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  • Writer's pictureBennett Thomas

Sri Lankan info - Arugam Bay Surf Trip 2024

Travelling to Arugam Bay Sri Lanka from South Africa


1. Flights and transport options


There are no direct flights from South Africa to Sri Lanka. The cheapest and best airlines to travel with seem to be Qatar going through Doha and Emirates through Dubai. They also have the added benefit of allowing surfboards up to 3m in length and you can use your included baggage allowance so no extra fees. With Qatar, the baggage allowance is 2 x 23 kg in economy so you can use one for your board and one for a bag. With Emirates it depends on ticket class whether you have two or one piece of luggage so make sure you double-check before booking.


2. Visa Requirements and Process


Just go to eta.gov.lk and the e-Visa Application process is very straightforward and easy to do online. The e-visa costs, at the time of writing, $50 and gives you 30 days. if you want to extend your trip for some reason it's also possible to apply for an extension which can be up to 6 months and can also be done, relatively easily, online.


3. Travel insurance


If you buy your flights with a credit card there is usually free travel insurance with your bank, but it often doesn’t cover surfing so just double check, and sometimes you can pay a top-up that’s usually not too expensive to have it included. I’m with Absa and I think the top tier upgrade on travel insurance costs me about R1000.


4. Safety and precautions


Sri Lanka is a pretty safe place to travel, they have the occasional civil unrest and local politics is definitely a bit shaky, but I feel like when I’m there it's safe to walk around and you can generally trust people to be kind, honest, and helpful. I’ve never felt threatened, but walking around at night alone, especially as a woman, is not recommended.


I once left my bag on the beach at night to go swim and came back and my cash was gone from my wallet, but they left my bag and passport and everything else I had so I guess opportunistic theft, especially cash, is the one thing to look out for.


5. Mosquitos


There is no malaria in Sri Lanka. There is dengue, but not super common and it will be the dry season on the east coast so you shouldn’t be swarmed. Just bring mosquito repellent and take care at sunset when they are more active.


6 . Availability of cash ATM’s etc


You will need cash, very few places accept cards. You can easily draw money at the airport when you arrive and also in Arugam Bay and all the main towns will have a few ATMs. R1 gets you +- 17,5 Sri Lankan Rupees.


7. Cultural norms and Dress code Etiquette


Sri Lanka is relatively conservative and a predominantly Buddhist country, however in the East and Arugam Bay it’s mostly Muslim and although tourism over the years has made it a lot more chilled to swim/surf in bikinis, some locals might be offended by a woman walking in the streets in only a bikini, a sarong/towel is a good idea. Buddhist monks can also not touch women so if you’re riding the bus for example and the only seat available is next to a monk, you should stay standing. In general, the Sri Lankan people are super friendly and welcoming and are very understanding of tourists.


8. What kind of food to expect


The national food of Sri Lanka is rice and curry. Rice and curry buffets are common as the individual curry dishes are often one main vegetable or meat cooked with coconut oil spices and coconut milk, then you can combine the different dishes together with rice and papadum(fried crispy chickpea cracker) and spicy coconut sambal. Typical curry dishes include green bean curry, beetroot curry, devilled curries(spicy), potato curry, lentil dhal curries, fish curries, chicken curries, and many more. Another favorite dish of mine is kottu its a bit like fried noodles/pasta, but instead, they use roti that’s chopped up while cooking on a flat hot plate and fried, often with veg, egg, and chicken. Another favorite food is the ready-made roti triangles you can buy at food trucks and stalls that are a bit like samosas(also available), but soft roti on the outside and curry on the inside. Coconut pancakes are a win with freshly shredded coconut with kitul syrup(the locals often call honey) and sometimes a banana, these little rolls of joy are a great cheap sweet treat to grab on the go. Other really nice local foods include dosa, string hoppers, coconut roti, and curd with kitul syrup.


In the tourist hotspots, there are a lot of International cuisine options like burgers, pizza, steaks, and pasta. There’s a very trendy brunch vibe in the surf towns with lots of smoothie bowls and Buddha bowls with decent coffee too. You can definitely find food to suit every pallet.


9. Tap water


Water quality is a bit suspect in general, our accommodation has filtered water coming out of their taps and can be used for drinking and refilling water bottles. I also like to drink fresh king coconuts for hydration!


10. Language


The main language of Sri Lanka is Sinhala, although, on the east coast, they mostly speak Tamil. Say ‘Ayubowan’ to greet in Sinhala and ‘Vanakkam’ for Tamil. You will get by with English in Sri Lanka easily as in most places where tourists go people will have good enough English to help you out.


11. Tipping


Gratuity is often included in your bill at a restaurant and it’s usually 10%, sometimes the prices on the menu won’t include this charge so you have to do a little add-on in your head when deciding what to order. If you have a porter carry your bags I’d recommend at least 100 Rupees per bag and if you have a surfboard maybe more like 500, but in general if you can negotiate a price before they help you it's always better.





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