Arugam Bay: Raft Around in Search of Elephants
Get There: Pottuvil Lagoon
“Eco-tourism” often translates to “expensive-as-fuck-and-foreign-owned”, but in this instance, it has its originally intended meaning: sustainable, locally-stimulating travel. Along the banks of the waterways in Pottuvil—a 10-minute tuktuk ride north of Arugam Bay—sit groups of Tamil fishermen, their smiling faces wrinkled as sultanas. For 1000LKR or thereabouts, they will row you around the lagoon on a raft to spot the elephants that skirt around in the mangroves and long grass. The language barrier is sure to be intense, but they know more English than you do Tamil; plus – there’s always mime.
The best part of the day to go is late in the afternoon when the weather has cooled slightly, as this is when the elephants tend to make themselves shown. For guaranteed success, look for the grey beasts from the road first, then pull over and approach a guide. If you’re lucky, you may also be treat your eyeballs to crocodiles, monitor lizards and wild boars.
Note that in town, you can be offered this exact experience by tour agencies for 25USD, but the fishermen probably get a mere scraping, so make sure you go directly to the source.