Arugam Bay For Digital Nomads, A Hidden Gem Or Internet Nightmare?

Thinking of remote working in Arugam Bay, but not sure if the internet works or the vibe is right? Welcome to our guide with everything you need to know about one of our favourite digital nomad spots.

We’d visited Sri Lanka many times before, usually escaping the winter chill in Europe for a work-away on the south coast. We’d spent countless months in Ahangama, Hiriketiya, Madiha, and Weligama, enjoying the good surf, chilled vibes, and quiet times, but never the east coast. 

But, after a long, long, cold spring in London and a summer that just wouldn’t start, I turned to Beth, “Let’s get out of here.”

Canggu, Chiang Mai, Lisbon, the Canary Islands – so many options, and Arugam Bay isn’t one that typically tops the digital nomad lists. But often, it’s the unspoken places that make them so great, and with a feeling like Sri Lanka might be our second home, we decided to just book a flight and give it a go.

Two local kids play in the ocean on Arugam Bay beach at dusk

Why Arugam Bay is great for Digital Nomads

Fast forward to the end of our trip and 6 weeks didn’t feel enough, we’d have happily spent the whole summer in Arugam Bay. It was the perfect blend of surfing, good food, great people and a relaxing place to just work and unwind. If you’re looking for a new digital nomad destination, here’s why we think Arugam Bay is perfect.

Amazing Surf

Arugam Bay is arguably the most famous surf destination in Sri Lanka, so if you like to hit the surf and maybe do a bit of work on the side, this is the perfect place for you. Arugam Bay is the land of peeling right hand point breaks, big carvable faces and if you’re lucky, maybe even a little barrel.

If you can surf, expect long 200-400m calf burning rides, more turns than the UK government and a casual walk back up the beach to the peak to repeat it all over again. It was so easy to catch some of the best waves of my life I ended up spending 4 hours a day in the water, and even as a goofy, I can now say I love right handers. 

If you’re a beginner or you like to dabble, Arugam Bay is a great place to learn. The waves are relatively mellow and you won’t get stuck in lots of white wash so it’s easy to progress. Whatever your level, Arugam Bay is a great place for digital nomads who love to surf.

Read more: Arugam Bay Surf Guide: The Best Spots, Pics, Tips & More

A man doing a turn on a wave at main point Arugam Bay

Beach vibes

Arugam Bay beach is without a doubt one of the best in Sri Lanka. So if you’re looking for a destination with a rustic feel and a great beach culture, Arugam Bay might be for you.

Originally, the town was a small fishing village before the first surfers arrived in the 1980s when there were just a few shacks on the beach. Since then, the town has been built around the surf culture with many bohemian beach clubs, hippie cafes and surf shops to explore, but luckily it’s still kept its remote feel. 

The whole town seems to revolve around the beach where fishermen still launch their boats, local kids play in the sea, surfers commute to the breaks and travelers compare cart wheels. So if you enjoy some beach volleyball, afternoon swims, drinking a few beers, relaxing in the sun or meeting some fellow travelers in between a bit of remote work, then Arugam Bay is the place.

Read more: 6 stunning beaches to explore in Arugam Bay

A beautiful pink sky at sunset on an empty beach near Arugam Bay


If you’re the kind of digital nomad that likes to surround themselves with nature then you won’t be disappointed with Arugam Bay. There’s just enough infrastructure in the town so it’s easy to live and remote work, but the surrounding area is still untouched and it’s stunning to explore. If you want to see the real Sri Lanka without the beachfront hotels and main roads, then this is the place to visit.

A girl sits on the top of Elephant Rock at sunset in Sri Lanka

The coastline has a feeling of wildness to it with long untouched beaches backing onto wild overgrown jungles, crocodile filled lagoons merging into golden sand beaches and makeshift shacks surrounded by grazing Buffalo. Don’t expect to find thousands of people chilling on beds with umbrellas, this is the sort of place where you can often be the only person at one of the many deserted beaches on the east coast. 

If you want more than just beaches then there are plenty of national parks like Kumana or Lahugala Kitulana where you can find many Elephants, Leopards, Boar or Sloth Bears. Even outside of the parks you’re likely to come across many monkeys in the trees, Buffalo in the fields and even some wild Elephants blocking the roads. It’s such an amazing place to find all kinds of wildlife.

