Sri Lanka is rich in so many diverse landscapes, attractions and animals, but I never imagined it would be a place to embark on safari into the wild, and furthermore luxury safari at that. Chena Huts by Uga Escapes is located in the huge nature park of Yala National Park in South Sri Lanka. Turning off the main road linking the region and its coastal towns, we ventured down a long rocky gravel driveway with thick vegetation shrubs passing by on either side.
Eventually we arrived at the entrance to Chena Huts greeted by teams of staff to welcome our arrival. Jumping onto one of their golf buggys, we set off for reception to check-in and organise our safari. The boutique hotel sits on the edge of the National Park where the ocean meets the bush in a fusion of landscapes.The reception was very cool, designed as a floating bungalow. It sat in the middle of a lily pond, with an open plan layout styled with comfy bright green couches complemented by the gorgeous flowers glittering in the pond below. The check-in was seamless, sitting down on their comfy sofas, we enjoyed a welcome drink and cold washer to refresh ourselves from the heat.
Led to our Safari hut, we were only a short walk from reception on the raised boardwalk that joins the huts through the forest. Walking in, my jaw dropped – this was definitely not a hut, perhaps more like the most luxurious lodging you have ever seen in the midst of the jungle. With glazed amber timber branches greeting you from the porch of the hut, the safari feel was already eminent. Two huge timber doors greeted us we entered, opened with a special golden padlock and key rather than the standard electronic swipe card, it was a unique touch that made the experience all the more authentic and exclusive.
The room was huge and spacious, with great big sweeping ceilings raising up to create a feeling reminiscent of a tent, only on a more grandeur scale. The amber coloured timber was the key theme that radiated throughout the sophisticated interiors, reminding me of a reimagined vintage safari hut from Africa during the 1930s when the Europeans colonised. Tawny coloured timber was the key theme that radiated throughout, evocative of the natural feel, reminding guests that we are in the midst of the national park surrounded by wildlife and vegetation.Luminous satin curtains lined the room, creating a feel of opulence and elegance. One thing we began to notice is that every detail of the ‘hut’ has been so thoughtfully considered. This ranged from the key hotel basics such as the impressively stocked mini bar and the tea making facilities boasting a Nespresso machine & homemade cookies, down to the most minute features. Meanwhile a breathtakingly beautiful image of black and white leopard hung on the wall staring out, daring you to look back.
The fan above the bed was created using vintage hand-fans, the bedside lights were cool electric camping torches that dangled down. The chairs were all vintage-esque cane style, harmonising with the timber safari theme throughout whilst a traditional Persian rug added a dash of colour and character to the mix. The double sinks at the bathroom were illuminated by more camping lamps, with wood blocks as the background wall yielding a deeply effective and distinctively styled wall.
The hut had everything you could possibly want, bearing in mind the comfort of guests and ultimately shaping an exceptional once in a lifetime experience that they will never forget. A desk for doing some work if you dare, a huge deep bath, large shower, flat-screen TV with cosy ottoman couch, towel racks made out of local timber, table filled with great coffee table reads for your perusal and every first class amenity down to an amazing powerful hairdryer.The deck was my favourite part of the entire hut. With a bright blue aqua plunge pool with spa jets, two big sun loungers for tanning and just to keep in with the safari theme, two gleaming white canvas camping chairs perfect for sitting and enjoying a morning cup of tea or refreshing local Lion beer. In the late afternoon, we enjoyed a walk along the beach with the waves violently crushing the shoreline, where large imposing rocks were dotted along the sand. The coastline is interesting with a diverse mix of hills, rocks and green vegetation, very different from what we are used to here in Australia. Waves sprayed up splashing flowering shrubs, but definitely do not opt for swimming here, perhaps instead opt for the confines of your villa’s private pool.
