Agoda). One of the nicest places in Arugam Bay is Jetwing run Kottukal Beach House, which runs $200+.
Besides that there’s a lot of accommodation, though note that most of it is pretty basic. There is nothing five star here and it’s not the sort of town where people hole up in their rooms. For more options check out TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet.
As a tip, you need to book early. There is limited room capacity and people book these places sometimes a year in advance. If you show up without booking anything you usually can find a place by asking around, but it’ll end up being a super basic room with a hopefully functional bathroom.
What To Do
Arugam Bay is a great place to surf, internationally great in fact. Red Bull is having the Ride My Wave competition there now. Even if you don’t surf, the water is quite fun to swim in, but you definitely need to be able to swim. There are relatively still areas, but waves here can get quite big. It’s not deep water and there aren’t strong currents that pull you out, but the waves are definitely strong.
The main places people go to surf or swim are:
Main Point: This is where Mambo’s is, and the site of frequent parties. It’s also a good place to surf, or watch people surfing. Just before the point there’s a bit of a shielded beach where you can swim, but be aware, even here can get treacherous.
Whiskey Point: Also a surfing point, this is recommended for strong swimmers. Mambo’s brother runs a chill cafe here (SaBaBa’s) and there’s a cool rock to chill on. It’s the furthest away from the town out of this lot.
Peanut Farm: This is a spot down the road towards Panama (you’ll need to drive or catch a tuk). It’s considered a good spot for beginning surfers.
Pottuvil Point: This beautiful location is through a winding road near Pottuvil town. There are strong but swimmable waves here and it’s generally a bit less crowded.
Crocodile Rock: Crocodile Rock is a bit croc shaped rock near town. The beach here is swimmable and it’s a good spot to watch the sunset.
Arugam Bay has interesting nature stuff all around.
Kudumbigala Sanctuary: South of Arugam Bay, near Panama, you get the Kudumbigala Sanctuary, a rock temple. You can climb up there and get a good view of the surroundings, and it’s relatively shady inside.
Kumana National Park: Further down, essentially where the road ends, is Kumana National Park. Once called Yala East, this park is home to lots of migratory birds (April to July is best) as well as animals and a diverse range of plants.
Mudu Maha Viharaya: On the other side, before the bridge into Arugam Bay, you get this temple of almost Polonnaruwa style pillars and statues. This is supposedly where Vihara Maha Devi, sent into the ocean as a sacrifice by her father, was washed ashore.
Lahugala National Park: You actually pass through Lahugala on the way to Arugam Bay, and you would be wise to look out for elephants on the road. If you decide to stop there’s an ancient temple as well as plenty of flora and fauna to see.
Places To Eat
Arugam Bay actually has quite an active dining scene. Our favorite spot is the restaurant at Hideaway, one of the best in the country when it’s in season. New places we’ve heard good things about are the Seahorse Inn (for the pizza) and the Tandoori Inn (for Indian).
Gecko’s also used to be good, but service has been a bit spotty as of late. The new Zephyr (a branch of the popular Mirissa spot) is also quite good.
This is a town where you can generally get good coffee and international surfer bites (potato wedges, shakshuka, schnitzel) all around.
Place To Drink
The place to seriously party is Mambo’s on Main Point. Basically every weekend they’ll have something here. Something loud which goes all night. If you just want a beer, Siam House brews their own tasty varieties. If you want a more chill spot, Hideaway has a nice garden bar with a one-for-one happy hour.
Arugam Bay is a magical place. It’s a bit far, but that’s also part of its charm. It’s best enjoyed for about a week at a time, swimming, eating and exploring the nature stuff around.