There’s not much to ARUGAM BAY town itself: just a single primary road running parallel to the beach dotted with guesthouses, cafés and shops, including some of Arugam Bay’s hallmark eccentric homemade architectural developments– rustic palm-thatch cabanas, teetering treehouses and other charming structures (not to mention the distinctive wood pavilion restaurant and red British telephone box of the landmark Siam View Hotel). The beach is now looking much better than ever following current clearances throughout which the authorities bought the removal of all structures within 20m of the waterline (albeit at significant cost to regional hoteliers and other residents, who were forced to enjoy as the government bulldozers rolled in and summarily took down significant slices of valued property).
A-Bay likewise marks the rough border in between the Sinhalese-majority locations to the south and the primarily Tamil and Muslim locations further up the coast, and boasts an unusually diverse but unified mix of all 3 ethnic groups– in addition to a growing variety of Western expats. Worries that the village’s distinctively (for Sri Lanka) alternative and a little off-the-wall character will be eliminated by bigger and more mainstream tourist developments stay, nevertheless, particularly given the upcoming opening of the brand-new Hambantota airport, which will make the town significantly much easier to grab international visitors. For the time being, nevertheless, Arugam Bay preserves its own enjoyably eccentric appeal.
A brief way inland from Arugam Bay the primary road west goes through the little however stunning Lahugala National Park, making up Lahugula Tank and a stunning swathe of dry mixed evergreen forest, dotted with lofty rosewoods and satinwoods. The park is best understood for its elephants: approximately 150 congregate around the tank throughout July and August, when the rest of Lahugala’s waters dry up, to consume and feed on the beru lawn which grows prolifically around the water. The tank is likewise great for finding a vast array of marine birds, consisting of many snowy white egrets that can often be seen riding on the backs of requiring elephants. When the rains come the elephants disperse, and big sections of the park turn a brilliant, post-monsoonal green.
Lahugala isn’t officially open to the general public, and no automobiles are allowed, although you’re complimentary to stroll into the park from the main roadway between Arugam Bay and Monaragala, which runs right through it. Understand, nevertheless, that strolling through jungle with a large elephant population brings a degree of danger, so it’s best to stay with among the acknowledged perspectives close to the roadway. The simplest (and safest) choice is to head to Lahugala Hospital (at the 306km post). Just west of here along the main road, several small courses run to the right to the raised bund at the edge of Lahugala Tank, about 100m away, which offers a protected vantage point and likelihoods of spotting elephants.
Guesthouses in Arugam Bay can organize jeeps to Lahugala, although considered that you can’t really drive these into the park, you may as well save your money and catch a bus or tuktuk.
The countryside and shoreline south of Arugam Bay is beautifully unaffected. Buses run three times daily along the good tarmac road which rolls through rice paddies and scrub jungle as far as the dirty little village of PANAMA, 12km south of Arugam Bay. There are miles of exceptional deserted beach along this stretch, and a set of big rock outcrops commonly understood as Elephant Rock and Crocodile Rock for their alleged similarity to these creatures, though you’ll require a tuktuk (or 4WD) to reach them. Elephants are in some cases seen roaming in the area. Panama itself has a fine, dune-backed beach, 1km south of town; to reach it, pass through the village and follow the roadway round to the left.
The road south of Panama is presently unsurfaced, although the dirt track is kept in affordable condition and is normally satisfactory in a 2WD (tuktuks make the journey with ease). The countryside here is almost totally unoccupied, and really comparable in look to that of Yala (West) National Park, with extensive lagoons, scrub jungle and substantial populations of marine birds, in addition to periodic elephants and crocodiles.
Around a 45min drive from Arugam Bay, a turning on the right leads for 500m to reach the stunning forest hermitage of KUDIMBIGALA, whose numerous caves are believed to have actually been occupied by Buddhist monks as far back as the very first century BC.