A girl with a motorbike helmet on watches an Elephant in the distance in Arugam Bay

Over our 6 week trip we managed to tick so many things off our bucket list we didn’t even know we had. We slept in open cabanas in the jungle, found some Elephants on our own moped safari, hiked to the top of Elephant Rock for sunset and got lost on many of the dirt roads in the jungle. If you’re looking for a digital nomad spot full of wildlife, exotic nature and a sense of adventure, we highly recommend Arugam Bay.


Arugam Bay is a small town with an even smaller digital nomad community, we only came across a few remote workers our entire trip. But it seems even though it’s not a big nomad hotspot, people do stick around for a long time, and what the community lacks in numbers, it makes up for in quality.

Travellers play with a ball on Peanut Farm Beach

Realistically Arugam Bay’s size is its main strength. Within a week, you’ll recognize familiar faces, have chatted to the same people on the breaks, and maybe been invited to sunrise surf session or a few late night drinks. The friendships here are not forced; they’re the kind formed out of shared sunsets, shared waves, and the shared love of this beautiful corner of Sri Lanka, and this is what makes the digital nomad community so special in Arugam Bay.

If you’re looking for somewhere where you can meet really chilled out people, have a laugh and just enjoy yourself then Arugam Bay is the place.

A man brings beers for his friends at Hilltop Cabanas near Lighthouse Beach


After the sun sets, Arugam bay keeps going all the way to sunrise and a number of bars throw beach parties where you can dance all night. Mambo’s is the big one on saturday which keeps going all the way until the next day, we never made it that far but it was fun to let loose for a few hours. So if you can still manage to work with a hangover, then don’t worry, Arugam Bay won’t disappoint, there’s a party going on every night of the week.

Read more: Top 10 amazing things to do in Arugam Bay

Why avoid Arugam Bay

We loved our time in Arugam Bay, and we’re pretty much ready to book our next flight back, so maybe we’ll see you there soon! But, it’s not all waves and sunsets. Nowhere is perfect and Arugam Bay definitely has some quirks, and while we adore the place, here’s the low-down of why you might want to avoid Arugam Bay.

Heat and humidity

Arugam Bay is hot. In the peak season expect temperatures of 35°C/99°F+ in the daytime and a casual 80%+ humidity at night. We’ve been to some hot tropical places before, but Arugam Bay was definitely up there as one of the sweatiest trips we’ve been on. If you’re not a fan of the heat and can’t handle humidity it’s probably best to skip Sri Lanka in the summer months.

Small town vibes

So many of the benefits of Arugam Bay come from its laid back, small town vibes. Wildlife everywhere, stunning landscapes, local culture and amazing community, none of this would be possible if the town was more developed. But Arugam Bay isn’t a city, it’s a small little surf town and for some that might feel a little limiting. There are no real supermarkets, a limited choice of restaurants, the days tend to repeat themselves and the town is isolated on the east coast, so escaping requires a long journey.

A local man holds up a pineapple to sell in a small fruit store in Arugam Bay

For us, it was all part of the charm. We found the restaurants we liked, we embraced our morning commutes to the surf breaks and our afternoon swim routines, and we just committed that we were only going to stay on the east coast for the entire trip. It was worth it for us and much better than the typical park and pub culture in London. But if you’re the type of digital nomad that thrives in cities with a never ending list of things to do and people to meet, then maybe Arugam Bay won’t match what you’re looking for.

Remote working infrastructure

Arugam Bay is still in the early days of welcoming digital nomads and the infrastructure is a little behind. There is only one coworking space, one makeshift gym, there are no coliving spaces, a lack of really nice long term rentals and the internet is a bit patchy. Often the digital nomads have to come first and the infrastructure will follow. So if you need all the comforts, stability and a bit of luxury, you might need to wait a few years before Arugam Bay becomes a bit more popular.

Internet speeds

Sri Lanka is always full of surprises and a bit of excitement, and the internet is no different. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad and it definitely adds a bit of spice and stress to the digital nomad life. Luckily, I’d been through this many times before, and this time I was well prepared with the right SIM cards and the know-how to keep me online in Arugam Bay. Here’s all the tips and information you need to keep your trip stress free.

Wifi connectivity

The wifi in Sri Lanka rarely works unless you can find a place with a fibre connection. On the south coast this is becoming quite common, but in Arugam Bay most of the hotels and cafes wifi connection is still old wires or cheap throttled 4g connections. There are a few coffee shops, hotels and co-working spaces where you can get away with it, but it’s best to not depend on the Wifi at all in Arugam Bay.

