Nestled within Sri Lanka’s famed Yala National Park, Chena Huts offers the chance to see some spectacular wildlife without sacrificing any modern comforts
We went to Sri Lanka to soak up some sun as the cold Northern European winter was starting to take its toll on us. We had visions of a beach to relax on, somewhere that catered for young children and perhaps some Eastern culture. We got all that while we were there, but we also got something more. Something unexpected.
Yala is a National Park on Sri Lanka’s South East coast, and because it is protected, it is largely free of development. It has the unspoiled beaches we were after, but it also has over 300,000 square miles of rainforest, scrub land, grassy plains and marshes. This means that it is home to a multitude of animal species. Have a look at it on Google, and the images that come up, bear more of a resemblance to an African safari than you might imagine a trip to Sri Lanka would look like.
Among plenty of other things, you’ll find elephants, leopards, crocodiles, boars, snakes, flamingos, monkeys, buffaloes, sloths and turtles. There are mangroves, jungles, plains and thorn forests, and of course some spectacular beaches...it really is a sight to see.
As you might expect for such a remote location, there are limited accommodations around Yala National Park -- however limited doesn't mean the properties are not luxurious; The hotel we found, Chena Huts was right on a particularly beautiful and rugged stretch of coastline, and its huts were spread out under the leaves of the jungle canopy. We would get to experience some of the areas natural wonder without leaving the property, and that included some of the wildlife. On a couple of occasions we saw wild boars at the waterhole near our room and monkeys hanging outside!
Once you enter the park, the bustling country you have been traveling through starts to fade away and after a short drive you arrive at Chena Huts. While we soon discovered that every effort had been made to make the hotel as comfortable and luxurious as possible, getting there really drove home the realization that we were far from the stress of the modern world. For this reason, everything you need is available on site, and you have no reason to leave except to go out on a safari and see the wildlife.
Chena Huts might be cut off from civilization, but they have made it into the archetypal tropical hide away. When we arrived we were taken by golf cart to the reception – a wall-less structure with a palm frond roof surrounded by a charming pond complete with lily pads. We wandered across the little wooden walkway which traversed the water and checked in. Beyond we could see lunch being served on the terrace, and behind that was the ocean. We continued onward to our lodgings through the dense foliage which helps make the hotel feel so charming, and which separates the villas ensuring that you will hardly see any of the other guests while you relax inside your private space.
These villas are all created equal so what we got is what everyone who stays there gets to experience. Made largely from wood with more palm frond roofs (although these conceal a proper ceiling so you don’t have to worry about being open to the elements), they have almost 800 square feet of space inside. This allows enough room for a living/sleeping room and a large ensuite. Outside is a raised decking area with loungers to recline on, and best of all a personal plunge pool. The villas have an open design which is common in and perfectly suited to the tropics, and the decoration also feels suitably Eastern.
The villa walls were mostly made from glass in order to give each hut that indoor/outdoor living feel, while the forest ensures that privacy is not an issue. Antique lamps hang from the wall behind the bed, while a period canvas fan hangs over it. That wall is actually more of a giant head board for the bed as it doesn’t actually reach the ceiling of the sides of the villa. It is constructed of logs and framed with bamboo, with the bathroom sitting behind it. This just adds to the exotic open feel.
Meals take place in Basses Restaurant, although you have the option of eating by firelight next to the beach. The restaurant itself is a similar structure to the reception and its outdoor terrace lets you watch and listen to the sea as you eat. The food is a mix of local and Western fare, with fish curries on the menu next to things like salad and pasta. They also have a pizza oven and generous breakfast plates of local fruit.
However where Chena Huts really shines is in the preparation of local Sri Lanka dishes. The chef even spent time with us talking about how he incorporates "food as medicine" into his dishes, selecting various ingredients not just for their flavors, but also from the health benefits they impart. It was truly fascinating to hear, and got us thinking more about not only what we were eating, but how it impacted our bodies.
Next to the restaurant is the bar and the hotel’s main swimming pool. While it can be tempting to stick to the privacy of your plunge pool, this one is worth checking out as it has its own mini waterfall and the jungle comes right up to the water's edge. There is also a spa with a range of massage and treatments, and you can also have them done in your room for a small extra charge.
The main reason to visit here, is to get out and see Yala National Park. You can see a surprising amount of wildlife within the grounds of the hotel (sometimes there were monkeys hanging around outside our villa), but to really see how biodiverse this place is you have to venture out and look for it. You don’t want to be running in to crocodiles and leopards on your own, so you need to take a guide. Luckily Chena Huts can provide one, and this will also improve your chances of seeing a variety of animals.
You can set off at either sunset or sunrise, and we recommend doing both to maximize your chances of catching a glimpse of all the different creatures. The roads are very bumpy – so much so that we took in turns so that one of us could stay back with Axel, as this tour isn’t suitable for babies. You are in safe hands with your guide though, and the open-air Jeep is more than capable of handling the conditions. Between us we saw cougars, elephants, boar, and snakes, as well as some beautiful scenery.
The whole stay was fantastic and seeing all the different animals was a new and special experience for us. It was all so good that I have hardly even mentioned the hotel’s beach, which would be enough of an attraction on its own for most people. Anyone looking to more than just relax on their vacation will love Chena Huts.
For more information about this hotel follow the link below: