Having already visited the south coast, is time to look for other places, but the topography of the island, with a mountain range to occupy the entire center of the southern part of the territory, make it an unattractive option with slow journeys, pushing you to longer but more easy and accessible itineraries.
Other obstacles are the natural parks, which make the roads go around large areas, with Sri Lanka to stand out for a total of 26 wildlife reserves in an area 1.4 times larger than Portugal.
And an image that stays in the memory after traveling through Sri Lanka is green. The green of palm trees and tropical forest. The green plains of rice fields. The green forests in the mountains. The green of the water lilies and lotus flowers covering lakes and wetlands.
And out of the most densely populated areas such as the southwest coast, south of Colombo and the triangle covering Colombo-Kandy-Galle, scarce villages and dozens of kilometers can be made trough a landscape that still maintains natural.
The Kataragama travel toward the East Coast is far from being linear, taking a longer route to avoid the Yala National Park. First to the north towards the anonymous Buttala, then northeast to the unknown Monaragala, and then heading east to Pottuvil. But the final destination of this route is the beach of Arugam Bay, about 4 km south of Pottuvil.
While about the stops in Buttala and Monoragala to change buses there’s no trace of memory, as well as the road that links this two places, with houses, shops, restaurants, workshops and other buildings line up along the road.
But between Kataragama and Buttala is one of the nicest bus trips made in Sri Lanka, that in a month were more than 20… not counting with the usually necessary bus change during the same trip. This route passes near the Yala National Park, a vast area that ranks as the second largest natural park in the country, whose significant population of elephants and leopards attracts lots of visitors.
But leaving the animals peacefully live their life away from human hanging in jeeps that roam the streets of the park, visits to national parks were off the itinerary.
But as a compensation, the bus ride between Kataragama and Buttala offered an unexpected whole show, with the passage of an elephant that circulated by the roadside, that without showing any kind of fear or surprise, stopped as if to observe the giant vehicle that was crossing his path. But spotting wildlife along this road is not unusual, forcing the vehicle running at low speed and avoid beeps, which makes this a truly relaxing trip, offering the possibility to quietly enjoy the natural landscape. From wetlands, the road goes gradually getting drier as one moves north, with the reddish soil where vegetation comes down to trees and small leaf bushes, through which it was possible to see yet another Sri Lanka elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant.
Leaving behind Monaragala and as it moves to the east toward Pottuvil road extends almost in a straight line along wooded plains that offer a bit of freshness to the tropical temperatures of the region, refreshing the body and softening the intense sunlight. The last kilometers before Pottuvil landscape let behind the trees transforming into endless plains of rice fields. We are again close to another national park, not as popular as the Yala but whose lagoon features attract many species of birds: the Lahugala National Park.
The warm breeze coming in through the windows, while the bus glides smoothly through the endless road and the serenity of the landscape that fills the eyes, provide a deep sense of calm and tranquility, that along with the unexpected “encounter” with an elephant, made this trip a strong memory of positive feelings.
How to go from Kataragama to Arugam Bay bus:
The route has a total of 137 kilometers but it took six hours to do it.
As the only direct bus that leaves Kataragama to Pottuvil is at 6 am, the alternative was to go first to Buttala. In Buttala just ask for a bus in the direction of Pottuvil, and as there is no direct connection is necessary to stop in Monaragala and change there to another bus to the final destination, Pottuvil.
Some buses end in Pottuvil, the largest village in the area, but others continues up to Panama stopping at Arugam Bay. If the bus ends in Pottuvil the only option is to take a tuk-tuk to make the last 4 kilometers that separate the bus terminal the first guesthouses of Arugam Bay. If you want to go to the “center” of Arugam Bay you need to walk another kilometer, but in any case, the tuk-tuk shouldn’t cost more than 100 LKR.
Bus from Kataragama to Buttala: 46 km (9.35h – 11h)
Ticket: 85 LKR
Bus from Buttala to Monaragala: 20 km (11.05h – 11.55h)
Ticket: 40 LKR
Bus from Monaragala to Arugam Bay: 71 km (12:30 – 15:30)
Ticket: 120 LKR
But all bus changes required during a journey are not as bothersome as they seem at first glance, as all the buses stop at the terminals, where it is not difficult to find the next bus; yet is necessary ask for help to the local population or bus drivers waiting in the terminal, as many times there are no proper information or signs.
These breaks in the terminals, given the high frequency of buses, never take longer than 30 minutes, the most usual is to find a bus that is about to depart, being only necessary to “jump” inside. Alway take your backpack with you, inside de bus, no matter what the drive helper can say as the trunks are dirty and full of dust or mud, on rainy days.
Tickets are always sold inside the vehicle, whatever the route or the bus company.
The bus terminals are away of being an attractive area, but if you have to wait for a few minutes this places always provide the chance to of finding a meal, fruit, roti or another kind of snack to eat during the trip… even rice and curry properly wrapped for take-away, which only has the drawback of not being provided cutlery as in Sri Lanka food is eaten by hand, and only the restaurants offer spoons.
The buses are neither good nor bad… they’re basically all the same, all made in the same factory Lanka Ashok Leyland, following all the same model… the only difference is that there are older ones and newer ones, that means in better conditions, but even the older buses never appear properly degraded, and are only used in urban areas and for short distances.
The red buses belonging to the state-owned company (SLTB); blue and white buses are from private companies, more focused on profit, which leads to the bus stop every time someone on the roadside or at any point of the city makes a signal to stop, and every time someone want to get off at a particular site. Buses from SLTB are more respectful of bus stands but are less often.
Despite the discomfort caused by too full buses, by numerous stops, by constant honking, by dangerous overtaking and the unbridled driving of some drivers, the bus is no doubt the best way to travel by Sri Lanka, which in addition to cover the whole territory they provide a stimulating contact with the population and multiple smiles…. and a lot of Sinhalese music !!!!!
How to get out of Arugam Bay:
In the morning, only one bus pass by Arugam Bay destination North towards Batticaloa, with the inconvenient time of 5 or 5.30am, being difficult to get accurate information.
The Arugam bay bus stand is in front of the school, in the northern part of the beach, not far from the bridge that crosses the lagoon that separates Arugam Bay from Potuvil.
The alternative is to take a tuk-tuk to Pottuvil (100 LKR) and from the bus terminal catch one of the many buses to north, in direction of Batticaloa.