Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide) (2015)
There is a broad range of accommodation available throughout the country, from budget guesthouses to expensive, super-chic boutique villas, by way of government-operated rest houses and luxe five-star palaces.
Independent travellers can usually find walk-in accommodation or book through a local travel agent. Sri Lanka has three major local hotel chains: Cinnamon Hotels ( www.cinnamonhotels.com ), Aitken Spence Hotels ( www.aitkenspencehotels.com ) and Jetwing Hotels ( www.jetwinghotels.com ). All run their properties to a high standard. However, despite the continual opening of new hotels and guesthouses, Sri Lanka still struggles to accommodate the increasingly large number of visitors flocking to the island, and in popular tourist destinations from November to March, rooms can be in very short supply indeed (although from April to October things are much quieter). If travelling during peak season it’s well worth booking ahead - and if you want to stay in a particular hotel or guesthouse, try to book at least a month ahead. If you do arrive somewhere without a reservation, it generally pays to avoid the suggestions of touts and tuktuk drivers, who will either be trying to flog substandard accommodation or take you to a place where they get commission - which will then be added to your bill.
Rates are for a standard double room per night, including breakfast, but not including local taxes (usually 17 percent) and service charge (an extra 10 percent on the room rate plus tax).
Price for a double room for one night with breakfast:
$$$$ = over $250
$$$ = $150-250
$$ = $50-150
$ = below $50
One of Casa Colombo’s luxurious rooms
231 Galle Road, Colombo 4; tel: 011-452 0130; www.casacolombo.com ; $$$$
Colombo’s funkiest place to stay, occupying a patrician old colonial mansion which has been given a hip makeover with lots of quirky modern touches - watch out for the pink pool and glass sunbeds. Each of the 12 individually designed suites comes equipped with all mod-cons and latest high-tech gadgets, such as iPod docking stations.
77 Galle Road, Colombo 3; tel: 011-243 7437; www.cinnamonhotels.com ; $$$
Colombo’s grandest hotel, with plenty of five-star glitz and style, although rates are surprisingly affordable. In-house facilities include the city’s best selection of restaurants and the lovely Angsana Spa, while rooms are attractively furnished, and come with great views over downtown Colombo.
The GEM suite at Jetwing’s St Andrew’s
Galle Face Hotel
2 Galle Road, Colombo 3; tel: 011-254 1010; www.gallefacehotel.com ; $$
Famous old colonial landmark in a peerless position on the oceanfront at the southern end of Galle Face Green. The hotel has bags of atmosphere, although rooms in the old wing are a bit musty and old-fashioned; those in the newly restored Regency Wing combine modern comforts with colonial grace. There’s also a beautiful new spa, and several appealing restaurants and bars.
20 Alvis Terrace, Colombo 3; tel: 011 232 6443; www.taruhotels.com ; $$$
Long-running Slave Island guesthouse which has recently been given a cool contemporary makeover by leading Sri Lankan designer Taru. Scores highly for it stylish rooms and central but peaceful location - and rates are surprisingly inexpensive.
Hotel Renuka & Renuka City Hotel
328 Galle Road, Colombo 3; tel: 011-257 3598; www.renukahotel.com ; $$$
Functional and comfortable business-oriented pair of linked hotels on the Galle Road, conveniently central for the southern suburbs, although road noise can be intrusive - get a room at the back, if possible. There’s also a small swimming pool, while the Palmyrah restaurant is known for its excellent Sri Lankan cuisine, including Jaffna-style specialities.
25 Galle Face Green, Colombo 3; tel: 011 244 6622; www.tajhotels.com ; $$$$
One of the top hotels in Colombo, with an excellent location right on Galle Face Green, sweeping public areas and a selection of excellent restaurants (including the Navratna, perhaps the best North Indian restaurant in the country). More expensive rooms have superb views across Galle Face Green and the ocean; facilities include a health club and squash and tennis courts.
