Top 10 Amazing Things To Do In Arugam Bay

You’ll know when you’ve spent some time in Arugam Bay. When your steps start to slow to a casual stroll on the way to the beach, when your feet get used to the burning sand on those afternoon walks, when you repeat the same laughs over sunset beers, and you start to wonder if you’ll ever leave. 

When we were staying in Arugam Bay, we became so content with our daily routine we forgot this part of Sri Lanka had so much more to offer. But after five days of surfing, good food and relaxing, I turned to Beth, “let’s go explore”.

We’re so glad we did. Arugam Bay is a unique destination sandwiched between the highlands of Sri Lanka, Yala National Park and the Indian Ocean. Where surf culture intertwines with wildlife, farmland, local culture, perfect beaches, a little bit of partying and an infectiously relaxing vibe. 

When a place has so many qualities there’s always something exciting around the corner and over the following two weeks we left no stone unturned. If you’re looking for something to do or wondering whether Arugam bay is worth a visit, here are our top 10 things to do that will hopefully make your decision a little easier. 

Top things to do

Hit the surf

Arugam Bay is arguably the most famous surf destination in Sri Lanka, so whether you’re a pro or it’s your first time ever, if you visit, you have to hit the surf. This is the land of peeling right hand point breaks, big carvable faces and if you’re lucky, the occasional barrel.

Surfer on a wave at Main Point, one of the top things to do in Arugam Bay

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. 

Main point is the most powerful break in the area located on Arugam bay beach and it is walkable from the main town, expect some crowds but this wave is beautiful with it peeling around the headland and into the bay. If you want to escape the crowds there are loads of spots to explore including Elephant Rock, Peanut Farm and Okanda to the south, and Pottuvil point, Whiskey point and Lighthouse to the north. We highly suggest renting a bike or grabbing a Tuk Tuk and exploring a few of these quieter spots which have their own unique vibe.

If you’re a beginner or you’ve never surfed before, Arugam Bay is a great place to learn. The waves are relatively mellow and you won’t get stuck in lots of white water so it’s easy to progress. 

Baby point is the place to catch your first green wave or start learning how to turn and there are tonnes of surf shops in town and a few on the beach to rent a board or organise a lesson. It’s best to walk around the shops and see who you vibe with, they’ll all have similar boards and prices. Board rental is $2-3 a day and you can get a private lesson for around $10-15. Hopefully you’ll catch the bug and fall in love with surfing as much as we did.

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

Rental surfboards on a rack under a wooden shack in a Arugam Bay

Find wild elephants 

If you’ve ever spoken to someone about Arugam Bay, you’ve most likely heard tales of wild elephants roaming around. It’s easy to believe that you’ll see them everywhere, maybe walking down the beach, causing traffic jams or drinking out of your pool. 

A person looking at a wild elephant on the side of the road near Arugam Bay

Unfortunately, this is not the case, but Arugam Bay is one of those unique places you will find wild Elephants outside of a national park if you go looking, and we highly recommend you do. There’s just something special about standing on the side of the road watching an elephant go about its business, throwing dust on its back and picking leaves off the trees as a small group of travelers end up congregating to watch these majestic animals do their thing.

The best way to find elephants is to rent a moped and explore the dustier grasslands south of Arugam bay or west of Pottuvil early in the morning or just before sunset. The elephants tend to come out at these times when it’s a bit cooler and they’ve stopped hiding from the midday heat. If you come later in the season in August or September you’ll also find them most of the day at any of the lakes that have not dried up, the lake behind Crocodile Rock is an elephant favourite. Just make sure to rent a bike for a few days and you’ll be guaranteed to see one.

Read more: How to find wild Elephants near Arugam Bay

Wild elephant smiling near Arugam Bay

Climb elephant rock

Elephant Rock is by far the best viewpoint in the area to see the beauty of east Sri Lanka’s epic coastline. Where you can get a birds eye view of lagoons and jungle merging into long sandy beaches and isolated coves. 

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

This is definitely one of the best places to watch sunset as it drops behind the mainland, the perfect time to grab a beer and just soak it all in. Our favourite time to visit is early afternoon around 4pm when you can expect to have the rock all to yourself as it gets towards golden hour and you can watch buffalo graze on grasslands and surfers catching some evening waves.  

