Arugam Bay – Everything you need to know
Surfing in Arugam Bay & other stuff about this beachside paradise on the east coast of Sri Lanka
Arugam Bay and surfing in Sri Lanka has been on the bucket list of many travellers the last few years. Not without good reason. Lush right-hand point breaks, soft waves, curries, tuk-tuks, palm-tree lines beaches, some of the kindest people you will ever meet, elephants, temples… the list goes on. Sri Lanka and Arugam Bay is a great spot to travel to and surf.
In this article I’m going to share everything I learned about traveling to and surfing in Arugam Bay: where to surf, where to stay, where to eat, how to get there, how much to pay etc. If there is anything I’ve missed or should consider adding to the article, please tell me in the comments below. I will also answer any questions you have :-)
Arugam Bay important info
When to go
The east coast of Sri Lanka has an on and an off season due to the dry and rainy season. The dry season and the best time to surf Arugam Bay is May to September. The best waves arrive in July, August, and September. More of the surrounding breaks are also working then due to the bigger swells. The winds are typically offshore in the morning, swinging onshore at lunch and dying off for the sunset surf. Outside of these months, it is pretty flat and most of the hotels and restaurants are shut. The shoulder months may see some residual swell.
Arugam Bay is hot, humid and tropical- expect it to be over 30C /85F most of the time and the ocean to beabout 28 degrees C. If you are going for the best surf (May – September), this will coincide with the hotter, drier season. Arugam Bay itself (not the surf break) is quite sheltered from the wind which makes it even hotter as the air doesn’t move. For me and everyone I travelled with, airconditioned rooms were essential.
ATMs are available in Arugam Bay. There is one money exchange in a grocery store opposite Hideaway, called ‘Home Needs Supermarket’ (in the photo below, right-hand side). They give a fair rate, you just have to ask at the counter as they do not advertise as a money exchange.
Arugam Bay is a popular tourist destination. Expect to pay a lot more than you would in Bali or Indonesia. Budget around (all USD):
- $10-$20 for a budget room
- $30-60 for an air-conditioned room
- $1 for water (please bring your own metal water bottle & fill up for free at Hideaway)
- $3 for coffee
- $5 for a smoothie
- $8 for a cocktail
- $4 for a beer
- $10-$15 for each meal
- $1 for roti snacks
- $3 for fruit
- $30 for tuk-tuk transport to other breaks
Arugam Bay and the town Pottuvil is a majority Muslim population. This means you will need to wear more clothing than in other surf areas of Sri Lanka. Take with you lose fitting beach throw-overs, kaftans and sarongs with you. Have a look at our surf packing list for more essential items.
Driving in Sri Lanka & renting scooters etc.
To rent a car and drive in Sri Lanka you will need an International driving license. Sort this before you leave home, it is often just an additional paper booklet that you can pick up the same day for a small fee. If you don’t have it and get stopped on your rented tuk-tuk, scooter or car, they can throw you in jail!
You can rent a scooter in Arugam Bay for about 1,000 rupees or $10USD a day. They do not have surfboard racks though as the locals are trying to protect the tuk-tuk transport market. I did see some people sitting on their boards and driving around!
You can rent a car in Arugam Bay – speak to the tuk-tuk drivers and cut a deal. We rented one for 10,000 rupees for 2 days.
You can rent your own tuk-tuk for about 4,000 rupees a day. Comfortable with 3 people but you can squeeze 4 including the driver.
A tuk-tuk driver for the day (around Arugam Bay surf spots) will set you back about 3,000 rupees for a half day, or 5,000 for a full day. Note: Everything is negotiable.
Main Street Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is pretty much all down one road called Main Street. The bay itself doesn’t get any waves, just a shore break (maybe in huge swell it might). The Main Point surf is on the Southern end of the bay, on the point. Most restaurants, hotels, bars, cafes, ATMs, transport etc are scattered up and down Main Street. Everything you need is within walking distance on Main Street.
Health & travel insurance
There is a doctor in Pottuvil if you get sick but supplies in Arugam bay are few and far between. Bring a good first aid kit with you including everything you would need to nurse reef cuts – See my detailed surf first aid kit in our recommended surf packing list. Arugam Bay is hot and humid, cuts get infected so easily and the dust and dryness makes it hard to keep wounds clean.
Travel insurance is highly recommended. You can buy World Nomads travel insurance after you left your country, they also cover surfing & all other activities you are likely to do plus donate money to sustainable causes and communities. Get a quick quote.
How to get to Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is about 400kms or an 8-hour drive from Colombo (the International airport you will be arriving to). You can get there by local bus, direct air-conditioned bus, train followed by the local bus, or by a private taxi direct (12,500 rupees / $120USD from the airport to Arugam Bay – arranged prior to arrival).
