Last March, I enjoyed a sublime holiday in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Lufthansa A330 Business Class Frankfurt to Male
- Review: Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original desert island hideaway
- Review: Soneva Jani, the Maldives’ most amazing resort
- Review: Shangri-La Colombo Hotel (Sri Lanka)
- Review: Wild Coast Tented Lodge (Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amangalla
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amanwella
- Review: Austrian Airlines B777 Business Class Colombo to Vienna
Today (June 6, 2018): Review of Wild Coast Tented Lodge (Yala, Sri Lanka).
Resplendent Ceylon’s latest creation is Wild Coast Tented Lodge, adjacent to the world-famous Yala National Park, renowned for its dense leopard population. This luxury tented camp is situated in a stunning location where the jungle meets the pristine shoreline, overlooking the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. The lodge’s 28 tented accommodations blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape thanks to the use of carefully selected natural materials. A clever layout in the shape of a leopard’s paw print alludes to the area’s most famous resident. The open-air bamboo-clad dining pavilion – designed to mirror the boulders scattered across the golden beach beyond – wraps around the resort’s lovely free-form swimming pool.
In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a 10 minute drive away from the Palatupana entrance of Sri Lanka’s most famous game reserve, Yala National Park. Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule. Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Frequently spotted animals are majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles. However, Yala is most famous for its leopards, since the park has the world’s highest concentration of these wild cats. Seeing a leopard at Yala National Park is almost a certainty, although you have to be prepared to share this sighting with hordes of other tourists (more on that below).
- The property is situated in a stunning and remote location on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, a five-hour drive from the capital Colombo and Sri Lanka’s main airport, Bandaranaike International Airport. The lodge sits on a patch of shoreline where the thick, scrubby bushland meets a pristine and empty beach, overlooking the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s a spot of dramatic beauty and rugged wilderness, made more so by the fact that the lodge is not fenced off, so there’s always a chance you wake up to the sound of monkeys playfully jumping between the trees or elephants dipping their trunks in the lodge’s waterholes.
- The boutique lodge is built to provide its guests an intimate wilderness experience, celebrating the flora, fauna and culture of the area, with minimal intrusion on the landscape. Thanks to the lodge’s unique design – masterminded by Nomadic Resorts, a consortium of Dutch, English and Sri Lankan designers – and the use of carefully selected natural materials, the property’s man-made structures blend seamlessly into the surrounding scenery of dryland forest and the rugged sandy coastline. The lodge’s bold architecture references natural formations in Yala’s landscape, namely the massive rounded rocks scattered throughout the national park, at a macro scale, and termite mounds, at a micro scale.
- The camp’s main buildings peek out above the bush as outcrops of boulder-like pavilions, designed to mirror the boulders flanking the golden sand beach beyond. One end of the site features an open-air reception pavilion where check-in/out is done, while the other end of the lodge site features and ocean-front pavilion that houses the bar, restaurant and library under a 10 m (33 ft) high bamboo-clad dome. The library doubles up as an educational centre where guests learn about the wildlife in the park and watch documentaries, further explained by the lodge’s expert guides. The airy interiors of the public areas feature eco-chic elegance with a contemporary design twist (e.g. mud brick seating installations in the dining area).
- The lodge features a large free-style swimming pool, which wraps around and flows through the main pavilion. The pool is filled with saltwater, unheated and has a shallow end. At night, it lights up, mirroring the starry sky above. In front of the pool is a large lawn that’s scattered with loungers, all of which face the ocean and the wild beach.
- The welcome area and the dining complex are connected via a maze of pathways meandering through the natural landscape along which the 28 tented accommodations – called cocoons – are located. The air-conditioned cocoons feature an open-plan sleeping and living area beneath a high-domed roof. The vintage themed interiors fuse colonial expedition chic with contemporary design innovations, from freestanding handmade copper bathtubs to sumptuous four-poster beds. All cocoons features a similar layout, although there are some differences: 4 secluded beach-facing cocoons feature private plunge pools, while 8 cocoons sport an adjoining twin-bedded Urchin tent, a perfect choice for families with kids.