The climb is relatively easy, taking about 15-20 minutes and it can be hiked in flip flops. It is a bit steep though so if you’re not a confident hiker, trainers might be better. Getting to the rock is simple, just ask a Tuk Tuk driver in town who will give you a return trip for $5 and wait for you at the beach. If you take your own moped the road to the beach is a dirt track with lots of sand so take it easy, it is a fun ride though.

Read more: Elephant Rock, a guide to the best viewpoint in Arugam Bay

A smiling couple sitting on Elephant Rock looking over the coastline

Chill on Arugam Bay beach 

Arugam bay beach is one of our favourite in Sri Lanka and a highlight of the area. The beach is the focal point of the town where fishermen launch their boats, local kids play in the sea, surfers commute to the breaks and bars serve cold coconuts, or a few cocktails if you are that way inclined. You can waste days just chilling here and have a perfect trip.

Fisherman pushing a boat up the beach at Arugam Bay beach with palm trees in the background

The north end of town is much quieter with a few beach clubs offering you shaded sun loungers for the day, and the ocean is calm so you can enjoy floating in 28C water when you need to escape the heat. Ups & downs and Tom and Jerry were two of our favourites. We would buy a watermelon juice and take a bed for the whole day. You can also grab some food but there are definitely better places to eat.

As you walk down the beach you can expect to see fisherman speed their boats from the ocean up onto the sand. They’re all really friendly so you’ll receive many smiles and they’ll probably ask you to help give them a push. I don’t think they actually need the help but it’s nice they like to get foreigners involved and without asking for anything in return.

The other end of the beach is much busier with many bars and restaurants. The beach comes alive in the afternoon especially on a sunday, kids will be playing in the sea, puppies roll in the sand, locals sell ice cream from push bikes and travelers compare cart wheels. It’s the perfect place to grab a beer, watch the sunset and absorb it all. We enjoyed Siripala’s and Mambo’s the most, and if you go to Mambo’s ask for their off menu frozen pineapple daiquiri, damn they’re good.

Orange clouds at sunset at Arugam Bay beach with two people walking past a little fishing boat

Stay at Hilltop Cabanas near lighthouse beach

45 minutes north of Arugam bay is a best kept secret. There’s a collection of 10 stilted cabana’s open to nature and immersed in the palm trees with their own private beach and practically a private surf spot. It’s the ultimate place to just relax, unwind and have a really unique travel experience. 

Girl smiling on the balcony a wooden hut in the jungle at Hilltop Cabanas near lighthouse beach

What makes this place so special is the community. Because it’s small and isolated, you spend a lot of time with fellow travelers on the waves or chatting and hiding away from the sun in makeshift shacks. 

Every evening the owner, Thomas, would throw a communal dinner where we would all sit around and share stories or reminisce on who got the wave of the day. And this would continue on to having a few beers on the beach under the best view of the stars, there is no light pollution here, before getting an early night with the sea breeze rolling into the cabana and the sound of the jungle sending us to sleep. It almost had a kind of hostel vibe without the partying and with a private bathroom, a place to just connect with people and relax.

In the morning everyone would wake up naturally for the first light and we would all go hit the waves together. This is maybe the only place in Arugam Bay you’ll find 3-5 people on a break and no one wants to get their elbows out. For the rest of the day this place is the perfect depiction of island time, no one will be doing much so it’s great for reading a book, journaling or if you’re Beth, making a macrame surfboard sling to try on all the boards. 

A surfer sits next too the lighthouse watching the waves at lighthouse point break near Arugam Bay

We stayed 4 nights here and it was some of the most memorable we’ve had in Sri Lanka. Rates are about $25-30 a night and you should book in advance to avoid disappointment. 

If you don’t fancy staying, this place is still great for a day trip. You can get a return Tuk Tuk from Arugam Bay for $10 and still enjoy all the benefits of empty surf, amazing food and community spirit, Hilltop is always open to anyone that comes.

A canopy shelter on the beach at Hilltop Cabanas

Visit Kumana National Park

You’ll see loads of animals in and around Arugam Bay, but if you are a real wildlife lover or you’re staying for a while it’s worth visiting Kumana National Park. This park is actually connected to Yala National Park and used to go by the same name, so it’s a great place to go on safari where you’ll get the chance to see many buffalo, elephants, crocodiles, boar, birds and if you’re lucky some sloth bears or the elusive leopard. But unlike Yala you won’t have to deal with crowds, it’s one of the quietest parks in Sri Lanka.

