When I first came to Weligama in 2014, being online wasn’t much of an issue – like most other people visiting the town, I was there to surf waves, not the internet. This time, I arrived with an additional mission: to earn a living. I am – and I say this reluctantly, as I dislike the phrase intensely – a ‘digital nomad’. My services include writing blogs, articles and scripts, and I manage people’s social media accounts.
Weligama for digital nomads
Weligama isn’t really set up for people like me, who rely on a strong internet connection, which is one reason why you don’t find many of us here. But I’m not alone – I’ve met several others who could describe themselves as digital nomads, and I suspect there’ll be plenty more in the coming months and years; Weligama is fast becoming a popular surf destination, with an increasing number of guesthouses and restaurants opening in response. And with that growth will come better connectivity, I’m sure. For now, you have the following options:
Wi-fi: Spend a bit of money buying food and drinks at your favourite hangout spots and use the wifi there. My personal preferences are Hangten rooftop restaurant (at the Hangtime Hostel) and Soul Café, both of which benefit from having a very chilled atmosphere, and serve good food and drinks. You can also get decent wi-fi at Baba’s Roti Shop and various ‘cool spots’.
Personal hotspot: Get yourself a Sri Lankan SIM card, buy some data, and set up your own hotspot. It’s pretty simple to do this, though you will likely need to stand in a queue for a good hour before being served. Just take your phone (or your web key, if you use one), your passport and a few thousand rupees to the Dialog shop in the town centre (Dialog seems to have the best 4G coverage in this part of the country).
To give you a sense of price, you can buy a package which gives you 4Gb to use between the hours of 8am and 12pm, and 5Gb to use between 12pm and 8am (useful if you tend to leave things running over night), for 649 rupees – approximately £3.25, or $4. There are lots of other deals available too.
Home broadband: If you’re in it for the long haul, you can get yourself the same strong connection you find at Hangten, by installing an SLT (Sri Lanka Telecom) line in your home. I haven’t done this, but I spoke to the guys at Hangten and they told me that although it’s not the cheapest way to do things, it is the most reliable.
After that, you only need to muster up enough self-discipline to manage your work and leisure time. And I say that with all seriousness; Weligama is a chill town. People come here to surf, and with that comes the surf lifestyle – beach games, parties, smokes, lazing on a sunny afternoon…
Where to stay in Weligama
If you prefer to plan ahead, you’ll find loads of guesthouses and hotels on sites like booking.com and Airbnb. But you’ll generally get a better deal if you’re there in person, especially if you plan to stick around for a month or more. The time of year will affect the cost too, with peak season starting in December and continuing through to March.
For me, the best way to go about things is to book yourself a couple of nights at one of the places listed below and, if you don’t want to stay there long-term, use the time to find a different place.
- Anoj Bay Inn – if you can bag yourself the room with the adjoining kitchen, and are happy to sort out your own 4G connection (their wi-fi is very limited), this can make a very nice home. Anoj, his dad Kurullu, and the rest of the family make brilliant neighbours, too!
- Raja’s Guest Home – this place can only be described as cheap and cheerful. There’s no element of luxury, but at 1000 rupees a night for your own room, it’s definitely a bargain.
- Hang Time Hostel – a bed in a dorm is 1000 rupees and a room of your own will cost upward of that. It’s positioned opposite Weligama’s increasingly popular beach break and is suffused with the surf spirit.
- Kadupul Villa – tucked away on one of the side streets which link Old Matara Road and New Bypass Road you’ll find this very clean and pleasant guesthouse, offering rooms from anywhere between 2000 and 3000 rupees per night. You can order food on site and there’s a shared kitchen, too.
Eating in the Weligama area
I’ll get straight to the heart of the matter: The food scene isn’t the area’s top selling point. For sure, you can always find a decent rice and curry (I’ve listed a few of the best below), but if your palate demands a variety of tastes and flavours, the novelty of this ubiquitous dish will soon wear off. Fear not, however – there are ways and means.
It should be clear by now that Hangten Rooftop Restaurant and Soul Café are my two favourites in Weligama itself, particularly if I need to get some work done, too. But for a quick, tasty and very cheap snack, head to ZamZam, opposite the bus station. After 2pm, you can buy an egg and vegetable hopper for just 30 rupees (15p!!), and a bowl of chicken soup (rather like the trendy bone broths you see being peddled on health websites these days) for the equivalent of 40p. The AVM Creamhouse next door is worth checking out too, particularly if you’re a fan of smoothies, pasta or schwarma.
