Asia has always been a wellness-rich travel destination as the home of yoga, Ayurveda and ancient herbal medicine. Hotspots that usually grab the attention of a discerning wellness lover are Thailand and Bali but we’re here to put Sri Lanka on your hit list! Boasting a vast amount of scenery, you can go from the depths of the jungle to the sun-kissed beaches in a matter of hours via car or train, making Sri Lanka ideal for travelling around in a short space of time. It would be splendid to take a long hiatus from the UK but if two weeks or even 10 days is all you’ve got, Sri Lanka is a strong destination contender to give you an elevated travel experience. This wellness-focused guide includes Sri Lanka’s best wellness hotspots to tick off, beaches, national parks and mountains en route.
Best For Grown Up Backpackers…SOUL & SURF
The south coast of Sri Lanka is riddled with surf hotels but Soul & Surf is the one to book for wellness lovers and adventure seekers alike! Nestled into a sun-soaked beach cove in Ahangama, Soul & Surf allures everyone from surfers, yogis and backpackers. Well suited for couples, friends and solo travellers, the minimalist B&B brings in a cool, carefree crowd of people to this barefoot paradise. Surfers descend to this region of Sri Lanka for one good reason, the waves are ace, clean breaks are what you’re after and the South coast delivers.
Soul & Surf offers group lessons every morning. Tiered into 3 levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced, you’ll be taken out by the experts who make you feel at ease with the ocean as they teach the theory as well as the practical. Rooftop yoga is held morning and evening, typical Vinyasa kicks off your day and a slow flow to help you unwind at the end of the day.
All 7 spacious rooms overlook the ocean and are fitted with everything you need to rest your head plus an en-suite stocked with sustainable toiletries. Nobody tends to retreat to their rooms, opting to mingle with the other guests in the laid-back communal area and canteen instead. Open-plan, the outdoor living space is rustic enough that it feels unspoilt and trendy enough that you want to hang out all day. Washed canyon pink-hued walls, a wooden canopy, low-rise tables and woven armchairs with aztec cushions fill the space and within it you’ll find people tapping away at their laptops, sipping on cocktails, back-bending on the grass and catching rays on the sun loungers.
Combat the aches of surfing with a restorative massage in the healing hands of resident massage therapist Hayley, owner of Space Sri Lanka. Topping any treatment room, the massages take place open air on the rooftop, soundtracked by the sound of the waves. Hayley adopts an intuitive approach to a full body massage, dividing the time up accordingly to where your body needs it most.
The canteen offers all-day dining based on ‘sunshine food’, integrating local produce to create a healthy menu. Breakfast is served to all from 8.30–11.30 am, starting with fresh juice, a fruit platter to dip into sweet tahini, a bread basket with local jams and your choice from the menu of street-food-inspired Sri Lankan dishes with a brunch twist. Our top pick is the roti topped with fried eggs, coconut sambal, onion chutney and refried beans…much needed post-surf fuel!
Soul & Surf have captured a refined boutique B&B for grown-up backpackers looking to broaden their horizons. Come as guests, leave as friends…you’ll have your next trip booked to one of their sistering outposts before you check out!
Best For A Once In A Lifetime Experience…UGA CHEGA HUTS
The luxury safari escape that is Uga Chega Huts should be added to everyone’s bucket list. Situated on the brink of Yala National Park, this rare spot has both the beauty of the wilderness and the oceanfront rolled into one. Arrive to a refreshing towel, iced tea and welcome gesture from the amiable local staff, you’ll be beaming with excitement for what awaits. Fortified as the land of the leopards, Sri Lanka draws tourists far and wide hoping to catch a glimpse.
Yala National Park in particular is a hotspot for the spotted felines, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to marvel at their beauty in their natural habit. Safari takes place at dust and dawn every day, run by the in-house game rangers who will blow your mind with their knowledge and expert skills for detecting the animals. Taking you off the beaten track in an attempt to get an exclusive viewing of elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, an eclectic mix of birds, hogs and of course, the infamous 100 or so leopards that roam the national park, you’re in very safe hands with the rangers, there’s nothing perilous about this awe-inspiring experience!
When you’re not out on safari, it’s time to relish in the exalted resort itself and chances are, you won’t want to leave your room! The 14 secluded cabins pay homage to native Chega huts constructed to cultivate crops way back 5000 years ago. With an immeasurable modern upgrade, the Chega Huts epitomise luxury travel with an air of vernacular architecture, featuring a sumptuous bed, free-standing bathtub, twin vanity, decked terrace with sun-loungers and private plunge pool. Doing their utmost best to preserve the flora and fauna that engulfs the resort, the cabins are scattered apart, leaving the wilderness undisturbed for the wildlife to live within its parameters, but don’t worry, no leopards or crocs, it’s mainly birds and insects you’ll come across.
Since you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s fitting that the resort is all-inclusive, but the experience mimics high-end dining much to our delight, overlooking the picturesque beachfront. The menus alternate daily from breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a multitude of traditional Sri Lankan dishes and Western cuisine options too, all based around locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.
The spa is headed up by two Balinese therapists, housing jungle-aesthetic treatment rooms for a little R&R during your stay. Bringing traditional techniques from Bali into the various massages and facials on the treatment list, a visit here will add to the indulgence of your stay.
Magic hour sundowner cocktails post-safari out on the seafront seal the end on fulfilled days out on the nature reserve, if you’re lucky the elephants often roam across making for a noteworthy picture moment.
