Easygoing Arugam Bay is by far the most engaging of the east coast’s resorts. A-Bay, as it’s often known, has long been popular with the surfing fraternity, who come here to ride what are generally acknowledged to be the best waves in Sri Lanka. It’s also a good launching-pad from which to explore the gorgeous surrounding countryside and its varied attractions, from the elephant-rich Lahugala National Park and the little-visited Yala East National Park to the atmospheric forest hermitage at Kudimbigala.
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There’s not much to ARUGAM BAY village itself: just a single main road running parallel to the beach dotted with guesthouses, cafés and shops, including some of Arugam Bay’s trademark quirky homespun architectural creations – rustic palm-thatch cabanas, teetering treehouses and other quaint structures (not to mention the distinctive wooden pavilion restaurant and red British telephone box of the landmark Siam View Hotel). The beach is now looking better than ever following recent clearances during which the authorities ordered the removal of all buildings within 20m of the waterline (albeit at considerable cost to local hoteliers and other residents, who were forced to watch as the government bulldozers rolled in and summarily razed significant slices of prized real estate).
A-Bay also marks the rough border between the Sinhalese-majority areas to the south and the mainly Tamil and Muslim areas further up the coast, and boasts an unusually eclectic but harmonious mix of all three ethnic groups – as well as a growing number of Western expats. Fears that the village’s uniquely (for Sri Lanka) alternative and slightly off-the-wall character will be erased by larger and more mainstream tourism developments remain, however, especially given the forthcoming opening of the new Hambantota airport, which will make the village significantly easier to reach for international visitors. For the time being, however, Arugam Bay preserves its own enjoyably eccentric charm.
Lahugala National Park
Lahugala National ParkA short way inland from Arugam Bay the main road west passes through the small but beautiful Lahugala National Park, comprising Lahugula Tank and a magnificent swathe of dry mixed evergreen forest, dotted with lofty rosewoods and satinwoods. The park is best known for its elephants: up to 150 congregate around the tank during July and August, when the rest of Lahugala’s waters dry up, to drink and feed on the beru grass which grows prolifically around the water. The tank is also good for spotting a wide range of aquatic birds, including innumerable snowy white egrets that can often be seen hitching a ride on the backs of obliging elephants. When the rains come the elephants disperse, and large sections of the park turn a brilliant, post-monsoonal green.
Lahugala isn’t officially open to the public, and no vehicles are allowed in, although you’re free to walk into the park from the main road between Arugam Bay and Monaragala, which runs right through it. Be aware, however, that walking through jungle with a large elephant population carries a degree of risk, so it’s best to stick to one of the recognized viewpoints close to the road. The easiest (and safest) option is to head to Lahugala Hospital (at the 306km post). Just west of here along the main road, several small paths run off to the right to the raised bund at the edge of Lahugala Tank, about 100m away, which offers a secure vantage point and good chances of spotting elephants.
Guesthouses in Arugam Bay can arrange jeeps to Lahugala, although given that you can’t actually drive these into the park, you might as well save your money and catch a bus or tuktuk.
- South of Arugam Bay
Surfing at Arugam Bay
Surfing at Arugam Bay
With waves fresh from Antarctica crashing up onto the beach, Arugam Bay is sometimes claimed to be one of the top ten surf points in the world, and periodically plays host to international tournaments. The best time for surfing is between April and Oct/Nov.
Where to go
There are several breaks close to Arugam Bay, plus others further afield. The biggest waves in A-Bay itself are at The Point (near Mambo’s guesthouse), a long right-hand break which has (on a good day) 2m waves and a 400m ride. Another good break can be found straight off the beach by the Siam View Hotel. Baby Point (between Mambo’s and Siam View Hotel) is ideal for beginners, with smaller waves and a sandy bottom (unlike The Point, which is coral-bottomed), while the beach break in front of the Stardust Beach Hotel is also good for beginners and body surfing.
South of Arugam Bay, the break near Crocodile Rock (3km south of Arugam Bay) is an excellent spot for beginner and intermediate surfers if there’s sufficient swell. Some 5km further on, Peanut Farm has two surf points: a perfect tube for expert surfers and a smaller ride ideal for beginners; there are also good waves further south at Okanda.
A number of spots north of Pottuvil are also becoming popular among more experienced surfers (and are generally quieter than those in A-Bay). About 9km north of Arugam Bay, Pottuvil Point breaks off a long and deserted sandy beach; the ride can be as long as 800m, though the waves are a bit smaller than in A-Bay. Other nearby breaks include Whiskey Point and Lighthouse Point (aka “The Green Room”).