Arugam Bay is a magical place, when it’s in season (roughly June to September). It offers perhaps the best surfing in Sri Lanka but is also a great place for hanging out, dining, biking, etc. The only catch is that it’s mega-far – at least 6 hours, but probably closer to 7 or 8. If you’re going there, it’s good (and easy) to stay for a while.
The best way to get to Arugam Bay is actually to make it part of a broader tour. If you go to Kandy, then take the train to Ella, then hire a van down to Arugam Bay it doesn’t feel that far.
If you’re going straight, there’s one main route. As a note, do not use Google directions. They take you down some terrible B roads. Always stick to A roads wherever possible.
The Ratnapura Way (E01-A8-A4)
This route is pretty simple, but it can go bad pretty quick if you get diverted onto B roads. As a rule of thumb, always take the low road (ie, at a fork go right). Always try to go away from the hilly country rather than into it.
- Get on the Expressway
- Take the Gelanigama Exit (Panadura/Horana)
- Turn right onto the Horana Road (the A8)
- Stay on the A8 till you hit Ratnapura
- Get thru Ratnapura town somehow
- At the Malwala Handiya, for the love of all things holy, turn right. DO NOT TAKE THE B ROAD
- Stay on the A4
- Get to Pelmadulla
From here you can go two ways:
1. The high road (shorter but hillier)
- Pass Pelmadulla
- At Beragala, take the right fork, stay on the A4
- Pass Wellawaya
- Arrive at Arugam Bay
2. The low road (longer but flat)
- Turn down the A18 at Pelmadulla
- Head to Uda Walawa
- Take the B427 along Uda Walawe Park
- Turn up the A2 at Thanamalwila
- Turn right at Wellawaya back onto the A4
- Arrive at Arugam Bay
You can also either go up and over (through Kandy) or down and around (through Matara). We’ve heard that you can also take the Expressway all the way to Matara then take the A2 to Tissamaharama and then take the Kataramaga Road thru to Buttala. This may be more pleasant driving, but would take an hour or two longer. Haven’t tried it. Would not recommend driving through Kandy, but if you want to make a tour out of it that’s a nice set of contrasts.
Modes Of Transport
If you’re have a car or motorbike that’s best. You can rent cars for a pretty good day rate from places like Central Finance. You can get a Maruti for Rs. 1,500 a day.
If you’re staying at someplace in Arugam Bay, they often have vans running from the Airport or Colombo, call them and ask.
The Pottuvil bus takes 10-12 hours (!). It leaves from Colombo at 5 AM and 8 PM (we think, you need to check), from Colombo Fort. Costs around Rs. 500. Pottuvil effectively is Arugam Bay, it’s the nearest town.
The train ride to Ella is incredibly beautiful… and incredibly slow. From there you need to hire a van (around Rs. 10,000, not sure) or take a bus (a few hundred rupees but slow). Again to Pottuvil.
So that’s a rough guide to getting to Arugam Bay. Once you’re there you can rent bicycles but most people take trishaws. If possible get a trishaw recommendation from the place you’re staying. When it comes time to getting out, again try to go with recommendations if you’re taking a van out.
Arugam Bay remains a trek to get to, but that’s part of what makes it so great. It used to be even harder and, during wartime, actually dangerous but people still went. There’s something magical about the waves and the climate and the whole vibe there that makes a day on the road worthwhile.