Everyone asked me the same question once they found out I had been to Sri Lanka 3 years before, “Has it changed since you were here last?”
It took me a long time to determine that answer, but after spending 2 weeks there with way too much time looking out the window of a vehicle getting from place to place I decided it has changed in some ways.
There were more tourists (which means more cars on the roads), and a few new highways being built. But the main change I noticed was the sheer number of mid range to luxury hotels and lodging that had been developed since I was there last. Sri Lanka luxury accommodation were in abundance now. The last time I was in Sri Lanka I traveled independently on a tight budget and I mainly used Trip Advisor and Booking.com to find cheap places to stay.
However 3 years later, the new properties I noticed were higher end and large – they were beautiful 4 and 5 star properties and experiences on an Asia budget.
Experience high end 4 or 5 star stays at all of the main tourism hot spots throughout the country through Cinnamon Hotels. Cinnamon sort of owns the country when it comes to development of tourism with 14 hotels/resorts around Sri Lanka, conference centers, as well as an domestic airline called Cinnamon Air.
They had some beautifully designed properties with multiple restaurants, fitness centers, bars, and some gorgeous pools – everything you would ever need and not have to lift a finger.
I stayed at Chaya Village near Sigiriya and Cinnamon Bey Buruwala on the southern coast. Cinnamon offers up some nice sustainability solutions and were starting to offer a bunch of ‘experiences’ which get you more involved with the local community.
However, since they are so big they get a lot of motor coach tours it appeared and it was an overload of buffet food for my liking, but for the person looking for some easy luxury in super locations – they have great options.
Jetwing Yala Eco Hotel
Another big hotel (90 rooms) but it had a totally different feel of privacy. Boasting a huge pool (230 ft long!), an unusual sand dune coast line, simple classy design, 10 luxury glamping villas with private butlers, and a convertible/outdoor shower in each hotel room. I was pretty impressed with Jetwing Yala that just opened right next to Yala Safari Park. However, I became really impressed with it when I learned of their green initiatives.
Jetwing Yala is a Visionary in Luxury and Responsible Tourism
I was introduced to the head engineer to walk me through the various uber-eco heating/cooling/water systems and explain how they worked. He was so incredibly excited about these systems, he was grinning ear to ear and rapidly drawing me diagrams on how the cooling and water systems worked. I don’t think he fully understood he was talking to a writer – but I tried my best to follow along, as it was hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.
Boasting the largest private sector solar farm with 2,900 panels – it just started there. The solar panels were used to heat the water and for 40% of the resort’s electrical needs. They had a huge boiler they fueled with 4 to 5 thousand kilos (a large truckload) of cinnamon wood per day. The steam power generated from the boiler also heated the water and ran the AC unit for the property. The wood was bought from local farmers and was a byproduct of the cinnamon farming industry.
Filtering Sea Water
Finally the engineer showed me the complex water system. The resort used sea water, processed and filtered it to be used for all the non-drinking water in the resort (shower, sinks, laundry). They pump in 500,000 Liters per day from the sea, filtering it, and 200,000 liters are usable at the resort as the brine byproduct was pumped back into the sea.
Needless to say – I was very impressed by the Jetwing Yala resort and would recommend it to anyone.
Mosvold Luxury Villa – a Private Paradise
Looking for smaller intimate luxury lodging then villa life in Sri Lanka might be for you. This is my favorite kind of place to stay – with only a few rooms and lovely shared areas. The Mosvold villa is located near Weligama bay on the south side of Sri Lanka. And most importantly – it is located right on the beach.
In fact I’m typing this now while sitting on an outdoor sofa with the waves lapping near me 6 ft. away. The rhythmic crashing waves and constant see breeze is all I need to make me happy.
