Chena Huts review: rustic by name, luxurious by nature

There’s nothing basic about the ‘huts’ at this smart beach resort in south-east Sri Lanka

Chena Huts, Sri Lanka
(Image credit: Uga Escapes)

On the southeast coast of Sri Lanka, where the wilderness of Yala National Park meets the Indian Ocean, is the collection of space-age cocoons known as Wild Coast Tented Lodge.

If it looks like an alien colony from the outside, the interior aesthetic is Victorian steampunk. Exposed copper pipework and a dark wooden writing desk complement the four-poster bed and timber-framed portholes.

The retro charm comes with 21st-century technology: a solar air-conditioning system, for example, which uses heat extracted from the cabin to power hot showers.

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Wild Coast Tented Lodge accommodation

(Image credit: Resplendent Ceylon)

What to do

The principal appeal of Wild Coast Tented Lodge is the unique wildlife of Yala National Park. Leopards are among the most prized sightings, as are sloth bears – which are bears rather than sloths, and found only in India and Sri Lanka.

You are by no means guaranteed to see either, but your stay at the lodge will include a game drive per day, during which you will have several hours to track them down. The guides are well trained to seek out signs of movement in the dense forest, and news of success quickly spreads across a network of two-way radios.

Elephants in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

(Image credit: Holden Frith)

There is, however, plenty to enjoy apart from the star attractions. While a glimpse of a male leopard stalking down the side of a huge rocky outcrop is certainly exhilarating, there’s huge pleasure to be had sitting quietly as a herd of Sri Lankan elephants quietly bathe themselves and then pass within metres of your 4x4.

There are monkeys, too – tufted grey langurs, with extravagant eyebrows (below) – as well as abundant birdlife, including peacocks, to keep twitchers happy.

And Yala’s landscape is a joy in itself, packing a surprising variety of habitats into a comparatively small area. The sandy coastal flats are fringed by marshes and grassland, while further inland huge free-standing rocks tower over stretches of primeval forest.

A tufted grey langur in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

(Image credit: Holden Frith)

Further afield

Wild Coast Tented Lodge’s parent company, Resplendent Ceylon, also has properties on the south coast at Cape Weligama and at Tea Trails, in the heart of Sri Lanka’s highland tea plantations. Each has its own distinct character: a circuit including a visit to all three would provide an excellent introduction to a hugely diverse island.

What to eat

You will certainly not go hungry during your stay at Wild Coast Tented Lodge. Even the game drives incorporate a stop for snacks, some of them substantial – tucking into a breakfast of cheese and bacon pastries in the middle of the bush makes the early start worthwhile.

Back in the lodge, meals are served under the swooping timber shell of the bamboo dining pavilion, an open sided bar and restaurant overlooking the ocean (below). The extensive menu includes no shortage of Western classics, but the Sri Lankan dishes are unmissable.

Rich fish curry, served with hoppers – a crispy rice-flour pancake with a whole egg baked in its centre – and a fiery chilli relish is irresistible at any time of the day. It makes a particularly fine post-game-drive brunch.

Wild Coast Tented Lodge bar

(Image credit: Resplendent Ceylon)

When to go

Yala’s dry season, which runs from February to June, is the best time of the year to see wildlife. As water levels drop, leopards and other animals are more likely to emerge from the bush to drink at water holes – and there will be slightly less foliage to obscure the view. Heavy rain is most likely between September and December, but temperatures hover around 30C all year.

Booking details

Rooms available for two people sharing from about £575 per night on the Resplendent Ceylon website. The hotel can arrange transfers from the airport to Wild Coast Tented Lodge. SriLankan Airlines flies non-stop from London to Colombo from about £840 return. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad fly via the Middle East from several UK cities, from about £550.

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.