Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka: Wildlife, Surf and Ocean Views

Arugam Bay on the east coast of Sri Lanka is probably one of the country’s most famous surf spots. We’d just landed in Negombo when the swell picked up over in Arugam. Soon enough, I found myself making the 18 hour overnight journey to the east coast so that the surfer amongst us didn’t miss out.

Out of all the people who found themselves in Arugam Bay perhaps no one had taken the excruciatingly long, idiotic and pointless route we had. After an eight hour over night journey to Batticola with the music blaring right over our heads we were dropped off somewhere on the road at 4:00 A.M and three more buses, a flat tire and an Auto Rickshaw ride later we finally managed to reach Rangas, our palatial abode for the next week.

Sunrise from our beach facing Cabana at Ranga’s, Arugam Bay

Ranga’s Beach Huts is where travellers hang out in Arugam including the ones staying elsewhere. The restaurant serves good food and the vibe is fun, easy going and laden with wanderlust. We were there during low season and Ranga’s was the only place on the entire beach that was fully booked. I guess, at Ranga’s it is always high season. In the Tsunami of 2004, Ranga’s Huts along with the rest of Arugam Bay was completely destroyed. Photographs, articles and letters dotted around the restaurant still serve as gentle reminders of our fragile existence and the powers of nature. Ranga, the owner, was part of the community that worked day in and day out to bring Arugam back on its feet. Nearly 10 years down the line his ever growing fan following seems more than deserved.

Music, Guacamole and Coffee: Life in Ranga’s and Arugam Bay
For surfers, if you get lucky with timings, Arugam  can really be paradise. For beginners there is Baby Point which is right across from Mambo’s Hotel (that’s also where the beach parties every Saturday night are held). Further along from Baby Point is Main Point for the ones looking for something bigger and better. The best thing about the fairly decent sized waves at Main Point is the consistency. If you don’t manage to catch a wave all you have to do was wait for the next one to come along within the minute. There are several other surf spots in the Arugam like Whiskey Point, Peanut Farm, Elephant Point, Crocodile Rock and another one further up in a town called Okanda. On a particularly rainy day the brave souls I was with decided to surf Peanut Farm. Other than its waves this spot is also known for its motley collection of wild elephants, leopards and snakes. There was a massive storm coming through and I chose to hide under an abandoned cottage scared out my wits while the others tried to surf. They didn’t turn out to be that much braver than me because as I looked out trying to spot them in the water, I found them hiding under the giant rocks by the beach instead.
Main Point View, Arugam Bay


Sunset at Whiskey Point, Arugam

Even if you’re not a surfer, there is plenty to do in Arugam. Hiring a bicycle and exploring the lanes, cafes and villages in the area is a great way to spend the day. Another slightly faster alternative is to hire a scooter or a motorbike. One of our nicest days was spent riding up to Okanda from Arugam via the Kumana National Park. Just like we did, there is a pretty good chance you’ll come upon a wild Elephant or two just hanging out. Stay on your motorbike and maintain a safe distance! Peacocks in this part of Sri Lanka are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere from Arugam Bay all the way up to Okanda adding a special something to the otherwise dry landscape. Okanda town, if you can even call it that, is really tiny so remember to tank up because there is no petrol station here. All you’ll find is a few huts, a temple and two deer sitting under a tree there and not much else. Of course, save the stunning isolated beaches and Kumana National Park.

The beautiful and crowd free beaches of Okanda


Proper vantage point for a surf check in Okanda

There are also beautiful mangrove lagoons in Arugam and I really recommend the lagoon tours. The “boat” for the tour is basically a wooden plank fixed on two canoes. The Tamil captain of our boat, Nali, was quite a character and kept us entertained during our 2 hour long lagoon cruise. With his animated personality and contagious energy it was hard to imagine he was nearly 70. Nali chain smoked beedis, offered us some generously and had better eyesight than the two of us combined. He also translated everything we pointed at into Tamil and insisted we repeat after him which we obediently did. Back at Ranga’s we’d heard there were crocodiles in the lagoon and that’s probably what we were most excited to spot. After over an hour of birds, elephants and fish as we’d given up given up hope and just as we were turning back we came upon a monstrous beady eyed crocodile on the shore. The plank of wood we were sitting on wasn’t the most secure on the planet, a creature that size could easily upset it. Far from being people shy this big fat crocodile actually ran right towards us as if he was our pet dog happy to see us back home. He landed in the water with a loud plop and just hung out near our plank of wood “innocently” waiting till one of us fell in and became his lunch. If I’d earlier been excited at the thought of seeing a crocodile in the wild I was now terrified and was more than happy when Nali rowed us away.

The croc winked his eye as she waved them all goodbye

Arugam Bay, like most surf towns tends to be quite overpriced for meals as well as for transport costs. If you’re on a budget then you’re better off hiring a scooter (it’s also more fun). You can also save by getting some of your meals in Pottuvil’s local restaurants, just 3kms outside of Arugam. A lot of people skip Arugam Bay because of its lack of proximity to Colombo. If you don’t follow our example there are much quicker ways to reach the town. For instance there is a direct overnight bus from Colombo to Pottuvil from where Arugam Bay is just a 10 minute (150 LKR) ride away. The bus looked really rickety so we decided to take the nicer looking bus to Batticola which really was not quite where we wanted to go. Not the smartest decision in retrospect.

For its eternal sunshine, surf and easily accessible wildlife (this doesn’t include the hungry crocodile) Arugam has a special place in my Sri Lanka loving heart.

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