Arugam Bay surf is probably the most famous in all of Sri Lanka. With its mellow right-hand reefs and point breaks, it draws surfers when the beaches of the southwest are under the monsoon. Come between May and August to ride the long, peeling shoulders of epic spots like Whisky Point. You’ll love it!
An introduction to Arugam Bay surf
Anyone who’s ever been surfing Sri Lanka will surely have heard of Arugam Bay. It’s the jewel in the crown of the island’s impressive beach roster. Boasting some beautiful right-hand point breaks and a medley of reefs and even barrels a little further out of town, there’s something for every sort of rider. In more recent times, the die-hard surf crowd has been diluted by beach lovers and beginner surfers, which has broadened the range of hotels and fattened the lineup considerably.
But don’t be deterred, there are still loads of waves to go around. So-called Surf Point (also known as Main Point) is the anchor of the lot, offering fast and slow sections that can sometimes form nice and hollow rides right by the main town. To the north, the coast wiggled through coconut groves to beginner-friendly Whiskey Point. To the south, you’ll find the wild and distance point breaks of Okanda, where the crowds thin out.
On top of the world-class array of breaks, there’s another trump card in the deck: The Arugam Bay season. Being situated on the east side of the island means the swells here are working when the south-west coast is in monsoon. The upshot? The town almost singlehandedly makes Sri Lanka an all-round surf destination, with rideable conditions 365 days of the year spread from coast to coast. Yippee!
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This is a part of our greater guide to Sri Lanka surf
Arugam Bay surf at a glance
What will I find in this guide?
Where is Arugam Bay?
Arugam Bay sits on the far eastern edge of the Teardrop of India. It sits just 6km south of the regional hub of Pottuvil, which is the gateway to the east coast famed for its white-sand beaches. The main west-east highway that crosses the southern portion of Sri Lanka links straight here from Colombo. So do the fast motorways and coast roads that loop around Galle and Matara. That means it’s possible to complete the drive in from the airport in about 6.5 hours. You’re looking at the total opposite side of the island from the Dec-March surf spots of Hikkaduwa and Hiriketiya.
A guide to Arugam Bay surf spots
Arugam Bay has the best surf spots on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Some are right in front of the town, others are a drive to the south or north. Here’s a look at the whole lot…
Lighthouse is the most northerly spot that’s usually still included under the official list of Arugam Bay surf spots. It strings the shore just outside of the small village and lagoon of Komari, by the crumbled remains of an old WWII lighthouse (hence the name). What the wave lacks in consistency (seriously, don’t even bother when the stars aren’t aligned) it makes up for in shape…
It’s basically a duo of rippable right-handers when conditions are right. One is good for starters but the other is better suited to experienced surfers, coming with a boulder-sand bottom. Note how the waves at Lighthouse get faster throughout the season, as the sandbanks bulk up during the dry season swell direction.
Mellow doesn’t quite do it justice here because the wave at Whisky Point is just about as chilled as it’s possible to get. It’s a beginner’s heaven, with soft, easy-going rights that break off a boulder point. Swells can pick up to 4 metres in heavy ocean storms, but they are virtually never seen in the main Arugam Bay season. Usually, it’s chest- or shoulder-high breakers that offer plenty of time to practice pop ups. Stay at the Whisky Point Resort that’s right in front to be the first on the sets in the morning – it’s a cracking hotel <3.
This is probably the wave you’ve seen photos off if you’ve been Googling up images of Arugam Bay surf spots. It’s a classic regional point break with what’s potentially a long, 50-150m ride coming off a series of boulders. The bottom is sand mixed reef, which is why most total beginners stick to the mini point that’s just on the other side. On big days it can barrel but also blows out at the sniff of a breeze.
On a long, beautiful beach that’s clad in sea vines and speckled with boulders, Peanut Farm offers some of the most accessible waves in the area. It’s a hubbub of surf schools from May to August, but don’t let that put you off – it’s a corker to learn on. The style? Expect a beach break with a sand bottom that gets its power from a low headland. The only tricky thing might be getting there – it’s hidden by a lagoon more than 7km south of town.
Elephant Rock/Crocodile Rock
Call it what you will, this jutting point break might be worth seeking out. You’ll need to commit because the walk to the shore is at least 20 minutes when carrying boards. The reward? Right-hand crumblers that can be pretty empty compared to other, more central, Arugam Bay spots. Just watch out for crocodiles!
