Surfing in Arugam Bay: A Practical Guide to Surf Central in East Sri Lanka
Surfing is one of the best things to do in Arugam Bay with surf breaks aplenty. Read on for how to get there, where to stay, where to surf and more!
Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka is a famous surfing destination on the island’s east coast, though more and more non-surfers and families are starting to flock to the small town for its sandy beaches, proximity to lesser-visited national parks and budget-friendly hotels and restaurants.
Most visitors to Arugam Bay either love it, or hate it. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but one thing is for certain: it is a fantastic place to spend a few days surfing your brains out with never-ending right-handers. I’ve been a couple of times, and I would personally only recommend the long journey to Arugam Bay if you are keen to surf, are visiting during the east coast peak season or it’s not your first time to Sri Lanka. For first-time visitors to Sri Lanka, I recommend sticking to this 2 week itinerary instead, even during the “off” season along the south coast – read on for why!
For those planning to visit Arugam Bay, here are some quick tips to help you organize your perfect Sri Lanka surf trip.
Read more: 12 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Sri Lanka
Helpful things to know before you go to Sri Lanka
- Most visitors will need to apply online for a Sri Lanka e-visa (except for nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles).
- The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee and the exchange rate typically varies from approximately 165-180 LKR: 1 USD. As of May 2023 the official rate is approximately 305 LKR: 1 USD or 330 LKR: 1 Euro due to the massive currency devaluation. Cash is king in Sri Lanka so you’ll want to make sure you exchange some money at the airport (save the receipt so that you can exchange it back into dollars or Euros on your way back home) or withdraw some cash from an ATM.
- Local SIM cards and data packages can be purchased at the airport once you arrive. I personally use Mobitel/Sri Lanka Telecom and coverage is fairly consistent across Sri Lanka, though there can be some dead spots in rural areas and national parks.
- The best way to travel around Sri Lanka is by car, especially if you are short on time. Hiring a car and driving around yourself is possible but you’ll need to be careful driving around in busy towns – racing buses, crazy tuk tuks, cyclists, pedestrians, cows and elephants are just a number of things you need to worry about on the roads in Sri Lanka. You will also need additional validation of your international driving permit in Colombo or else your insurance may not cover you in the event of an accident or damage.
- Though Sri Lanka is a world-class beach destination, it is still relatively modest and it is frowned upon to walk around shirtless in local villages and towns. Though Buddhism is the main religion in Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay and neighbouring town Pottuvil are home to a majority Muslim population. When walking around town, be mindful of your attire.
- Sri Lanka has a few different climates so you may need to bring a light jacket if you’re visiting hill country (Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ella) as it can get fairly chilly. However, Arugam Bay is stinking hot so you’ll need to bring lightweight and breathable clothing.
Visiting Sri Lanka? Read this article for a full list of essential things you should know before your trip to Sri Lanka as well as 15 things you should NOT do if you’re visiting the island!
How to get to Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is on the east coast of Sri Lanka, about two thirds of the way down from the apex of the teardrop-shaped island. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when traveling to Sri Lanka is underestimating the amount of time it takes to get from place to place. Depending on which route you take, Arugam Bay is between 330-400 KM away from Colombo, but you will not be able to drive above 50 KM/hour for the vast majority of the journey. What does this mean? It means that the drive from Colombo to Arugam Bay can take anywhere from 7 to 10 hours depending on how many stops you make and traffic.
For this reason, I do not recommend heading straight to Arugam Bay from Colombo. Instead, make a few stops and include Arugam Bay as part of a broader Sri Lanka itinerary. Of all the top destinations in Sri Lanka, it’s easiest to get to Arugam Bay from Ella, Udawalawe, Yala or Talalla/Dikwella/Tangalle/Hambantota in the south coast. From these destinations, it will take between 3-5 hours to get to Arugam Bay.
The fastest and easiest way to travel around Sri Lanka is by car, especially if you are short on time. You can ask your hotel to organize a 1-way private car transfer for you, take an Uber/PickMe or ask around to see if anyone is interested in sharing a ride. If you are a solo female traveler in Sri Lanka, I recommend organizing transportation via your hotel. If your heart is set on traveling direct from Colombo to Arugam Bay you can read this guide for more transportation options.
