Catching multiple buses is the only option besides private car to get to Arugam Bay. However, depending on what direction your coming from, the stops will differ. From the bus station in Ella catch a bus heading to or through Wellawaya or Buttala to reach Monaragala. (There are a few direct buses to Monaragala which is the best option. Just ask the locals which is the best at the time to get to Arugam bay).
From Monaragala catch a bus to Pottuvil or Panama, if the bus only takes you to Pottuvil it is fine to jump into a tuktuk and it will have you in Arugum bay in 5 minutes for 200 LKR. If the bus is going to Pottuvil just tell the driver, you want to stop at Arugam Bay.
We caught 3 buses on the trek from Ella and it was really simple. Our route on the day was Ella to Wellawaya to Monaragala jumped off at Siyambalanduwa and hailed down a bus heading to Panama.
I have confidence in saying just keep catching buses in the direction of the east coast and follow an offline map (we use Maps.Me) and you will get there way quicker than waiting for the perfect bus (if that even exists). Trust in the people and the experience and you will be fine.
We stayed at Tropicana for 1200 LKR a night and this little gem was all that we needed. A wooden beach cabana with a palm tree roof, running water and a double bed with a mosquito net just a few doors back from beach front. There are loads of little guest houses for cheap prices hiding around. Arugam Bay is small so anywhere you choose to stay will be fine.
Karma Gardens is my top choice and you will obviously see why. Set just back off the swimming beach you can sit on low set cushioned seats and devourer as much yummy vegan food as you can, smoothie bowls, salads, juices and a must is the chickpea burgers. Run by two Aussie guys, they know how to do it. Other good eats were Blue Ocean for a local meal and loads of little street cafes are spread through A-Bay, they are all similar; run down outsides and old insides but the food wherever you go is delicious.
Water’s Edge Restaurant is a great stop also if you are feeling Mexican.
Because Arugam Bay is predominately Muslim, alcohol is expensive and hard to find as the religion prohibits the consumption of alcohol. However, attached to the Palm Grove Holiday Inn is a wine shop. As we came in April just before the season began a few places we really wanted to try were shut until May 1st. If you’re lucky enough to come in this time do check out Hideaway Café, Bar Bar, Spice Tail and Mango Café.
Things to do
DIY Safari: We hired a scooter for 800 LKR a day and headed into Kuama National Park to make up our own safari! Take the road east towards Panama and at the water tank turn right and follow this road towards Okanda, this will lead you into the plains and through the bush of the National Park. The pot holes are big so if you are not confident at dodging them and looking where you are going, it may be best to stick to a jeep safari. Additionally, you are in a wild national park filled with water buffalo, wild pigs, deer, elephants, crocodiles and some leopards that are not locked behind any fencing so consider this. If all of this is not sounding like your cup of tea, the safari jeeps leave daily from Arugam Bay and they will take you through here with the safety of a local guide and jeep. After 25km you will come to the park entrance so if you have not seen any animals it is only 1,300 LKR to hire a jeep and guide for three hours. Make sure you also check out the beaches that are free from tourists around Panama.
Surf Breaks: Whisky Point, Elephant Rock, Potturvil Point and Lighthouse Beach.
There is so much untouched land surrounding this part of Sri Lanka, so just getting out for a day on the scooter with no plans is a good way to spend a day. The villages are where you really get to see Sri Lanka.