  • Speed: 1 – 6 Mbps – most places use Dialog connections and it’s pretty slow. If anyone else starts flicking through instagram expect it to get really slow.
  • Stability: Bad – expect the Wifi to drop out for 10-15 minutes at a time and video calls are almost impossible.
Two digital nomads work from Kaffi coffee shop in Arugam Bay

Mobile connectivity

The key to working in Sri Lanka is to have a few SIM cards and match them to where you are going, at least one will work. The internet will tell you that Dialog or Mobitel are the best, but this advice is outdated. These days, both of those providers have grown their users without big improvements to their infrastructure so the bandwidth is often taken up and they are not reliable for remote working. 

Wherever you go in Sri Lanka, we suggest getting at least two SIMs so you can swap them as you move. In Arugam Bay we suggest getting both a Hutch SIM, which is really cheap with unlimited internet and the best connectivity, and a Mobitel SIM for backup.

Dialog SIMs 

  • Speed: 4 – 6 Mbps – Dialog barely works in Arugam Bay, it’s best to avoid this provider.
  • Stability: Medium – The mobile connection was much better than the Wifi but we wouldn’t recommend it for working.
  • Cost: High – expect to spend $6-7 per 20gb and have to keep topping up, cheap by western standards but the most expensive by far in Sri Lanka.

Mobitel SIMs

  • Speed: 8 – 12 Mbps – Decent enough, video calls, browsing, messaging all worked fine with Mobitel.
  • Stability: Medium – on video calls there were definitely moments when the internet dropped out and I found it unreliable for when I needed to be on calls.
  • Cost: Medium – expect to spend $5 per 20gb and have to keep topping up.

Hutch SIMs

  • Speed: 16 – 20 Mbps – Almost better than London internet, I barely had any trouble with this SIM.
  • Stability: High – The connection was almost flawless the entire trip, we highly recommend using this provider..
  • Cost: Low – expect to spend $3 for unlimited internet for the month, perfect!

Top tip: the airport charges 4x the local SIM card stores, if you feel comfortable being disconnected for a while, it’s best to download offline google maps and get a cheap SIM card at your destination. 

A bike is next to three surfboards against a work in Arugam Bay

Where to stay

It’s hard to work out where to stay in Arugam Bay, there are a lot of choices and not a lot of standout options. To get the best out of the town, you want to make sure you’re close enough to the beach, far enough from the music, and with a level of quality to make the trip comfortable. The best options are on, but if you want a few recommendations, then here are our favourite places to stay in Arugam Bay for digital nomads.

Surf Gangs – Best all rounder

Surf Gangs is without a doubt our favourite place to stay in Arugam Bay for digital nomads. This is a relatively new property built by Tom, a super down to earth guy from New York, who has put so much care and attention into the quality of the rooms and the vibe he’s creating.

We spent 3 weeks here in total and just kept extending, nowhere else came close. For $40-50 a night you can get a giant balcony room 30 seconds from the beach with a stunning garden and a pool. It’s the small things that made this place so amazing though, the aircon worked perfectly and they had a fan, the showers had warm water with actual water pressure, the rooms and the sheets were cleaned daily and the internet actually worked. These may sound like basics, but if you spend some time in Sri Lanka you’ll get what we mean. 

In the end, Surf Gangs was such a comfortable place to work and enjoy Arugam Bay from there’s nowhere else we will choose to stay when we return.

A girl lays next to a pool with palm trees and bushes all around her in Surf Gangs Arugam Bay

At a glance:

  • Value: 5⭐ – at $40-50 per night for a pool, quiet rooms, hot showers and good vibes. We don’t think there’s anywhere better.
  • Rooms: 5⭐ – Big beds, great aircon, water pressure and regular cleaning. The quality is high.
  • Location: 4⭐ – Just off the main road near the centre of town, Surf Gangs is far enough from the music but close enough to the action.
  • Vibes: 4⭐ – there’s some great people who were staying here including some other digital nomads. 

