Hilltop Cabanas Review, Unwind in Arugam Bay’s Hidden Hideaway

Are you looking for a unique stay in Arugam Bay? Would some open cabanas, a private beach, and an empty surf spot fit the bill? Welcome to our review of Hilltop Cabanas. Should you stay, we’ll let you decide.

Relaxing isn’t typically my thing. You’re more likely to find me climbing mountains, catching waves, diving with sharks, or on a crazy road trip over relaxing on a beach. So, when Beth suggested spending a few nights in a laid-back beach cabana, I wasn’t immediately sold.

Luckily though, she sweetened the deal… explaining Hilltop was a few steps away from one of the quietest surf spots in Arugam Bay, and I could spend as much time as I wanted in the water. It’s not an offer I usually get, so two days later we hopped in a Tuk Tuk and headed up the coast.

A Tuk Tuk driver on the phone looking through the window at Arugam Bay

Fast forward five days and we did not want to leave. Hilltop Cabanas quickly became one of our favourite places to stay in Sri Lanka. Yes, I had my hit of surfing every day, a little too much surfing maybe. But ironically it was the thing I often avoid that won me over.

Hilltop was just an unbelievably relaxing place. The kind where time slows down and the little things matter more. The gentle breeze through the open cabanas, being surrounded by nature and not much else, eating dinner under a thousand stars, and those lazy afternoons with nothing but a beer and the sound of the waves – it was like hitting a reset button.

Two dogs walk down the beach at sunset on Lighthouse Beach near Hilltop Cabanas

If you’re looking for a unique relatively cheap accommodation where you can meet some cool people, be surrounded by nature, and really relax, Hilltop should be towards the top of your list. Here’s everything you need to know about the hotel and why we think it’s worth a visit.

About Hilltop Cabanas

A little north of Arugam Bay is Hilltop Cabanas, a collection of 15 stilted cabins open to nature and immersed in palm trees with a private beach and a practically private surf spot – sounds dreamy right?

One of the cabins on stilts between the palm trees - Hilltop Cabanas Review

Hilltop Cabanas is owned by Thomas, a Dutch expat with a passion for simplicity, good food, nature, and community. It shows throughout his accommodation. There’s not much here apart from the stilted Cabanas, a makeshift Tiki Bar, a Yoga hut, and good vibes.

The hotel is all about living in harmony with nature. The rooms are built among the palm trees, lily ponds, and peanut farms that have surrounded Komari for many years, and Hilltop has sustainability at its core with no plastic in sight and its water coming from local ground sources.

The sign to point customers in the right direction to Hilltop Cabanas

The Vibe

What makes Hilltop Cabanas 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 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 with 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. 

A group of travellers eating a communal meal at Hilltop Cabanas restaurant

It almost had a kind of hostel vibe without the partying and with a private bathroom. The crowd tends to be slightly more mature than your typical hostel, expect quite a few couples, older solo travellers, and cool well-traveled people.

Apart from the great social vibes, Hilltop is all about surfing and chill. This is the best place to get out on the waves and then just lie around reading a book or grabbing a beer. Beth spent the time chilling making a Macrame Surf Sling and jewelry for all our new friends, whilst I surfed the most I ever have, it was such a refreshing change to the hustle and bustle of Arugam Bay.

A man surfing at Lighthouse Point opposite Hilltop Cabanas beach

The Location

Hilltop Cabanas is nestled between the shady palm trees and the magnificent shore of Sri Lanka’s secluded Lighthouse Beach, a popular surf spot 25km north of Arugam Bay. Despite being a well-known, few people travel this far up the coast so Lighthouse tends to be quiet.

The closest town is a small quiet village called Komari and there’s nothing much around apart from the countryside and a few lagoons, so don’t expect to leave the hotel much. If you do explore the local area, you might come across a few wild elephants, there are a number that call the area home and there’s nothing better than coming across one in the street.