65 Rosmead Place, Colombo 7; tel: 011-460 2122; www.paradiseroadhotels.com ; $$$$
Luxurious boutique hotel occupying the atmospheric colonial mansion which was formerly the family home of the Bandaranaike family, who have provided Sri Lanka with three prime ministers since Independence. Accommodation is in one of ten gorgeous suites, while facilities include a picture-perfect little infinity pool and a very chi-chi in-house restaurant and bar.
AROUND COLOMBO: MOUNT LAVINIA
100 Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia; tel: 011-271 1711; www.mountlaviniahotel.com ; $$$
One of Sri Lanka’s most famous old hotels, this sprawling white landmark grew up around a 19th-century governor’s love nest. Modern extensions have all but swallowed up the original mansion, but the hotel retains enough colonial touches to set it apart from the run-of-the-mill west-coast resorts. It has a superb private beach, a gorgeous Ayurveda centre and top-class food. Don’t miss the Seafood Cove for fresh fish and crustaceans cooked as you like and served on the beach.
Jetwing Beach’s terrace
WEST COAST: NEGOMBO
103 Lewis Place; tel: 031 223 3862; www.icebearhotel.com ; $$
Sociable and good-value little Swiss-owned guesthouse. It’s eight rooms are attractively furnished in mock-colonial style and there’s plenty of space for idle lounging in the lovely beachfront garden.
Jetwing Ayurveda Pavilions
Ethukala, Negombo; tel: 031 227 6719; www.jetwinghotels.com ; $$$$
Beautifully intimate little boutique Ayurveda hotel, with a range of courses and treatments and an army of therapists on hand to purge your system and balance your doshas (although you can also stay here without taking any treatments if you like). Accommodation is in beautiful self-contained bungalows with private garden, each discreetly hidden behind high ochre walls.
Ethulkala, Negombo; tel: 031-227 3500; www.jetwinghotels.com ; $$$$
Negombo’s only five-star hotel, on a busy strip of beach at the northern end of the resort area, with superbly designed (but low-ceilinged) rooms, elegantly furnished with lots of dark wood, crisp white sheets and glass-walled bathrooms. There’s also excellent food and a big pool.
Sunset dining at Jetwing Beach
WEST COAST: BENTOTA
Avani Bentota Resort & Spa
Bentota beach; tel: 034 494 7878, www.serendibleisure.com ; $$$$
Serene resort (formerly known as the Serendib Hotel) set in a low, elegant white building on a pleasantly wide stretch of Bentota beach. The whole place has recently been given a stylish upgrade, with beautifully refurbished rooms and a fancy spa, although the atmosphere remains pleasantly laid-back compared to the busier resorts further up the coast.
138/15 Galle Road; tel: 034 227 5312; www.club-villa.com ; $$$$
One of Sri Lanka’s most attractive boutique hotels, set in a cluster of gorgeous Geoffrey Bawa-designed colonial-style buildings behind a garden running down to the beach. The place manages to combine style and luxury with a pleasantly informal atmosphere - a perfect place to kill a few days lolling around in the sun and filling up on the hotel’s excellent cooking.
Paradise Road The Villa
138/18 Galle Road; tel: 034 227 5311; www.paradiseroadhotels.com ; $$$$
Alluring bolt-hole, occupying the superb Mohotti Walauwe, a fine old colonial-era mansion which was restyled by Geoffrey Bawa in the 1970s and has now been given another makeover by Paradise Road style-guru Shanth Fernando. The whole place is a model of stylish intimacy, with chic but comfortable rooms, a gorgeous pool and lovely gardens running down to the sea.
Aturuwella; tel: 034 227 5435; www.samanvilla.com ; $$$$
Ultra-luxurious boutique hotel superbly situated on the headland dividing Bentota and Induruwa beaches, with wonderful views in either direction and a superb infinity pool built at the edge of the bluff, which seems to hover in mid-air. Rooms, within individual chalets, lack the style of other places nearby but come equipped with every conceivable mod con. There’s also a fabulous spa, exquisitely designed in quasi-Japanese style.
