Thursday, March 5, 2015

Arugam Bay Travel Guide - Top Surf Destination in Sri Lanka

Where learn to surf in Sri Lanka

(Updated Sep 2015) Paradise beaches, beautiful waves, warm sea water, no sharks, no rocks, no reefs (except at Main Point for the pro's), cheap accommodation and great food. This is Arugam Bay, located on the South-East Coast of Sri Lanka, one of the top surf destinations in the world. Ideal for beginners and experienced surfers. If you are searching for where to surf in Sri Lanka then this is your spot.  Keep on reading to know how to get there, where to stay, where to eat and more.

I arrived to Arugam Bay on May 2014. I had no plans, no surfboard and no boardshorts. I didn't even know how to surf. Actually I didn't know a thing about this place. The only thing that I knew was this ad that I read in the inflight magazine before landing in Colombo: "Arugam Bay Surf Season Begins (May - Oct)"

I stayed for four months in total and had the greatest time ever. I wrote all about my experiences living and surfing in Arugam Bay in these posts where you can find more cool pics of Arugam Bay and a cool surf video:

Now I just want to share some practical info about Arugam Bay, for those who are in the search of a paradise beach and surf destination in Sri Lanka.


About Arugam Bay


Arugam Bay welcomes everybody. You can find people of all ages and all backgrounds but mainly backpackers. It's ideal for solo and budget travelers but also a great place for families with children. There is plenty of cheap accommodation and cheap food but also top-end restaurants and guesthouses.

The season begins in May, and believe me, the heat was intense. A few times I went surfing at 5:30 am and even then the water was warm, perfect! So make sure that your room is airy and has at least a fan. It was only by the end of August that the heat started subside, just a little, and the water started to feel slightly colder.


Surfing in Arugam Bay


The best period for surfing in Arugam Bay is between July and August, that's when all the surf spots have a good chance to be working but it's possible to find good waves at Main Point and Whiskey Point since beginning of May.

There are a several surf breaks near Arugam Bay with different type of waves suitable to different levels, all of them right hand point breaks. Main Point in Arugam Bay is a reef break. This is the spot visited mainly by the most experienced surfers. The waves average 2-3 feet and tops 5-6 feet. This point has definitely the best waves in A-Bay and it will be just a few minutes walk from your guesthouse.

Surfing at Main Point in Arugam Bay Sri Lanka
My friend Donatien surfing at Main Point.
He is like two meters tall, so that's a good size wave

Also in Arugam Bay, right in front of Mambos just before reaching Main Point, there is Baby Point. It's a very slow wave and mainly visited by beginners. It started working only by mid August I think.

North of Arugam Bay you can find Pottuvil Point, Whiskey Point and Light House. South from Arugam Bay you find Elephant Rock, Peanut Farm and Okanda. All these other surf spots are sand-bottom point breaks though you can find some rocks at Light House. You'll need to get a tuk-tuk to reach any of these surf spots.

My favorite beach was Peanut Farm. Beautiful beach and great place to enjoy the sunset but unfortunately the waves were not consistent. In the four months that I stayed in A-Bay maybe three or four times I saw nice good waves.

There is a second point at Peanut Farm, behind the rocks. It started working by end of June. Probably the only place where you can find barrels, but right next to big sharp rocks. Only for well experienced surfers. Elephant Rock, Pottuvil Point and Okanda can have nice fast and long waves but you need to be lucky to be there on a good day.

I spent most of my days at Whiskey Point. This is the most consistent point break near Arugam Bay. It was working from beginning of May until my last days in A-Bay, end of August. It was almost guarantee to find waves at this point.

Surfing at Whiskey Point near Arugam Bay
Not a big day at Whiskey Point


Local surfers at Whiskey Point
The local surfers at Whiskey Point with their puppies

Reaching The Surf Spots Near Arugam Bay


Unfortunately the local tuk-tuk "mafia" has a lot of power. It's not possible to rent a scooter with surf racks to carry your surfboard with you so you have no choice but to go by tuk-tuk. You are also not allowed to take more than two surf boards on a tuk-tuk. They claim that it is not allowed by the police but I'm sure that's not the case.

But I still loved the tuk-tuk ride to the different surf spots near Arugam Bay. The landscapes were just fantastic, it felt as if I was in a safari every single day. It's very common to see wild elephants early in the morning or late in the afternoon and lots of peacocks.

My cool tuk-tuk driver in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
Nilantha, my awesome tuk-tuk driver for two consecutive seasons!
Call him at +94 77 860 9089 He will take you anywhere. Give him my greetings pls.