From the parking lot, follow the course ahead of you (keeping the contemporary rock-top dagoba to your right) into the surrounding woodland, following the track as it squeezes through the trees and in between huge rock outcrops to reach, after about 10 minutes, the Sudasharna Cave, a little white shrine half-covered by an overhanging rock outcrop bearing the faint remains of ancient Brahmi script beside an unusual little carving representing the Triple Gem.
Following the course to the left of the cavern leads after another 10 minutes as much as the Madhya Mandalaya (” Plain of Ruins”), with a small dagoba and other monastic remains scattered over a rocky hill. Alternatively, heading right from the cave brings you to the big Belumgala, a towering rock outcrop topped by yet another little dagoba. Rock-cut steps cause the top, an out of breath ten-to-fifteen-minute climb, at the end of which you’ll be rewarded by among the finest views anywhere in the east: a huge swathe of jungle dotted with big rock outcrops running down to the sea, and with scarcely a single indication of human habitation in sight.
Yala East National Park (likewise referred to as the Kumana National Park) has just recently resumed after prolonged closure throughout the war years, when it functioned as an LTTE hideout. The main attraction within the park is the Kumana Wewa tank and surrounding mangroves, house to an impressive selection of water birds.
With waves fresh from Antarctica crashing up onto the beach,rugam Bay is sometimes claimed to be one of the top ten surf points in the world, and periodically plays host to international tournaments, and periodically plays host to worldwide competitions. The best time for browsing is in between April and Oct/Nov.
There are a number of breaks near Arugam Bay, plus others further afield. The greatest waves in A-Bay itself are at The Point (near Mambo’s guesthouse), a long right-hand break which has (on an excellent day) 2m waves and a 400m flight. Another great break can be found straight off the beach by the Siam View Hotel. Baby Point (in between Mambo’s and Siam View Hotel) is ideal for beginners, with smaller sized waves and a sandy bottom (unlike The Point, which is coral-bottomed), while the beach break in front of the Stardust Beach Hotel is likewise good for novices and body browsing.
South of Arugam Bay, the break near Crocodile Rock (3km south of Arugam Bay) is an outstanding area for newbie and intermediate web surfers if there’s sufficient swell. Some 5km more on, Peanut Farm has two browse points: a perfect tube for professional web surfers and a smaller sized flight suitable for newbies; there are also great waves further south at Okanda.
A number of spots north of Pottuvil are likewise becoming popular among more knowledgeable web surfers (and are usually quieter than those in A-Bay). About 9km north of Arugam Bay, Pottuvil Point breaks off a long and deserted sandy beach; the trip can be as long as 800m, though the waves are a bit smaller than in A-Bay. Other close-by breaks consist of Whiskey Point and Lighthouse Point (aka “The Green Room”).
Contrary to popular belief, the tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka in 2004 was not the first the island has actually experienced in contemporary times. As just recently as August 1883, the huge eruption of Krakatoa, between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia, let loose massive tidal waves that sped west throughout the Indian Ocean before reaching Sri Lanka. At Galle, a sequence of fourteen freak waves, each separated by a couple of minutes, was observed. The Ceylon Observer described the scene preceding the arrival of the waves, one strangely prescient of events 121 years later on: “The sea declined as far as the landing phase on the jetty. The boats and canoes moored along the coast remained high and dry for about three minutes. A multitude of prawns and fishes were used up by the coolies and stragglers about the location prior to the water returned.” Further around the coast, a 3.5m-high wave hit Hambantota, while at Panama on the east coast “ships suddenly sunk downwards and were then drawn in reverse to be left stuck in the drying mud, their anchors exposed– and just as unexpectedly were borne up by an inrushing surge of water. The local streams, with hitherto sweet water, all quickly turned salty for a minimum of a mile and a half upriver” (as Simon Winchester explains it in his vivid account of the eruption, Krakatoa). What the 1883 tsunami mercifully did not have, nevertheless, was the destructive force of its 2004 equivalent. Only a single casualty was taped in the entire island, at Panama, where a woman was swept away from the harbour bar– most likely the unluckiest victim of a volcanic eruption more than 3000km far-off.