Uga Jungle Beach – by remote rural village Kuchchaveli, in Sri Lanka – is the kind of tropical pad Robinson Crusoe would have lived in, had Defoe browsed Architizer. Set in luxuriant shrubland, the hotel has a near-deserted beach, treehouse-style restaurant and bar threaded through with exotic foliage, and castaway-chic villas cloaked by mangroves – perfect for privacy-seeking twosomes.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Arrivals can stow their luggage away and dine, drink or swim while they wait.
Double rooms from £297.34 ($368), including tax at 22 per cent.
A lavish Continental breakfast spread costs US$32 an adult, US$16 a child.
Planning to get on one knee? Or even if you already have, staff can set up swoonsome stage dressing for a special private meal: a lantern-lit beach picnic under the stars, or a table on a tree-ringed terrace, with a five-course meal or fresh seafood to snack on.
Hotel classifications are in place throughout Ski Lanka. Due to local covid regulations, guests will be required to stay their first night in a level 01 hotel for mandatory PCR testing upon arrival. As this property is not a Level 01 hotel, a three day minimum advance booking period is in place to allow for these arrangements to be made and avoid inconvenience.
At the hotel
Spa, private beach, gym, library with DVDs to borrow, free WiFi throughout. In-rooms: flatscreen TV and DVD player, iPod dock, radio, minibar, tea and coffee service, free bottled water. Jet skis and bikes can be borrowed on request.
Our favourite rooms
Villa decor is smart and modern; however, it’s the otherworldly scenery that steals the show. With this in mind, we love Room 15, a beach cabin set away from the main building, for its seclusion, scenic views and private beach access. If staying in a Lagoon Cabin, request the upper level to catch scintillating sunsets in all their glory.
The curvilinear pool meanders around the natural path of jungle vegetation; lined with green tiles to mimic the lagoon, it’s kept cool and shaded by the tree canopy. The bar’s just a few steps away, but staff will happily ferry drinks to your day-bed. The Jungle Cluster villas share a pool, and the beach is safe for swimming year-round – with calm waters and a fleet of lifeguards on patrol.
Uga spa is set by the beach. There are two open-air treatment rooms, where guests can indulge in Swedish and Balinese massages, facials, and Ayurvedic and rejuvenating treatments. Couples’ treatments are available on request, and a spa therapist can be summoned to your villa. Meditation sessions are held during high season.
A torch for safe nighttime manoeuvring, and an Indiana Jones-style fedora for jungle posturing.
Getting to the hotel might be tricky, but all public areas have wheelchair access and villas 21 and 22 are outfitted for disabled guests.
All ages welcome. Extra beds for under-12s (US$15 a night) and cots for under-3s (free) can be added to all villas, and babysitting is available (must be booked a day in advance). There are kids toys and bikes to borrow, water polo and crab hunting.
Cross-legged on the beach, or add a few candles to your villa’s terrace table – more than two diners are definitely a crowd here.
Tropical brights and batik. Keep arms and legs covered – this is prime mozzie territory.
Chef Vichalya Fernando crafts oh-so-fresh seafood dishes – garlic-sautéed rock lobster, prawn cocktail with caviar, and charred cuttlefish – using the catches of the day; he makes excellent curries with vegetables and spices grown nearby, too. The intimate tree-pierced restaurant pavilion has the lilypad-laced lagoon to one side and tables spilling onto the beach on the other, with upper and sunken levels for extra privacy. Breakfast is also served here: a generous spread with doughnuts, croissants, breads, fruit juice or a smoothie, yoghurt, eggs any style, sausages and beans, and a few extra treats.
The open-plan bar is next to the restaurant and pool, with white sofas and candlelit tables under a thatched roof. Beer, wine and champagne grace the menu, but it wouldn’t be a tropical getaway without an outrageous coconut-and-rum concoction, which the bartender will happily shake up for you.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 10.30am, lunch from 12.30pm to 3.30pm, and dinner from 7pm to 10.30pm.
Burgers, baguettes, soups, sandwiches and salads are offered round the clock. Order breakfast in bed for a languid lie-in.
27th Kilometer post. Pullmudai Road, Kuchchaveli, Trincomalee, Trincomalee 31000, Sri Lanka
Set on a mangrove-crowded 10-acre reserve to the north of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, 30 minutes from Trincomalee town, Uga Jungle Beach sits between Periyakarachchi lagoon and a white-sand beach.
Fly into Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, and hop on an air taxi to Trincolamee China Bay domestic airport; the hotel is a 40-minute drive from there. Flights arrive at Colombo from the UK and Europe via Doha International; flights across the Pacific arrive via Kunming Airport, or direct from Australia. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.
The hotel’s remote locale makes a hire car handy – if you’re quick on the draw with the horn and brake, and are an able cow dodger. Acquire an international driving licence and recognition permit before you go. Airport transfers (US$200 each way from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport; US$55 one-way from Trincomalee) and drivers for excursions can be arranged. Colombo is a four-and-a-half hour drive away; Jaffna, three hours, and on-site parking is free.
The hotel has a helipad for those who want to arrive in a more dramatic fashion.