If you have an international license (traffic police in Arugam Bay is a pain) you could also rent a tuk-tuk for a week or a month which can be cheaper. But still, you will only be allow to carry max two surfboards. Another option is to rent a scooter or motorcycle with surf racks from the beaches in the south and drive to Arugam Bay. One of my friends rented a motorcycle from Weligama I think. After a few weeks he was stopped by the police in A-Bay and they told him to remove the surf racks, but he never did.


What to do in Arugam Bay?


Besides surfing there is a lot that do in Arugam Bay. You can go for a lagoon tour, bird watching, elephant watching or Safari at the Yala National Park.

In the four months that I lived in Arugam Bay I didn't bother to do any of this. I did elephant watching in the evenings when taking the tuk-tuk back to the guesthouse. I did bird watching (there are peacocks everywhere!) every day in the mornings or afternoons when driving to the different surf spots. And I could see the lagoon on my way to Whiskey Point.

I did try once the Yala National Park Safari with some friends. We spend about six hours on this super old jeep that made so much noise that would scare every single animal in 500 meters radius. It was an OK experience but I wouldn't do it again and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody else.

What I would definitely recommend is to rent a tuk-tuk with some friends, take your boards and drive to Okanda. It's a really fun and beautiful drive and it's like doing your own safari. We even saw an elephant right at the beach!

Sunset in Okanda Beach, Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
Sunset at Okanda Beach

Another thing that I could recommend is to rent a tuk-tuk, scooter or a bike and drive to Light House. The ride is fun and even if you don't go surfing you could spend a very peaceful and quiet day or even a night in one of the guesthouses over there but if you really want to surf I recommend you call in advance and ask how are the waves.

Hilltop Cabanas at Light House
My little cabana for two nights at the Hilltop Cabanas, with sea view! Paradise

Where to Stay in Arugam Bay


There are probably hundreds of guesthouses for all budgets all around Arugam Bay. My advice is that you book a guesthouse for a couple of nights and then walk around during the day to check for other places, if you wish to do so. These are just a few options that I can recommend but you can certainly find a lot more in Arugam Bay:

North end of Arugam Bay. The further north (closer to the bridge) the quieter and calmer.
  • The Beach Hut $ - This place is Backpackers paradise. Read more about it on the restaurants section below.
  • Harmony Beach Hotel $ - Next to StarDust, this was my home during my second season in A-Bay. I love this place. Beautiful, clean, new and quiet, and the manager, Sams, was super friendly. You can reach him at +94 77 977 0613
  • Watermusic $$ - Nice cabanas, nice environment, nice people.
  • Samanthas Folly $$ - Also another good place for backpackers, similar to Beach Hut though more expensive and less crowded. They have a good and unique food menu. I came there twice for a lunch based on a friend's recommendation. Great food.

South end of Arugam Bay (closer to Main Point)
  • YMCArugam Bay $ - Part of Siam View Hotel. This was my first place in A-Bay. I got a bed in their dormitory with AC for LKR 1,000 per night. It was perfect. You can read more about this guesthouse on this blog by Tom Smith: Home away from home, away from home
  • Beach View $ - After YMCArugam Bay I moved to Beach View, I needed something more private. I stayed 10 days in one of the small cabanas for 1,500 per day. Not the cheapest but the place is nice, the cabana was beautiful, the people were friendly and the location excellent. Close to Main Point.
  • Hideawey Resort $$$ - Amazing bungalows and Villas. Also a top-end restaurant. Great place to hang out in the evenings with friends and a cocktail.

Where to Eat in Arugam Bay


Arugam Bay is packed with restaurants and almost every guesthouse has a restaurant. I didn't try them all of course but once I found a few places that I liked I would come back to the same spots again and again for breakfast, lunch or dinner. These were my favorites:

Beach Hut - $ If you are traveling alone and on a budget then Beach Hut is the best place for you. It's probably one of the most sociable guesthouses in Arugam Bay. Almost all the friends that I met while surfing were staying at Beach Hut and I met many other amazing people over there. But you don't need to stay at Beach Hut to enjoy the delicious food and to meet some nice people.

The guys from Beach Hut
The awesome guys at Beach Hut.  I spent so much time over there
Best place for meeting fellow travelers and for good and affordable food.

Guacamole Toast, Nutella Peanut Butter Banana Pancake, Peanut Butter Jam Sandwich, Fruit Salad with Coconut, Curd and Honey, Fruit Porridge... Yeah, lots of options for an awesome breakfast!

Everyday for lunch and dinner they make one meal (veg and non veg) for everybody so it can be really cheap, between 250 and 350. For lunch they usually have a really good Rice & Curry and every friday they make a Fish Barbecue (all you can eat) for just 500 rupees! You can't miss this one.

