As we sit here in our accommodation, overlooking the numerous coconut palm trees that border Arugam Bay’s main beach, I am trying to think of a cohesive way to explain just how awesome this place is.
It’s a bit of a melting pot of all of my favourite places and things. It has a touch of the Carrribean about it, with many of its local bars and restaurants opting for reggae as their music of choice. It also takes you to California and coastal Australia with its barrelling waves and surfer vibe. There’s also a touch of the Balearics about it, with chillout and house music regularly providing the town’s soundtrack. And the curries, offer a depth of flavour and spice that ensure you never forget you’re in Asia, or more specifically, bordering India.
Cafes and restaurants
If you’re anything like me, your day doesn’t start until you’ve had a coffee and thankfully Arugam Bay has a plethora of places serving your morning fix. Standouts so far have been Bites – a little Aussie style cafe in the centre of the main strip, Karma Kafe – a beach shack type cafe owned by a couple of legendary Aussies, and Hideaway – a reggae, Carribbean influenced cafe–come-bar which does a mean coconut milk iced latte.
For when you’re getting peckish, there are an abundance of amazing restaurants serving everything from typical Aussie style breakfasts, lunches and dinners – to more authentic places serving local curries. We tend to gravitate towards the latter, but a few highlights so far have been Hideaway (check out the coconut rice curry bowl and the jackfruit tacos), Pizza Hub (a phenomenal pizza place off the beaten track which serves a seriously tasty vegan pizza), Tandoori Hut (just epic Indian curries!), and Karma Kafe (serves an array of smoothie bowls and savoury dishes too: my favourite was the vegetable pasta).
To fill the hole in between meals, if you have an enormous appetite like I do, look no further than the abundant fruit stalls located on the main strip. Papaya, mango, watermelon and pineapple in Arugam are some of the best we’ve tasted anywhere in the tropics.
Arugam Bay is all about relaxing, so don’t expect too many activities to fall outside of those which involve a hammock, pina colada and a good book. Saying that, if you are an experienced surfer, or a beginner looking to take to the waves for the first time – this is the place for you. Beginners looking for lessons, look out for ISA certified instructors, as these will follow international-standard guidelines to surf teaching.
If you are a nature enthusiast, like Chloe and I, then there are Yala and Kumana national parks nearby. It’s common to see elephants, leopards, crocodiles, peacocks, sloth bears, water buffalo and an abundance of birdlife. Be sure to research highly rated tour companies (we went with Arugam Bay Tours and they were amazing) and book a few days ahead of time as you’ll be advised on the best day to go during your stay (things like water levels in the lakes, religious pilgrimages which sometimes cross the national parks, and weather are taken into account). We are yet to do this, but you can also take boat tours of the mangrove laden lagoons near Arugam bay to spot crocs, monitor lizards and birds.
Arugam Bay’s main beach is a large stretch of sandy shoreline which local fisherman launch their boats from early in the morning to fetch the day’s catch. As a result, many of the local restaurants are seafood based, but with Chloe being fully vegan, and me being about 90%, these weren’t restaurants we frequented. For seafood lovers, though, the quality and freshness of fish on display was terrific.
Anyway, back to the beach. If you get down there early enough, between about 5 and 7 in the morning, you see the fisherman weighing their catch. It’s an abundance of colour, with the pastel-coloured boats standing proud and the sardines (the fish which I think most of the fishermen were catching) glistening in the sunshine. The surfers start making their way to the beach from about 7am onwards, but it doesn’t get busy until late morning. So if you want a quiet swim, space to workout on the beach, or to surf the waves with relatively little obstacles, then get there early, or at sunset.
When to go
The summer season in Arugam is May to October. Outside of that is the monsoon season and when many of the local businesses shut up shop. So if you’re looking for perpetual sunshine and a buzzy atmosphere, it’s best to go during the summer months.
There’s no time like the present, pack your bags, book a flight and head to Sri Lanka’s little pocket of paradise.