Sri Lanka’s Wild Coast got its name for a reason. Further south the beaches can be soft and the waters inviting, but here on the east coast the waves are white and treacherous.
Only a handful of lodges occupy this stunning stretch of sand and rock, nestled between the uninhabited forest of Yala National Park and the Indian Ocean. Among them is Chena Huts, a luxury camp with a deceptively modest name.
Why come here?
Such is the variety of landscape around Chena Huts that it is difficult to characterize. In front of the camp is a narrow strip of low bush, much like the Yorkshire moors, only soft and damp, but beyond that is the big sky and waves of Southern California. Venture inland into the national park and you could be in the plains of East Africa.
This is the area of Yala’s main attraction – the wildlife that lives among the grasslands and trees. Your time in Chena will include bush drives in search of the elusive leopards and sloth bears, as well as plenty of frankly ubiquitous elephants and monkeys. Twitchers can keep tabs on 215 species of birds, including six that can’t be found anywhere else.
The lodge itself is also worth a visit. The guest cabins, with their thatched roofs and vaulted ceilings, are airy and exceptionally spacious. Wooden floors and furniture — and floor-to-ceiling glass — give interiors a mid-century modern vibe.
What to do
The morning and afternoon game drives will keep you busy, but in between you can set aside time to spend at the spa, which offers a wide range of beauty treatments, massage therapies and relaxation rituals. Each guest cabin also has its own deck and private pool.
Despite its end-of-the-world feeling, Chena Huts is a striking distance from the beaches and resorts of Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Follow your time in Yala with a few days – or weeks – through coconut groves and tea plantations, passing through the bustling town of Tangalle and the historic town of Galle (below).
what to eat
The beachfront restaurant at Chena Huts serves a mix of Sri Lankan specialties and European classics, most of which make good use of the island’s fresh and fine seafood. Brunch, served after your early morning game drive, is a special treat, filled with pastries, tropical fruits and fish curries, as well as more conventional breakfast dishes. A brand new bar overlooks the ocean — a view interrupted only by the occasional elephant strolling across the sand.
when should we go
Peak wildlife viewing season runs from February to June, when dry weather draws animals out of the dense bush to waterholes, where they are easier to spot. During the rainy season, from September to December, you will have to try harder to find what you are looking for, and the tracks through Yala can become impassable. But the payoff is that the park is quieter and you’re less likely to share your sighting with multiple other vehicles. Daytime temperatures rarely stray too far from 30°C.
Rooms available from around £525 per night for two people sharing on the Chena Huts website. SriLankan Airlines flies non-stop from London to Colombo from around £840 return. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad fly via the Middle East from several UK cities, from around £550.