Friday, April 24, 2009

Arugambay Driving Directions and things - Travel Guide 1

When to visit:
Arugambay is full of foreigners during the surf season (June to August) but seems empty otherwise. While surfing is good, I prefer swimming. And what makes the off season bad for surfers (no waves) makes it great for swimming. The waves break really close to the shore so if you slightly beyond, you can just float for hours.

It's safe as anywhere else in the country. We experienced no issues and there are STF/Army checkpoints all along the way. Where there are concerns (such as the road from Panama to Kumana) the roads are closed off.

Getting there:
The distance from Arugambay to Colombo is around 350km and the easiest way to get to Arugambay is by vehicle.

But you have to leave early enough. We left Colombo at 5am - you must leave then: the buses get on the road by 6, the schoolchildren 6:30 - and made it there around noon. There are two routes you can take.

Either way, you take the A4/High Level Road past Ratnapura to Pelmadulla.

From Pelmadulla, you can go south to Embilipitiya, go across Udawalawe to Thanamalwila and back north to Wellawaya. The road is carpeted all the way except for the awful 40km of road crossing Udawalawe National Park. It has always been awful and doesn't seem to have been fixed since, I think, the dam was built.

Or you can stay on the A4 past Pelmadulla and go through Beragala (here, the road forks. The carpeted road continues to Badulla but you have to take the right fork downward - the bad road) to Wellawaya. The 37km from Beragala is not great but the rest is carpeted all the way and the views are spectacular.

I prefer the second route: once you pass Pelmadulla, there's no traffic, the road is good and the scenery is beautiful and unspoiled, especially the bit from Belihuloya to Wellawaya.

It also means you can stop at Thunmansala Hotel in Haldemulla on the south side of the road for breakfast: it's clean and airy, the owner is very pleasant and you can see the Kiri Vehera on a clear day.

From Wellawaya to Pottuvil, the road is straight and good except for the last 40km which goes through Lahugala National Park. This road closes after 5pm. This part looks scary (because it is thick jungle) but there are STF/Army checkpoints all the way.

It cost me less than LKR 6,000 (~ 50 litres) in petrol for a round trip in my Mazda.

Getting back:
When you're leaving Arugambay, you have to get a permit. Make sure you have a copy of your vehicle ID card: they need engine numbers and things.

On the day you leave, go to the police checkpoint in Pottuvil town, park the vehicle and get the police officer to fill out the form. Then, you walk to the police station, into an office marked Minor Offences (apparently, tourism is still frowned upon) and get the permit. The whole thing'll take less than half an hour if there's no line. This is open from 7am to 3pm, so go at 7am if you can. Or if you're posh, send the driver.

You'll get three copies and you have to hand them in at different checkpoints along the way back - the last one at Siyambalanduwa (Tamarind Wrench?). On the bright side, it'll give you something to do instead of contemplating work the next day.

More: See Arugambay Travel Guide Part 2 - Hotels and Restaurants for where to stay and eat.

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