- Except for the beach-facing accommodations, all cocoons are clustered in six groups of four tents. Resembling a leopard paw print, each cluster overlooks a waterhole designed to attract a variety of birdlife and amphibians, which can be viewed from each cocoon’s outdoor viewing deck. The six clusters carry the scientific name of animals in the park: panthera (leopard), langur (monkey), elephas (elephant), ursus (bear), aquila (eagle), and cervus (deer).
- The lodge features only one restaurant, located in the open-air dining pavilion, serving delicious food at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch is a la carte with daily changing, interestingly curated set menus, ranging from (beautifully presented) Sri Lankan rice and curry to burgers, pasta and some more refined options. At dinner, expect fresh seafood and fish from Sri Lanka, and imported meats such as rack of lamb and rib eye steak brought to flavour with a coveted arsenal of local spices and served fresh from the tandoor oven. Breakfast options are a bit limited with a choice of Sri Lankan or international breakfast.
- The lodge features a small, intimate spa facility, hidden in the dense bush, featuring two treatment rooms. Key to the lodge’s wellness experience are two native Sri Lankan ingredients, Ceylon Tea and Ceylon Cinnamon, both of which we use liberally in our oils, scrubs and poultices.
- The lodge is managed by Resplendent Ceylon, a subsidiary of Dilmah Tea, a family owned business whose unique resorts offer curious travellers diverse experiences linked to Sri Lanka’s history, culture and nature. Resplendent Ceylon‘s first resort was the award-winning Ceylon Tea Trails in the Central Highlands. This was followed by Cape Weligama, a luxe cliffside retreat near Galle that set a new benchmark for luxury when it opened in 2014. A resort near Sigiriya, in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, is still under development. You can easily combine a stay at Wild Coast Tented Lodge with a vacation at Resplendent Ceylon’s other properties to experience the very best that Sri Lanka has to offer: beach, safari, and tea.
- All Resplendent Ceylon resorts are underpinned by an unwavering commitment to sustainability and ethical business practice and Wild Coast Tented Lodge exemplifies this ethos, with a wide variety of eco initiatives. Grey water is recycled from guest rooms and public areas for use in landscaping, whilst a solar plant meets 40% of energy needs and organic waste is composted on site for use in the landscape. The hotel also boasts a conservation station dedicated to monitoring and protecting vulnerable wildlife within the surrounding area, including the Sri Lankan leopard.
- Wild Coast Tented Lodge organises safari excursions into Yala National Park, which take place either in the early morning or late afternoon, since the wildlife tends to be more active during the cooler times of the day. Safaris are led by the lodge’s resident naturalist guides, although the lodge partly outsources this activity as it doesn’t (yet) have its own safari vehicles (they use local jeeps). Safaris tend to last about 4 hours and when you are booked on the morning safari, you will be offered a light-breakfast before departure as well as a snack box during the safari.
- Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a member of Relais & Chateaux, which represents a global collection of individually owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants. The number of Relais & Chateaux members changes as new members are added and others drop away; the group currently has over 500 members in 60 countries on five continents. Strongly represented in Europe, the association is growing in North America, Asia and Africa. The group is known for its strict admission standards. In addition to luxurious facilities, members must have special features distinguishing them from chain hotels.
- The lodge offers all inclusive rates, including breakfast, lunch, afternoon cream tea, dinner, beverages including select spirits & wines, in room mini bar, one daily game drive, limited laundry, Wi-Fi, taxes & service charge (subject to change).