23 De Alwis Road, Horanduwa; tel: 034 227 1181; www.shangrilankavilla.com ; $$
Tucked away in a lovely garden with pool, this tiny ‘boutique guesthouse’ has just three rooms, offering a peaceful hideaway and great value in a very welcoming atmosphere.
Nikethana Road, Pitaramba, Bentota; tel: 034-227 5324; $$
Reliable budget option, just behind the railway station and a very short walk from the beach, with pleasant, simple rooms (some with air conditioning) around a shady central courtyard.
WEST COAST: AHUNGALLA
Ahungalla; tel: 091-555 5000; www.heritancehotels.com ; $$$$
Nestled amid a sea of palm trees, this luxurious Geoffrey-Bawa designed five-star is large but cleverly laid-out to preserve a sense of intimacy, with interlinked buildings backing a huge infinity pool which seems to blend magically with the sea.
WEST COAST: HIKKADUWA
Baddegama Road; tel: 091 493 1388, www.asian-jewel.com ; $$$$
A real gem of a boutique hotel, set on the shores of panoramic Bird Lake just a few minutes inland from Hikkaduwa. Rooms are decorated in colonial style and set amidst beautiful gardens, and the food is top-notch.
A room at St Andrew’s
CULTURAL TRIANGLE: KANDY
Heerassagala; tel: 081 447 4022; www.amayaresorts.com ; $$$$
Large pink hotel perched way up in the hills a few kilometres outside Kandy. The setting is gorgeous and the comfortable rooms are cheerfully furnished with colourful Kandyan-style touches. There’s also a swimming pool (though it can get chilly up here), and an attractive spa.
Kundasale, Kandy; tel: 081 242 2122; www.aitkenspencehotels.com/earlsregency ; $$$$
This large and swanky five-star hotel about 4km (2.5 miles) outside Kandy has a beautiful scenic setting by the Mahaweli Ganga, although the whole place sometimes seems a bit out of proportion with its rural setting. Rooms are plush and the service is tip-top, while facilities include a swimming pool, tennis courts, a gym and a health and Ayurveda centre.
32 Frederick E. Silva Mawatha, Kandy; tel: 081-223 4571; www.helgasfolly.com ; $$$
Marvellously maverick hotel, set in a glorious position high above Kandy. The interior is like a kind of eccentric museum, filled with huge quantities of bric-a-brac ranging from animal heads and colonial photos to Indonesian puppets and huge candles covered in clumps of solidified wax. All rooms are individually decorated with colourful murals. The dispensary bar, cluttered nooks and crannies, laidback service, absence of package tourists, and occasional appearances by Madame Helga herself, are all part of the charm.
Get a round in
The Kandy House
Amunugama Walauwa, Gunnepana; tel: 081 492 1394; www.thekandyhouse.com ; $$$$
One of the island’s most magical boutique hotels, occupying a wonderfully atmospheric old traditional manor house tucked away in peaceful countryside 5km (3 miles) from Kandy. Rooms are beautifully furnished in traditional style, and there’s good food and a picture-perfect little infinity swimming pool in the lovely landscaped gardens.
4 Dalada Veediya, Kandy; tel: 081-223 3026; www.queenshotel.lk ; $$
This venerable hotel is worth staying at for its location, right opposite the Temple of the Tooth, and for its nostalgic value. Rooms are a bit creaky and road noise can be a problem, although rates are excellent value.
59 Saranankara Road; tel: 081 220 1400; www.hotelsharoninn.com ; $$
Neat, modern and very professionally run guesthouse with comfortable rooms, excellent food and superb views over the lake and town from its hillside setting.
