Croc Attack in Sri Lanka – 5 tips to stay safe at Elephant Rock & lagoons in Sri Lanka

by Mags Nixon

Croc sign at Peanut Farm, a remote surf spot 15 mins south of Elephant Rock where the attack took place. Sadly there are no warning signs at Elephant Rock (below)


Surfing Elephant Rock Sri Lanka? Think about crocs.

Waking this weekend to the news of a fatal croc attack in Sri Lanka deeply shocked us. I was horrified to hear the tragic incident took place at Elephant Rock, near Arugam Bay on the East coast of Sri Lanka – the exact spot we’d visited only 14 days ago, wading through this very lagoon, with our kids … to reach this remote but popular surf spot. 

* scroll down to the end of the post to find out where we would recommend to stay in Arugam Bay

Sri Lankan boat on beach
Authorities are now putting up warning signs at Elephant Rock

It’s likely you’ll come across plenty of lagoons if you’re holidaying in Sri Lanka. In fact, 1338 kms of coastline in Sri Lanka has lagoons beside them so if you’re a surfing family seeking out remote surf spots, it’s likely there will be a lagoon nearby.

Read on to find out about our visit to Elephant Rock and our guide to keeping safe while discovering lagoons and remote surf spots in Sri Lanka.

Keep safe. Keep travelling.

Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock is a popular beginner/intermediate surf spot a 15 minute tuk tuk ride from the West coast surfing mecca of Arugam Bay. The beach is inaccessible to traffic so it’s a bit of an (easy) adventure to get to, involving a walk, scrabble and wade. There’s a lagoon behind the beach which connects to the ocean at high tide.

Many of the A Bay surf schools take beginners, particularly kids there, when Baby Bay in Arugam Bay is too big or not working. The spot has a fun beginner/intermediate left hander.
elephant rock sri lanka
From the tuk tuk drop off point, it’s only a 5 minute stride following the path through trees and scrub land to reach a beautiful long, sandy beach. The surf spot is beyond the huge rocky outcrop that cuts off the beach to the South.
Stay in a tree top cabana on the East Coast of Sri Lanka
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At low tide the lagoon and the ocean are separated by a sand bar.  It’s an easy scrabble around the rocks and then simply a case of crossing the sandbar to reach the other side.

At high tide, sea water floods into the still lagoon and the only way of accessing the beach is by wading through the water.

We’d seen a croc sign at Peanut Farm (another remote surf spot 15 minutes further south) warning us not to swim in the lagoon behind that beach. And we’d chatted to locals about crocs so we knew crocs lurked in lagoons. We’d exercised extreme caution up until Elephant Rock, keeping a wide berth around the mangrove surrounded still waters whenever we came across them.
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But here at Elephant Rock, at high tide, the only way to access the beach is to wade through the 30 metre stretch of water. A local surf instructor assured us it was safe to do so, there were no croc signs and everyone who took the daily pilgrimage to this surf spot did so without hesitation. We entered the water, making a few jokes about crocs, the girls relaxed as they saw others crossing without a fuss.

The beach itself is a beautiful strip of golden sand bordered at the rear by the lagoon. A super relaxed spot, frequently really only by surfers hanging out and a few families. There’s a handful of locals selling drinks from boats – king coconuts, bottles of coca cola or fresh pineapple shakes.

During high tide the flow of water in and out of the lagoon is extremely strong. So strong that it was challenging to cross with the girls to climb the rocks. There were a lot of kids playing there with their surfboards having fun getting a ride on their boards as the tide sucked out, everyone playing in the area where the salt water tide was coming in and out of the lagoon, and climbing the hot rocks to get a better view.

Crocodiles in Sri Lanka

Crocs are present in lagoons all over Sri Lanka, although the only time we only spotted them was during safaris in the National Parks. We were disappointed NOT to spot any crocodiles during our 2 hour tour of the Pottuvil Lagoon, neighbouring Arugam Bay. New reports of the tragic death of FT journalist Paul McClean, last Friday appear to suggest he’d walked for half a mile from the beach up to the other end of the lagoon to have some privacy to ‘to to the loo’.



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Things to Do in Kandy with Kids



It was reported that it was whilst he was washing his hands that a fisherman saw a crocodile drag him under. He died from drowning. It’s not clear where in the lagoon he was washing his hands and was taken. It’s unclear whether the access to and from Elephant Rock during high tide is now deemed safe or not. Warning signs have now been put up in the area. It’s rare for a crocodile to attack a human. There have only been a handful of cases in Sri Lanka but the threat, as we’ve now found out is very real.

Our hearts go out to both Paul McClean’s family. I can’t imagine the shock, pain and suffering they are going through. It’s a wake up call to us all. Holidays can turn to tragedy in an instant. It’s a grim reminder that to us, that as we travel as tourists, blissfully ignorant to the very real threat of danger from these paradise islands. 