Where to stay in Arugam Bay
The “main strip” of Arugam Bay town is only 2 KM long, and the hub only spans across a few hundred meters. There are many hotel options in Arugam Bay, but I would say that the majority of options are on the budget end of the spectrum. If you’re looking for higher-end or boutique accommodation in Arugam Bay, I recommend these following options:
The Spice Trail is a boutique hotel in the thick of it all – right along the main stretch of Arugam Bay with easy access to the main beach, shops and restaurants. The location, comfortable rooms and friendly service makes it one of the best hotels in Arugam Bay.
The Spice Trail has an on-site restaurant, coffee shop, bar and pool, and the rooms are extremely spacious and equipped with air-conditioners (which you’ll be thankful for because it gets stinking hot). They also offer a board rack area for guests to store their surfboards. If you’re looking for comfortable rooms in Arugam Bay in an unbeatable location, stay at The Spice Trail. Click here for current rates and availability or click here to check out other highly-rated Arugam Bay hotels!
If you don’t mind staying off the main strip of Arugam Bay, you can also look into Kottukal Beach House in Pottuvil. The property offers beach access, a pool and spacious rooms at a reasonable rate. The hotel is a 15-20 minute drive away from the main strip of Arugam Bay, so is perfect if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the town during the peak season in the east. Click here to book your stay at Kottukal Beach House!
Wondering how many days to spend in Arugam Bay? Surfers may want to stay 3 or more days to make the most of the morning and afternoon sessions when the wind is at a minimum. I would recommend other visitors to Arugam Bay to spend 2, maximum 3 nights in town.
Sri Lanka has incredible accommodation options to suit all budgets around the island. Read this curated list for some of my favorite boutique and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka!
When to visit Arugam Bay
The best time to visit Arugam Bay is during the peak and shoulder seasons from May to October. During this time, the weather is much more consistent and pleasant; if you visit during the other months outside of the Arugam Bay season, you might find that many restaurants and shops will shut for the season and the beaches may not be very swimmable. Arugam Bay as a whole tends to be much hotter and drier than the other regions, so be prepared for the heat to reach upwards of 32, 33 degrees Celsius (approximately 90 Fahrenheit) – you won’t want to be outdoors under the midday sun.
For surfers, the biggest swells arrive in Arugam Bay between June and August – during this time, the swell is more consistent but also far more crowded. Expect to see at least 20-30 people at each surf break, and drop-ins and snaking are not uncommon which can be unpleasant seeing as almost all the breaks in Arugam Bay are point breaks.
If you are not keen on surfing with dozens of other people, you might want to consider traveling to Arugam Bay in May or late September/October when the crowds thin out. The swell is still there but less consistent, stay tuned to the Arugam Bay surf forecast to determine the best days to visit for big swell.
For the best surf conditions in Arugam Bay, look for westerly wind from the monsoon trade wind (west south west) which turns onshore after around 11 AM. The ideal swell direction is from south to southeast so that it is not blocked by the south of Sri Lanka. You want a long period swell (10-12 seconds and up) that is 3 foot/1 metre and above so it wraps and pushes the swell into the bays around the surf points in Arugam Bay. You can use Magic Seaweed to check the Arugam Bay surf report.
The best surf breaks in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is home to a plethora of surf breaks to suit all levels of surfers, from beginners who are still learning to pop up on a board to advanced surfers doing top turns and massive cutbacks. There are plenty of surf schools in the area if you’re looking to learn to surf in Arugam Bay, and if you don’t have your own board you can rent one from one of the many surf shops along the main strip.
Make sure you shop around to look for a board that is in good condition – I rented my 7’6 NSP from Hang Ten Surf Shop for 1000 LKR a day though prices may have since gone up due to inflation. Raj, the guy who runs the shop, is friendly and also offers board repair in Arugam Bay, surf lessons and surf guiding. Alternatively, Dylan’s Surf Company, The Surf City and Excellent Surf School are also highly-rated in the area.
Ready to experience Arugam Bay surf? Here are some of the top surf spots in Arugam Bay:
Arugam Point Main Point: The main point has some reef but is good for intermediate to advanced surfers – it is not suitable for beginner surfers. Beginners may want to head to the inside point, or “baby point”. If you’re lucky you might even spot this surfing doggo.