Perera - $ Probably the first restaurant that I visited in town. Right next to Siam View Hotel. I would normally stop there for a quick breakfast before surfing (although not so quick cause they can be super slow) or for lunch after surfing, or even both. They have a really good fruit salad and delicious fruit juices. Their Fish Rice and Curry, which includes three Veg Curries, it's really good and super cheap, only 300 rupees! Every day they prepare different vegetables curries, so it's not so monotonous.

Perera, cheap restaurant in Arugam Bay
Fish Rice and Curry for only 300 rupees! Great Fruit Salads and the best fruit juices.

Food Hut - $$ A very small local restaurant very close to Beach Hut. I love the guys working there. Every day they would ask me "How much you want to pay?" although I would normally order the same things.

Food Hut in Arugam Bay
I'm really missing my fruit salad, porridge and avocado juice at the Food Hut! 

I really miss my breakfasts at the Food Hut. Their fruit salad was my favorite and almost by the end of my stay I realized that they could also make porridge (not many places know what porridge is). And their Rice & Curry is one of the best, but they don't do it every day so you need to ask in advance.

There is not many people going there and they have really good wifi so for some time it became my personal office. A few times I stayed there all the way from breakfast till lunch. I loved the time that I spent at the Food Hut. (update sep/15: unfortunately these two guys don't work there anymore and the food is not the same, but it's still good)

Why Not - $$ My friend Do used to say that the best place for prawns is definitely Why Not. My favorite dish was the Spaghetti with Prawns with their special deviled sauce. They have a really good avocado salad with prawns (not in the menu) and their sea food platter looks delicious. The owner and staff working there were really friendly.

Why Not Restaurant in Arugam Bay

Gecko - $$$ This one is quite an expensive restaurant but the only reason I would go there was for their pizza, definitely the best pizza in town and absolutely worth the price. I went there many times with my friends and they all loved the pizza, but unfortunately they only make pizza when there is enough people around. We went there about five times and got disappointed because they decided not to make pizza that evening.

Break Point - $$ A very popular restaurant among Israelis. They have a really good hummus and falafel plate but I would usually go there for their amazing brownies.

Restaurant in Arugam Bay


Cili Surf Shop and Pizzeria - $$$ A Surf Shop and a Pizzeria. The Pizzeria was quite popular but it opened a bit late, mid June probably. All the guys working there were great.

Cili Surf Shop in Arugam Bay
Cili, the first surf shop where I rented a longboard.
The staff working there are awesome. This dude was super nice
and Jassin is somewhere inside resting to prepare some pizzas at night.

Surfing Sam Surfshop in Arugam Bay
Sam's Surf Shop. Not a restaurant but I like this pic.
It's opposite to Cili and right next to it you can find Perera

Sababa - $$$ The first thing that I would do when going surfing at Whiskey Point was to look for one of Sababa's free beach beds/cabanas to leave my stuff and go catch some waves. Then after a few hours surfing I would go to the bar and order two pineapple juice to re-hydrate myself.

Sababa's beach cabanas at Whiskey Point
Sababa's free beach beds and cabanas

The food and drinks at Sababa's are not that cheap (pineapple juice was 330) but there is nothing else around and to be honest the place is quite cool and the staff are really nice. Their Special Sri Lankan Rice and Curry is really good, I think about 750 rupees. 1,000 rupees since 2015!


How to Get to Arugam Bay From Colombo


There are usually three night buses leaving from Colombo straight to Pottuvil, at 7pm, 8:30 pm and 10:30pm. The first two buses are government buses (not recommended) and the last one is a private bus which is a bit more comfortable. To get the 10:30pm bus (Bus #98 - Chathura Express) you need to go to the Peta Bus Station Private Stand. Make sure you buy your tickets in advance, preferably early in the morning. It reaches Arugam Bay at 5:30 am.

To know about where to stay in Colombo, where to eat in Colombo and how to reach Colombo city center from the airport you can read Sri Lanka Travel Tips: From India to Sri Lanka and Back


How Much Money Do I Need to Live in Arugam Bay

  • Full day surfboard rent: LKR 1,000
  • Tuk Tuk Round Trip to Whiskey Point, Peanut Farm or Elephant Rock per person (shared with two): LKR 500
  • Food: Average 400 per meal: LKR 900
  • Accommodation: aprox LKR 1,000
Total LKR 3,700 per day (EUR 23, US$ 26 , GBP 17). Prices does not include beer.

This I think is the cheapest you can go. If you surf at the Main Point you can safe money on tuk-tuk rides. If you stay for a long time and always go to the same shop for your board you might get a discount for the board (about LKR 700 per day) but you'll also need to take some days of rest. You can always spend more or less in food and accommodation. A pint of Lion beer is about LKR 180.


