10 Things You Can Do in Arugam Bay Beside Surfing
We went to Arugam Bay earlier this year and loved everything about the quaint hamlet on Sri Lanka’s East Coast. Since it was the “off-season” it was far away from the Arugam Bay we had heard of. We were away from the maddening crowds, hipsters and happening café culture. While we’d love to have a glimpse of Arugam Bay’s laid-back café culture the next time we visit, we fell in love with the kind-hearted locals, secluded beaches, abundant wildlife and the visits to tiny, remote villages. If you are looking for something to do in Arugam Bay apart from surfing, here is a list of amazing, cultural experiences you could have in Arugam Bay.
1. A safari in Kottukal Lagoon
A canoeing safari in Kottukal Lagoon not only rewarded us with a magnificent east coast sunrise, we went around the lagoon for about 3 hours, trying to name a plethora of birds we absolutely failed to name correctly. We would look at the little bird photography book Ibrahim had and guess the name every time we see a new species, only to be told that it was something else. While there are many companies who organize tours, we recommended Ecowave Travels, not because we were sponsored (nope, never because of that). We found out that Eco Wave is actually a non-profit organization and they help sustain the lives of local communities. The profit they earn here goes to the nearby villagers. Their employees are also locals from the nearby communities. It’s absolutely why we worked with Ecowave. We are really picky about whom we work with!
2. Visit Komari Lagoon
Do you always see a beautiful postcard from Sri Lanka and then once you visit, it’s far from what you’ve seen? Yep, we’ve been there. It’s because all the Instagrammed places are now commercialized and they’ve lost the charm they once boasted of. However, the little island still holds onto a number of photogenic vistas. Komari Lagoon is one such place. Komari is approximately 16 kilometers North of Arugam Bay and a tuk tuk will take you here for a reasonable price.
3. Visit Komari Beach and Komari Lighthouse
Don’t imagine the lighthouse to be like the crowd-favorite Galle Lighthouse or Dondra Lighthouse on Sri Lanka’s southernmost tip. Today, the lighthouse on Komari beach is half gone. The beach is named as the Lighthouse Beach in Komari and there are a few accommodations near the beach including Lighthouse Beach Hut. In January, when it’s called the offseason in East Coast, we were the only souls there. Nathan and I goofed around the camera and later had a fresh papaya juice at the restaurant run by the hotel. Lighthouse Beach Hut is owned by the same owner who runs the famous Beach Hut in Arugam Bay. The eco-friendly cabanas are also a perfect getaway from your busy, everyday life.
4. Visit a farmer’s garden in Urani
The friendly guys at Ecowave took us to a village farm in Urani, a tiny hamlet north of Arugam Bay. The farmer uncle walked us around his beautiful garden where a number of vegetables, fruits, and spices are grown organically. His garden is also boarded by the Indian Ocean and Ecowave organizes night camping there. During the season, it would make a wonderful experience to stay by the beach and stargaze later at night. He also offered us breakfast, cooked by his lovely wife – stringhoppers and pittu with lentils curry, pol (coconut) sambol and boiled eggs – just the way we want our breakfasts to be every morning. We also had papya and bananas, fresh from his garden. Damn it! I’d almost forgotten how organic papayas taste like. The ones we buy from Colombo supermarkets are far from the actual taste as they’re often artificially ripen and grown in conditions where chemical fertilizers are used.
It was also the collection day when we visited. The village farmers gathered all their harvest to the Ecowave truck. Ecowave initiated this project in order to promote organic farming in village communities and help sustain the livelihoods of the locals.
5. Learn to cook Sri Lankan rice & curry
Our cooking class at Ecowave outlet was a fun, learning experience. We were joined by an Australian couple. Ibrahim was our instructor and a village lady showed us how to cook all the curries we eat every day at our home kitchen! It’s a shame that we didn’t know how to prepare Sri Lankan curries, but now we know. We even noted down the preparation methods as Ibrahim was very clear with his instructions. The hardest part of the kitchen work was to prepare coconut milk from the coconut meat. We loved our cooking experience so much that we even did a separate blog about it.
6. Stay in a homestay in Panama
Panama? Yep! But it’s pronounced as Paa-na-ma. A lovely little village south of Arugam Bay, Panama is a wonderful place to stay if you want to be away from the crowds in Arugam Bay and Pottuvil. We didn’t stay in a homestay, but there are a number of homes where you could stay at and mingle with the locals. We had lunch at one of the homes after being offered a fresh passion fruit + lime juice as we arrived.
