Arugam Bay is a beach destination on Sri Lanka’s East Coast where you can easily get comfortable for days and not want to leave. This is exactly what happened with San and me when we visited Sri Lanka. We loved Arugam Bay’s relaxed vibe so much that we ended up spending close to 10 days here.
Many of those who visit this lovely country don’t include Arugam Bay in their itinerary for Sri Lanka at all, because of this it has maintained its relaxed vibe. Instead, most people prefer visiting Mirissa or Galle for whale spotting.
Arugam Bay is not just Sri Lanka’s top surfing destination, but is an amazing wildlife destination, an ideal place for small families and is also one of the top party places in Sri Lanka. Did I mention already that it was our favorite beach destination in Sri Lanka? 🙂
How to Reach Arugam Bay
If you’re reaching here from the central province of Sri Lanka like Kandy, Nuwara Eliya or Ella, then you can do this journey partially by train. The nearest train station to Arugam Bay is Badulla [it is on Colombo – Kandy – Ella train route] and from there you can do this journey on a local bus or a taxi or even a tuk-tuk.
In case you’re reaching Arugam Bay directly from Colombo, then the best and the smartest thing to do would be to just rent a car from Colombo and drive. Sri Lanka is perfect for road trips and you’re going to love the landscape.
You can do the journey from Colombo on the bus as well, there is a direct bus from Colombo to Arugam Bay but it takes long around 12 hours. It is bus number 98. We highly recommend you break this journey up – after all, Sri Lanka’s central province is absolutely gorgeous. There are a few companies that are running slightly faster and better buses to Arugam Bay, check them here. (I’m not affiliated with them but this is just a website that I found online). We got on a bus from Haputale (near Ella) and reached Pottuvil. It wasn’t a direct bus and we had to change once.
Pottuvil – the closest town near Arugam Bay
Pottuvil is the closest town to Arugam Bay and that’s where most of the buses will drop you. In fact, many buses go inside Arugam Bay, but there is a tuk-tuk mafia that dominates this area.
The tuk-tuk drivers have formed an alliance with the bus staff and misinform all the international travelers and tell them that the bus doesn’t go to Arugam Bay so that there is no option but to buy a ticket. Even after reading about this scam, we had no way to avoid it when the bus staff forcefully dropped us in Pottuvill. We reached Arugam Bay on a tuk-tuk and saw the SAME bus there.
Things to do in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay Surfing
Arugam Bay is one of the most famous surfing spots in Sri Lanka. Over the years, surfing has emerged as one of the top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka.The main surfing season starts in Arugam Bay in March and lasts till the summer months. There are many surfing spots but some of the most famous ones are – the Peanut Farm, Elephant Rock (also known as Crocodile Rock), Panama Point and Whisky Point.
We actually visited the Peanut Farm area for a music festival but not surfing. More than anything, it is just a very beautiful spot and there is a lagoon next to the beach. I will share more information about Peanut Farm further ahead in the article. As per Lonely Planet, Arugam Bay has emerged as Asia’s hottest surfing destination BUT has still remained blissful.
Relax on Arugam Bay Beach
The best thing that you can do in Arugam Bay is to of course relax on Arugam Beach. It is a laidback beach that’s perfectly crescent in shape. It is very sandy and there are some rocks where you can sit. There are also palm trees on Arugam Beach so that you can sit in the shade.
Arugam Bay is good for swimming because the water is warm, but be careful and don’t go too far because the surf can be strong. The best thing about Arugam Beach is that it is still not as developed as other beach destinations and you can relax peacefully.
Pottuvil Lagoon / Arugam Lagoon
Pottuvil Lagoon is around 20 minutes away from Arugam Bay on a tuk-tuk. It is between Arugam Bay and Pottuvil town. We actually saw this place just by chance when we were here on a cloudy afternoon.
Visiting Pottuvil Lagoon is one of those things that I recommend you do with a local guide because they know their area well. You can explore Pottuvil Lagoon on a boat through the mangroves. If you’re lucky, you may just get to see crocodiles, monkeys, interesting birds and perhaps even water monitors. You may get to see wild elephants too!
Your tour for Pottuvil Lagoon may start as early as 6:30 am but it totally depends on who you book this with. Ask your hotel or guest house to book it for you.
If you’re planning on visiting the nearby Yala National Park already, I still recommend you still visit the lagoon because here you will be exploring the wilderness from a boat the water, instead of a jeep. Typical costs for a boat tour on Pottuvil Lagoon in 2018 is LKR 6000 Rupees per person.
A visit to the lagoon will be cheaper than visiting one of the many national parks in Sri Lanka. Also, it is one of the unique things to do in Sri Lanka and should not be missed.
Yala East / Kumana National Park SafariKumana National Park was earlier known as Yala East and it shares its border with the bigger and more famous Yala National Park. It is 12 kilometers away from Arugam Bay, which can take 45 minutes of driving to reach. This park has around 20 lagoons inside.
Kumana is known for its birdlife and is a good place to see colorful flocks of migratory birds. Kumana Bird Sanctuary is a part of Kumana National Park. Apart from the birds, you can also see turtles, crocodiles, jackals, wild boars, elephants, and otters.