HILL COUNTRY: NUWARA ELIYA
5 Grand Hotel Road, Nuwara Eliya; tel: 052-222 2501; www.hotelglendower.com ; $$$$
Small and extremely cosy faux-colonial bungalow hotel in a leafy setting by the golf course. Its nine rooms have polished wooden floors and furniture, and beds with plenty of blankets and quilts. The breakfast room transforms into the King Prawn Chinese restaurant for lunch and dinner, and there’s a welcoming pub plus a roaring log fire in the lounge.
Grand Hotel Road, Nuwara Eliya; tel: 052-222 2881; www.tangerinehotels.com ; $$$$
This huge old colonial hotel is one of Nuwara Eliya’s major landmarks. The imposing exterior and time-warped public areas are a superb reminder of Victorian times, although the rooms themselves disappointingly ordinary, and expensive at current rates.
Heritance Tea Factory
Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya; tel: 052-555 5000; www.heritancehotels.com ; $$$
One of Sri Lanka’s most ingenious hotels, occupying a converted tea factory - the exterior has been perfectly preserved but the interior magically transformed into a sleek, modern five-star hotel, combining futuristic architectural lines with lots of old tea-making memorabilia. The amazing setting is another major draw, high up in one of the most spectacular parts of the Nuwara Eliya region and surrounded by miles of tea plantations.
29 Grand Hotel Road, Nuwara Eliya; tel: 052-222 2653; www.hillclubsrilanka.net ; $$$$
Set in a 1930s mock-Gothic building close to the town centre, this famous colonial hotel offers a real taste of the Ceylon of yesteryear. Mobile phones and children under 16 are banned, and the interior reeks of nostalgia, with a musty library, casual and residents’ bars plus assorted stuffed stags’ heads and cracked leather furniture. Accommodation is in neat, slightly chintzy rooms with creaking wood floors.
10 St Andrew’s Drive, Nuwara Eliya; tel: 052-222 3031; www.jetwinghotels.com ; $$$$
Nuwara Eliya’s smartest hotel, occupying a beautiful colonial country club surrounded by graceful lawns running down to the golf course. The oak-panelled bar and restaurant are pure Edwardian period pieces, while rooms are cosy and comfortable.
Chic decor is a hallmark of Heritance hotels
HILL COUNTRY: ELLA
The Planter’s Bungalow
Wellawaya Rd; tel: 057 492 5902, www.plantersbungalow.com ; $$$
Set in a gorgeous rural location 10km (6.2 miles) south of Ella, Planter’s Bungalow offers a winning combination of contemporary comfort with a dash of colonial style. Accommodation is in three stylish rooms in the main building - a superbly restored nineteenth-century tea planter’s bungalow - plus one cottage in the garden outside, and there’s also authentic hill country-style Sri Lankan food, including enormous breakfasts. Room rates are remarkably low given the quality.
Kithalella; tel: 057 567 6933; www.waterfalls-guesthouse-ella.com ; $$
As the name suggests, this place is more like a homestay than a conventional guest house, tucked away just outside Ella village in an idyllic location facing Little Rawana Ella Falls. The atmosphere is very peaceful and intimate, with just three rooms (including one triple/family room), comfortably and colourfully furnished, and communal meals served in the kitchen-cum-dining room or on the lovely terrace outside.
CULTURAL TRIANGLE: HABARANA
Habarana Village By Cinnamon
Habarana; tel: 066-227 0047; www.cinnamonhotels.com ; $$$$
This shares an entrance drive with its neighbour Cinnamon Lodge and is run by the same company, but there the similarity ends. This resort (formerly known as Chaaya Village), popular with package tourists, is sprawled across luxuriant land bordering a stunning lake, with accommodation in village-style chalets, offering comfort and convenience. A triangular swimming pool with three levels that seems to taper off into the jungle is a bonus. It is an informal place to stay, with all meals served as buffets and an open-sided bar, plus the delightful Asmara Indonesian spa and a jogging track.