Book: See latest prices

A view of the Surf Gangs accommodation with a palm tree

Oasis Bay – Budget value

If you’re looking for a budget hotel with friendly staff and the best free breakfast, then Oasis Bay is a great option. At $25-30 it’s not budget budget, but Arugam Bay does get expensive in the peak season and nowhere apart from hostels will be really cheap. We spent a week here and the quality for the price was really worth it, and the staff are amazing, if Riz is still there you’ll have a great laugh. 

At a glance:

  • Value: 4⭐ – At $25-30 for a private room and a free breakfast you get a lot for your money. It’s definitely a good option if you don’t want to spend too much.
  • Rooms: 3⭐ – Relatively clean, good aircon but a bit old and unkempt. This is the compromise for the price.
  • Location: 3⭐ – A bit further up the town but close enough to walk everywhere, Oasis Bay is in a great location.
  • Vibes: 4⭐ – We met so many great travelers here and the staff are amazing, it’s an awesome place with quite a few digital nomads too.

Book: See latest prices

Oasis Bay's garden in the early morning sunlight in Arugam Bay

The Spice Trail – Top quality

If you want a bit more luxury and comfort then the Spice Trail is our top pick. This accommodation has amazing rooms looking out onto a super chilled pool area. If you’re looking for the best quality under $100 a night, Spice Trail is the place.

At a glance:

  • Value: 3⭐ – At $80-100 a night it’s on the expensive side but the quality is very high.
  • Rooms: 5⭐ – Four poster beds, polished floors and minimal chic furniture, the rooms are stunning.
  • Location: 5⭐ – The Spice Trail is right in the center of town, it’s perfect.
  • Vibes: 3⭐ – This was a super chilled place, maybe a bit too posy for us though so it wasn’t the easiest to meet people.

Book: See latest prices

The Spice Trails pool and garden and sunset

Co-working and cafes

If you’re the sort of digital nomad that likes to work in cafes and co-working spaces, here are our favourite places to get out of the hotel room for a few hours with the laptop.

Nomads Coworking Space

Nomads is the only coworking space in Arugam Bay. It’s a nice small place with coffee included and good fiber internet connection with the best speed in town – 100 Mbps. The space itself is small with just one long table and enough for 10 people at a squeeze, luckily it’s never that busy though. If you’re looking for somewhere with a killer stable internet connection, this is the place. 

  • Day pass – $8
  • Month pass – $110

Kaffi Coffee Shop

If you’re looking for a place with great vibes and the best coffee in Arugam Bay, then Kaffi is the one. This small coffee shop has an AC inside and a small seating area or a nice outside terrace. It’s a great place to chill for a few hours and do some casual work.

A window sign saying "Support your local caffeine dealer" on the side of Kaffi in Arugam Bay

Shady Lane 

I’m not sure there’s a more relaxing late morning brunch and work vibe than Shady Lane. This cafe is out of the way in the jungle and is a really peaceful place to chill under the trees, grab an iced coffee and ignore the screen for a few hours. If you liked avocado-on-toast this was our favourite place in town, their homemade feta was the bomb.

A table with a plant on it in the garden of Shady Lane in Arugam Bay

Salty Swamis 

Salty Swamis is one our favourite beachfront cafes to do a bit of work from. They have a beautiful garden with views over the ocean and some of those most chilled vibes for one of the hottest brunches in Arugam Bay. If you’re looking for some amazing sandwiches or some french toast whilst you skip over some emails then this is the place.

Read more: 8 Best Restaurants in Arugam Bay + 1 Hidden Gem


Sri Lanka has a visa-on-arrival system for most nationalities and runs an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) before traveling, so it’s very easy to get a visa. The Sri Lankan government regularly changes their visa periods and prices so the best place to check is their ETA website for the latest information or to apply.

At the moment you can only get a 30 day visa for $50 on entry with a pre-approved ETA and you’ll need to extend for 2 or 3 months if you want to stay longer. Extensions of the visa currently cost $50 per month. There are two easy ways to extend:

  • Travel to colombo and renew it yourself at the immigration head office.
  • Use an intermediary to pick up your passport and sort it out for a small fee – we’ve used Immigration Lanka a few times and they are great.

We suggest skipping the queues and getting an intermediary to sort an extensions, you can pay $10-15 for someone to handle this for you and you will save an entire day or two of your trip. We really hope the 180 day visa comes back soon, it saves a lot of hassle with visa extensions, but if not, Immigration Lanka was really easy if you want to spend more time on the beach.