A little further afield, you’ll find the tastiest filled rotis at Dewmini’s No 1 Roti Shop in Mirissa (a ten minute drive up the coast), as well as one of the area’s best rice and curries – but be sure to order ahead of time. Not far from there, on Mirissa beach, is another favourite of mine – Zephyr. Save this one for one of your more extravagant days, if you’re on a fairly tight budget, as most dishes cost around 1000 rupees. Another one in Mirissa which you might want to save up for is Tandoori Hut, which is nothing like the oily, fast-food nightmare its name implies; they serve authentic Indian curries, and with big smiles.
Up the coast in the other direction (heading West), you’ll find the Cheeky Monkey Restaurant at Baba’s – another very chilled spot with decent wifi, where they serve good food at reasonable prices. I’m a big fan of the tuna and fried potatoes with salad (800 rupees). The Plantation Surf Inn Restaurant (named after nearby surf spot, Coconut Plantation) is a good option if you want a tasty rice and curry, but you should call in the afternoon to make sure there’ll be enough for you. Expect a lively and sociable meal if you go there, since dinner is served in one go, with everyone sitting around one big table.
Shopping in Weligama
Of course, if you find a place to stay where you have access to a kitchen, you can make your own food – which, if you have the right tools, isn’t difficult to do. Sri Lanka produces all sorts of pulses, grains, fruits and vegetables, and being on the South coast gives you access to an enormous variety of seafood! Between the P-Mart, Food City, the fruit and veg stall on New Bypass Road (facing the beach) and the fish market, I manage to get all I need – including a few of my English penchants, such as Marmite, porridge and brown bread.
Surf and Yoga in Weligama
As a fan of both surfing and yoga, I’m in my element in Weligama and the surrounding area. As well as Weligama’s long beach break – with its perfect waves for beginners (and long-term ‘beginners’, like me) – there are a number of other surf spots along the coast, for those with a higher skill level, and yoga classes held at many of the guesthouses serving those areas.
Beginners – head to Lucky’s Surf School on Weligama beach (opposite the Ocean Breeze Hotel on the main road) and get some lessons from my friend Loku, his brother DA Lucky (winner of the Red Bull Ride My Wave 2016 contest), or one of the other boys on the team. They’re a really nice bunch and you’ll always find a good atmosphere there, even if you just want to lounge around in the sun or play games on the beach.
Intermediates – although you will find some nice waves in Weligama, it can get very busy and chaotic. For some reason, the same rules that apply at every other surf spot in the world, don’t apply in Weligama. It’s a free-for-all and you’ll often see up to 10 people getting in each other’s way on the same wave! Instead, head towards Midigama and enjoy the reef breaks at Coconut Plantation, Rams, Lazy Left and Lazy Right. if And if you ding your board, you’ll get a top-quality fix at Indika’s Surf Repair shop.
Yoga bunnies – if you’re an early bird, salute the rising sun at Freedom Surf School on Weligama beach at 6am. Or, if you prefer to take advantage of the those glassy early morning waves, head to Hangten at 9am for a mildly challenging (in my opinion) vinyasa flow class at Hangtime, or save yourself for a 5pm yin cool-down. Want something more spiritually-based? Splash out on a class with Chanaka Rukshan at Mirissa Hilltop Temple – for 1,700 rupees, you’ll get two hours of asana, pranayama and meditation.
Integrating in Weligama
Having only emerged from civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka is still a little way off being a fully established tourist destination. And although you do find lots of English-speaking Sri Lankans, don’t expect to be able to communicate with everyone. Just arm yourself with a few key phrases (or, indeed, attempt to learn Sinhala!) to be polite, and you should get along without too much difficulty.
The power of preparation
Try not to get too frustrated with other inconveniences too – by being prepared for them. Unplanned power cuts, for instance, tend to happen fairly frequently during the rainy season (generally from October to January). Planned power cuts, which can last anything from a few minutes to a whole day, aren’t uncommon either – just keep an ear out for the announcements, which come via loudspeakers attached the town’s clock and to vans driven around the city the day before.
You might get hit with the ‘special tourist price’ at first, too. Understandably, people here would like a slice of the wealth tourists bring to the area, but it can get tiresome paying ‘high’ prices when you’re staying here long-term. Just make a few good alliances by being loyal to a select few shops and services and you’ll soon be able to negotiate prices which suit both your needs and theirs.
Oh, and when you ask a question which is met with the rather vague ‘head wobble’ (the head wobble can mean many things to many people, as the film below shows!), just keep going until you get a definitive answer – Sri Lankan people always want to please, so they’ll often indicate that they can help you, when in fact, they can’t.
What tips do you have for digital nomads and other people staying in the Weligama area long-term? Got any favourite hang-out spots? Local tips? Please leave your comments below. Istuti!