A man surfing in the distance with the Lighthouse in the foreground at Lighthouse Beach

Hilltop Cabanas is best done as a short escape or add-on to a visit to Arugam Bay. But if you only visit this hotel, you can take a 40-minute Tuk Tuk ride to the main town to explore the many shops, restaurants, or parties for $10-15 return.

The Rooms

Forget your typical hotel room with its four walls and windows. The rooms at Hilltop Cabanas are completely open-air, they’re perfect for anyone who is looking for a unique stay and getting close to nature.

A women sitting in an open Cabana between the palm trees at Hilltop Cabanas

Each of the 15 cabanas is raised on stilts among palm trees with views over the ocean and they’re hidden away for complete privacy. Stepping into our cabana was like discovering a secret jungle hideaway, the perfect spot to unwind any time of day.

The cabanas are intentionally basic, don’t expect air conditioning or fridges. It’s ok though, the cool sea breeze through the open spaces was enough to keep us comfortable, even if we did have a few sweatier nights. It’s the simplicity, the rustling jungle, and the sound of the ocean that make Hilltop effortlessly relaxing, so you really have to embrace it.

The room and bed at Hilltop Cabanas

The beds are cozy, even if on the smaller side, and are draped with mosquito nets – which is so needed with how many bugs keep you company at night. Each cabana comes with its own basic bathroom below with a warm shower – but don’t expect strong water pressure. And yes, you might share your late-night bathroom visit with a frog or two!

For me the best bit was waking up to the first sun rays and the sight of the sea every morning, I’ve never found a place that was so easy to get up for first light and out for dawn patrol. It was perfect.

Sunrise over the Indian Ocean from the balcony of a stilted cabin at Hilltop Cabanas

Things to do

Hit the Surf

Right on your doorstep at Hilltop is Lighthouse Point – one of Arugam Bays’ quietest surf spots that almost feels like it’s your own. Uncrowded, long rides, laid-back vibes, and beautiful peeling right-handers. This place is perfect for intermediate and advanced surfers. Just grab your board in the morning, walk 20 meters to the beach, and you’re practically already on the peak.

A man surfing a wave seen from Hilltop Cabanas

If you’re a beginner, Hilltop Cabanas offers lessons for $15 a session and you will be able to catch a few waves at this break. But, Lighthouse Point isn’t the best place to learn due to the size of the waves and the currents, so it would be better to spend some time in Arugam Bay beforehand. 

If you need a board, it’s best to rent one in Arugam Bay and bring it with you – the boards are expensive at Hilltop and there are not many options.

Read more: Lighthouse Surf Spot, Your Guide to Arugam Bay’s Best Kept Secret

Surfboards on a rack for rental at Hilltop Cabanas

Relax and Chill

Thomas and the guys have built an amazing beach garden with swings, day beds, sunshades, and hammocks. It’s so easy to find your space, grab a book, and disconnect from everything. If Yoga’s your thing Hilltop also has a beautiful shack overlooking the ocean. You can grab a free mat from the reception.

A makeshift restaurant and bar at Hilltop Cabanas

Hangout with a Beer

As the day goes on, the vibe at Hilltop shifts to a cool, communal hangout. Grab a beer from the Tiki Bar, chill under the makeshift sun shade, and enjoy the time. Hilltop is the kind of place where strangers quickly turn into friends. Most people will be social most of the afternoon and long into the evening.

The bar opens from lunchtime until everyone goes to bed. You can get cool coconuts, the local lion beer, and a range of funky cocktails with the usual Thomas twist you often find around Hilltop.

A man bring two beers from the bar at Hilltop Cabanas

Visit Arugam Bay

If you fancy a change of scene, Arugam Bay is just a Tuk Tuk ride away. It’s like stepping into a different world – one that’s buzzing with parties, surf shops, beach bars, and a fun crowd. Dive into the local surf culture, grab a bite at one of the many eateries, or just wander around soaking up the vibes. It’s the perfect contrast to the chill at Hilltop.