Kudumbigala Monastery & Cave Temple
Kudumbigala Monastery is on the way to Kumana National Park from Arugam Bay, in Kumana village. This forgotten monastery complex dates back to 246 BC. There is literally nothing around this complex and it is in the middle of the jungle.
You can climb up to the highest point for an amazing view. You will see the rocks, the jungle, and the coastline. It may take you around 1.5 hours. Hiking to the highest viewpoint during the heat is not recommended and will make you very tired. Do this around sunrise or sunset time but be sure to go with a local because it is in the middle of nowhere.Dress appropriately and respect monastery because you may come across some meditating monks here. Don’t stand on the stupas. Also, don’t treat this forgotten monastery complex as your picnic spot and do not carry alcohol here.
Sri Lanka’s temples are very famous and a majority of tourists visit the country just to see the Buddha tooth relic temple in Kandy. But keep in mind that Sri Lanka has stricter rules than many other Asian countries. You may be able to enter a temple in Thailand wearing a sleeveless but not in Sri Lanka. Moreover, you can’t have a visible Buddha tattoo. Read about this and many other travel tips for visiting Sri Lanka here.
Fishing with the Locals
On a cloudy afternoon in Arugam Bay, San and I had no idea about what to do so we went to sit by the Arugam Lagoon. We made friends with two local fishermen there and ended up spending the whole day with them. They invited us to their house for chai and our friendship began.
San loves fishing and he was very curious about their ways. Next day, he woke up at 4:30 am and went fishing with them. He saw a lovely sunrise and many dolphins.
Fishing with the locals is one of the most amazing things to do in Sri Lanka. Being an island country, there are many locals whose livelihood depends on fishing and this activity will give you a good insight into their culture and lives.
Peanut Farm Beach Area
Do you know that there is a psychedelic music festival that’s organized every year in the peanut farm area? Well, that’s why San and I went to Arugam Bay in the first place. We spent 5 days camping in the peanut farm area and can only imagine how lovely this place looks when there are no people.
If you’re visiting Arugam Bay during the main surfing season, then the peanut farm is the best surfing spot around. Even if you’re not surfing, this area is actually quite beautiful. There is a big sandy beach and next to it there is a small lagoon. There are rocks near the lagoon and you can climb them and reach a smaller beach.
If San and I visit Arugam Bay again, we’d like to stay away from the main town but at the peanut farm beach area. You can stay in a cabana here that’s next to the beach.
Lahugala National Park
Lahugala National Park is closer to Arugam Bay as compared to Kumana National Park. It is close to Pottuvil Lagoon and is one of the smallest national parks of Sri Lanka. It is a very good place to see wild elephants because it is used by them as a feeding ground.
Apart from wild elephants, if you go at a decent hour for birdwatching, you will also get to see several wetland birds.
Elephant Rock / Crocodile RockElephant Rock is also called the Crocodile Rock. This is actually one of the surfing spots but you visit this spot to see the lovely beach. It is 2-3 KMs south of Arugam Bay and a little before Peanut Farm beach.
If you come here in the early morning or late evening, you may see a herd of elephants. Please visit with the locals or a surf shop. Don’t swim in the lagoons here because there are crocodiles. There was a crocodile attack here where a British tourist was killed in 2017.
Muhudu Maha ViharayaMudhu Maha Voharaya is on one end of Arugam Bay beach and you can only reach by walking on the sand. The sand tends to get very hot during the day, so visit early morning or in the evening.
This temple complex is said to be around 2000 years old but is not preserved. There is no entry fee. There is a new temple and stupa that’s constructed here, and you will most likely see it from the main road that’s next to the lagoon.
This point is only relevant if you enjoy psychedelic music festivals. Atman Festival is organized in Arugam Bay’s peanut farm and is a Dark Psy and Hi-Tech music festival. The artists usually play very high BPM music, so if you don’t enjoy this genre, this festival will be too heavy for you.
If you enjoy this music like San and I do then you’re going to love this festival. For us, it was the best beach party in Sri Lanka. Here’s a little video.
Do Not Swim in the Lagoons [Crocodile Warning]
As mentioned twice already in this article – do not even think of swimming in Arugam Bay’s lagoons. There are many lagoons in the entire area of Arugam Bay, Panama Bay (right below Arugam Bay) and Pottuvil.
It is worth noting that a British surfer was killed by a crocodile near the Elephant Rock in 2017. This apparently happened when he went off alone to find a toilet and was near the lagoon. This is the first ever recorded incident of a crocodile attack in Sri Lanka. There was a saltwater crocodile attack in India’s Havelock island as well a few years back.
Hotels in Arugam Bay
The main Arugam Bay Area is nothing but a straight road that runs more or less parallel to the beach. Here you will find bars, restaurants, local shops and guest houses. We stayed in three different hotels in Arugam Bay and they were all good. Here are our recommendations:
- Green Beach Hotel – this place has simple and clean rooms and is near the beach. Room prices start from €24 per night.
- Drift – this place has lovely air conditioned villas that are near the beach starting at €43 per night.
- Arcadia Villas – private villas with a patio starting at €47 per night.
- Utopia – a simple and affordable place near the beach with private rooms starting at €14 per night.
- Little Lagoon Hostel – Very comfortable and social hostel. A bed in a 4 person dormitory costs €14 per night.
What is your favorite beach destination in Sri Lanka? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to know.