Elephant Rock Hike, Your Guide To The Best Viewpoint In Arugam Bay

Are you interested in climbing Elephant Rock? If so, you’re in for a treat. Welcome to our guide to the best viewpoint in Arugam Bay. 

As we sat on the cliff edge gazing over east Sri Lanka’s epic coastline, views of lagoons merging into endless sandy beaches and buffalo grazing at the jungle edge, we knew we’d found somewhere special. We sat here for hours sipping on beers with our dusty feet dangling towards the surfers below whilst the sun descended in the background. It was one of our favourite evenings of the trip and definitely some memories we’d like to repeat.

If you’re visiting Arugam Bay or planning to do so, you’ve probably heard about the perfect surf, the stunning beaches, the amazing food, or maybe the great wildlife to explore. Arugam Bay has so many things to do and climbing Elephant Rock should definitely be on your list. 

Girl looking at buffalo grazing from the top of Elephant Rock

Why climb Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock is a stunning natural rock formation south of Arugam Bay and aptly named for its resemblance to the majestic profile of an elephant when you look at it from a distance, and if you’re lucky you might be able to spot a few from the top as well.

With dirt roads to navigate to get to the beach, a little scramble up the rock, and a bird’s eye view of the coastline, it’s a great place to get out of town, have a little adventure, and explore the natural beauty of the surrounding area.

Women standing on the beach looking at Elephant Rock near Arugam Bay

Panoramic Views

The east coast of Sri Lanka is a thing of beauty. The area is bordered by the highlands of Sri Lanka, Yala National Park, and the Indian Ocean, and its isolated position has protected the area from the overdevelopment of the beachfront hotels and main roads you’ll find in the south. 

The coastline has a feeling of wildness to it with long untouched beaches, wild overgrown jungle, and some crocodile-filled lagoons, it’s the kind of landscape and nature you could expect the former explorers of Ceylon used to discover. These days one of the best ways for travelers to discover its beauty is from the top of Elephant Rock.

A smiling couple sitting on Elephant Rock looking over the coastline

The rock is one of the only elevated positions on the coastline and at about 100m tall you get perfect panoramic views of the area. The coastline is a stunning progression of little coves, small black beaches, and uninterrupted shoreline past Peanut Farm Beach and the headlands of Panama further to the south. There’s also an amazing view across the jungles and farmlands on the mainland to the faint mountains of Ella on the horizon. Elephant Rock is definitely one of the best viewpoints in Sri Lanka and the perfect place to just chill and take in this country’s natural beauty.

The view of the jungle whilst a man in a makeshift boat cross the lagoon from the top of elephant rock

The perfect sunset spot

The east coast of Sri Lanka has some stunning sunsets with the sky often burning with fiery orange and pink tones. 

Unfortunately, there are not many places to glimpse the sun falling below the horizon though. This is the land of perfect sunrises as dawn appears from beneath the Indian Ocean and then sets behind the mainland, the colours are always amazing but you typically watch it through rows of palm tree silhouettes. 

Every evening travelers venture to Elephant Rock and with uninterrupted views of the horizon in the distance and epic reflections off the lagoon in front, it’s the best spot to watch sunset in Arugam Bay. 

A view of the beach and reflection on the lagoon at sunset from the top of Elephant Rock

A bit of adventure

Elephant Rock is a little bit off the beaten track, there are no main roads to the beach, no Ubers to get you there, and no handrails on the way up. If you want to get to the top you’ll need to get a bit adventurous, just a little bit though, it’s still pretty easygoing.

Whatever way you get there, whether it’s by bike or Tuk Tuk, you’ll need to navigate dirt tracks and hidden sand traps. The roads are not well signed so it’s easy to take a wrong turn past some marsh lakes or a working Buddhist temple, these are wrong turns in a good way, the right kind of getting lost. If you’re lucky you might come across an elephant on the way, there are 3 to 4 regulars in the area, and something special to see.

When you get to the rock don’t expect any tour guides or signs to help you out, just look for some past footprints in the sand, pick a line up the rock and get scrambling. We combined the climb with an entire day trip exploring the farmlands and secret beaches to the south of Arugam Bay. It was an awesome day and we highly recommend it.

When to hike Elephant Rock

When to visit Elephant Rock mostly depends on your preference for crowds, early mornings, the heat and how disappointed you would be if there was bad weather. We preferred late afternoon but maybe you find it easier to get out of bed in the morning ;).

Best time of day


If you’re an early riser then sunrise is definitely the best time to visit Elephant Rock. Arriving before dawn allows you to hike up the rock in the coolest conditions and watch the sun appear from below the Indian Ocean. You’ll probably be the only people on the rock at this time and the morning sky has a subtle haze and a beautifully soft light making this the perfect time to get some great photos.

Two local Sri Lankans chatting on the beach next to a surf board rental stand on Elephant Rock beach


This is not a great time to visit, the East Coast gets really hot from 11am to late afternoon with a really strong UV index, if you climb at this time expect to get really sweaty, struggle with your feet on the sun-roasted rock surface and risk a high chance of getting burnt. At the top, the light is too bright to get any good photos or see without squinting, this is a time to be avoided.

Late afternoon:

Around 4pm is our favourite time to hike Elephant Rock. The temperature is just starting to drop and the light is getting softer, but most importantly no one else will be here at this time so you can have the rock all to yourself as you get towards golden hour. Explore all the nooks and crannies, line up the best photos, and just enjoy it before anyone else comes.