Habarana; tel: 066-227 0011; www.cinnamonhotels.com ; $$$$
Set in a forested park around Habarana lake, this resort’s rooms are built as local-style villas with either a veranda or balcony and intriguing, Kandyan-style interiors with arches, alcoves and valances. Watch out for inquisitive monkeys when walking in the grounds, and large squirrels begging for bread at breakfast.
CULTURAL TRIANGLE: GIRITALE
The Deer Park Hotel
Giritale; tel: 027 224 6272, www.deerparksrilanka.com ; $$$$
Tranquil eco-resort discretely buried away amidst tropical jungle close to the Minneriya National Park. Accommodation is in stylish individual chalets dotted around beautiful wooded grounds, and there’s also a nice pool and Ayurveda centre.
The infinity pool at Heritance Kandlama
CULTURAL TRIANGLE: DAMBULLA
Kandalama, Dambulla; tel: 066-555 5000; www.heritancehotels.com ; $$$$
One of Sri Lanka’s most original hotels, this Bawa-designed establishment offers the ultimate marriage of architecture and nature, clinging to the side of a rocky outcrop and almost completely buried by layers of tropical vegetation. Stunning views of Sigiriya and the Kandalama lake, plush modern rooms, and one of the island’s most spectacular swimming pools all add to the allure.
CULTURAL TRIANGLE: SIGIRIYA
Elephant Corridor Hotel
Kibissa; tel: 066 228 6950; www.elephantcorridor.com ; $$$$
Very exclusive boutique hotel sprawling across 80 hectares (200 acres) of unfenced natural scrubland with superb views of nearby Sigiriya. The 21 luxurious suites come with private plunge pools and every imaginable mod con and there’s also an alluring spa, although the whole place comes with a very hefty price tag.
Jetwing Vil Uyana
Tel: 066 492 3585; www.jetwinghotels.com ; $$$$
The Cultural Triangle’s most memorable place to stay - and a remarkable experiment in eco-friendly tourist development. Vil Uyana occupies a large tract of reclaimed agricultural land which has been turned into a mixed habitat comprising sections of marsh, paddy, forest and lake, with expansive wetlands created using traditional Sri Lankan irrigation techniques - a marvellous oasis, wonderfully tranquil and rich in birdlife and other natural attractions. Accommodation is in individual chalets modelled on traditional Sinhalese village architecture but luxuriously appointed inside with all mod-cons, while the main building, with restaurant, bar, spa and library, is contemporary Sri Lankan design at its most stunning.
EAST COAST: TRINCOMALEE
Trinco Blu by Cinnamon
Sampaltivu Post, Uppuveli; tel: 011-230 660; www.cinnamonhotels.com ; $$$$
This sprawling five-star resort hotel (formerly known as the Chaaya Blu) is the major landmark along the coast north of Trincomalee. Recently refurbished, it now offers stylish rooms, a good spread of facilities and a fine stretch of unspoilt beach, although rates are steep. Also has a dive school and is a good place to arrange whale-watching trips even if you’re not staying here.
66 Lower Road, Orr’s Hill, Trincomalee; tel: 026-222 3886; www.welcombehotel.com ; $$
Built in the 1930s, this hotel has undergone several changes over the years - from Trincomalee’s favourite hostelry to being taken over by the army in the 1990s. The quirky modern building, topped with recycled railway sleepers, is attractive, and rooms are spacious and comfortable. The 1930s wood-panelled bar remains intact, as does the spirit of polite hospitality. Its position at the top of a very steep hill commands the finest views over Trincomalee’s harbour. The restaurant offers seafood, Oriental, European and Sri Lankan cuisines.
A four-poster bed at the Fortress
SOUTH COAST: GALLE
10 Church Street, Fort; 091-222 3388; www.amanresorts.com ; $$$$
Occupying the sensitively restored premises of Galle’s famous old New Oriental Hotel, this establishment remains wonderfully faithful to the period character of its colonial predecessor, combining old-world colonial chic with the last word in contemporary luxury - a compelling combination, though at a considerable price.
