From tented safari camps to villas in the mountains, the smart options for a break in the island nation of Sri Lanka are as varied as its dramatic landscape and as rich as its notably welcoming culture. Whether you choose to base yourself by the beach, explore ancient ruins and wildlife-rich national parks, or take a city break, there’s a luxury hotel for you. Here’s our guide to the best luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, bookable on Culture Trip.
Wallow in the waters of Weligama’s crescent-shaped pool and look out from the headland to sea. The clifftop viewpoints, dense tropical gardens and privacy of its rooms and villas combine to make this five-hectare (12 acre) property, designed by architect Lek Mathar Bunnag, feel incredibly secluded. The 39 suites and villas vary in size and views, but all have a large terrace, walk-in wardrobes, Sonos wireless speakers, handmade Ophir toiletries, a steam room and large bathrooms with a stone tub. Head out to visit Galle Fort, just 30 minutes east. Don’t skip breakfast; the panoramic views from the restaurant, and delicious hoppers – Sri Lanka’s answer to the crepe – are worth getting up in good time for.
Elephants, buffaloes and eagles are occasional non-paying guests at this jungle camp, minutes from Yala National Park. The property refers to its accommodation as huts, and while technically that is true, it’s something of an understatement; 14 of these large, thatched cottages dot the scrub between crashing ocean and placid saline lake, connected by boardwalks to conserve nature. Staff guide you around the resort in case of visiting wildlife. Each hut has a private plunge pool, log-and-rattan furniture, minibar and large deck. The nautical-themed restaurant has sea views and there’s also a spa.
A time-capsule of old world glamour, the historic Amangalla sits within 17th-century Galle Fort. In previous iterations this grande dame welcomed steamship passengers, drawn to explore the Dutch and British colonial architecture. Updated and refreshed, it oozes nostalgic grandeur – real or imagined – with antique furnishings and artworks, and cathedral-height rooms with languid ceiling fans. Rest on a shaded daybed by the swimming pool, set in the 200-year-old exotic garden. Butlers are on hand to guide you around the fort when you wish. The hotel can also organise trips further afield, including temple blessings by candlelight and helicopter trips over Sigiriya rock fortress.
The 28 fabric tents of this ocean-side boutique camp, close to Yala National Park, trace the form of a leopard’s paw – in homage to the local residents. Most striking is the towering bamboo and teak-shingle pavilion housing the Ten Tuskers bar, restaurant and library. Handmade copper bathtubs and four-posters set the mood; upgrade for a private plunge pool. Take a guided bush walk or take high tea in the jungle and spot elephant tracks through the bush as staff set up refreshments by the river.
Time it right, and you may have the crescent-shaped bay at Amanwella almost to yourself, as local fishermen haul in their catch. With only 30 suites, this resort on Sri Lanka’s south coast rarely feels crowded. The freestanding rooms are simple and minimalist in taupe and dark woods, with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, which bring the outside in. There’s a 47m (154ft) shared pool, or choose a pool suite for private courtyard dips. There’s a spa, a yoga platform by the beach and a library. For an extra treat, book a voyage on the hotel’s ‘floating lounge’, where you’ll be paddled across the still waters of Mawella Lagoon for sunrise or sunset canapés and champagne.
This ancestral manor house, built in 1804, is 20 minutes beyond the town of Kandy, and gives you an experience more akin to staying in a private house. A popular honeymoon spot, it has just nine rooms, all named after butterflies, and lent character by local crafts and fabrics, antique furniture and four-posters. Book the Ultra category for outside space. The splendidly picturesque pool is a highlight, surrounded by banana trees and towering palms. Swim to the edge to look out over the paddy fields. Although more geared towards couples, the property welcomes children over 12.
Sometimes you need to get your head onto a pillow as soon as possible. Guests at the Wallawwa have just 15 minutes to travel from Sri Lanka’s main international airport before beddy-byes – if that’s not luxury, we don’t know what is. This 18-bedroom country house hotel is an outing in exposed wooden rafters and colonnaded walkways separated by koi ponds, with a stylish pool engulfed by the jungle. Some suites – such as the Mountbatten, named for Lord Mountbatten, who was based here during World War II – have their own plunge pool. Treatments at the spa have been designed specifically to aid pre- and post-flight rest and relaxation; in fact, you could be serenaded by a soundtrack of panpipes within 20 minutes of limping out of the airport. Bliss.
Another stop often missed by those all too eager to speed south, Anuradhapura is an easy train ride from Colombo. The city has sprawling ruins, ancient pools and substantial dome-like dagobas to rival ancient cities such as Polonnaruwa. And with many temples still in use, it feels wonderfully vibrant. A half-hour away, in acres of tropical gardens, Uga’s 150-year-old mansion feels like a calm step back from the city; rooms arranged across 25 villas have chandeliers, claw-foot bathtubs and private pools. Borrow a bicycle to visit villages surrounded by rice paddies. The property’s stables offer horse rides around the estate or longer excursions by arrangement.
Life at this coastal resort revolves around the vast pool, with its sunken jacuzzi beds. But if you need time out of the sun, step into the open-walled reading room or the club house, with its large lotus- and fish-filled ponds. Inspired by Balinese-style pavilions, suites have gardens or ocean views: all have plunge pools. Of the garden variety, the ample two-bedrooms are ideal for groups at 230 square metres (2,500sqft), complete with kitchenettes. You’re on holiday, though; call the butler and have the resort chef whip you up an in-suite meal, rest, then head to the spa. Now that sounds like the perfect day.
The fancy Colombo enclave of Cinnamon Gardens is named for the plantations that used to cover this part of the capital. Today, mansions, embassies, boutiques, galleries and cafes line the streets, which are also home to this 10-room boutique hotel. Dating from the 1930s it feels utterly cocooned from the city with its courtyards and verdant high walls. Once a home of the political elite, it has hosted the illustrious likes of Charles and Camilla. Interiors feature moody monochrome stripes and marble columns. There’s a (small) spa, lap pool and gym, and a restaurant with an international menu.
Haven’t found a place to stay in Sri Lanka yet? Why not pamper yourself at one of the best spa hotels, or book into one of the best boutique hotels. Culture Trip has got you covered for a stay in Colombo, a boutique hotel in Galle or even a camping trip.
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Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
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1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
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