Arugam Bay, nestled along the laid-back eastern coast of Sri Lanka, is widely hailed as the best surfing beach in the country. Located about 312 km from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, this hidden gem was inaccessible to the public for nearly 30 years due to the presence of LTTE terrorists. However, with the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, Arugam Bay has transformed into a sought-after destination for surfers from around the world.
Surfing and International Contests
Arugam Surf Point, a small bay with consistent right-hand breaks, has become a surfing paradise. In mid-2010, the World Surf League (WSL) hosted its first international surf contest at Arugam Bay, and they repeated the tour in 2011 with the addition of a women’s competition to the men’s longboard championship. The waves at Arugam Bay are perfect for surfers of all levels, from beginners to experts, making it an ideal spot for surf enthusiasts to test their skills and catch some thrilling waves.
Local Villages and Attractions
Arugam Bay comprises three small villages where fishing and farming are the primary occupations. Each village has its unique charm and cultural heritage. Ullae, a fishing village at the corner of the bay, is predominantly inhabited by Tamil people, although there are also a few Sinhalese families living there. The village boasts both a Sinhalese and a Tamil school, reflecting the diversity of its residents.
Perie Ullae and Sinna Ullae are mostly Muslim communities, and they offer a glimpse into the local Muslim way of life. Perie Ullae has a sub-post office, a mosque, and a Muslim school, while Sinna Ullae has a mosque and a Muslim school. These villages provide visitors with a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture and experience the warmth and hospitality of the residents.
The town of Arugam Bay itself is small and unassuming, with its main charm coming from the cosy restaurants and storefronts that have sprung up to cater to surfers. The laid-back vibe of the town and its friendly locals create a welcoming atmosphere for travellers seeking relaxation and adventure.
Things to Do in Arugam Bay
- Beach Activities: Apart from surfing, the beach offers various other enjoyable activities and water sports, such as diving. Snorkelling is another popular activity here, allowing visitors to explore the underwater world and witness vibrant marine life. The crystal-clear waters and the abundance of marine biodiversity make it a paradise for snorkelers and divers.
- Wildlife Exploration: Visit Kumana National Park, also known as Yala East, where the only entrance to the park is through Arugam Bay and Panama, an ancient farming village. This park is a haven for elephants, and it offers excellent opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to spot various species of birds and animals in their natural habitat. The park is also home to leopards, sloth bears, deer, and numerous bird species, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and wildlife photographers.
- Explore the Heritage: The east of Sri Lanka boasts a rich Buddhist history dating back to pre-Christian times. Arugam Bay and its surroundings are home to several ancient ruins and religious sites:
- Muhudu Maha Viharaya: Some believe this is the place where Queen Vihara Maha Devi and her entourage were washed ashore in the 2nd century BC. The site houses ancient statues and building remains, offering a fascinating glimpse into the region’s past. Visitors can take guided tours to learn about the history and significance of this archaeological treasure.
- Lahugala Magul Maha Viharaya: Built by King Kavanthissa in the 2nd Century BC, it is said to be the location where the King married Princess Vihara Maha Devi. The temple complex is a testament to the ancient architectural and artistic prowess of the region. Exploring the intricately carved structures and ancient inscriptions is an enlightening experience for history enthusiasts.
- Neelagiri Maha Seya: The largest Buddhist Stupa in the Eastern Province, believed to be built by King Kawantissa (3rd Century BC) or King Bhatikabaya (20 BC-9 AC). It was renovated in the 7th century and serves as a significant religious and historical site. The stupa’s grandeur and serene surroundings make it a place for contemplation and spiritual reflection.
- Ancient Kudumbigala Monastery: Located 25 km from Arugam Bay, atop a massive rock, this monastic complex was built in 246 BC during the time of King Devanampiyatissa. Over 200 rock caves belonging to this forgotten monastery have been discovered by archaeologists, providing insights into the lives of ancient Buddhist monks. Trekking up to the monastery offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and a chance to connect with nature.
Getting to Arugam Bay
The distance from Colombo to Arugam Bay is 312 km, and the journey takes about 6-7 hours. You can find driving directions on Google Maps. Alternatively, you can take a domestic flight to the nearby Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport and then proceed to Arugam Bay by road. The airport itself is an architectural wonder, and the flight offers an aerial view of Sri Lanka’s diverse landscapes.
Aside from Arugam Bay itself, there are several fascinating archaeological sites and natural wonders within a short distance. Some of them include Elephant Rock Archaeological Site, Lahugala Kitulana National Park, and Neelagiri Maha Seya, among others. These attractions offer visitors a chance to explore the region’s diverse history and unique landscapes. For instance, the Elephant Rock Archaeological Site houses ancient cave paintings and inscriptions, providing a glimpse into the prehistoric human civilization that once thrived in the area.
Arugam Bay offers the perfect blend of surfing adventures, wildlife encounters, and historical exploration. Whether you’re a surfer seeking the perfect wave or a traveller in search of cultural heritage and natural beauty, Arugam Bay has something special to offer everyone. Its pristine beaches, warm hospitality, and rich history make it a must-visit destination in Sri Lanka.
In addition to the mentioned activities and attractions, Arugam Bay also hosts an annual international surfing festival, attracting surfers and spectators from all corners of the world. The festival showcases the local surfing talent and fosters camaraderie among surfers, making it a vibrant and unforgettable event.
The region’s culinary offerings are equally enticing, with a wide range of seafood delicacies and traditional Sri Lankan dishes. Visitors can savour the fresh catch of the day at local seafood restaurants or indulge in spicy curries and flavorful rice dishes.
For those seeking a spiritual experience, Arugam Bay has several meditation centres and yoga retreats that offer serene surroundings for introspection and rejuvenation. These centres often organize yoga sessions and mindfulness workshops, allowing visitors to unwind and find inner peace amidst nature’s bounty.
Furthermore, adventure seekers can venture beyond the main town and explore the nearby villages, where local artisans offer handicrafts and traditional souvenirs. The villages’ vibrant markets and cultural festivals provide an authentic glimpse into the lives of the locals and their age-old traditions.
With its friendly locals, picturesque landscapes, and myriad of activities, Arugam Bay promises an unforgettable vacation for everyone. Whether you wish to ride the waves, immerse yourself in history, or simply unwind on the sandy shores, this surfer’s paradise will leave you with cherished memories that will last a lifetime.