The route from Colombo to Arugam Bay is either through the centre of the island, or the south coast through the Yalla National Park.
The bus ride from Colombo to Arugam Bay would cost around Rs. 1000 – 1500. To get to Arugam Bay you have to get off in Pottuvil and take a tuk-tuk which costs around Rs. 150 one way. You can take your surfboard on the bus (but it would be a nightmare on the local buses).
Book airconditioned bus & get the timetable here.
To take the train, the direct route is Colombo to Badulla and then a bus or taxi from Badulla to Pottuvil / Arugam Bay. Another option is to go Colombo to Kandy, then Ella, and then take a shared taxi to Arugam Bay (we paid 8,000 Ella to Arugam Bay). This is what I did as the train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
To take your surfboards on the train in Sri Lanka, book a 2nd class reserved ticket. They do not open one of the doorways so you can stack your board against the doorway. I’m so lucky I discovered this (purely by chance). In 1st class or 2nd class non-reserved my surfboard on the train would have been really obstructive and entirely impossible in 3rd class because of the carriage overcrowding. Check the Sri Lanka rail timetables here.
There are several taxi share Facebook pages of people looking to split cabs. Check out:
Where to stay in Arugam Bay
I’ve already mentioned how hot it is if you are going for the surf season, May – October. Arugam Bay has plenty of accommodation options, more than the number of visitors but they vary hugely in quality. I practically had to beg to get my room cleaned!
I would only recommend getting an airconditioned room in Arugam Bay. You may think you can handle just a fan but given a few sleepless nights, you will struggle to find any air-con rooms available and may have to move hotels every few nights due to availability. Do yourself a favour and book a decent place to stay from the start, especially if you plan on surfing a lot as you will be most likely daytime napping!
The best places to stay in Arugam Bay are:
- Bay Vista Hotel – On the beach and right in town on Main Street, in teh centre of the action (5-minute walk to Main Point surf), has a cafe on the rooftop so gets a breeze which means you can eat your breakfast without dripping with sweat. The wifi is also really good which isn’t the case for Hideaway or any of the other hotels. They have yoga on the roof in the morning and the evening.
- Uplai Beach Surf Resort is right on the point break and the best place to stay for the best access to the surf. You’ll have to walk, 10 mins to go into town to get good coffee etc, But you can keep an eye on the wave (Main Point).
- Hideaway – Right in town but not on the beach side of Main Street. Has a pool, yoga shala, lush grounds and one of the best cafés in town with the best coffee. Everyone goes here for breakfast and later for happy hour Two4One cocktails 6-8pm. Good place to meet people and share travel stories.
Cheap & best hostels in Arugam Bay are:
- The Long Hostel – $10USD a night (bed in a dormitory)
- Green Waves – $25USD for a budget double room, 7 min walk to the shops on Main Street.
- Lemon Tree Hostel – $10USD a night (bed in a dormitory). On Main Street, has a garden, great location.
Secure room & don’t pay until you arrive (with no cancellation fees!)
Book your hotel or hostel in Arugam Bay without paying a deposit when booking through Booking.com. I recommend this so you have a place to stay when you get there and don’t have to walk Main Street in the heat with all your bags, getting hassled by the Tuk-Tuk drivers. They also do loads of last minute discounts.
Where to Surf Arugam Bay
There are several breaks within a 45-minute drive both north and south of Arugam Bay. You can hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day or half day (4 hour round trip) for about 3000 Rupees or about $20 USD or you could rent your own tuk-tuk, for about 5,000 Rupees (with an International driving license). We rented a car for a few days for 10,000 for two days. If I was to do it again, I would rent a 4×4 and do way more exploring. Just a thought ;-)
Surf spots Arugam Bay map – North to South:
Get a high-resolution copy of this Arugam Bay surf spot map
Lighthouse – There are two right-hand point break options here. The one of the left (by the lighthouse) wedges nicely off the rock and walls up on the right swell. There are only two accommodation options here so crowds are fewer than Main Point.
Whiskey Point – The best place for beginners
Pottuvil Point – Some say this is one of the best waves on the island when it is working. It needs swell to work so only really turns on in July & September. Expect 800m long rides of varying speeds and sections. It bit more protected from the wind than Main Point.
Baby Point – A Tiny wave that breaks on the inside point of Arugam Bay, basically the end of the wave at Main Point. Good for kids and beginners. You see the occasional dog on a surfboard!
Main Point – The best wave in the area. A reef-bottom, creating 400 – 600m long right-hand point break that can hold up to 8ft of swell. Being at the top of the point, it receives no protection from the wind so gets blown out easily. It has two obvious sections: a fast wall from the peak that then crumbles and you have to speed this section and then a slower, longer ride on the second peak. The busiest of waves due to its quality and proximity to Arugam Bay. Prepare for crowds.