7. Safari at Kumana National Park
If you love wildlife, Kumana is the best place to be. A lot of national parks in Sri Lanka are insanely crowded with misbehaving tourists and it feels a bit unethical to visit those even though the wildlife are in their natural habitats. We hardly ever encountered another jeep at Kumana. It’s also a peacock paradise. We even saw a peacock dance. The flashy display was obviously to attract his peahen, the female partner. Duh! If you are lucky, you will spot a leopard as well. We spotted a wild fox and a plenty of smiling elephants. Wait, smiling elephants? Yep! See our post on Kaudulla National Park for more.
8. Visit Okanda Rajamaha Vihara
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go inside the temple, but reading a bit about the history fascinates us and it means that we need to go again. It’s located close to Kumana and we Sri Lankans believe that it’s the first place God Skanda (Kataragama deviyo) first sailed into Sri Lanka. He had a golden boat and the boat was turned into a rock. It is still there on Okanda Beach and is named as “ran oru gala” which means gold boat rock in Sinhala.
9. Muhudu Maha Viharaya
This is another place we were unable to pay a visit to! It is believed to be built 2000 years ago by King Kavantissa who ruled Ruhuna Kingdom in Sri Lanka. Today, there are some preserved ruins, open to the public. It’s also the landing place of Viharamahadevi, mother of King Dutugemunu of the Anuradhapura Kingdom and the chief consort of Kavan Tissa. According to the history, when the West Coast of Sri Lanka was submerged by a natural disaster (which could probably be a Tsunami), people thought it was because the gods were angry. Viharamhadevi was cast into the ocean to appease the gods. She has then washed ashore in Pottuvil, where Muhudu Maha Vihara is located.
10. Watch the sunrise
East Coast is the best place to see a beautiful sunrise in Sri Lanka. When we first arrived in Arugam Bay early morning around 5 AM, we were really tired. We were coming from Colombo to Akkaraipattu in an overnight bus. We then took another bus to Pottuvil and a tuk tuk to our hotel. However, as soon as we arrived, the morning light was just peekabooing over the soft, candy-like clouds and we couldn’t do anything but run fast to the powdery beach. We also befriended two pooches, saw local fishermen bringing their daily catch and a few enthusiastic yogis on the beach.
These are our top tips on 10 things you can in Arugam Bay beside surfing. If you are probably wondering how to get to Arugam Bay, read below.
Boarding the bus from Colombo
During the season, there are air-conditioned Volvo buses running to Arugam Bay from Colombo. These buses, however, cannot be booked online but your hostel/hotel in Colombo will help you arrange this. You can book a few normal buses to Panama or Pottuvil on busbooking.lk. We booked our Volvo bus to Akkaraipattu (a small town 50 km north of Arugam Bay) via busseat.lk.
Boarding the bus from Ella
Many travelers opt to choose this route as they are traveling all around Sri Lanka. Ella is 3-4 hours away from Arugam Bay. You can take a bus to Wellawaya (1 hour) and then take another bus to Pottuvil and a tuk tuk to your accommodation.
There are no trains which directly go to Arugam Bay. The closest option will be boarding a train to Batticaloa. The train takes about 9 hours and it’s a bit painful journey. The overnight train is better as you could sleep on the train and save accommodation costs as well.
Private and shared vehicles:
During the season which runs from April-September, there are also shared taxis from Colombo. We know that Bunkyard Hostels organize a shared transport service to A’Bay!
If you have a bit of cash and need more comfort, you can hire a private vehicle. PickMe is like Uber and has the package option on their app where you can calculate the price for your journey and prebook it.
Where to go next:
The East Coast trip
From Arugam Bay, you could consider heading north along the coast. Batticaloa, Trincomalee, and Nilaweli are popular options. Also, check out Oluwil closer to Ampara where you can stay in an eco-friendly tree house by the sea and wake up to an epic sunrise.
You could also go to Jaffna as there are direct buses running to Jaffna from Pottuvil. Keep in mind that it’s a long journey and the buses are pretty uncomfortable.
Tangalle is only a few hours away from Pottuvil. There are buses running throughout the day. Tangalle is home to amazing beaches like Rekawa, Kahadamodara, and Goyambokka. We stayed at Palm Paradise Cabanas located next to the beautiful Goyambokka beach.
As we mentioned earlier, buses are ope to Wellawaya from Pottuvil. From Wellawaya, Ella is only a one hour journey. We wrote a comprehensive guide to Ella which may help you plan your travels in the mountain hamlet.
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