Sri Lanka is fast becoming one of the go-to destinations for surfing with its seemingly endless beaches and great waves. Go for the breaks and there’s still the diverse wildlife and rainforests, welcoming people and stunning landscapes to sample. The country has something for everyone and especially those looking to catch some waves. There are many different spots, means of getting around, places to rest your head as well as cuisine to enjoy and in this article we’ll give you the lowdown to help you plan your next Sri Lankan surf trip.
Sri Lanka has a variety of surf breaks to choose from including bottom points, beach and reef breaks with a few more individual spots. Many are suited for a range of difficulties so whether you consider yourself the next Kelly Slater or Layne Beachley, a novice or somewhere in-between there will be a surf break for you. The great thing is that if you want to learn and advance your skills with an instructor or test yourself against the most challenging of waves then Sri Lanka will cater to your needs.
Take your pick between Ahangama, Weligama and Hikkaduwa on the Southwest Coast or Arugam Bay in the Eastern Province; we’ll look at each hub in depth.
The area is suitably blessed with beach and reef breaks including Rams Right, The Rock, Lazy Lefts, Weligama, Plantations and Mirissa Point. Aim for November to April to sample the most suitable conditions and a selection of waves from the same swells that start in Indonesia. The winds are likely to be offshore in the mornings then late afternoons and you should expect the waves to range from head high to double overhead.
The off-season can be annoyingly temperamental and when the wind makes for different swell directions many of the those breaks will likely be closed. Dang. However, one advantage over the Eastern Province is that you can still catch some fun waves in the off-season where there’s still swell, a bit of wind protection and where the wind blows cross-offshore. There are so many spots that branching out to the less popular breaks should not mean a drop in enjoyment. If you do count yourself as advanced then consider that a few intrepid surfers may not want to sample the more challenging waves meaning a bit more room to express yourself.
The season takes up where the Southwest Coast leaves off and runs from May to September centering on Arugam Bay. Head for where the scattered right-hand sand bottom points of the region hit the passing southeast and southwest swells. Eastern Province is located in the dry zone so expect arid conditions with the breaks being found at Arugam Bay, Pottuvil Point, Whiskey Point, Peanut Farm, Elephant Rock and Okanda.
During that peak season you can enjoy the offshore mornings on Arugam Bay and its nearby breaks which are graced with headlands that offer wind protection to keep the waves fairly clean. As the big attraction in the area, the bay also proves to be the most crowded so getting up early is advised if you want to sneak out in the dark before everyone else. The further you venture, the more room you will find and you should be rewarded with spots you can claim as your own in the mornings. Alas, the off-season is notoriously flat so best to avoid if you’re looking to catch some waves.
If you can only get away in the monsoon/off-season expect less options for food and hotels. It’s not all rain and storms though, there will be days that only get a short rain shower though the Southwest Coast is more accommodating with quieter, cooler conditions than the Eastern Province.
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The main surf hubs are both a fair distance from Bandaranaike International Airport and it can take a 7 to 10 hour drive to reach Arugam Bay while the Southwest Coast is a bit closer at a 3 to 4 hour drive. A private, mid-sized six seater taxi van to Arugam Bay should cost around 18,000 to 19,000 rupees ($100 – $110 USD) and the shorter ride to the Southwest Coast should cost about 10,000-12,000 rupees or $57 – $70 USD.
Do consider that on public transport your surfboard bags may require more room and you may have to pay extra. If you wanted to go via a bus to Arugam Bay, you can take a local one from the Colombo Main Bus Terminal for $4 – $5 USD or take the 98 bus direct to Pottuvil which is close to Arugam Bay for around $5 USD. To travel in style you can get a luxury air-conditioned bus for around $10 – $15 USD. On the Southwestern Coast you can take a bus from Colombo to Galle for about $2 USD then a taxi to Weligama for around $10 – $15 USD.
For gorgeous views along the way consider going by rail and you can get a train from Galle to Weligama for around $1 USD. You can also get a train from Colombo to Weligama which takes about 2.5 to 4 hours and costs from $2 to $4 USD. Alas, there are no direct trains to Arugam Bay from Columbo but you can get a train from Colombo to Badulla for around $4 USD then a bus or taxi from Badulla to Arugam Bay. By bus from Badulla to Pottuvil should be around $4 USD then another $6-$8 USD for a tuk-tuk or taxi to Arugam Bay.
