Six hours drive from Colombo, to the South Eastern point of Sri Lanka, you will find Wild Coast Tented Lodge, a Mr & Mrs Smith gem. A drive that takes you though local villages and along the coast, deep into wild country. As the landscape becomes more and more dense, roads turn to red earth, shared with local peacocks and monkeys.
Finally, you arrive at an extraordinary location where the jungle meets the sea. A luxury safari camp nestled on the edge of a cliff overlooking a private beach of wild and rugged proportions. With no fences or boundaries, the grounds of Wild Coast Tented Lodge sit on the edge of Yala National Park allowing wildlife to roam free within their home. With the park renowned for its dense leopard population, it is not uncommon to see one of these magnificent creatures strolling the grounds. For us, they were elusive during our stay at the camp but we would see fresh footprints of an elephant around the grounds every morning. Other local residents, not shy at all, were the monkeys living on our tented roof and the wild boars drinking from the waterholes.
It becomes apparent quickly that this is not a tourist gimmick; we were told to never walk after dark without a guide and to respect the strict guidelines of wildlife conservation that are frequently displayed around the grounds. I have to say, the guard that watches your tent 24 hours a day is a constant reminder that your time here is a privilege and must be enjoyed with the utmost respect to the habitat you are in. A habitat that includes domes of ochre and reclaimed shingles housing, luxury dining pavilions, bar, library and spa.
From here, the free form swimming pool wraps around the open air structure looking out onto the dunes where you would find us most evenings watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean. My love for all things safari and colonial was catered to on every level with classic, expedition furnishing through out the camp. Designed by Dutch, English and Sri Lankan designers, our tented cocoons made from canvas and bamboo are scattered amongst the camp in the shape of a leopards paw, blending in with the natural landscape of boulders and rocks.
Wild Coast Tented Lodge run twice daily game drives into the park with naturalist guides on hand to talk you through the diversity of local fauna and wildlife. Their guides are respectful of the parks conservation codes, unlike so many other guides that we sadly encountered. Our time spent here can only be described as unforgettable and a unique experience like no other.
HOW TO GET THERE
Qantas have daily flights from Sydney to Singapore connecting to Colombo with their One World Partner Sri Lankan Airlines. The stopover works well if you’re travelling with kids. Changi airport in Singapore is a theme park for children including a rooftop pool and indoor butterfly atrium.
I recommend paying a little extra to book the driver and van from Wild Coast Tented Lodge to pick you up on arrival. The roads can be a bit hairy and the drive is six hours so you want to feel safe and comfortable.
Going on safari is the main reason you are making the trek. I would suggest at least two expeditions. Down time can be spent around the pool and bar in the pavilion playing croquet or reading a book in the library. Indulge at the spa after your wild adventure with Sri Lankan treatments using local products like Ceylon tea and cinnamon.
Currently there is a leopard research station under development next to the Lodge to support conservation initiatives.
The camp run a solar plant that meets 50% of the camp’s needs.
All water is from the ocean and recycled.
All food waste is converted to cooking gas and organic manure.
Exhaust from the air conditioning in the tents provide hot water.
The public areas of the camp are designed from bamboo and recycled teak shingles, executed as a community project by a hundred local fisherman. They were trained and upskilled and now have future work on similar projects.
The Tented Lodge is a great place to travel with the kids and educate them about conservation and how tourism can help or hinder the cause of wildlife. Our kids only wanted to be in the pool when not looking for leopards, so they were easily pleased. The pool has a lifeguard on duty which is also reassuring. The lodge had two blow up mattresses to put in our 'cocoon' which they loved, it made them feel like they were camping more than glamping. With a bigger family and older children you can book a cocoon with a joining ‘urchin’, which is a smaller tent with two single beds. If your kids need more space to yell and run wild I might not suggest the camp as it is important to be respectful of the wildlife whose home we are sleeping amongst.
The night rate is inclusive of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Modern Sri Lankan is the theme, influenced by local Malay culture. One night you are dining out under the stars on freshly caught BBQ seafood and the next around the pool with a delicious offering from the tandoori oven. My favourite place is right here at the bar where you feel like you are on the set of ‘Out Of Africa’, watching the sunset with crisp glass of vino in hand.
In the dry season, February to June, you are definitely more likely to spot the animals as the water is low and they can drink easily. Yala National Park is usually closed for the month of September, and the wet months can be really wet in Sri Lanka so avoid monsoon season, September through December.
A cross between the romantic notion of going 'on safari' mixed with the practicality of actually going on safari. The trek out in the jeeps are rough as rough - and hot - so make sure you are comfortable and covered. Nights cool down to a delicious temp but the mosquitos come out, so again, covering up in cool linens are my suggestion.
Sugar wears Daughters of India dress
Remember to pack skin repellent of your choice from home. The hotel have a mild strength option and not in abundance so always have on hand. You will use quite a lot so look for more natural alternatives..
HOW TO BOOK
To book your stay at Wild Coast Tented Lodge contact the expert team at Mr & Mrs Smith Hotels who specialise in unique luxury and boutique holiday experiences. Contact the team ahead of time and make the most of your stay. They will help curate your itinerary and activities before you get there and a hot tip - they always offer the best travel rates and throw in extras.
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Photography by Sam Elsom