It might be the farthest away from Arugam Bay town, but Okanda does offer ample reward for those who make the 23-kilometre journey. Not one, not two, but three individual point breaks await here. They cater to a range of different levels, but are generally strong intermediate and above. Things can get windy due to exposure, thought the waves hold up well to a massive 8-10ft on swell days. Beware of big rips close to the headland.
Where to stay in Arugam Bay for surfing
Arugam Bay has plenty of hotels. A lot of them will totally shut up shop for the low season (the monsoon season) and then open again when the rains depart and the swell improves around May time.
Babar Point ($$$)
With its leafy garden filled with palm trees surrounding a refreshing pool, Babar Point is a perfect place to relax after a heavy surf session. Luxury bungalows surrounding the pool come with outdoor showers and breezy al fresco seating areas. But the best part? All that is just a stroll away from the waves.
Arugambay Roccos ($$)
Arugambay Roccos fronts Main Street, just a stone’s throw from Main Point and its legendary right-hand breaks. It’s not your usual rickety cabana, but a fully-fledged beach resort. A cool, Bauhaus-style design covers the lot, with whitewashed villas that open for uninterrupted views over the Indian Ocean. There’s also a stunning central pool that’s just steps from the sand. It’s well worth sequestering some of the budget for this one!
Jetwing Surf ($$)
Jetwing Surf is actually located in Pottuvil, but is just shy of 2 miles away from Whisky Point. It’s worth considering because it’s got a stunning pool, lovely tropical-style cabana rooms, and a beach right out front.
The best surf camps in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is a fantastic surf destination to do a surf camp. The mix of deep reefs, sandbar and point breaks means that it’s just about perfect for learner groups, which tend to be the main customers to planned surf packages. The other great thing is that this eastern corner of the island isn’t as built-up as the southwest, which means you can usually get real close to the shoreline within walking distance of the waves.
There are now something like 20 surf camps on offer in Arugam as a whole. Some of them feature in our complete list of the overall best surf camps in Sri Lanka for 2023. Here’s are the two top options that we think you should consider:
- 10 Day Surf-Only Package in Arugam Bay @ Star Rest Beach Hotel – A full 10-day surf package that dispenses with the fancy boutique hotel and focuses on surf, surf and more surf, this one employs ISA-certified teachers and has a range of equipment for all levels. The real thing that stands out is just how long they’ve been going. We don’t think there’s anyone who knows the local breaks quite like them…
- 4-Day Surf Package @ the Arugam Bay Surf Camp – A well-rated package that will only take four days from your overall Sri Lanka trip, this one’s a great option for anyone up to intermediate level that doesn’t have all that long to enjoy the waves on the east coast.
Step-by-step guide to planning your Arugam Bay surf trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Arugam Bay surf…Lately, we like Omio for searching flights. It’s a nice interface and has lots of airline options. We also use Skyscanner because that sometimes offers deals that even beat going direct to the carrier!
Step two: Book your surf camp Book Surf Camps is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages on the internet right now. Then there’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check EXACTLY how close your hotel is to a surf break.
Step three: Get insuranceThis is kinda’ important. Not just for surf trips but for any trips. SafetyWing is great for nomad travelers. They offer rolling contracts that cover amateur surfing.
Step four (optional): Rent a car If you’re surf camping then you might not need wheels. If you’re not then we’ll just say this: We’ve never been on a surf trip that wasn’t improved by having our own car. Use RentalCars – they’re the best.
Step five: Enjoy!
A guide to the Arugam Bay season
April (sometimes even March) to August
Cue the high season in Arugam Bay. As the south-west monsoon sets in on the far side of Sri Lanka, the dry weather and sun is starting to hit this corner of the island. More than that, the dominant swell direction switches and the ocean becomes cleaner, inviting surfers to hit the spots from Okanda to Lighthouse.
Be wary that misconceptions about a short season in Arugam Bay, along with traditional holiday dates, mean that the place gets packed around August. A lot of the locals actually high tail it out of Dodge then, because the vibe changes a little – more partying, less chilling.
Wear: Rash vest/swimwear/shorty for long sessions. You also might want some good booties if you’re going to be hitting the Sri Lankan reefs.