Women looking at dear and buffalo from a jeep in Kumana National Park

The park is 35km south of Arugam bay and only takes 45 minutes to get to, so it’s easy to do a half day trip in the morning or in the evening. You can organise a private jeep to pick you up from your hotel and drop you back for about $100 for two people, so it’s also one of the cheapest.

We opted for the sunrise safari and it was amazing to see all the animals playing in the early morning, the highlight being a group of cheeky orange monkeys chasing a grizzled giant squirrel, or a real life pokemon as we liked to call it. 

Read more: Kumana National Park Safari

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a leopard. After 5 safari’s all over Sri Lanka we’re still waiting, but another group did see one moments before we drove past and we did see a photo on the back of their camera. This is one of the places you have a great chance of seeing a leopard with them frequently spotted in the drylands, so if you’re still waiting for one of those stunning photos, Kumana should definitely be on your list.

Best place to book: $100 per vehicle, bargain. Book now

Two male deers with large antlers staring at the camera in Kumana National Park

Explore the farmlands and secret beaches 

The roads around Arugam Bay are some of the quietest in Sri Lanka so it’s one of the perfect places to grab a moped and explore. The south of the town is our favourite where you can find endless farmlands with epic rock structures breaking up the rice fields and dotted wooden shacks where the locals escape the heat. 

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

If you carry on going the roads turn into dirt tracks and you’ll find a range of different landscapes from pine tree forests to fields framed with palm trees and many beaches to explore on the way. This is the kind of place you can really embrace the authenticity of rural life as friendly locals welcome you with warm smiles and the occasional strange fruit to try. 

If you go on a little moped adventure we suggest to put a few of these places into google maps:

  • Crocodile rock
  • Nawalaru bridge
  • Panama Wewa
  • Panama beach & Panama beach watch point
  • Kunjan Odai Beach
  • Komari beach
Girl exploring the farmlands on a motorbike near Arugam Bay

Eat in the hipster cafes

The first surfers came to Arugam Bay in the 1980s when there were just a few shacks and the only food you could get were roti’s or rice and curry. I’ve seen some pictures and it looked like an amazing adventure but there definitely weren’t any easy places to chill and get some good food. 

French toast and a pesto sandwich at Salty Swamis

Luckily since then the surfers have kept coming back and so the hipster cafes have followed. Today Arugam Bay is really trendy and you can find some awesome surf cafes and beach restaurants to grab some lunch. 

There are so many to choose from, so here are a few of our favourites:

  • Salty Swamis – this is the coolest little beach spot, we suggest trying their french toast or pesto sandwiches, this place has the best bread in town and some of the best coffee too.
  • Emily’s – run by the nicest English couple, Emily’s has the best burgers in town and on Sundays they do some amazing tacos.
  • Squeeze me – if you want a smoothie bowl this is the place to go, these guys carve out pineapples and coconuts to make one of the most stunning bowls around.
  • East Falafel – falafel pitas, shakshuka and shawarmas from a native Israeli, what more could you want. Don’t forget to ask for their spicy sauce.
  • Shady Lane – the best avocado toast in town served in one of the coolest jungle chillout spots.

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

A smoothie bowl in a carved out pineapple at Salty Swamis

Watch the pros surfing main point

Right at the top of the beach next to the main point surf spot is a little sand hill where travelers sit and watch the local pros surfing. It’s a great place to sit and chill and watch the wave that put this town on the map.

A surfer does a cut back at Main Point in Arugam Bay whilst a beginner watches him from the beach

The hill is always busy but the best time to come is early in the morning or in the evening when the best surfers tend to be out. We suggest the evening when loads of travelers bring their own beers or grab them from the resort next door, it’s a really friendly vibe and a great place to meet locals and other fellow travelers. 

If there’s a big swell you’re in for a treat, you’ll get a perfect view of overhead waves and some of the locals tucking into an occasional barrel.

Party on the 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. The parties work on a weekly schedule and a few bars will put on some DJs before.

Party Schedule:

Pre-PartyMain Party
FridaySalty SwaimsSababa Surf Cafe 
SundayAvo ClubAvo Club

If you’re not up for a party there are a number of more chilled events that happen throughout the week, Ups and Downs do beach karaoke on a tuesday and Hideout Lounge do walk in jam sessions on a thursday. If you’re around on a saturday though you should probably go to Mambo’s, the entire town seems to turn up. 

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