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a brilliant addition to Sri Lanka’s hotel scene and the best safari lodge in the country. The lodge’s setting is breathtaking and the design, food, and service are top-notch. However, to set your expectations right, you need to know the following when considering a stay here:
- When you come to Yala, you come for a safari, and unfortunately, that can be a deeply disturbing wildlife experience because of the tourist crowds (although there’s not much the lodge can do about it). The overcrowding issue at Yala National Park is a longstanding issue, well-known to disrupt the park’s wildlife, jeopardize the nature experience of visitors and endanger the lives of animals. To give you an idea, we spotted a leopard and within 5 minutes, there were at least 20 other safari vehicles on the same small jungle road, caused by the frenzied use of mobile phones to spread the word about the elusive sighting. We were stuck in this ‘jeep jam’ for at least 30 minutes. I can only hope that Sri Lanka’s government drastically increases its effort to respect the animals by limiting the number of vehicles allowed into the national park and especially near a leopard sighting. If you expect an intimate safari like the ones in Africa, you will be deeply disappointed.
- The lodge is not fenced so wildlife freely moves around the lodge. Although it is uncommon, elephants and leopards have been spotted on the site of the lodge. Although most wildlife enthusiasts would be thrilled by such a special sighting, some may feel a little uncomfortable with all the wildlife around them, especially when walking between the main lodge and the cocoons. However, it should not be too much of an issue since the staff is aways there to escort you.
- Although the lodge is located ocean front, it doesn’t have the vibe of a beach resort (nor does it pretend to be a beach resort). The beach is a wild stretch of golden sand flanked by boulders and the ocean is too rough to even dare a splash. You should only stay at this visually stunning place to experience the magnificent Sri Lankan wilderness in all its grandeur and not because you’re looking forward to a beach holiday.
- IMHO, the lodge has made some odd choices in its catering department. For example, a daily changing (and rather expensive) 3-course set menu was offered during lunch (in addition to the menu), but not during dinner. Somehow, I would have preferred it the other way around. Also, when you book a morning safari at Yala National Park, you won’t be back in time to enjoy a breakfast (since breakfast is served no later than 10 am). Although a light breakfast before the start of the safari and a snack box during the trip are provided, it would be desirable that guests are still offered a full breakfast upon return at the lodge (similar to what’s the case in Africa’s top safari lodges).
- All cocoons feature a king sized bed, so the bed-configuration is not ideal when you are traveling with a friend.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 9/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 8/10
- Food: 8/10
- Breakfast: 8/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8,6/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Wild Coast Tented Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: Resplendent Ceylon offers subtantial discounts when you combine Wild Coast Tented Lodge with any other of their properties in Sri Lanka.
- Save money: Resplendent Ceylon and Soneva Maldives (my favorite hotel brand in the world) offer a great Maldives-Sri Lanka combo package. When you book your stay at a minimum of two of the resorts between Resplendent Ceylon Resorts and Soneva Resorts as part of the same trip during 2018, you will receive a 10% discount on the accommodation rates and one complimentary Soneva experience during your stay at Soneva Fushi and/or Soneva Jani.
- Room tip: all cocoons feature a similar layout, so you can’t go wrong with any of them. Four secluded beach-facing cocoons feature private plunge pools, great for honeymooners, while 8 cocoons sport an adjoining twin-bedded Urchin tent, a perfect choice for families with kids.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Its equatorial position means that temperatures in Sri Lanka are fairly constant year round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C (77 -86°F) and the highlands 15-18°C (59-65°F) on average. The tropical climate in Sri Lanka is complex as it is dictated by two monsoon seasons:
- The south-western monsoon brings rain to the Sri Lanka southern and western regions between May and September, while the dry season in this region runs from December to March. These regions are Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist areas (e.g. Colombo, resort towns, and Yala National Park).
- The north-eastern monsoon brings wind and rain to Sri Lanka’s north and eastern coastal regions between mid-November and January, and drier weather between May and September.
- There’s also an inter-monsoonal season in October and the first half of November, which sees fine weather for most of the island interspersed with sudden thunderstorms.
All in all, the drier transition months of April and September are the best to see the whole country. As with many South-East Asian destinations, the period from December to mid-April is considered the peak season for overall weather and therefore overall visitor numbers.
HOW TO GET THERE
Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a five-hour drive away from the capital Colombo and Sri Lanka’s main airport, Bandaranaike International Airport. You could hire a car in Colombo and drive to the lodge yourself, but you might want to consider enlisting a driver instead.
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