From the moment I arrived at this private setting along the sea – I was also doted on by the staff. The property is a haven for relaxation, however it’s also nestled between surf schools on the beach and if you can easily find some adventure by learning how to ride the waves nearby. Just walk down the beach and find Rashid, a local guy as skinny as a twig, but strong as an ox with curly dark hair and a big smile. He could be hired for surfing lessons and supplied the boards and coconut juice.
To relax you can also hire a yoga instructor to show up at the villa and run you through some good stretching and ‘Om’ after you get done surfing. The villa itself is just a villa – but you can arrange these other things with the staff or easily on your own. No need for a big concierge or tourist desk – this place is chill and they’ll help you however they can.
Auraliya Luxury Private Villa near Galle
On the southwest coast of Sri Lanka lies a little piece of paradise; and I was lucky enough to experience it. Sure – the beach is stunning, but what makes this ‘paradise’ is the combination of beach, accommodations, and service.
I recently visited Sri Lanka and stayed at a large family villa, Auraliya, located just south of the historic town of Galle. I was looking for a place to relax and be a beach bum for a few days and Auraliya provided the perfect beach retreat!
Auraliya is a large family owned villa which is rented out as a vacation rental when the family isn’t in town. It looks like a boutique hotel, but it’s actually a private home. It is customary to give homes a name in this area, and the name Auraliya has a special meaning. It comes from two things that are very special to Sri Lanka; elephants and frangipani. Aliya is Sinhalese for elephant and araliya is Sinhalese for frangipani; the marriage of these words is the villa Auraliya.
Rooms at Auraliya
The rooms are large and spacious with outdoor showers and giant bathroom areas. All dining is outdoors on a covered patio. There is also a tv room.
Food and Staff
There is a kitchen, but you’ll never set foot into it! This is because cooking as well as cleaning is what the wonderful staff do every day for you. Auraliya has an onsite staff of 5 people who will take care of your every need. In fact they may even come up with needs that you didn’t even know you had!
On the first day you’ll sit down with Sunny, the manager and choose a menu for the week. The staff then does the shopping at the local market and at the end of your stay will add the food costs onto the bill. You can customize the menu in whatever way you want, but be sure to sample the local curry that Jagath makes – it was delicious!
How to Get Auraliya Villa
Auraliya is located in Talpe on the Galle to Matara road approximately 15 minutes south of Galle. It takes about three hours to drive the 127 kilometeres from Colombo along the coastal road. The villa has direct access to the beach on this exceptional reef-protected stretch of coastline.
Renting Auraliya: The villa rents as one complete house, and does not rent out rooms individually. Therefore it is most economical to fill the rooms with family or friends and split the costs. Visit their website at www.auraliya.com you can book directly with them to get the best deal.
Kottukal Beach House – East Coast Luxury
A secluded 4 bedroom home surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by the coast. Kottukal Beach House, located near Arguam Bay on the East Coast, is the most remote place I stayed. I didn’t see another tourist anywhere near here. It was on a little corner of coast line which meant it had ocean and bay on 2 of it’s 4 sides. They were in the process of building a pool on the property, so it’s only getting better!
Fishing boats were ‘parked’ out on the expansive beach, which also happened to be dotted with local fishermen throwing lines in from the beach.
The best part is the villa comes with a villa dog – Dan. Dan will happily take you out on long beach walks and then you can come in and relax in the living room or on your room’s patio. Do note though, the best time to be on the East Coast of Sri Lanka is May – September before Monsoon season. This is also a great surf area.
Small Local Hotels and Guesthouses
There are hundreds of these – but honestly they are hard to find on the internet. I was struck by how many beach hotels and surf schools we drove by on our way from Yala to Galle on the south coast, yet when I did a search on surf schools and midrange hotels I barely found any online.
The country’s tourism industry still hasn’t caught up entirely with the online world. So – if you really want a local experience and probably a really great deal on lodging, my recommendation is to get yourself to Sri Lanka and then look for a place to stay.
And don’t forget to negotiate prices in person – even luxury villas will negotiate if they aren’t full and you are standing there in front of them ready to stay.
