There are so many epic things to do in Arugam Bay. Located on the east coast of Sri Lanka, it is one of the most popular surf destinations in the country. After spending a few days here, its charm and appeal was easy to see. More than the funky places to eat and boutique shops, it was the laid back beach vibe of the place that made us love it. Not to mention, numerous beaches to surf and awesome things to do. While it is a little out of the way, it is worth the effort to travel out east.
We naively thought that we could go anytime and catch some waves, as surfing is what has made Arugam Bay so popular, but we went in March and there were very few waves. The high season for swell is from July to September which closely coincides with the hotter, drier weather. This also means it is the high season for tourism, as up until March, Arugam Bay is typically experiencing wet and rainy weather. When we were there it was really quiet and over half the restaurants were still closed for the season.
Don’t let that put you off making the journey out here though as Arugam Bay has so much more to offer than surf. Take a few days to relax and explore Sri Lanka’s east coast.
Getting to Arugam Bay
It is a bit of a mission to get to Arugam Bay from Ella if you want to take public transport, which is the cheapest way to explore Sri Lanka. Expect it to take 4-5 hours total for your journey. First take the bus to Wellawaya at 7.40am which cost 75LKR ($0.42 USD) and takes around 45 minutes. It is best to leave early as there are more busses in the mornings.
*Be careful in Wellawaya as there was a group of locals trying to scam us into getting a taxi to Arugam Bay. They told us there were no busses to Arugam Bay so we had to get a taxi. Luckily, we knew there was a bus so we were able to ignore them.
From Wellawaya take a bus to Siyambalanduwa which cost 150LKR ($0.84 USD) and takes approximately two hours. Finally, you can wait for a bus here to Arugam Bay but the wait is around 1.5 hours. We opted to grab a tuk tuk to our hostel as we were pretty tired from all the travelling. The tuk tuk cost 1500LKR ($8.50 USD) and took 45 minutes. We thought it was worth forking out the money for the last leg of the trip.
The return trip from Arugam Bay to Ella is much simpler. A direct bus from Pottuvil (the town 5 minutes north of Arugam Bay) to Wellawaya leaves at 6:30AM and costs 225LKR ($1.28 USD). Again be careful, as a bus arrived just before headed for Monaragala, and they tried to convince us this was the bus for us. From Wellawaya we hopped on a bus as soon as we arrived destined for Ella (90LKR or 0.50 USD). The total trip took us 3.5 hours.
Things to Do in Arugam Bay
This is what the region is famous for. If you come at the right time, there are quite a few awesome surf breaks and the water is a balmy 28 degrees. You have a choice of surf breaks, such as Peanut Farm and Whiskey Point, which offer waves from beginner all the way through to the advanced surfer.
If you are looking to go out by yourself, it is always good to know the surf conditions before you go. You can check out the surf report at MagicSeaweed.
Alternatively, there are plenty of surf schools and lessons available in Arugam Bay if you are a beginner or looking to refine your skills.
2. Climb Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock is a sweet lookout that has an awesome view of the surrounding coastline. It is an easy 5-minute climb to the top. Right below the rock is a popular surf spot so you get a great aerial vantage point to watch the surfers riding waves all the way into the beach. This area is apparently quite dangerous in the evenings due to crocodiles and elephants so keep an eye out for these animals. We saw three elephants within a kilometre of Elephant Rock so the warnings seem to be spot on.
3. Hang out at Whiskey Point
Whiskey Point is about a 25-minute drive from Arugam Bay and is another popular surf spot but we think it’s a pretty cool place to check out even if you don’t want to surf. There was no surf rental out here when we were there. If you visit Arugam Bay in shoulder season like us, and want to surf out here, you will need to rent a board in Arugam Bay before you head out there. Many of the surf shops will help organise a tuk tuk out here if you don’t have a scooter. The long stretch of sand is usually nice and quiet so it makes for a chilled afternoon at the beach.