What to Bring to Arugam Bay


For your convenience I'm including here some Amazon Affiliate Links. If you buy any products through these links you'll be supporting me to continue sharing my path, via a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

Bring Your Reef Boots.


Even if you are a beginner surfer eventually you'll want to try Main Point in Arugam Bay. This is the spot with the best waves. In my opinion, one good wave from the Main Point is worth like ten waves from the other surf spots nearby. But Main Point is a reef break and cuts are very common.

On my first few days at Main Point I borrowed a friend's surf reef boots. I'm so glad I did cause I was very clumsy. The main challenge is to go out or in, but even while surfing I landed with my heals on the reef. After a few days I was able to do it without boots but there is always the risk to get cut and get an infection. I heard horror stories of infections because of reef cuts. Is not worth it so better come prepared.

It's very hard to find a place to rent surf boots and if you do they'll be almost breaking apart, they wont fit you and they'll be very expensive. You might even need to wear two different boots. So, best to bring your own own surf reef boots.

Bring Your Surfboard

If you rent a surfboard for a month you could spend at least LKR 21,000 ( EUR 142, US$158, GBP 103). For that money you could probably buy a new or second hand surfboard online and of much better quality than those that you'll be renting.

You could also even sell it when you leave for a good price (if you bought it at home), or take it with you to your next destination. I saw one shop where you could buy new surfboards but the choices were limited, they are expensive, and you can only pay cash. Even second hand surfboards are overpriced. I heard from seasonal surfers that you can get cheaper and better surfboards in Indonesia.

Although I stayed for almost four months I decided to only rent. I wanted to try surf boards of different sizes and I was probably going to return to India for yoga. It would have been completely useless and troublesome to carry a surfboard with me.

Bring Your GoPro

I was surprised to see so many people bringing their GoPro with them. Of course, it makes lots of sense cause is the perfect opportunity to use it and have some fun taking pictures or videos of your surf. You can even find a surfboards for rent in Arugam Bay with GoPro mounts already installed on them.

Some of the shots in the video that I shared in My Life in Arugam Bay - Learning to Enjoy Each Moment to the Fullest were recorded with a GoPro.



Bring Your First Aid Kit

Even the slightest insignificant cut gets infected in A-Bay. The water, the heat and specially those incredible annoying little flies won't let your wounds heal.

Plaster, antiseptic alcohol, ISO Betadine cream, and Sulfatiazol, a magic antiseptic white powder. These are most-carry-items on your Travel First Aid Kit. This white powder, Sulfatiazol, is the best. It will help to keep your wounds dry and will keep those damn flies away.

And believe me, one way or another you'll get cut. I got cut on my right big toe. Not from the reef but from a rock that I didn't see when walking back to my guesthouse after one awesome party at Mambos. Lol. I had to stay out of the water for 5 or 6 days until it dried completely.

Bring Your Sunblock

Is hard to find in A-Bay sunblocks and lip-balm of good quality and for a good price. And you'll need them for sure. Arugam Bay is on the East Coast so you'll pretty much be facing the harsh sun all day long while surfing. Better to bring a good quality sunblock from your own country.

I like to use Banana Boat Sport Faces Sunscreen with the highest SPF that I can find, but also very popular among surfers are those containing zinc like Zinka's colored sunblock.


Yoga in Arugam Bay


Every season you can find the guys of Arugam Bay Yoga Waves, Kevin and Yael Kutler, teaching at the Stardust Beach Hotel, near Beach Hut. They teach their own style of yoga which they call Wave Flow Yoga. I've been to a couple of their classes and they were fun, dynamic, oriented to surfers and challenging. You can find their ads in every little corner of Arugam Bay so impossible to miss it.

Last season I was teaching Traditional Hatha Yoga at the Green Room Cabanas (same street as Watermusic). I might not be there this coming season but you can pass by and check if there is any other yoga teacher giving classes.


Some Interesting Articles From the Web About Arugam Bay



I hope you guys will find this Arugam Bay Travel Guide useful. If you've been to Arugam Bay before please feel free to recommend your favorite guesthouse or restaurant in Arugam Bay. You can also share your own experiences and travel tips in the comments below.

6 comments:

  1. Your article is helpful and refreshing :)

    Can't wait to go in Arugam Bay next month! And reading your article makes me even more exited ! Thanks

    Ciao

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    Replies
    1. Thanks to you Marco. I hope you had a great time in A-Bay.

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  2. Great article and refreshingly accurate! Good job!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow! What an awesome post, so informative.Thanks a mil!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Michaela! Good to know that it's been helpful for you. Enjoy A-Bay!

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  4. it helps a lot we will go there this august
    cheers

    ReplyDelete