This wide golden beach, with a lagoon at one end and a world-famous surfing point at the other, close to Pottuvil on the east coast of the island, is an unspoilt utopia. It is how Unawatuna or Hikkaduwa were twenty years ago, with small cadjan fishermen’s huts dotted along the front, beachfront cafes and guesthouses with a relaxed, homely vibe serving homemade breads and ice-creams. The town has a friendly, mixed community (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian) and inter-marriage is common.
Apart from relaxing on the beach and watching the fishermen come in with their catches, or surfing, there is a wealth of natural beauty, history and culture to discover. Only twenty-minutes away you can see elephants grazing on the shores of the tank in Lahugalla National Park. Whilst in Kudumbigala Park, south of the bay, you may be lucky enough to see leopards sleeping on a granite outcrop or a sloth bear feasting on the fallen red berries of the weera tree.
Then there are a handful of stunning secluded beaches to hunt out – from the bay at Okanda, where you can also visit the colourful Hindu kovil, (currently the resting place for pilgrims on their way to Kataragama) to Peanut Farm and the beach at Whisky Point. These are also good places to learn to surf with so-called ‘friendly waves’. The fact that there are no buildings or large hotels on these shorefronts means that you feel like you’re in paradise.
For those craving culture, there are fascinating temples to explore from Mudu Maha Vihara, which has an impressive standing Buddha statue, which is faced by two Bodhisattvas, to Magul Maha Vihara where King Kavantissa and Princess Devi are supposed to have married. It is best to head to these spots in the early morning or late afternoon otherwise the ground is too scorching to walk on. At Magul Maha Vihara, set in a wooded glade, there is an impressive red brick stupa, as well as a spectacular moonstone, which is unusual in the fact that it shows mahouts riding on the elephants’ backs. The Kudumbigala forest monastery is another highlight of the area, and boasts ruined shrines that pre-date Buddhism. Sitting high up on huge sun-warmed granite rocks, you can admire the unrivalled views over lagoons bursting with birdlife, the glistening sapphire blue Indian Ocean and jungle which stretches to the distant hills of Monaragala.
The first known occurrences of surfing are connected to the ancient Hawaiian tradition of "he'e nalu", meaning "wave-sliding". For this ancient Hawaiian culture, the sea had an attached persona, which could reflect emotions. A good day of surfing required the proper waves, and in order to convince the sea to provide these waves, Ancient Hawaiians relied on Kahunas (priests) to pray for good surf.
An Insider's Perspective
Sharon was born and raised in Sri Lanka, lived overseas for 22 years in San Francisco and Hawaii, and has recently moved back to the island to run her family business. She manages Hideaway Resort, a 14-bedroom guesthouse in Arugam Bay. Her interests include cooking, stand up paddle boarding, hiking, biking and being one with nature.
What is your favourite part of the area?
Kudimbigala – home to incredible granite boulders and ancient rock temples. A beautiful historic spot, where I go to restore and renew my soul.
What is your favourite activity?
Stand up paddling boarding, which I learnt in Hawaii. The bay itself is great for at the beginning of the season in May/June when the water is calm.
What is your favourite restaurant?
Hideaway, of course! ;) We make a conscious effort to use good local ingredients and organic produce from our vegetable patch. The food we serve is honest and clean.
Spend the morning at Peanut Farm. Go to the Okanda devalaya for the noon pooja and have a swim at Okanda beach after. Watch the sunset from Crocodile Rock. Take a drive north to Komare.
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Miguel Cunat is a Partner of Sri Lanka In Style founded in 2005 to provide visitors with insightful, engaging experiences in his adopted homeland. Recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as Sri Lanka’s Top Travel Specialist, and recently featured on Wendy Perrin’s WOW List.