If you’re purely looking for the best visual display, sunset is the time to visit. You’ll most likely be greeted by a vivid orange, pink, and purple sky, and you will get to watch the sun dip below the horizon. It really is a great place to watch the sunset. You should expect about 10 – 20 people at the top and this can feel crowded, so if you want to avoid other people we suggest coming a little earlier.

When to avoid hiking Elephant Rock

If it rains you should save the climb up Elephant Rock for another day. It is made from metamorphic rock formed from ancient compressed lava, these are very hard rocks like granite and marble which get super slippery when they are wet. When you combine this with the steep edges to get to the top and the perfect hiking flip-flop footwear it can be a little dangerous. We suggest saving it for when the sun comes out.

The months of October to March are typically affected by the monsoon season and tend to rain a lot as well as have strong winds. It’s best to avoid this time of year and visit in the dry season between the months of April and September.

How to get to Elephant Rock

Elephant rock is about 4km south of Arugam bay and is pretty easy to get to. You’ve got a few options:

Tuk Tuk Taxi

The easiest method by far is asking a local Tuk Tuk driver in town to give you a ride. They’ll navigate all the roads for you, drop you off right on the beach, and wait to bring you home. A return trip is about $5-10 depending on how good you are at negotiating. If you haven’t explored the beach yet or gone for a surf at Elephant Rock Point Break this might be the best option.

Two Tuks Tuks crossing Nawalaru bridge near Arugam Bay


Our favourite way to get to Elephant Rock is by moped, it’s the same way as the Tuk Tuk but you’ll need to work out the directions yourself. It’s a fun drive where you can explore the farmlands, stop off at the beautiful streams, and try to find some elephants on the way home. You can rent a moped for $7-8 a day from many hotels and guesthouses in town. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can rent a Tuk Tuk in town for the day. We watched some travelers getting stuck in the sand and generally having a good laugh, it looked fun.

A man sitting on a motorbike on a dirt track looking over farmland and lakes near Arugam Bay

Walk down the beach: 

If you’re feeling up for a stroll you can walk all the way down the beach from Arugam Bay. The walk is about 5km and will take 1-2 hours. On the way, you can stop off at the many lagoons and climb crocodile rock. The beach is stunning but it is really hot in the day. If you do this just be mindful that there won’t be a Tuk Tuk waiting for you to take you back so you might have to ask some other travelers if you can hop in with them or take some WhatsApp numbers for some drivers in town.

Directions by road

Elephant Rock is 6km away from Arugam Bay town and it is generally pretty easy to get to. The hardest part is knowing where you turn off the road and which dirt tracks to follow. Don’t worry though we’ve got you covered with the following instructions and a picture of the sign you need to follow.

  1. Start your journey by heading south from Arugam Bay along Panama road. The road will take you through a scenic landscape of farmland and rice paddies. It’s a really stunning area to explore.
  2. After 5 km you’ll cross a few bridges, the rice paddies will end and the terrain will start to get drier with many rock boulders with white letters painted on them. When you get to this part of the main road you’re getting close so slow down to look for the turn off.
  3. When you get to a white sign with the words “Historical Lanka Viharaya’ turn left onto the dirt track. The road will fork mid way near a small hut, keep following the sign to the right past the small lake.
  4. Keep following this dirt track, towards the end it will start getting a bit sandy so watch out if you’re on a moped. You’ll know you’ve reached the beach when you come across a little Tuk Tuk parking spot, you’ll know what I mean when you get there.
  5. Finding the rock from the parking spot is easy, just walk down the sand pathway and it will be right in front of you. Enjoy!
The sign that marks the turnoff point and directions to Elephant Rock

How to climb Elephant Rock 

There are a couple of routes to the top of Elephant Rock but just make sure not to go from the right-hand side, we saw a few people really struggling and getting stuck midway up before turning to go back down. When you get to the beach, take a left and walk until you get to the edge of the lagoon. 

A man is walking between the bushes on a sand trial to get to Elephant Rock

At the base you’ll see some darker grooves in the rock, from here you want to walk upwards to the right of these grooves. Don’t follow them exactly, we did that and it got steep in flip-flops. When we came back down we saw everyone staying much closer to the bushes and it was definitely the easier way.

Halfway to the top, you’ll see a little Buddha statue under a rock overhang, a great little spot to stop and watch the surfers below. From here you have two choices to get to the top, if you go right it’s a short little climb that takes you to the ledge everyone gets photos from. If you go left and through a small hole there’s a winding little path that takes you around the entire rock and past the amazing views of the Indian Ocean. We recommend the second route, you’ll end up in the same place but you’ll enjoy it much more.

A buddha statue hidden under a giant boulder mid way up Elephant Rock

Flip flops vs trainers

Elephant Rock can easily be climbed in flip flops, both myself and Beth did it, actually, Beth did most of it barefoot, often a sign she’s spent too long in the tropics, so you shouldn’t be worried about bringing trainers if you’re comfortable with flip flops. Just expect some dusty feet at the top. If you’re not a confident hiker or haven’t done much scrambling before it might be worth bringing some trainers just in case.

Two peoples dusty and dirty feet after climbing Elephant Rock

What to bring

This area is remote, don’t expect any shops or services around so make sure to bring what you need from town. You don’t need much though, we suggest:

  • A few liters of water
  • Suncream
  • Your camera
  • A couple of beers
  • Some good vibes

If you really forgot everything there are a few guys on the beach you can buy some water from. Just make sure to bring all your rubbish back with you, there are no beach cleaners here.

The panoramic view of the coastline from the top of Elephant Rock

Enjoy the guide?

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