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.
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.