4. Hang poolside
Sometimes you just want to kick back and relax by the pool. In many places with a pool, if you grab yourself a drink or some lunch in their restaurant you can use the pool for the day. It’s a great, cheap way to enjoy a little bit of luxury on your trip. Two good choices in Arugam Bay include the Blue Wave Hotel which has a large inviting pool and Roccos which has an amazing pool located right on the beach.
5. Have dinner at the Beach Hut
The Beach Hut is one of the coolest places to have dinner in Arugam Bay. They run a different set menu every evening and it is seriously cheap. They had a barbecue fish dinner one of the nights we were there for just 350LKR ($1.98 USD). It is always packed and has an awesome social atmosphere often leading to a few drinks with your newfound friends. When we were in Arugam Bay it felt like there was nobody around town and then we’d get to the Beach Hut for dinner and it was packed. Even if you’re not staying with them, head over for dinner, meet plenty of other likeminded travellers and enjoy some delicious food.
6. Rent a scooter and explore
One of our all time favourite activities when travelling. We rented a scooter for a couple of days, for 900LKR ($5.09) per day, and took off exploring. All the things to do in Arugam Bay and in this region are spread out, so it is easiest to grab a scooter and explore it yourself rather than paying for tuk tuks. There is so much cool stuff to explore within a 40-minute drive of the town centre. It also allows you to partake in the best experience Arugam Bay has to offer, a self-driven scooter safari.
7. Self-drive scooter safari
One of the best experiences in our whole Sri Lanka trip and probably of any of our travels anywhere. This was amazing! Arugam Bay is only 50 minutes away from Kumana National Park. You are unable to ride your scooter into the national park itself, but the 10 kilometres leading up to it may as well be a part the national park. Dirt roads wind through the fields and wetlands just outside Kumana National Park and they are teeming with wildlife. Keep your eyes out for elephants, crocodiles, water buffalo and so much more.
We loved our safari at Yala National Park but this was on a whole other level. It’s amazing to be able to drive yourself, and not be queued behind 20 other jeeps while looking for wildlife.
Read our full blog on a DIY Scooter Safari:
Where to Eat in Arugam Bay
Beach Hut – Very cheap and social dinner. Different set menu each night and great atmosphere with loads of other travellers.
Ali Restaurant – The best curry we had in Arugam Bay and one of the best in Sri Lanka. So tasty and just 350LKR ($1.98 USD) for a veggie curry and 350LKR ($1.98 USD) for coconut roti.
Pizza Hub – Amazing wood fired pizza. It’s a bit of a walk off the main road but don’t be surprised to turn up and see it super busy. Prices range from 700 LKR ($3.96 USD) – 1400LKR ($7.92 USD).
Hideaway – Offering both a restaurant, for a proper sit down meal and a café, offering juices, smoothies and toasties. There is no shortage of amazing food at this funky and vibrant resort.
Where to Stay in Arugam Bay
Budget: Beach Hut – This really chilled out place was just metres from the beach. Their family style dinners attract quite a crowd and make for a fun social environment where you can easily meet other travellers. At $8USD for a double room, their rates won’t break the bank.
Mid-Range: Bay Vista – This accommodation is located in the heart of Arugam Bay and is favourite among many. They have very helpful and friendly staff, yoga on offer and delicious breakfasts.
Luxury: Arugambay Roccos – As previously mentioned, this place has a fantastic pool and is perfectly located right on the beach. If you are looking to treat yourself to a dreamy beach getaway while in Arugam Bay, this should be your hotel.
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We came here with the intention of surfing our brains out for a few days so we were definitely disappointed when we arrived to find out there were very few waves and our plans were scuppered. We had heard so many amazing things about surfing here and the chilled out surf vibes in Arugam Bay. Luckily, this lack of surf gave us the chance to get out and explore the region and gave us an experience that was so much better than anything we could have hoped for. We didn’t get the surf experience we wanted but we ended up loving Arugam Bay just as much as we expected to anyway!
Next stop Ella to Kandy train!
*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.