Banyan Camp

Hambegamuwa, Yala & Southeast, Sri Lanka Book from Book from £149 per night

Unique eco-retreat near Udawalawe National Park: 3 quirky lodges (sleeping 2-4) fashioned from recycled bottles and an old Mercedes
At the height of Sri Lanka’s civil war, nature-lovers Souhaine and Vijayanthi dreamed of a peaceful hideaway to escape the country’s chaos. They found what they were looking for on the banks of Lake Hambegamuwa: 15 acres of pristine wilderness, dotted with twisted banyan trees and alive with chattering monkeys, unconcerned buffaloes and the occasional wandering elephant. Here they let their imaginations run free and the result is remarkable: a quirky but comfortable camp with 3 eco lodges and a truly magical setting.

Secluded amongst the tropical foliage, each lodge is designed with simplicity and flair. Everything — from the upcycled doors and driftwood furniture to champagne-bottle walls — is unique, inspirational and fun, with no carbon footprint. Open-air lodges are cooled by the breeze while lanterns provide a warm evening glow. This is a very special hideaway for people looking to escape the chaos of modern life; somewhere you can switch off your phone and let nature revive you. Take canoe safaris to spot buffalo and incredible birdlife, swim in pretty waterfalls, and enjoy candlelit dinners on a raft on the lake. Visit nearby Udawalawe to see wild elephants and, if you’re lucky, maybe a leopard too.

Highs

  • A magical lakefront setting; particularly atmospheric at night with the sounds of the jungle to lull you to sleep
  • A true eco-retreat: carbon-neutral, built from recycled and sustainable local materials
  • Rates are full board: delicious vegetarian Sri Lankan meals, some of the best we've had, made from fresh local ingredients
  • Quirky simplicity and creativity at every turn: we love the off-beat patterns, dashes of colour and unconventional lodgings
  • Wonderful activities include bird watching, picnics by a waterfall and spotting wild elephants

Lows

  • It’s basic and back-to-nature: don’t expect a pool or pampering, nor hot showers, air con, or WiFi
  • Lodges are open to the elements (and therefore bugs and creepy crawlies), though tall grasses and foliage offer privacy
  • Staff are welcoming but you’ll be mostly left alone to soak up the atmosphere, explore and relax
  • Meals are set menus
  • Full pre-payment in advance of stay, and a strict cancellation policy

Best time to go

Sri Lanka has a warm, tropical year-round climate with plenty of sunshine. The winter months (December to March) are the driest time to visit the island’s south, before the Yala (southwest) monsoon brings heavy showers from April to September. The dry season is also the best time for spotting elephants in Udawalawe National Park, as wildlife gathers around the watering holes to drink.

Our top tips

It’s worth staying at least 2 nights to relax into the vibe and enjoy the gentle activities on offer. Bring cash for drinks and a lake safari with friendly local fishermen. Avoid leaving toothpaste or food lying about – unless you want to share your lodge with local monkeys and squirrels!

Great for...

Eco
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • Eco Camp
  • 3 lodges for 2-4
  • Full-Board stays
  • Welcome but not ideal
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Nestled in the jungle, a stone’s throw from the lake, the 3 lodges are perfectly at ease with their natural surrounds. Hand-built from sustainable and salvaged materials, the simple structures use reclaimed timber, Palmyra leaves and old Dutch roof tiles to create imaginative yet elegant open-air spaces. Each lodge is minimally furnished with canopied beds, hammocks, vintage chests, and 1 bathroom with (cold) shower.

Mercedes Lodge is a cosy hideaway for 2 in a cleverly converted truck parked up amongst the wind chimes – it's a real one-off place to stay, complete with windows, doors and a wonderful lakeside view.

As their names suggest, Wine Lodge and Champagne Lodge have curved clay walls studded with thousands of recycled bottles, artistically fashioned into beautiful mandala designs. Ideal for couples, friends or families, each has 2 kingsize rooms; upstairs has no walls and is completely open to the elements; downstairs leads out to a shady veranda stacked with colourful cushions.

Features include:

  • Mosquito net

Eating

All bookings are on a full-board basis and if you enjoy traditional Sri Lankan food, you’ll be in 7th heaven. Meals are cooked from scratch, using simple, wholesome and locally sourced vegetarian ingredients, all authentically prepared and beautifully presented.

Breakfast is usually crepes with coconut filling, drizzled with sweet kithul syrup, and accompanied by curd and fresh fruits. Eggs are available on request. For lunch expect a banquet of rice and curries – think hot curried pumpkin and spiced banana flavours - served in clay pots with rustic rotis or freshly made papad. Evening dishes might include comforting bowls of dahl, local flat bread, lentils and savoury pancakes, along with onion pakoras and tapioca cutlets. Sweet thambili (king coconut) water and wine or beer are included in the rates.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Ask for a blissfully romantic candlelit meal floating on a pontoon in the middle of the lake, utterly immersed in nature
  • A drive away, you can follow jungle trails to a secluded waterfall then take a refreshing swim while Banyan Camp staff prepare a lunchtime feast, cooked over a fire and served on banana leaves
  • Explore peaceful Lake Hambegamuwa by canoe, to spot water buffaloes, exotic birds and spectacular sunsets
  • Don’t miss a safari in neighbouring Udawalawe National Park, either at dawn or in the late afternoon – it’s one of the best places in the world to see wild elephants in their natural habitat
  • Visit one of the nearby historic sites: huge 10th-century Buduruvagala statues carved out of the rock, or the atmospheric Yudaganawa Temple with its Buddhist carvings and wall paintings
  • Travel further afield for a leopard safari in Yala National Park or Lunugamvehera National Park, where there’s a high density of leopard among the abundant wildlife

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Private guided tours
  • Safaris
  • Swimming
  • Wildlife

Kids

Families are welcome, but be aware that younger kids will need to be supervised closely and you'll want to take a selection of kid-friendly snacks in case they're not keen on the food served.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Wine Lodge and Champagne Lodge are ideal for families, as long as your kids don’t mind sharing a bed. Each lodge has 2 double bedrooms, one upstairs one downstairs, with canopied beds to keep off any bugs, and a simple shower bathroom. If you're travelling with a baby you'll need to bring a travel cot.

Kids Activities on site:

Bird watching, swimming in the lake, canoe safaris

Kids Activities nearby:

Wildlife parks

Families Should Know:

There's no electricity or hot water, and bedrooms are open to the elements (though beds are mosquito-netted)

Distances:

  • Airport: 5 hours' drive (Colombo)
  • Shop: 0.6m
  • Medical facility: 1.7km
Kid Friendly: Wine Lodge

Location

Banyan Camp is on the banks of Lake Hambegamuwa, about half an hour's drive from Udawalawe National Park in southern Sri Lanka. Ella in the hill country is about 1.5 hours north; the coastal town of Tangalle is 1.5 hours south.

By Air:
Colombo is the nearest international airport; (212km, a 5-hour drive). You can book a transfer from here to Banyan Camp.

If you want to hire a car and driver for your whole holiday, enquire through our Tailormade Tour Operator; they can collect you at Colombo airport when you land, drive you to Banyan Camp, then drive you to your onward destination after your stay.

Detailed directions will be sent when you book through i-escape.

Airports:

  • Colombo Bandaranaike 212.0 km CMB

Other:

  • Beach 25.0 km
  • Shops 0.6 km
  • Restaurant 25.0 km

Rates for Banyan Camp

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