Updated November 30th, 2017.
Aaaaand relax. Beautiful Arugam Bay is surely what everybody wants out of a beach destination. Amazing surf, enormous empty beaches, a low-key town with a great choice of Sri Lankan and Western restaurants and excellent options for accommodation, Arugam Bay seems to have hit that perfect balance. It has everything that you’d want as a tourist, yet manages to be charming and unobtrusive. Unlike the touristy hill country, locals here are laid back, friendly and helpful and no one is trying to scam you.
The surf season runs from May to September when the waves are at their peak. But if you’re not a surfer and therefore unconcerned about the size of the swell, a visit to Arugam Bay during low season is an excellent travel decision. You’ll find deserted beaches, cheap accommodation and a small number of tourists wandering the main ‘Panama Road’ which runs through the beach town. (We visited in mid October during low season, so things could be very different here during high season).
Just 15 minutes in a tuk tuk from Arugam Bay, the nearby Muslim town of Pottuvil is a delight. Wander down pretty lanes and watch as your foreign face brings amazement to the faces of local school children as they drag their friends to come and have a look at you. Eat great Tamil food, stumble upon little visited ancient ruins and be greeted by friendly locals who point you in the right direction with a smile and a head shake. Make sure you cover up in Pottuvil as the town is quite conservative Muslim. The Arabic greeting ‘Salam Alaikum’ (meaning Peace be upon you) will go down very well in restaurants and shops, as will the Tamil ‘nandri’ (thank you).
The two adjacent towns compliment each other perfectly. You can enjoy exploring Pottuvil by day, eating authentic local food and shocking local kids who act like they see foreigners very little, then by night, enjoy the comforts of nearby Arugam Bay for great accommodation and Western-friendly food.
Where to stay in Arugam Bay?
Arugam Bay has much better accommodation options than Pottuvil. Many bungalows line the beach front; some simpler choices can be had for 1,500 ruppee whilst the fancier resorts charge upwards of 5,000 ruppee.
- Paradise Beach Resort – We stayed at Paradise Beach Resort, a few metres down from where the bus dropped us off. 3,000 rupee for a decent fan room with private bathroom.
- East Beach Surf Resort – We didn’t stay here but Trip Advisor views are very positive, around 3,000 ruppee for a fan room.
- Happy Panda Homestay – A backpacker / surfer favourite with decent rooms and yoga. Happy Panda Villa is the more upmarket choice.
- Hideaway Resort – A popular choice with everything the traveller could ask for.
Things to do in Arugam Bay – Pottuvil area
- Surf! – Arugam Bay offers surf for all ability levels. There are a few famous breaks around Arugam Bay and Pottuvil which peak at different times of the year.Beginners can book a lesson for 1000 – 3000 rupees / day depending on the season and group size.
- Pottuvil Point – An easier break for beginners in a truly beautiful location backing out onto Pottuvil lagoon behind you. Make sure you stop surfing at sunset to see if you can spot the elephants crossing the lagoon!
- Lighthouse Point – The most famous surf break in Sri Lanka, people come back every year for this.
- Whiskey Point – A beautiful wild and natural spot offering more intermediate surf. The beach is home to Paper Moon Resort, a popular place for surfers to stay in high season.
- Boat tours on Pottuvil Lagoon – An absolute must-do whilst in Arugam Bay! Beautiful Pottuvil Lagoon is teeming with nature; crocodiles, monitor lizards, kingfishers, egrets, golden eagles and even elephants, it’s hard to believe so much wildlife exists so close to the town. For 3,500 rupees, you can be taken out onto the lagoon on a basic boat (at sunrise and sunset) by a local fisherman. You can book the ‘mangrove tours’ from hotels in Arugam Bay, but if you can, try to find the small green building of the ‘fisherman’s society’ on the south side of the lake – this way the fisherman will receive more of your money. This low-key eco-tourism offers an incredible experience for the tourist and also gives back to the local fishing community. (We saw five wild elephants during a two-hour boat ride and so much bird life. Floating back on the magical lagoon at sunset with the sound of birds and the nearby call to prayer from the mosque was a surreal experience). NB: We hope that the the rumours of Sri Lanka airlines request to land their planes on the lagoon is just a rumour!
- Yoga – A few of the resorts offer morning and early evening yoga classes for 1,000 Rupee (during high season). Try Hideaway Resort and Happy Panda Resort.
- Muhudu Maha Viharaya Ruins and Stupa – Down a dirt track with no sign posts in English, you’ll find these 2,000 old ruins. It’s amazing to come across an important site with absolutely no other tourists around and just behind the Stupa, you’ll find the glorious deserted Pottuvil beach. The sea here is too rough here though and not safe for swimming.
- Hire a motorbike (scooty) – You can hire a motorbike for 1,000 rupees / day to explore the amazing landscapes around Arugam Bay. Go north to Komari, Whiskey Point and Lighthouse Point, or south to Panama, Crocodile Lake, Kudimbagala Nature Sanctuary and the outskirts of Kumana National Park. The roads are very quiet here, compared to the hill country and south coast and the area begs adventure at every corner! You’ll find that your tarmac road suddenly turns into a dirt track that you’re sharing with a herd of cows and then finally fizzles out to the best beach you’ve ever seen in your life!
- Crocodile Lake – The lake was dry when we visited due to a drought in Eastern Sri Lanka during this time. However, along the way we bumped into two locals who said they would take us to see crocodiles in the stream. Sure enough, in the stream running alongside the road we saw over 20 crocodiles with their heads popping out of the water!
- Kumuna National Park – Sometimes known as Yala East, this National Park is much quieter than Yala National Park. Spot elephants, leopards, jungle cats, buffalo and a plethora of bird life. The charge to get in is 4,500 rupees and a jeep will cost around 6,000 rupees with driver to hire for the day. Share the jeep cost with a group to keep costs low.
- Eat amazing fresh seafood – Choose your fish, white snapper or fresh tuna, and have it barbecued on the road side near the restaurant in a delicious mix of Sri Lankan tastes, onion, tomato, chilies and fresh curry leaves. Served with chips and salad for 850 per person, this is the best way to eat on the East coast of Sri Lanka.
Getting to Pottuvil – Arugam Bay:
- From Ella – There are direct buses to Pottuvil which leave at 7.45am and 9.15am. If you miss these, I’m afraid you’re in for a long journey. It will take you around 7 hours and you’ll need to get three separate buses, changing at Wellawaya and Monaragala. You’ll need an Ayurvedic Massage by the time you get to Arugam Bay!
- From Colombo – If you want to hit Arugam Bay as soon as you land in Colombo, for the easy option, you can share an AC taxi with a few travel buddies, which will cost around 18,000 rupee per car and take you 7 hours to reach Arugam Bay.
Where to go next?
- Batticaloa – 3.5 hours north up the east coastline you’ll find the historical town of Batticaloa.