Worth getting out of bed for
Blessed with picture-perfect beaches, curvaceous lagoons and unspoilt swathes of jungle, Kuchchaveli and its rural surrounds remain untouched by the country’s tourism boom, for now. Uga Jungle Beach’s remote locale means you’ll spend most of your time on site, but there’s plenty to do when you’ve finished contemplating the reserve’s natural beauty: swim and sunbathe and play volleyball. There’s an underwater Vegas of neon reef fish to see on snorkelling and scuba-diving trips, or you can zoom over the ocean on a jet-ski or sailboat. For trips off site, you can self-drive, but an easier option is getting the hotel to hire drivers and plan a day trip for you. If you want a change of scenery, of sorts, head to groomed Nilaveli beach or wild Uppuveli – 20–30 minutes’ drive away. Trincomalee town, a former Dutch colony, has plentiful historic sites, including one of the world’s most impressive natural harbours (the site of many a colonial sea-battle). Circumnavigate Portuguese-built Fort Frederick’s walls, and see the sacred tree, gold Shiva statue and Chola bronzes at Koneswaram Temple, both perched atop Swami Rock. The site also has a vertigo-inducing Lovers’ Leap. Swap soaking in mineral-rich waters, for a fun yet unceremonious bucket dousing at Kanniya Hot Springs, a 25-minute drive from the resort, and wander through the unearthed dagaba base and statuary at Thiryaya archaeological site – a 10-minute drive north from Kuchchaveli. Nature lovers can hop on a dolphin and whale-watching trip or spend the day on Pigeon Island National Park, but hiking and biking through the jungle provides plenty of flora and fauna-spotting opportunities.
The Dutch Bank Café (+94 (0)26 222 2377) is a small brunch and lunch spot in Trincomalee, which serves up reliably good nasi goreng, kothu (egg and meat in a spicy sauce), grilled fish and sweet dishes for very low prices. Take a porch seat or head to the rooftop terrace for harbour views.
Part of Aqua Hotel, a 20-minute drive away in Uppuveli, upper-deck open-air Fernando's Beach Bar (+94 (0)77 854 6139) has plenty of driftwood trappings and rattan flourishes, and panoramic ocean views. Wine and colourful cocktails and served fairly sharpish; food service is somewhat laid-back, but after a couple of many-hued drinks you won’t care.
I’m lying diagonally on the massive, king-sized bed in our cabin at Uga Jungle Beach, watching the finely carved, dark wood blades of the ceiling fan go whoosh, whoosh, whoosh above me. I’m contemplating whether to turn on the air conditioning or to increase the speed of the fan; the problem, you see, is that both require me standing up and walking over to the wall. I foolishly forgot to grab the AC remote control before flopping down on the bed, and now, having worked up a sweat sunning poolside and trudging back to the room to get my book and sunscreen, I’m so hot and sweaty that my limbs feel as heavy as a hippo’s.
Welcome to Uga Jungle Beach, on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. With its pristine beach, treehouse-style reception and restaurant, and private cabins dotted along winding paths, it’s a luxe hideaway with a remote feel. At mealtimes, we can see that the resort actually attracts families of all ages and sizes. Mr Smith and I are what some of my friends in North America call DINKs (Double Income, No Kids, geddit?), but if we did have children, Uga Jungle Beach is exactly the type of place we’d like to imagine we’d holiday: it’s family-friendly, and most people stay on an all-inclusive basis, but there’s nothing naff or ‘package holiday’ about it.
For starters, privacy and space come easy. It appears to be the only resort in the area for miles – a far cry from the southern beaches of Weligama, where surfers (and surfer wannabes) head in droves. One evening, in fact, curious to see if the nearby towns are also quiet, we drive for half an hour to Nilaveli and Uppuveli, the nearest villages. Both are tiny, but a handful of hotels, restaurants and guest houses line the beach, their owners beckoning you to come in for a drink or a rice and curry. At our resort, by contrast, the entire beach seems hardly frequented and it’s easy to spend a day in complete seclusion on banks of deep, yellow sand. Even hotel guests seem to stay away – partly because the strong current means it can be dangerous to swim in the sea, partly because the poolside area has a buzzier vibe – but it’s lovely for those who do explore.
The service standards at the resort are excellent, too, and apparently, the hotel makes a conscious effort to employ local Tamil trainees whose families were affected by the civil war. One evening, for dinner, I order a traditional Sri Lankan curry, which comes with so many accompaniments that its bespoke serving platter spans the length of the table – yet our waiter still painstakingly describes each dish in detail. There’s a clear eagerness to please from all staff; bless the young lady who misunderstood my request to turn off the fan’s swivel mode and turned it on full blast instead.
But back to my current dilemma. Mr Smith and I had just returned to Uga Jungle Beach after yet another lengthy drive. Road travel in Sri Lanka is convenient and finding a driver who’s keen is easy, but it’s never quick and the bumpy, winding roads don’t make for a particularly relaxing journey. Earlier, we’d bickered over where to stop for lunch before settling on a place that promised fresh prawns; I then found the chef ferociously beating a frozen bag of something on my way to the loo – but we were too hangry by then to find somewhere else to eat. By the time we arrived back at Jungle Beach and changed into our swimsuits, it was clear that some alone time – me by the pool, Mr Smith by the beach – was probably best for now.
But the heat! They say the east doesn’t get quite as lovely weather as the south during the winter months, but my sweaty brow would beg to differ. I lie there, considering my options – and then realize that I’ve got my phone next to me on the bed. Forget fighting: Mr Smith can come and save me! I grab my phone, my sticky fingers leaving streaky prints on the screen. ‘Ok, I’m not mad anymore,’ I text. ‘Come back to the room now? And bring me an ice cream?’
Ten minutes later, I hear the key card in the door and Mr Smith enters the room. ‘Wait,’ I call out before he turns the corner. ‘Turn the air con on!’
To my relief, I hear the distinctive beep of the machine, and then a stream of cool air hits my face. As my body temperature returns to normal and I gradually come back to life, Mr Smith regales me with his adventures on the beach: how there’s no one around for miles; how there are occasional mysterious patches of black sand (apparently mineral deposits, we learn later); how the resort offers secluded candlelit dinners for two on the beach, and can even build you your very own fire pit. Maybe we should do that tonight, I suggest, my peace offering for our fiery afternoon and show of gratitude for saving me from melting. It’s a deal, says Mr Smith