Sri Lanka doesn’t have the best waves in the world. And although I’m a believer in quality over quantity, the number of breaks you can reach in a 30-minute motorbike ride is one of Sri Lanka’s most alluring traits. That’s without considering the affordable surf-front accommodations, tasty after-surf tea and the ridiculously delicious flatbreads (which may be the only decent thing you find to eat in some places).
Sri Lanka isn’t a surf trip for travelers seeking world-class waves that peel as far as the eye can see, but it’s a place for surfers who are willing to sacrifice a bit of wave quality for a new experience. The waves are plentiful, the crowds are less painful (than say, Bali) and strapping your boards to the top of a tuk tuk is downright awesome.
These five tips will help you find the best places to surf and stay in Sri Lanka without the trial and error (and missed waves) that I endured.
1. Know Where to Surf
There are countless surf spots in Sri Lanka, and the coast is so easy to navigate via bus, motorbike or tuk tuk, that you’ll be able to check multiple spots each day.
Arugam Bay is Sri Lanka’s most famous spot — it’s about 320 kilometers east of Colombo (where your flight into Sri Lanka will land). Post up in Arugam Bay and you’ll have access to restaurants, cafes and other nearby breaks including Peanut Farm, Pottuvil Point and Okanda. This area, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, receives the best swells between April and October. We visited Sri Lanka in the winter months, so we headed over to the south coast of the island instead.
Sri Lanka’s south coast and its multiple surf spots are just a few hours drive from the Colombo airport. The first place you’ll probably hear about is Hikkaduwa, but unless you want to deal with crowds of sunburned surfer dudes, continue south.
South of the town of Galle (be sure to check out the historic Galle Fort on a flat day) is a span of small towns with multiple surf breaks. Koggala Beach, Midigama Beach, Mirissa and Mathara Beach all offer fun breaks just steps from numerous hotels and guest houses. If you’re traveling with beginners, you can drop them off at the easy sand-bottom waves of Weligama Bay while you search for something gnarlier.
2. Know When to Go
It’s tempting to visit Arugam Bay during the country’s “surfing season,” between April and October, but the crowds are heavy, and you’ll probably catch less waves than if you visit the southern part of the island in the “off season.” Southern Sri Lanka receives tons of waves between the months of November and April, and it’s likely you’ll catch them all to yourself at times.
This part of the country is becoming increasingly popular among surfers, but if you visit during the winter months — when you want to escape the bitter cold at home in the U.S. — you’ll catch plenty of ultra-fun 3 to 5-foot waves with a handful of surfers in the water. And don’t worry, bigger swells often arrive sporadically during these “off-season” months.
3. Know How to Get Around
Once you catch a ride — by taxi, bus or even train — from the airport to your destination, you’ll still want a way to get around. We tried not renting a motorbike for multiple days and ended up surfing the same wave every session and consuming nine roti (Sri Lankan flatbreads) per day.
Without a motorbike, you’ll have to pay costly tuk tuk fees every time you want something to eat (besides roti), and every time a different wave is breaking better than the one in front of your hotel. Talk to someone at your hotel about the best place to rent a motorbike — it shouldn’t cost more than $10 per day, and you can fit two people and two boards on a bike.
4. Pick the Perfect Place to Stay
Choosing the proper accommodations can seem tricky when you first arrive on Sri Lanka’s southern cost. There are plenty of traditional hotels that cost roughly $100 per night, but you can find much more desirable accommodations for less than half the price.
If you’re catching waves in the Koggala area, forgo the old and dirty Koggala Beach Hotel and Club Koggala Village for Timeless Villas — an affordable and tidy set of five air-conditioned rooms. You won’t have to deal with pesky beach hawkers, and the attentive staff is always ready to pour a cup of coffee or tea. They even helped us find a motorbike and allowed us to use theirs for free when we returned ours a couple of days too early.
5. Get Out and Explore
Some of the most memorable parts of your Sri Lanka surf trip will be what happens when you’re out of the water. Taste the country’s signature Ceylon tea (or have three pots a day), sample countless roadside roti vendors, catch some European vibes in the Galle Fort (fortified by the Dutch in the 1600s), walk the golden beaches, party in Unawatuna, hop aboard a train, shop for gemstones, visit one of many sacred spots or cruise the coast on your motorbike.
Waves are undoubtedly the No. 1 priority on a Sri Lanka surf trip, but it’s the country’s unique personality that will make your visit the trip of a lifetime.