Peanut Farm: Peanut Farm is an extremely popular surf spot in Arugam Bay. It’s about 20 minutes outside of the main town, which makes it extremely accessible (and therefore crowded). The sand-bottom main point and inside point are perfect for beginner to intermediate surfers, and I usually stick to surfing the baby point while my husband heads further along the beach to surf at the main point. There’s also an on-site surf school at Peanut Farm if you’re looking for one-off lessons.
Okanda: Okanda is one of the furthest surf spots from Arugam Bay – expect a 45-minute drive or more. The point break is suitable for beginner and intermediate surfers.
Pottuvil Point: Another popular break, there is a main and inside point which makes it perfect for all levels of surfers.
Whisky Point: Whisky Point is north of Pottuvil Point and offers 1 main point – many beginner lessons are held here.
Lighthouse: We loved surfing at Lighthouse when the dropping in and snaking became too much to handle at Peanut Farm. The break is further away from Arugam Bay with a number of small guesthouses along the beach, so tends to be a little less crowded. You’ll need a vehicle that can handle off-road trails.
Elephant Rock: Another popular surf spot for people seeking out the elusive barrel. This is a right hand point break located south of Arugam Bay.
There are plenty of secret surf breaks in Arugam Bay – hire a surf guide or chat to some of the local surfers to see if they’re willing to share. Either way, you have plenty of options for places to surf in Arugam Bay.
Where to eat and drink in Arugam Bay
Hideaway: Hideaway has a small cafe, restaurant and bar (head there for happy hour) – the food and drinks are delicious.
Gecko: Gecko is a small beach shack on the main strip of Arugam Bay. The service is fantastic but the food takes some time to prepare – try their fish burger or fish and chips.
Seahorse: Seahorse is famous for their pizza but there’s plenty of other options on the menu, plus there are often live music performances in the evenings.
Bites: Bites is the on-site cafe at The Spice Trail offering small treats and coffee. The carrot cake is to die for.
Ready to book your trip to Arugam Bay? I recommend staying at The Spice Trail for spacious and comfortable air-conditioned rooms, easy access to the main beach and restaurants, and relaxing pool for guests only. Click here for current rates and availability or click here to check out other highly-rated Arugam Bay hotels!
Other non-surf things to do in Arugam Bay
What if you’re not too keen on surfing? There are a number of things to do in Arugam Bay including a lagoon safari in Pottuvil; safari in Yala East/Kumana National Park or Gal Oya National Park; temple hopping at Kudumbigala Monastery or the ancient Muhudu Maha Vihara; or relaxing on one of the many beaches.
But here’s the thing: the majority of people who don’t surf only consider adding Arugam Bay to their Sri Lanka itinerary because they’ve heard that you shouldn’t visit southern Sri Lanka from May to October during the monsoon season. If you are reading this and that is the case, hear me out: it’s hogwash. You can visit the beaches of south Sri Lanka any time of year!
Most of the time, the rain comes in short spurts and it very rarely rains all day long. The beaches in south Sri Lanka are far less crowded during the off season from late May/June to October, and there are plenty of protected beaches and bays that are safe to swim in during this season. If you are short on time, the cities and towns along the south coast of Sri Lanka are far more accessible and offer more accommodation options as well.
Those who are avid surfers and visiting from May-October can also consider splitting their time in Sri Lanka between the south coast and Arugam Bay, and keeping an eye on the surf forecast before deciding to make the long journey east to A Bay’s surf spots. If the swell doesn’t hit during your trip, don’t fret: there are many surf breaks in the south coast of Sri Lanka that work even during the monsoon season. They also tend to be far less crowded! Click here to read my ultimate guide to southern Sri Lanka.
Looking for more insider tips for visiting Sri Lanka? I’ve got you covered with some related reads:
- This guide contains some important things you should know before you go to Sri Lanka
- And here’s what not to do as a first-time visitor to the island
- Head on over here for the perfect 2 week itinerary for first-timers to Sri Lanka as well as a shortened, express 1 week Sri Lanka itinerary if you’re short on time
- Looking for even more surf spots in Sri Lanka? Check out this guide to Sri Lanka’s south coast and a list of the best beaches to visit
- Check out some of these beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka to get inspired
- Or click here for the full collection of Sri Lanka travel and destination guides
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