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Arugam Bay

Arugam village is situated in the bay of the same name on one of the nicest stretches of the south east coast with many miles of pristine beaches, It was once occupied by the Dutch as a military post and had a small mud fort. For the past quarter-century, however, it has been seasonally occupied by cosmopolitan surfers attracted by the waves and discerning travellers who appreciate the splendour of its isolation.

The curved sandy bay is wide and long. There are no big hotel complexes towering over the beach, which at many places is lined with a multitude of brightly coloured fishing boats. That there are empty spaces between restaurants and guesthouses is striking when you have been used to seeing how crowded and developed most west and southern coast beach spots are.

During May to October, which is dry season on the east coast, the bay becomes safe for swimming, and best for surfing. There are some beautiful coral reefs and an unbelievable number of tropical fish to be seen in and around the area where the best snorkelling, on a calm day, is on the southern tip of the bay.

There are no dive shops in Arugam Bay but you may be able to organize a tour with qualified PADI instructor in advance. There are some Dutch and Portuguese shipwrecks to explore that are home to a wide variety of marine life.

Of course surfing IS Arugam Bay, and the area offers a variety of right-hand point breaks that delight even the most experienced surfers. Access to surfing spots can be arranged from guesthouses where you will also be able to hire surfboards if you don’t have your own.

Two kilometres from Arugam Bay is the beautiful mangrove ecosystem of the Pottuvil Lagoon. The tour, by traditional outrigger canoe, lasts two hours and lets you get very close to the abundance of wildlife the mangrove has to offer.

There are two national parks close to Arugam Bay. Lahugala is 12km from Pottuvil - you will probably pass through it on your way to Arugam Bay. Here you can see very large herds of elephants at dawn or at sunset. Yala East, 25km away, also contains elephants and some leopards. To the north-east of the park you can visit Kumana Bird Sanctuary.

Near Pottuvil Point in the jungle is the Magul Maha Viharaya, a 2,000-year-old Buddhist temple that was reconstructed in the 14th century and contains ruins that include a palace and a monastery.

Unawatuna is a fishing village blessed with a beautiful sandy bay fringed with palm trees. Science-fiction author Arthur C Clarke was so enchanted by the “exquisite arc of beach,” that he once made it his second home. To many visitors, Unawatuna is simply Sri Lanka’s best, a view endorsed by the Discovery Channel, which has rated the beach one of the ten best in the world.

Unawatuna is protected by a double reef and is therefore one of the safest beaches in Sri Lanka for swimming. You can snorkel in the clear blue waters of the bay. It is a great place for surfing and diving. Or you can go fishing or snorkelling out to sea by using the traditional catamarans dotting the beach.

Many restaurants line the whole curve of beach with sun beds enticingly placed outside. Because there are no big hotel complexes here, and no busy road, it is a favourite of tourists staying a few months. With welcoming villagers and an unforgettable ambience, it is easy to see why.

A charming legend concerns Unawatuna and the prominence called Rumassala Kanda at the west end of the bay. In the epic Indian poem, the Ramayana, which is partly set in Sri Lanka, Hanuman, the monkey god, was sent to the Himalayas to find some special medicinal herbs. But Hanuman forgot which herbs he needed and in desperation took with him, twisted in his tail, a chunk of the mountains. On his way back he dropped a piece at Unawatuna forming this hillock. That’s why the village name means “fell down”.

Rumassala Kanda, well worth exploring, has a great variety of unusual vegetation and protected medicinal herbs not found anywhere else in the area, making this story seem mysteriously possible.

Unawatuna is the ideal place to relax and unwind. As importantly, however, it is well-placed to allow you to easily explore the surrounding area. For an alternative beach, for instance, try Dalawella, just 2.5km from Unawatuna, which is unspoilt – it’s narrow but great for bathing and safe for children.

At Kottawa Rainforest and Arboretum, only 45 minutes from Unawatuna, you can experience a rainforest environment. Most importantly, the remarkable Dutch fort of Galle - one of Sri Lanka’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and considered the best-preserved fortifications in South Asia - is just 5km north of Unawatuna. And remember that if you are a cricket fan, Galle has an International Cricket Stadium where test matches are played.

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