9 Church Cross Street, Galle Fort; 091 223 3415; www.fortaleza.lk ; $$$
The original Fortaleza was once a spice warehouse, built around 1700 in the heart of Galle Fort. Now it is renovated and converted into a boutique hotel, restaurant and bar. Comprises of 16 separate and comfortable bedrooms.
The Fort Printers
39 Pedlar Street, Galle Fort; tel: 091 224 7977; www.thefortprinters.com ; $$$$
Characterful boutique hotel in the very heart of old Galle, occupying the barn-like building which formerly housed the town’s printing shop. The hotel’s five suites are little museum-pieces of Dutch colonial architecture, with creaking wooden floors and high beamed ceilings, the rather austere effect relieved by a generous dash of colourful fabrics and artworks.
Galle Fort Hotel
28 Church Street, Fort; tel: 091-223 2870; www.galleforthotel.com ; $$$$
Stunning hotel set in a magnificently converted old Dutch warehouse - like the nearby Amangalla, it manages to combine colonial charm and contemporary luxury, though at a far more affordable price. It also dishes up some of Sri Lanka’s best foreign cuisine, with a predominantly Southeast Asian slant - a pleasant change if you have had one too many rice and curries.
Dadella, Galle; tel: 091-222 3744; www.jetwinghotels.com ; $$$$
Set on a breezy stretch of seafront a couple of kilometres outside Galle, this Geoffrey Bawa-designed hotel is one of the great Sri Lankan architect’s defining creations, with a simple, serene exterior, gorgeously designed rooms and splashes of local colour (such as the remarkable quirky wrought-iron staircase depicting the Portuguese arrival in Sri Lanka). Excellent food and heaps of facilities too, as well as intriguing activities such as cooking lessons with the hotel’s head chef, which is highly recommended.
Angulugaha, Galle; tel: 091-494 3700; www.kahandakanda.com ; $$$$
For a touch of complete luxury, the KK offers the feel of staying in a private villa with all the amenities of a 5-star hotel. There are just eight suites, all uniquely decorated and located in their own buildings, with stunning views over the surrounding jungle and tea plantations. Relax in the garden, swim in the infinity pool, enjoy a massage or learn how to cook Sri Lankan dishes.
The Sun House
18 Upper Dickson Road, Galle; tel: 091-438 0275; www.thesunhouse.com ; $$$$
This long-established boutique guesthouse is still one of the nicest places to stay in Sri Lanka, set in a beautiful old 19th-century planter’s villa on a hill high above Galle, with oodles of period charm and memorable cooking. The adjacent Dutch House offers a slightly more upmarket variation on the same theme, with four huge suites in another historic colonial mansion.
Night falls on the Fortress
SOUTH COAST: KOGGALA
Koggala; tel: 091 438 9400, www.thefortress.lk ; $$$$
One of the south’s most luxurious and expensive hotels, this striking five-star resort is designed to resemble a supersized version of one of Galle’s old colonial-era Dutch villas, magnificently framed between superbly landscaped grounds, a vast infinity pool and the sea. The opulent rooms boast all mod-cons, while facilities include a top-notch spa and several excellent restaurants.
SOUTH COAST: YALA
Cinnamon Wild Yala
Kirinda, Tissamaharama; tel: 011-230-6600; www.cinnamonhotels.com ; $$$$
Over 50 chalets with jungle-themed decor are set in a huge, unfenced area at the borders of the Yala National Park where wild animals roam. Chalets have composition roof, particle board ceilings and mock-timber furniture to complement the surrounding wilderness without plundering it. Perfect tranquillity in a conserved natural setting by beach and lake.
Buffet dining at Habarana Village
Chaaya Hotels & Resorts
The stunning location of the Fortress’s pool