Lagoons look so peaceful and tranquil that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the perfect place to swim and play, particularly for families when the sea in Sri Lanka is often rough. Swimming in lagoons is never safe. Crocodiles are a real present danger in Sri Lanka, as this recent tragedy has proved. Lack of warning signs DOES NOT indicate safe swimming.
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It’s recommended to keep at least 5 metres away from the edge of the water, so that you can react and get away safely if you disturb a croc. Crocodiles are fierce predators and can attack in an instant. Not something that you want to hear but, children are supposedly at much greater risk than adults, being smaller prey, so keep them well away from the water.

Some coastal lagoons look as inviting as an oasis but you should NEVER swim in a lagoon in Sri Lanka
(Pottuvil Lagoon, Arugam Bay)


Heed any local warning signs and talk to locals. Remember there might not be any warning signs, such as at Elephant Rock – but  it doesn’t mean there aren’t any crocs.
Read our post


Look out for slide marks, drag marks, flattened vegetation, and other obvious signs that a crocodile may regularly use a particular area, because there’s a good chance that the individual responsible is never far away. On the lagoon tour below, our fisherman was scouring the mud & mangroves for any signs of disturbances when we leapt ashore to get a closer look at an elephant.


Never lean over the water from boats, overhanging trees or overhanging banks as crocs can strike rapidly at such low targets. Pay attention to kids when on a boat tour of a lagoon – no trailing fingers in the water!

Would you still visit Sri Lanka now after such an attack? Do you think it’s still a family friendly holiday destination? We would and we do.

Would I travel back to Sri Lanka, even though we were so close to this terrible event? Without a shadow of doubt. Yes. We would still encourage families to travel to Sri Lanka. Ravaged by war and the tsunami, tourism is now booming on this beautiful island and locals are thriving. It would be so sad to see tourism decline following this terrible terrible tragedy.

Stay safe. Stay travelling.

Aloha Villas Arugam Bay

Aloha Cabanas in Arugam Bay was a tip whispered to us by some buddies on the surf scene. Here you can roll out of bed and into the surf, their cabanas are super affordable and staff uber friendly. Cabanas book out quickly so book ahead of travelling to Sri Lanka.

Where to stay in Arugam Bay?

We spent our first week in Aruguam Bay in the brilliant and super friendly Aloha Cabanas which is right on the beach front ….. I mean literally falling out of bed and onto the sand! Their cabanas are rustic basic but that’s all part of the charm, plus they are a great rate for a family of four travelling (US $48 a night). The guys were happy to put in a double mattress for the girls to sleep on so we could all squeeze into one cabana. This place gets booked up early in peak season so I’d get in there quickly to avoid disappointment. We booked for a week and wanted to stay longer as we were quite flexible with our travelling schedule so we had to find some more accommodation. Click here to check availability and current rates at Aloha Cabanas in Arugam Bay.

hilltop cabanas sri lanka

Hilltop Cabanas is definitely one of the best best places we stayed in Sri Lanka. A real experience. Cabanas are on stilts and are open air with just mozzie nets & a perfect wave on your doorstep. Prices are super reasonable and the crew that run it are uber friendly

We then hotfooted it up to Lighthouse Point, a 30 minute tuk tuk ride up the coast, to bag a couple of night’s stay in the incredible Hilltop Cabanas – off grid, beach side tree top cabanas. You can read our review here. Seriously, if there’s one accommodation you book before you leave for Sri Lanka, book this one. It’s truly a unique experience, the price is super cheap per night and the French guys that run it are uber friendly. Click here to check out Hilltop Cabanas availability and current rates.

The beautiful rooms at The Spice Trail are HUGE each with luxurious bathrooms and a tiny private garden.

We also stayed at The Spice Trail. These contemporary rooms are super large and spacey with huge bathrooms and a tiny private garden each. Our room had two single beds for the girls and a king size bed for us. The pool is perfect and the restaurant serves uber healthy (the healthiest we found in Sri Lanka) food. There’s also a cool little coffee shop out at the front of the property by the roadside which sells excellent coffee and cakes. The Spice Trail is pretty high in price ($180 a night) but a great splurge if you need a pool for the kids and a bit of luxe for a few days.

We would also highly recommend Hideaway Villas, if budget isn’t an issue. This place has to be the best accommodation in Arugam Bay – beautiful bungalows set in tropical gardens with a fabulous pool. The restaurant serves delicious food in the lush gardens beautifully lit at night. There’s also a very cool bar that’s open in the day for breakfast and lunch with a fast food counter opening off the premises onto the street. Non-guests are permitted in both the bar, the restaurant and even the pool (for a small fee).

Roccos hotel arugam bay Sri Lanka

Roccos have cubed ensuite rooms overlooking the pool so it’s great for parents watching kids play in the water. It’s also right on the beach.

We ALSO stayed in Roccos, which has small modern cube rooms around a pool on the beach front. It’s located near one of the popular bars so be aware there might be pumping music at night – but the pool’s great and it’s not bad value, particularly as it has air con, and is cheaper than The Spice Trail or Hideaway Villas. Click here to check out Rocco’s availability and nightly price through


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