As part of Sri Lanka’s Resplendent Ceylon luxury circuit of tea, sea and safari, Wild Coast Tented Lodge is steeped in the country’s most revered experiences. Opened at the beginning of November, the resort was a three year project in the making, as owner Malik Fernando and his team strived to create a seamless juxtaposition of concealed jungle privacy with sweeping beachside access. “Most safari lodges are deep in jungle,” says Fernando. “With Yala being along the coast we are very fortunate to have a beautiful, rugged beachside location.”
Secluded in the grasslands, lagoons and exotic nature of the 98,000 hectares of Yala National Park, the Wild Tented Lodge property is quintessential jungle retreat, with a stretch of pristine coast along the Indian Ocean. In order to highlight the harmony of coastal jungle, Fernando shares that the use of materials like bamboo and teak throughout the property reflect local and sustainable craft, as an organic way to blend the individual tents with the unique landscape. Although this integration was at the forefront of Fernando’s vision, just as significant as curating a sustainable and luxury accommodation, was the aspect of community impact.
From bringing local craftsmen on-site to design the tents, referred to as “cocoons” and “urchins,” to training local fishermen to construct the bamboo structure of the bar and restaurant, the Sri Lankan culture isn’t just a part of Wild Coast Tented Lodge, it is the quality of the property that make it outstanding.
Only three months into welcoming guests, we caught up with Fernando to learn more about the three-year project and its unique location in Yala National Park, along with some Sri Lanka tips that first time travelers can’t miss.
Where are you originally from and what attracted you to Yala National Park?
I am a Sri Lankan, born in Colombo. When I was a kid we use to pack up several times a year and embark on a trip to the then very remote Yala Park taking all our provisions with us – the accommodation was very basic in a few bungalows inside the park. It was a wonderful adventure that many Sri Lankans have fond memories of. So when we were offered the opportunity of a pristine beach side location, I grabbed it.
Can you discuss the juxtaposition of the lodge between the sea and the jungle?
Most Safari lodges are deep in jungle. With Yala being along the coast we are very fortunate to have a beautiful rugged beachside location, perfect for long nature walks, morning yoga and, of course, sundowners after a game drive. The ocean breezes keep the lodge cool.
What was the design process like creating a building for this plot? What about the idea to create these pod tents instead of importing them?
The bar and the restaurant are bamboo and teak shingle structures which replicate the rock formations on the beach. The tents, which we called cocoons and urchins, are of a unique design and made at site by local craftsmen. We wanted to avoid the conventional tent, to create something special. They have achieved a perfect balance between the unique appearance, comfort and sustainability.
Did you have any design inspiration for the interiors of the pods? And how long did it take to fully design, build and furnish the whole lodge?
The interior of the cocoons evokes traditional leather and brass safari elements with a steampunk Jules Verne look; a feeling like one is in a vintage train carriage. The large sloping glass facades were specially made, some overlook private plunge pools. It took us three years to realize our mad dream.
How does the lodge encapsulate the essence of Sri Lanka?
Wild Coast was largely a local community project. We trained local fishermen from the nearby Kirinda village to erect the bamboo structures. They originated from Java in Indonesia, brought by the British to work the nearby salt pans. Our cuisine highlights their lost “heritage” dishes. We use local cinnamon and tea in our spa treatments.
What is the number one reason people come to Sri Lanka, and specifically, to Wild Coast Tented Lodge?
Sri Lanka is one of the safest countries to visit, tourists are welcomed with a natural warmth. It is about six countries in one — within a short distance topography and climate changes with beautiful vistas around every corner. Wild Coast Tented Lodge is in the south east “dry zone” with brush jungle vegetation and a rugged coast line, with the highest density of leopards in the world.
Of course it varies from guest to guest, but in general, what may a typical day look like for guests at Wild Coast Tented Lodge?
Start the day with sunrise Yoga on the beach, or perhaps a nature walk with one of our rangers, followed by a classic Sri Lankan “Egg Hopper” breakfast in our bamboo dining pavilion. Perhaps a late morning visit to the nearby Buddhist rock temple with panoramic views of the park. The infinity edged swimming pool overlooking the beach is always popular. If you’ve enjoyed a game drive in the morning, a treatment in our Sanctuary Spa would be welcome relaxation. Lunch offer a selection of classic Sri Lankan dishes and international favorites with a Sri Lankan touch. An afternoon game drive could take you to more distant parts of the park, ending with sundowners on the beach, accompanied by spicy Sri Lankan “bites.” After a gourmet dinner, our bamboo clad bar is a lovely spot for a digestif. We have movie nights on the large outdoor screen with wildlife documentaries and movie classics. There is also a lovely dome shaped library to do a bit of work or catch the news.
Are there any places, sights or activities that you would recommend for a first time visitor to Sri Lanka?
Visit the ruined cities and ancient culture of north central Sri Lanka, then the beautiful central Ceylon tea country; spending a day enroute in Kandy, then depending on season, the South Coast with its lovely boutique villas and pristine beaches or the East Coast beaches. And of course safari at Wild Coast Tented Lodge.