Cinnamon Wild

Yala National Park, Yala & Southeast, Sri Lanka Book from

Reviewed by Emma Boyle
A low-key safari lodge fringing the leopard-dense Yala National Park, with luxurious chalets, a freeform pool and plentiful nature-based activities
A bevvy of crocodiles placidly floating in the lake just 50m from the swimming pool demonstrates that this hotel really is in the wild. Sited a stone’s throw from Sri Lanka’s wave-smashed southeastern coast, it’s just inside the boundary of Yala National Park, home to elephants, 150 species of bird and a staggeringly high density of leopards (you might even spot them languishing on a giant boulder just beyond the grounds).

The 68 low-key yet luxurious chalets are scattered across the 10-acre site, surrounded by the dry-zone scrub jungle that’s characteristic of much of Yala. A central communal area spills onto the tree-spiked pool terrace, while a modern 2-floor pavilion houses a restaurant plus a rooftop observation deck that’s perfect for sundowners and nightcaps under the stars. The ambiance is serene and it’s ideal for nature lovers of all ages, attracting a mix of couples and families. Most guests use the hotel as a springboard for safaris in the park, but there are plenty of other activities on offer, too, including bird watching, visits to cultural sites and tailored wildlife photography sessions.

Highs

  • The game drives are great fun - we spotted leopards, elephants and even a sloth bear. And donning night-vision goggles for the infrared evening safari is certainly a unique way to scout for wildlife!
  • Better still, the park is on the doorstep, allowing you to max out your safari time
  • The chalets are dotted among the trees, so they feel very private. There are sofabeds or cots for children, and the stilted Beach Chalets provide a glimpse of the ocean
  • The wonderful freeform pool has views of the lake. It’s especially relaxing in the morning and evening, when many guests are out and about
  • The tranquillity of the location is hard to beat

Lows

  • Although the hotel stays open, Yala closes in September and October to allow wildlife to move between watering holes
  • The hotel occasionally hosts large tour groups, and the evening buffet meals feel a little generic
  • You can’t swim in the sea (it’s too rough), and you’re advised not to walk on the beach
  • Animals roam through the grounds, so you’ll have to be escorted back to your chalet by staff after dark. You should also expect to encounter bugs, spiders and reptiles (this is the jungle after all)
  • Rates don't include safaris or other excursions, and full prepayment is required upon reservation

Best time to go

Cinnamon Wild is located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, which sees much less rainfall than the west of the country. There are some light showers from November to January, but this is also the coolest time of year. The heat and humidity build from mid-March to mid-May, with April susceptible to short, sharp downpours. Late May onwards marks the driest season, when wildlife sightings are more frequent; berry-hungry sloth bears are particularly common in May and June, when the fruits of the palu tree ripen.

Although the hotel remains open year-round, it's best to avoid September and October, the final months of the dry season, as Yala National Park closes to allow wildlife to move freely between the receding watering holes.

Our top tips

It’s hot and dusty on safari during the day, but if you leave pre-dawn it can be cool on the jeep; a light cardigan or sweater will stave off the chill of the drive. Also bring binoculars (or hire them from the hotel), and if you’re a keen photographer make sure you pack a camera beanbag to protect your lens when using the bars of the jeep to steady your shot.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Jungle Lodge
  • 68
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room: Beach Chalet

Rooms

Cinnamon Wild has 2 types of chalet, Jungle and Beach, both of which share similar décor and facilities. In keeping with the game-lodge aesthetic, the cosy, tangerine-hued interiors are furnished with safari-style chairs and tables, metallic sinks, wood-framed double beds, and either terracotta tiles or warm wooden floorboards. Textured timber-based lamps and rattan bed runners provide a touch of rusticity, whilst furnished terraces or balconies absorb the jungle views.

We stayed in one of the 8 timber Beach Chalets, which sit on stilts a few metres above the ground and offer glimpses of the ocean through the foliage. They’re designed for couples (although they can take an extra bed or cot) and offer the most privacy; most are self-contained, but a couple are adjoined.

