Situated on the south east coast of the island, Arugam Bay is Sri Lanka’s surfing mecca. For years, devoted surfers have been making the pilgrimage to Arugam Bay’s picturesque beaches for a chance to ride the perfect waves that roll onshore. Backpacker-style guesthouses, cosy cabanas and hotels developed accordingly, and although the area now sees plenty of tourists – drawn not only to the waves but also to the region’s beaches, lagoons and national parks – Arugam Bay still has a lovely, laid back charm although it’s not sleepy, by any means; there are numerous restaurants, bars and frequent parties during the season. A favourite pastime of many is watching sunrise from the beach.
Arugam Bay’s main season runs between the driest months of May and October, although it can still be visited outside of this time. Many surf competitions are held during the season, which creates plenty of atmosphere and means that rooms often get booked up in advance. Most visitors reach Arugam Bay by road, and do so by driving through Lahugala National Park where elephants can often be spied on drives through the reserve; during parched July and August, as many as 150 elephants are likely to be seen converging on the Lahugala Tank (lake).
The countryside surrounding Arugam Bay is unspoilt and very picturesque. Miles of superb, deserted beaches and surfing points lay out to the south of town, characterised by rocky outcrops and sand dunes. Some 30km south of Arugam Bay is Okanda, a village with a major Hindu temple dedicated to the god Kataragama. Although trips can be organised from Arugam Bay, Okanda is the main entrance point for Yala East National Park, whose Kumana Wewa tank and surrounding mangroves support a fascinating array of aquatic birds.