Elephant Rock – Another spot for beginners but can be a challenging wave on big swells (technical and barrels).
Peanut Farm – Another right point. The headland provides some protection from the wind.
Panama – Another right point. Requires swell to work.
Okanda – Another right point next two amazing rock formations that the water sucks off to create a steep takeoff. Occasional beach break. Exposed and wild. Gets a lot of wind. Picturesque as you have to travel through the Kumana National Park to get there. Expect a lot of wildlife!
Arugam Bay crowds and bad vibes
I hate to have to write ‘bad-vibes’ in any surf guide but that was very much the case in Arugam Bay. Sadly many people that travel to surf, bring with them a sense of entitlement that manifests as taking as many waves as they can, paddling around people, dropping in, or just generally being a complete dick in the line-up. Don’t be that person. Learn surfing etiquette and follow the rules.
Speak up: I always call people on their bad manners in the water as passive-aggressive behaviour gets you no-where and often people (especially beginners), don’t know what they are doing wrong. This doesn’t mean you have to be nasty, but if someone keeps dropping in on you or paddling around you, talk to them and let them know it is not OK. As a girl surfer, this happens a lot and sadly I had so many people ruin my wave as I pumped down the line for the second section at Main Point. Despite trying to remain positive and keep the good vibes flowing, I was happy to leave Arugam Bay and head south to stay at Talalla Surf Camp.
Saying that I did get some really good, long waves and met some kind people in the water including the locals who sat next to me on the peak and shared stories. The Israelis, however, were in a whole league of their own with regards to manners or lack thereof. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Note: This is not racism but me sharing my personal experience over 10 days across all the spots in Arugam Bay. I’m not categorising every traveler or Israeli surfer.
Where to eat in Arugam Bay
Food in Arugam Bay is not cheap. I was expecting street food and cheap curry options but that sadly was not the case. You will need to budget for around 1,000-1,500 rupees a meal. Arugam Bay is no Indonesia with regards to budget eating!
A note of responsible plastic consumption: Please do not contribute to the insane amounts of single-use plastics, especially plastic bottles. Buy a 5-gallon water bottle (120 Rupees) & keep this in your room to fill up from. Or even better, fill your reusable water bottle up for free at the café at Hideaway (closed 4pm). Such a great initiative that more people should use – Thanks Hideaway!
Best breakfast & coffee
The best breakfasts in town are from Hideaway and the vegan smoothie Bowl place on the beach road. Hideaway and the place next door to it on the left do the best coffee (350 – 400 Rupees). Again, refill your water here for free!
Grab a roti for 80 Rupees or Hideaway also do great sandwiches (from 800 Rupees).
Best dinner options
For dinner, The Tandori Hut was the best Indian food I have ever had (outside of Brick Lane, London ) – and that’s saying something. It is cheap to compare to the rest of Arugam Bay’s overpriced food, at 850 rupees for a chicken Masala, rice or Naam break. The guys that work there are so nice.
Definitely, have a fish BBQ while you are staying in Arugam Bay. You will see them setting up on the beach side of the road on Main Street. I’ve never seen a tuna that big!
The Thai restaurant is also delicious but expensive (over 1,300 rupees for dinner).
You can get a good burger at Hello Burger on Main Street.
Safari in Arugam Bay
While you are in Arugam Bay you should head south into the Yalla National Park and go on safari. They will only let you in the National Park if you have a 4×4 but otherwise, it’s best to arrange a safari jeep to take you. They have this amazing ability to find all the animals: elephants, leopards, snakes, monkeys, crocodiles, buffalo and so many birds.
There are many people to book through but it seems that Arugam Bay Tours is a good option.
Other things to do in Arugam Bay
Have Jewellery made
Sri Lanka is very well known for having some of the best gemstones in the world. Knowing this, I really wanted to have a ring made but I didn’t want to spend any time in Colombo. Luckily there is an amazing jewelry workshop right on Main Street in Arugam Bay called Rehan Gem & Jewellery Workshop. I sat with Rehan as he melted the silver and mold my ring. This Blue Topaz ring cost me $280USD (the stone is HUGE) and sitting and watching them make it all day was very special. Go to Rehan Gem & Jewellery Workshop (south end of Main Street), bring your own designs or chose a stone like I did.
Ruins and temples near Arugam Bay
There are some historical archeological sites near Arugam Bay that were fascinating to visit. Magul Maha Viharaya, in particular, was very cool. An ancient Buddhist temple in incredible condition. We were the only people there. It is about 20minutes out of Arugam Bay.
I hope you found our guide to Arugam Bay useful. If you have any questions or comments please let us know below. Have a great trip. Sri Lanka is a very special place. And don’t forget your first aid kit or travel insurance!