Read more: Top 10 Amazing Things To Do In Arugam Bay

Food and Drink

Thomas runs an unbelievable restaurant at Hilltop. He describes his food as a blend of Sri Lankan and Indonesian vibes with a twist of European quality. It really shows. You can get dahl curry and Greek salad mashups, kimchi and eggplant arancini tapas, pumpkin paneer wrapped in curry leaves, and homemade tofu with satay sauce made with peanuts from the locals down the road. 

A girl eating her lunch at Hilltop Cabanas

Dang, it was so good, one of our favourite places we ate in Arugam Bay.

Hilltop Cabanas has great options for any meal but the community dinner is by far the best. Thomas brings a whole sharing table of whatever he fancies cooking that night, it’s a great opportunity to eat something different and spend the evening sharing stories with everyone staying at the hotel. 

Prices at Hilltop are between $6-10 per meal which can rack up over a few day’s. If you want a cheaper option you can try Lighthouse Beach Hut Restaurant which has local rice and curry for $2-3. You won’t get bored of Thomas’ menu though, so we doubt you’ll eat elsewhere.

A waiter serving two dinners with a smile on his face at Hilltop Cabanas

Prices and booking

Prices vary depending on the season, but generally, they’re a fair price for the level of quality and uniqueness of the location. Prices are typically:

  • Off-season (April & May) – $15-20 per night
  • Shoulder Season (June & October) – $30 – 40 per night
  • Peak Season (July to September) – $50 – 70 per night

If you visit in the off-season, you can turn up whenever you want, there will always be availability. In the shoulder and peak season, Hilltop Cabanas can get busy, so it’s best to book in advance to avoid disappointment. The cheapest place we found was booking.com. 

Book now: see the latest prices

You cannot prepay for Hilltop Cabanas, they do not have a card machine, and there are no ATMs in the area. So make sure to bring enough cash with you for the entire time you visit. The nightly rate +$30/40 should be enough for food and a few drinks every day.

A beach swing at sunrise with surfers in the background at Hilltop Cabanas

Things to know

How to get to Hilltop Cabanas

Our preferred way to get to Hilltop Cabanas is with a Tuk Tuk driver from Arugam Bay. The cost is normally R3500 / $10 for a one-way trip or $15 for a two way. The driver will wait for you at the spot and they will happily bring boards on the roof.

You can also get to Hilltop by motorbike but the journey is far. We’d only suggest doing this if you’re going for a quick trip and you won’t be bringing much with you. 

Two Tuk Tuks driving over a bridge near Arugam Bay

When to stay

Hilltop Cabanas is only open between April and October when it’s the dry season. The best months to visit depends on what you’re looking for:

  • April and May – cheapest prices, no crowds, limited vibes, inconsistent but empty surf
  • June and October – medium prices, medium crowds, chilled vibes, good surf with some off days
  • July to September – peak season, higher prices, the most crowds, most consistent surf but busy

Top tip: Hilltop Cabanas gets fully booked throughout July and September, if you want to stay you need to book 1 month in advance – book now >

Two surfers chatting at sunset at Hilltop Cabanas

Nearest Shops

There are no supermarkets near Hilltop Cabanas, if you need anything you’ll need to bring it with you. The closest supermarket is a small local shop in Komari where you can get really basic things. We stupidly brought a whole bag of snacks and never ate it, so it’s best not to bring much.

A girl getting some shade under a palm tree tunnel at Hilltop Cabanas

Internet Connection

Hilltop Cabanas is remote and the mobile internet does not work very well. Hutch and Mobitel SIMs have very limited connection and Dialog is only fractionally better. If you visit, you’ll need to enjoy the peacefulness of being slightly disconnected for a while, you don’t need your phone at Hilltop anyway and we really enjoyed not looking at our phones.

If you need the internet Hilltop has free Wifi at the reception, it’s still slow but it’s better than most mobile SIMs.

Best place to book: booking.com

Two guys chat on a bench with dogs around them and the ocean in the background

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