The roads are intimidatingly chaotic and if you want to get off the beaten path then hire a tuk-tuk driver for a suitably Sri Lankan experience though be prepared to negotiate a price before getting in. Thankfully, the surf breaks are located in close proximity on the Southwest Coast and can be reached from the main coastal road. If you wanted to brave the roads you can rent a scooter for around $6 – $8 USD daily.
If you did want to sample several of the surf breaks in the Eastern Province then you can hire a tuk-tuk driver for a 4-5 hour round trip from Arugam Bay to Okanda or the Lighthouse for about 3000 Sri Lankan Rupees or about $17 USD. Closer to Arugam Bay are Whiskey Point, Peanut Farm, Pottuvil Point, and Elephant Rock which will likely cost around 1000 – 2500 rupees (around $6 – $15 USD) for a round tuk-tuk trip. Bear in mind that all of the breaks outside of Arugam Bay can only be found on unmarked dirt roads so find someone who knows the terrain.
Costs are relatively reasonable though travel in a group to split the fares. However you choose to get around in Sri Lanka, part of the fun is the wildlife you will see on the journey itself. Watch out for peacocks and monkeys to idling elephants dominating the roads though don’t feed them. That’s only part of it as even the most experienced of drivers would struggle with negotiating a narrow road past the wildlife, the buses, taxis and tuk-tuk drivers so we’d advise you travel via tuk-tuks or by renting a scooter.
Oh, the food. There are just so many options. Maybe too many options as some menus try to cater for everyone so offer local curry dishes as well as noodles and burgers. Try to keep it local as Sri Lanka is renowned for its curries and you can always get a roti from a street vendor. A cheap local restaurant will cost about 250 – 350 rupees ($1.50 – $2 USD) for rice and curry. Mid-range restaurants are upwards of 700 rupees to around 1220 ($4 to $7 USD) per meal. A top-notch, high-end meal in a restaurant should cost around 1750 – 3500 rupees which works out at $10 to $20 USD.
As with the waves, there are a range of options for where to stay. For those on a budget there are some spots for under $10 USD per night and you can even find some guesthouses and hostels for under $50 USD per night. In the mid-range between $50 to $150 per night there are several air conditioned hotels which include a free breakfast. There are also surf camps and private villas though we would advise booking in advance for peak season to avoid disappointment. If it’s luxury you are after, which would be over $150 USD per night, then Sri Lanka has some stunning hotels and all-inclusive surf retreats.
Sri Lanka is a tropical island so expect hot and humid with a smattering of thunderstorms thrown in for good measure. Both of the main surf hubs’ peak seasons will be in the hot season so expect temperatures of between 30-40c though this will feel even hotter so be prepared to get up early and leave it late for the more palatable conditions. The water temperature is more blissfully limited and ranges from 27 to 29c all year round though you may want to consider a rash guard when the sun beats down.
Get ready to handle a lot of it. One British pound is currently equivalent to 233 Sri Lankan Ruppes, a single US dollar is 180, a Euro is 200 and an Australian dollar is 125. Tipping is always appreciated though not always expected and some restaurants will add a 10-12% service charge. If you do want to reward that extra touch then you can tip your server or tuk-tuk driver 10% directly.
Getting a SIM card is relatively easy and they can be found in the main Bandaranaike International Airport and service centres throughout the country. Take your pick from cell companies such as Dialog, Mobitel, Etisalat, Airtel, and Hutch. Most hotels and restaurants should offer free and reliable wifi too.
Considering the potential risks in suffering an injury while surfing you would be a fool not to consider travel insurance. You’ll want comprehensive cover and World Nomads Insurance includes loads of other activities including surfing and ocean sports.
From those on a budget to those who want to live the high life there are several options to enjoying a surf trip to Sri Lanka. There are several spots to choose from and ways of getting there, places to stay and cuisine to sample. Choose wisely and enjoy those waves.
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Duwa Estate, Henawathatha
80650, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 (77) 766 6861
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