Ambrose Bierce may have said that war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography, but I’m assuming you already know where Arugam Bay is (OK, OK, it’s a tiny fishing village two miles south of Pottuvil on the east coast of Sri Lanka, a proudly independent 25,000-square-mile island nation off the southern coast of India; the 33-mile-wide Palk Strait separates the country from the Indian subcontinent).
For a place that’s only 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay can seem hopelessly remote. Some surfers may think that’s a good thing, but the area’s handful of hotel and restaurant operators are glad that getting here is getting easier—and in some instances more affordable—for surfers, birders, nature lovers and anyone else who’s looking to spend a few days or weeks in the sun.
The perception is that coming to Sri Lanka is the easy part of your trip—there are daily flights to Colombo from all over the world—and that getting to Arugam Bay from the airport is the hard part. That perception is at odds with reality. Because now there are many more ways to get here. Most area hotels will be happy to pick you up at the airport and whisk you to Arugam Bay for around $160. You can also get to Arugam Bay in a rental car, taxi, three-wheeler scooter taxi, train, air-conditioned bus or air taxi.
Fred Netzband-Miller thinks traveling part of the way to Arugam Bay by train is an often overlooked option: “Ella and Badulla are well known rail destinations in Sri Lanka,” he says. “But Batticaloa is not, although with overnight sleeper trains, it’s the most convenient.”
Fred points out that Batticaloa is just 60 miles (about 100 kilometers) north of Arugam Bay, adding that there’s a pretty good bus service between Batticaloa and Pottuvil on the A4 coastal road. You can also arrange to be picked up by a shuttle bus or taxi on arrival in Batticaloa. (Fred is proud of the luxury bus service he envisioned back in 2007, and that now operates between Colombo and Pottuvil.)
Sri Lankan Airlines operates a chartered air taxi service for those who’d prefer to skip Colombo altogether and get here directly from the airport. The flight time for the air taxis—Twin Otter planes with straight floats and seating for 15 passengers—is 90 minutes. You can email Sri Lankan Airlines at email@example.com to make your own arrangements. Incidentally, you only need to punch four digits (1979) to call the airline’s 24-hour contact center from anywhere in Sri Lanka (01194777771979 from the U.S.).
It wasn’t always this easy. It used to be that getting to Arugam Bay from Colombo would take you all day. Sometimes you’d sit in your jeep with the engine idling while a wild elephant stood swaying gently in the middle of a jungle road, blocking your way. In fact, you can still see elephants on the way to Arugam Bay, depending on the route you take and the time of day.
The first time my brother Tyrone and I were in Arugam Bay was in August 1963, on a hunting trip to Okande with our Dad. We came back in April 1964, again on a hunting trip. Back in those days the only way to get your jeep across the bay was on a ferry—a platform of wooden planks lashed to oil drums—with an old man hauling away on a rope to get you to the other side. Later in 1964 a box girder bridge, built with aid from the German government, put the ferry out of business and finally made it possible to drive nonstop from Pottuvil to Arugam Bay, Panama, Okande and the Kumana Bird Sanctuary.
Anyway, here’s contact information for car rental companies, taxi, rail and bus services that I know you can use to get to and from Arugam Bay (I’m sure there are many other taxi services and car rental companies; I’ll add them to this list when I learn about them):
Getting around in Arugam Bay:
Arugam Bay Taxi Service:
You can walk or rent a bicycle (most hotels have bikes for rent), but if you plan to go (say) to Okande, an air-conditioned taxi is your best best. A company called Sathsara operates two small four-door taxis; they charge Rs. 50 (41¢) per kilometer. You can either call the company at 0573588797 or the drivers themselves (Bandula at 0777886559 or Mubarak at 0778909790).
Three-wheeler scooter taxis are another good way for getting around in Arugam Bay. They are what most surfers use to get to the best spots. Here’s contact information for six guys who took my bro and me all over the place (names are in alphabetical order):
Nilantha: 0770592382 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shantha Lal: 0776625337
Copyright © David Graham