Finding Sri Lanka Hotels and Guesthouses
Finding good budget Sri Lanka hotels and lodging was a gamble thanks to really poor (or lack of) websites and marketing of the guest houses. Sri Lanka is still relatively new to tourism due to it’s warring past, and the marketing and technical infrastructure and understanding of what western visitors expect and need isn’t quite fully developed or reliable yet.
We turned to TripAdvisor.com to determine all of our lodging bookings as we moved swiftly throughout Sri Lanka. It was the one source that we could really count on for honest reviews of these places and quickly understand what our options were for lodging as we arrived in a town.
Prior to getting into a town we would research quickly and then make phone calls to the guest houses and try to reserve them the day before we arrived. Or sometimes we’d arrive and use Trip Advisor to know where to look first for a place to stay, walking from guest house to guest house negotiating rates.
Here were a few of my favorites more simple lodging options in Sri Lanka:
Kingfisher Hotel and Guesthouse Unawatuna
A modern guest house in Unawatuna was my favorite guest house experience. A bit more pricey, but totally worth it for the great location, and beautifully designed rooms. We had a balcony that was spacious with nice furniture and a view of the beach. This place was brand new and will quickly be one of the best places to stay in Unawatuna. The accompanying restaurant had amazing seafood and the service was top notch.
Kingfisher Trip Advisor Reviews
Hill View Bungalow at Nuwara Eliya
A relatively newly built top floor made this guest house a favorite stay. In fact, we had a reservation somewhere else and once we saw this place with its lovely furniture, balcony, and fireplace in the room we immediately decided to stay put. The price was great for the quality of room and service. The owners were amazing cooks and very accommodating doing laundry and organizing rides/tours for us. We ended up staying 3 nights when we originally planned on 1 night in Nuwara Eliya.
Trip Advisor Reviews and booking
Waterfalls Homestay in Ella
This guest house was tucked away among green trees and monkeys and true to it’s name – it had a stunning waterfall view. This place was top notch because it was run by an Australian expat couple who clearly knew what western tourists expected in service. There was less of a culture gap and because of that it was a favorite place to stay. Great for hiking and the food and hosts were a highlight.
Waterfalls Homestay Trip Advisor Reviews
Getting Around Sri Lanka: Transportation and Infrastructure
However – do keep in mind that when you are planning your Sri Lankan holiday, even though the country is now filled with luxury accommodations, the building of hotels has outpaced the country’s ability to build infrastructure to support the hotels.
Sri Lanka Roads
The roads are really rough and crowded (by buses, trucks, cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, cows, and stray dogs). They are trying to build new roads as fast as they can, but like with most things in developing countries – infrastructure always seems to be slow to catch up.
The country is only 150 miles wide yet it takes a minimum of 9 hours…(actually it took me 12 hrs) to get across it in a very roundabout way. Or – another example of change in progress – the 12km road to Yala Jetwing was in the process of being repaired and widened, and the12k took us 50 minutes to drive due to the potholes and construction.
If you have two weeks – go to a beach location and an inland location. Don’t get caught up in trying to do it all, as I was miserable in the car feeling as if the country was passing me by and I wasn’t really interacting with it. Maybe it would have been different if I was doing the driving! But I wasn’t as engaged as a passenger being shuttled around.
Fly Cinnamon Air Sri Lanka’s only Domestic Airline
Or if you feel like a moderate splurge and a unique way to see the country, then check out Cinnamon Air – the only domestic airline who offers ‘taxi’ service to main parts of Sri Lanka on the coast and inland in the hill country. This will cut down your time considerably and allow you to ‘do it all’. However it comes at a price (yet not entirely unreasonable).
Looking for more budget lodging options for Sri Lanka – then check out my Sri Lanka budget lodging recommendations.
Disclosure: I was hosted by these hotels during my time in Sri Lanka. However all opinions here are my own.