Best For Retreating In Peace…SANTANI
High up in the rolling hills of Dumbara, you’ll find Santani, the design-centric hotel centred around wellness. Mindful-seekers descend on Santani to silence the outside world and step into the multi-sensory nature Sri Lanka has to offer. Elevated at an altitude of 2,800 feet, the weather is intermittent in this region but luckily, the valley is just as beautiful when the sun is glistening illuminating the hilltops as when the misty haze encloses in and the rain begins to fall. The design concept harnesses contemporary minimalism, unique to other resorts of its kind. The restaurant-come-living space appeals to creatives with its leading lines and sprawling glass panels that allow the building to blend in as best as possible with the landscape. Strictly natural textures and colours adorn the interiors, raw oak and smooth stone are the two main contenders for furnishings.
The intimate collection of 16 chalets is embedded into the abundant greenery with panoramic views of the 48 acres of untouched forestry in the surrounding valley. The rooms provide natural ventilation, free from air-conditioning, curated with open panelling that is cleverly slanted to stop mosquitoes and acquaintances from entering. The earthy concrete rooms are open plan with a netted king-sized bed, en-suite and suspended balcony that puts you above the clouds. Not only does the clean air fill the space, but also the voices of the wildlife, it’s the pinnacle of being at one with nature without having to pitch a tent.
The integrated holistic wellness offerings form the framework of Santani, implemented through the state-of-the-art pool, spa, treatments, yoga and food eaten during your stay. Hatha Yoga is taught by the in-house yogic master twice per day in the yoga shala, incorporating breathwork to ground the practice. Boasting the largest spa in Sri Lanka, Santani’s tri-level therapeutic amenities include a steam room, cedar wood sauna and a thermal salt soak pool that peeks out onto the paddy fields. The other levels house various treatment rooms with equally transcending views of the valley. Hosting traditional Ayurvedic and medicinal practices, the treatments are very unique to the typical run-in-the-mill massages you’re used to, from rejuvenating ‘Mukhalepanam’ skin therapy to soothing ‘Pichu’ bodywork, the spa therapists will be able to run you through the logistics of each treatment.
Adopting a back-to-the-land ethos, Santani utilises the vegetation grown in the fertile land of the region for its all-inclusive cuisine. Taking you on a nutritious gastronomic journey, each 3-course meal creates a synergistic balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and astringent. Opt from a traditional Sri Lankan or Western set menu for lunch, breakfast and dinner that will leave you well-balanced and nourished.
Bridging the gap between modern scientific-led health innovations and the Ayurveda heritage of Sri Lanka, there are additional bespoke programmes that are optional additions to enhance your experience, The individualised packages include; Detox, Recovery and the Personal Dosha Ayurveda Retreat, plus holistic add-ons such as chakra sound bath, mediation and aerial yoga.
Planted in the middle of nature, there are excursions to endeavour on the doorstep of Santani, from the daily trek to the river bank or heading slightly further afield on a scenic hike to the Werapitiya Bridge. Capturing the art of wellness and distilling it into a luxury nature-rich setting, Santani invites you to detox from the digital world and tune into Mother Nature’s endeavours.
Best For Ayurvedic Living…JETWING AYURVEDA PAVILIONS
Honouring the ancient healing science of Ayurveda, Jetwing entices their guests to reset the mind, body and soul at the Ayurveda Pavilions in Negombo. Contrary to the bustling street outside that’s filled with tourists, Jetwing Ayurveda Pavilions is like stepping into a nature-filled sanctuary of healing. Embodying homestay hospitality, the destination strips modern life back to basics to instil Ayurvedic teachings into the forefront of your thinking, from the way you move to the food you fuel your body with. Upon arrival, every guest undergoes a health consultation with the resident Ayurvedic doctor to determine your ‘Dosha’, the fabric in our beings which forms the elements of who we are. Sectioned into Vatha, Pitha and Kapha, or most likely a combination of all, the Dosha reading will determine what you eat, whether you’d benefit from naturopathy prescriptions and which treatments will best complement your stay.
Anointed with a herbal blend of essential oils deemed most suited for your Dosha, the reviving treatments take place in the Ayurveda Therapy Centres drawing in the tools and techniques bespoke to ancient Ayurvedic practices renowned for their healing benefits. Whether you want to renew your skin, rid persistent aches and pain or solve insomnia, there’s an array of ancient healing treatments to revive and refresh.
Starting with the classic rooms ranging to the higher-tier king villas, the pavilions accommodate 36 rooms with decor nods to its Ayurvedic influence. The rustic-style spacious villas feature all the necessary hotel amenities as well as their own therapy beds to host treatments outdoors in the private courtyard space.
The pool is the central hub of the hotel, with guests basking in the sunshine whilst others wander around in green robes with lotions and potions slathered on their skin and hair post-treatment. Opting for ‘mindful movement’, the pool hosts water aerobics sessions each day, which bodes well with the hot climate. Commencing each morning bright and early at 6.30 am, guests sleepily commune in the Yoga Shala for an hour of Hatha yoga led by the resident yoga master, who also orchestrates music therapy meditation once a week too.
Strictly sticking to your Doshas, the cuisine is tailored to a 4-course vegetarian meal plan of traditional Sri Lankan dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, accompanied by warm water to aid digestion. The cooking class that takes place once per week enables guests to take home sacred recipes that have been passed down through generations for their health benefits, helping you implement Ayurvedic living into your everyday.
Designed to take you on a healing journey, each stay concludes with a health report from the Ayurvedic doctor to summarise your outcome and educate you on how to continue these new-found, (or shall we say old-found) teaching to help navigate the modern world we live in.
words by Isabelle Shury