At dinner time we enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks at their quaint little bar. My favourite was the spicy watermelon martini which was absolutely delectable, whilst their prosecco went down a treat too. The staff go above and beyond to create special experiences for their guests, having creating a private candlelit dinner for some honeymooners just beyond the restaurant on the beachfront. The pathway was lined with little flickering torches whilst the trees were decorated with glimmering hanging lanterns, it looked absolutely gorgeous.Each night the chef creates a unique menu for diners offering two or three choices per course. Sitting on the restaurant veranda we got one of each entrée, the Chicken Salad and Seafood Bisque soup. The salad was light and scrumptious with a zesty citrus dressing, whilst the soup was flavour-filled and tasty. For mains, I decided on the Crumbed white local fish with potato wedges and a creamy buttery sauce. The large generous portion of fish was dense and meaty, but nicely cooked. The other main was a traditional Sri Lankan dish of curry with an unusual grain like accompaniment instead of rice. Dessert was a banana tart, that was plated up vibrantly with chocolate, caramel and strawberry syrups. The tart itself was average, but the ice cream alongside was absolutely delicious.The next morning we awoke bright and early for our safari adventure. The previous night we met our safari leader who told us we would be leaving at 5am. Weary eyed, we wandered through the dark to our waiting chariot, a huge open top 4×4 vehicle. Each stay at Chena Huts includes one safari trip per day, meaning there are no additional costs or complex organisation decisions to be made. Each safari is small and boutique, with only a max of 6 guests per vehicle – it is very comfortable and personalised.
Speeding along the dirt roads with dust sweeping up alongside the truck, we arrived around 5.30am ready to enter the National Park game fields when they opened at 6am. Luckily Chena Huts has its guests at the forefront of its operations, having sent a man earlier in the morning at 3.30am to line up and wait for a spot into the jungle. This meant we were third in line, ahead of the long lines of traffic waiting. I think this shows just how dedicated the boutique hotel is to its guests, allowing them to stay in the confines of their luxurious villa for as long as possible before hitting the roads and indulging in safari.I was stunned at just how many trucks there were at the gates to Yala National Park. Our small wait was made all the more worthwhile with the amazing pink sunrise that painted the sky. The sky was illuminated a vivid bright fuchsia, glowing with warmth and beauty. It took my breath away.
As soon as the gates opened the vehicles sped off down the road, violently racing through trying to get in first and not disturb the animals before the hoards followed. I was determined to see a leopard, it was my one very wish of the experience, and we were very lucky that our number three spot paid off. Fifteen minutes in, all the cars ahead of us came to a sudden halt, everyone hushed and our guide pointed us in the direction of a purring leopard around 200m away who sat in the distance observing the landscape. I was so thrilled to see this beautiful cat in the wild amidst its natural habitat.After that, the rest of the morning seemed to fly by. We spotted deers, eagles, elephants, monkeys, water buffalos, birds, plenty of animals of various types. Nothing sadly was as amazing as that first sighting. Midway through the morning we found a nice picturesque spot to watch elephants in the wetlands, whilst we enjoyed some morning snacks, coffee & tea. By the end of safari, we were significantly hungrier and headed back to the hotel for some breakfast. We began with some Champagne, because it was mid-morning now (any excuse will do!), and when on holiday champagne breakfasts are always the best!The breakfast was a standout feature and definitely a highlight of the stay. I opted for French Toast with whipped vanilla crème, caramelised bananas and indulgent dark chocolate sauce. The bread was a gorgeous golden colour, pan-fried with light insides that were moist and fluffy. The vanilla crème was thick and the chocolate sauce was incredibly addictive. The other dish was traditional Sri Lankan breakfast food of String hoppers, served with roti, curries and coconut sambal. The chicken curry was rich with flavour whilst the lentil dahl was filled with turmeric, coconut cream and lentils. The bright orange coconut sambal paired perfectly as did the handmade roti which was ideal for dipping into the curry sauces. We retreated back to our safari hut for one last swim before setting off on the next leg of our Sri Lankan adventure. I could not recommend Chena Huts by Uga Escapes anymore highly. For a luxury safari with all the trimmings from high quality staff, to the hotel’s thorough attention to detail translating through everything they do, this is a truly one in a lifetime experience unlike anything else.Chena Huts by Uga Escapes
Palatupana, Yala, Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka
I Ate My Way Through stayed as guests of Uga Escapes