Constructed in harmony with the surroundings, the Jungle Chalets are sprinkled around the scrubby woodland. Slightly bigger than the Beach Chalets, they’re more family-friendly and have a sofa that converts into a single bed. A few interconnect, and 2 have wheelchair access.

All chalets have ensuite bathrooms with powerful rain showers (no tubs), as well as minibars, satellite TV and a good WiFi connection. Ours was very comfortable - a lovely sanctuary after our safaris - and the only sounds to be heard by day or night were the waves, the birds and the crickets.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Coffee tea making
  • Complimentary bottled water
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Mosquito net
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

The hotel’s restaurant, Tuskers, is located on the first floor of the main pavilion, open to the breeze and overlooking the pool and bird-filled lake beyond. Most meals are buffets, except when there are few guests staying, in which case a set menu is offered instead. There’s no room service, which is understandable given the locale.

We found a fair amount of choice for lunch and dinner (12.30-2pm and 7.30-10pm). A Sri Lankan corner offered curries, sambols, rice and condiments in traditional clay pots, whilst international options included battered squid, lamb hotpot and tomato pasta. Part of the spread was laid out in an air-conditioned room, which is where the desserts, salads and cheeses were displayed.

The breakfast selection (7-10am) includes live cooking stations for crispy hoppers, eggs and bacon, as well as freshly cut fruit and the usual breads and jams. Early tea, coffee and juices followed by packed breakfasts are offered for those heading off on dawn game drives.

Pugmarks, the attractive pool bar, is an alternative venue for all-day dining (11am-11pm), and we had lunch there when we arrived. The à la carte menu is varied, with dishes ranging from pasta to club sandwiches and grilled fish. We opted for a Thai-style salad which, although not fully authentic, was tasty and well balanced. There’s also a bar on the rooftop observation deck (open from 4pm), which offers beautiful sunset views.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
Eating: Tuskers
Activity:

Activities

  • Take an early-morning or late-afternoon game drive around Yala National Park. Leopards, sloth bears and elephants are regularly spotted, along with deer, jackals, butterflies, reptiles and endemic birds
  • Unique to Cinnamon Wild is the ‘Yala by Night’ tour, when you don a pair of night-vision goggles and head off by jeep along the outer reaches of the park to seek out wildlife using infrared technology
  • Guided walks around the hotel grounds are also available
  • Bird lovers will like the ‘Three Lakes tour’, which takes in vast wetlands, lagoons and tanks (manmade lakes). Naturalists are on hand to guide you through the diverse ecosystems, and you’ll also experience local village life through visits to rural fishing communities
  • Other safari options take you slightly further afield to Uda Walawe National Park (famed for its many elephants) and Bundala, a UNESCO-listed wetland that’s home to mugger crocodiles, dragonflies and an array of birds
  • One of the highlights for us was a visit to the monkey-infested Sithulpawwa Buddhist temple, whose elevated rock-top stupa (sacred mound) affords stunning 360-degree panoramas of the jungle canopy
  • For those with an eye for photography, the hotel also offers a customised jeep and a camera-wielding guide for tailored tours
  • You could also visit the nearby village of Kirinda, famed for its boulder-strewn coast and Buddhist shrine

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Safaris
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children of all ages are welcome at Cinnamon Wild, although there are no dedicated kids’ facilities. The focus on wildlife means older, nature-loving children who are able to entertain themselves will feel most at home here.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

The Jungle Chalets have a single sofabed (extra charge) and some interconnect; Beach Chalets can each take an extra bed. Baby cots are available in all chalets for no additional cost.

Children's meals:

The buffet includes options to please young tastebuds, and there are plenty of Western dishes (pasta, sandwiches) for those who don’t like spicy food.

Families Should Know:

The grounds are not fenced, and wildlife wanders freely (staff will escort you to and from your chalet after dark). The pool is not fenced, and the ocean is not safe for swimming.

Distances:

  • Airport: 6 hours' drive (Colombo)
  • Hospital: 5 minutes' drive (Kirinda)
  • Shop: 5 minutes' drive (Kirinda)
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
7/
Food
8/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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