October and November
These two shoulder months might see the gradual onset of the south-east monsoon, but they are actually a decent time to come surfing in Arugam Bay. You’ll notice that there are some pretty pumping days on the breaks that hold up better, like Okanada for example. That’s due to powerful ocean storms that match the changing of the season. Better than that are the smaller crowds, as the partiers make an exodus and the hotel prices drop.
Wear: Rash vest/swimwear/shorty for long sessions
December to March
The low season. Although that doesn’t mean the end of Arugam Bay surf trips. It’s just that the main breaks and reefs don’t really keep their shape when the ocean is wilder from December time onwards. In fact, it’s basically a whole load of whitewash, making it okay for beginners who want to practice on some of the rougher stuff. Weather wise, it’s not ideal. One day could be beaming sun, the next could be torrential rain that doesn’t end for weeks. You’ve been warned.
Wear: Rash vest/swimwear/shorty for long sessions
Surf shops in Arugam Bay
You’ll find plenty of surf schools and surf shops lining the wide Main Street and the sandy beaches around Arugam. Some with good ratings worth checking out are listed below…
The Surf City
The Surf City is a surf school first and a surf shop second. They specialise in classes for beginners and up, along with board rentals of all shapes and sizes. However, you can drop in to grab any wax, fins or accessories you might need. Oh, and you can plan marine and on-land safaris here to boot!
No Worries Surf Shop
No Worries Surf Shop is more of a beach shack with rentals than a fully-fledged outlet for surf wares. But that’s part of its charm. Locally owned and with highly rated lessons (a full-marks 5 stars on TripAdvisor), it’s a great option to consider if you’re after some tuition or a softie for the day.
Where to eat in Arugam Bay
Get your hard-earned fix of Sri Lankan curry and spice after you’re done on the waves with the following top-notch eateries in Arugam.
A highly rated joint that specialises in uber-fresh Sri Lankan curries. You’ll find a friendly, welcoming owner and a menu that offers tangy sambol salads with locally caught seafood. The inside is simple and earthy, with timber tables and swinging plant pots. Pretty cool, huh?
Leaf and Vine
You’ll find aromatic dals, chickpea curries, fragrant rice and crispy onion bhajis bursting from the kitchen of Leaf and Vine. And if that’s still not enough to convince you to drop in, just check out that grassy eating area. It’s got front-row seats over the ocean, where you can kick back with a cold one and watch the surfers do their thing.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in Arugam Bay
The reality these days is that Arugam Bay surf is no longer all it’s about. Some travelers come for the stunning beaches; others for the nightlife; others for the amazing national parks. The upshot? There’s loads to get stuck into when the waves aren’t pumping (even though they pretty much always are!).
Located only about 4km away from Arugam Bay is the lovey bay of Elephant Rock. It offers secluded beaches and stunning views at sunset (which can be had from atop the rock itself). It’s also not uncommon to spot wild elephants roaming the nearby area.
Kumana National Park
Kumana National Park is the less-known and less-visited neighbour of the famous Yala National Park. Safari here offers more of an authentic experience, however – largely because it doesn’t draw the same crowds. You can spot a wide range of animals, from elephants to leopards to tropical birds. The park’s best-known attraction is an ornithologically rich mangrove swamp known as the Kumana Bird Reserve.
Go on a boat tour on the coastal Pottuvil Lagoon, an area of eastern Sri Lanka that’s positively thriving with wildlife. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see bathing elephants and crocodiles.
How to get to Arugam Bay
If you’re going to Arugam Bay, you’ll most likely be landing in Colombo Airport and traveling from there by land. Be prepared for quite a long journey, because Arugam Bay is on the opposite coast to the capital. We’d recommend making a couple of overnight stops along the way – the hiking mecca of Ella is around the midpoint, jus’ saying!
If you’re short on time, the easiest and most comfortable direct way to get to Arugam Bay is a private taxi. However, journey will take approximately 6-8 hours, and you should expect to pay at least $80. We’d actually recommend posting on the Srilanka car and driver hire group to find reliable drivers with the best rates (make sure to let them know beforehand if you’re planning to travel with your board).
You can also get an overnight bus from Colombo to Pottuvil (which is only a short tuk-tuk drive away from Arugam Bay), but we’ve heard reports that it’s tricky if you’re travelling with a board.
Have you got anything to add to this ultimate guide to Arugam Bay surf? We’re always trying to update and change the information – otherwise, it would hardly be the ultimate guide, right?!