Things to know for digital nomads

When to visit

The best time to visit Arugam Bay is between April and September when the weather is good and the swell is working. The peak months are July and August, when the waves are the most consistent and the town is the busiest. If you prefer a balance between good surf and a less crowded atmosphere, June and late September are good months where there are still waves, still vibes and less people.

We went from mid June to the end of July. It definitely got a little busier towards the end of the trip but it was fine the entire time, we just needed to book in advance towards the end as it got busier and harder to find good accommodation. 

Between October and January Arugam Bay is affected by the northeasterly monsoon. It will rain a lot, be windy most days and there will be hardly any travelers around. It’s definitely worth avoiding Arugam Bay in these months and head to the south coast instead. 

A man with his child walks past a fishing boat at sunset on Arugam Bay beach

Cost of living

Sri Lanka is cheap. Maybe not as cheap as Thailand or Indo, but it’s definitely up there as one of the more affordable destinations for digital nomads and certainly compared to western standards. 

Arugam Bay is a little bit more expensive than some of the other Sri Lankan surf towns, and this is most likely because it’s the only place to stay in the summer months. Even if you have to spend $0.20 extra per beer, this is definitely the sort of town where you can live like a king or queen for $1000-1500 per month.

Typical Prices: 

  • Accommodation – budget private room $10-20 per night | nice private room with a pool $30-50 per night – you can negotiate discounts on some places for long term stays.
  • Western food – $8-15 per person.
  • Local food – $1-3 per person (try Mama’s, it’s the best).
  • Coffee – $2-3 for an ice coffee
  • Moped rental – $3 per day
  • Tuk Tuk ride – $1-2 in town | $5-10 return trip to certain surf breaks (the Pickme app doesn’t work in Arugam Bay so you need to negotiate)
  • Surf rental – $2-3 a day
  • Drinks – beer $2.5 | cocktails $4-5

Top tip: you should negotiate for almost everything you buy that isn’t in a restaurant or a supermarket. The locals will start 2-3x higher than the real price.

A small roti shop inside a food truck on Arugam Bay high street


Between July and September the weather is hot and sweaty, the average temperature is between 32-33°C and a casual 80%+ humidity at night. You should expect this to get much hotter as well, sometimes 37°C+ at midday. 

In terms of rain, it will probably shower on the odd day in the peak summer for an hour or so. It’s typically sunny most of the time though.

Crime and safety

Arugam Bay is relatively safe for tourists. Locals are friendly, and crime rates are low. Over our 6 week trip we had no issues and we even left our camera and phones on the beach most days. The only time to really watch out is if you’re a solo female and go to a beach party, some of the locals, and non locals, can be a little creepy.

A lot of people ask us if Sri Lanka is still safe after their economic issues in 2022. We were there at the time and have been back 3 times since. The news has made this seem much worse than it is for tourists and we still think this is a great time to visit. It’s a little quieter than before but the waves keep pumping and the vibe is still great. We always recommend Sri Lanka!

Two school girls hold hands as they walk down Arugam Bay main street with motorbikes driving past

How to get to Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay is far from everywhere, making it a long journey to get to from everywhere in Sri Lanka, you should expect at least a 4 hour journey to Arugam Bay.

Private Taxi

The quickest and most comfortable way to get to Arugam Bay is with a private taxi. Everytime we come to Sri Lanka this is our default now, have a car waiting at the airport so we can get to the beach faster! There’s a couple of ways to organise taxis in Sri Lanka – Pickme app, 12go asia or find a private driver. 

Arugam bay is far away so you can expect to have a lot of people cancel on you if you use Pickme vs some of the smaller towns. We suggest keeping it easy and using 12go, which is a marketplace for rides.

Prices and times to Arugam Bay


If you’re looking for a budget option the cheapest way to get to Arugam bay is via bus. From Colombo, the journey is quite long, taking about 12-14 hours and costing $15 per person. You’ll need to get to the bus terminal in the centre of town and choose from an overnight or day bus to Ella, and then change to Arugam Bay.

Two buses drive past a motorbiker in Sri Lanka


If you’re looking for the scenic route and to really explore Sri Lanka, then by train is the best way to get to Arugam Bay. You can get the train from Colombo to Ella and then get a bus or taxi to finish the trip. The train goes through Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and the stunning highlands of Sri Lanka. You should take 3-4 days to do this route properly, but if you’re in a rush it can be done in 20-24 hours.

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