Karpaha Sands

Kalkudah Bay, East Coast, Sri Lanka Book from Book from £87 per night

Brand new! A luxury tented resort on a deserted beach, with heavenly sunrises and a laid-back, arty vibe
Sri Lanka’s east coast remains blissfully untouristy, and at Kalkudah Beach, the Crusoe-lifestyle still lives on. Its 12km golden-sand shoreline is fringed by coconut plantations, palmyrah trees and cashew groves, and at the time of writing, Karpaha is the only hotel there. Blending organically into the natural surroundings, this tented resort is low-key but extremely stylish, with contemporary furnishings and open-air showers; glamping at its very best.

The 17 double and family tents sprinkle the peaceful sandy grounds while an infinity pool, a garden spa and double-storey restaurant and bar sit side-by-side on the beachfront with superb ocean panoramas. Chic furnishings and décor have either been custom designed or sourced from Bali and Thailand and really stand out for their on-trend style. Art features strongly, too: in amongst the lush landscaped gardens, there’s a giant yellow gorilla sculpture, and metalwork figures lounge around, contemplating the unspoilt ocean views. The beach itself is the preserve of local fishermen, who practise the traditional craft of net casting, which is fascinating to watch. Stroll along the sand, snooze by the pool: this is a place to switch off and do very little.

Highs

  • A hidden paradise: currently the only hotel along this near-deserted length of beach
  • The sea is gorgeous for swimming all year round, warm and calm, especially in the dry season (Jan-Sept)
  • The tents are incredible – superbly styled, spacious and comfortable, with kingsize beds, double-ended bathtubs and beautiful outdoor showers
  • A massive saltwater infinity pool and comfortable mattress-topped sunloungers
  • Starlit evening meals: we loved the traditional curries, and super-fresh seafood

Lows

  • Staff are excellent but some have limited English. However, we're sure this will quickly improve
  • The swimming pool tiles were very slippery and the sand gets very hot - pack flipflops
  • No alcohol license but you can bring your own drinks. Shops and other restaurants are 9km away
  • All beds are doubles

Best time to go

The dry season, between January and September, is when the east coast is at its best. The weather is fine, hot and dry, and the sea is at its calmest. It can be slightly choppy October-December but is still swimmable. Watersports in Passikudah are best in the dry season, too, and some activities – such as coastal cruising and diving – only operate May-September.

Our top tips

From Passikudah you can board a luxury catamaran for 3-hour morning or afternoon cruises around the bay. There are stops for swimming, and their stylish boats are equipped with snorkelling equipment and SUPs (stand-up paddleboards). Light snacks and drinks are served, and this is a super way to get out on the water and see a little more of this barely explored coastline.

Great for...

Beach
Family
Honeymoon
Spa
  • Boutique Resort
  • 17
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

The 17 suites are housed in well-designed South African tents. There are 3 versions – beachfront Palam Suites; garden-wrapped Kolaya Suites; and larger Seed Suites, which sleep up to 5 in 2 ensuite bedrooms (1 double, 1 twin + an extra bed).

Interiors are similar throughout. Timber floors, honey-coloured furnishings and kingsized beds (no twins), plus cushions illustrated with photographs of local life and beachscapes. The open-plan bathrooms have free-standing tubs and a private walled courtyard with a waterfall shower for open-air bathing. Despite the fact you're camping, there are safes, portable speakers, tea/coffee making facilities and mini fridges. Tents are mosquito-proofed and have side panels that can be rolled up for air circulation. There are ceiling fans as well as air-conditioning units, which, given the tents’ canvas structure, worked surprisingly well.

From our Palam Suite we could lie back in bed and savour 180-degree ocean panoramas and the sunrise. However, these suites aren’t as private as the garden-based Kolaya Suites, so it just depends which you prefer - privacy or sea views.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • TV (on request)
  • WiFi

Eating

Sourcing ingredients in this remote region of Sri Lanka is a real challenge, but the hotel manages to offer a wide-ranging menu of international cuisine. Fresh fish and seafood feature highly, particularly local tuna which is crafted into tuna niçoise salads, tuna tartare and nigiri sushi. The open-sided first-floor restaurant makes the most of the panoramic coastal views, and its protruding balcony is a superb spot for starlit evening meals.

The menu was in its testing stage on our visit, and some dishes stood out more than others. The traditional rice and curries (particularly the crab curry) was very good as were the homemade pizzas, the spaghetti bolognaise and the beetroot, feta and walnut salad. We also liked the homemade profiteroles.

For a change of scene, the nearest restaurants are in Passikudah, a 30-minute drive away; this is a well-developed bay home to a number of high-end resort-style hotels.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children's meals
  • Coffee / tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Walk - the beach stretches for miles and is mostly deserted except for fishermen who tirelessly cast their vast nets into the sea
  • Relax! This coastal setting is extremely tranquil and encourages you to put your feet up, bathe in the warm ocean and absorb this rare serenity
  • There are body boards to borrow, as well as bikes to explore the region
  • Be indulged at the twin-roomed spa, which is set in serene garden surroundings
  • For coastal cruising, kayaking and jet skiing, make for Passikudah (30 minutes away), which is the east coast’s watersports hub
  • For culture, head into Batticaloa, a refreshingly sedate Tamil town ringed by lagoons that’s home to a handful of colonial sights
  • Or day trip to Polonnaruwa (1.5 hours), a 12th-century World Heritage Site

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Historical sites
  • Jet skiing
  • Kayaking
  • Private guided tours
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Well being

Kids

Families are welcome though we feel Karpaha is best for children who are happy to play independently as there are no specific facilities, lifeguards or organised activities. There's plenty of sandy space to roam, and the sea is flat, calm and safe for swimming, especially Jan-Sept.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

All suites can accommodate a baby cot or 2 extra beds. The Kolaya Suites are the most suitable for small families as they have enclosed plant-walled gardens which are good for containing roaming children. The Seed Suites, which are also surrounded by private gardens, have 2 bedrooms and can sleep up to 6.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots, high chairs, potties

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

The kitchen can whip up kid-friendly meals at any time of day, including fish fingers, spaghetti bolognese and crumbed chicken, as well as snacks and fruit ice lollies.

Kids Activities on site:

Kids pool, games room, books, toys and DVDs.

Kids Activities nearby:

Watersports such as kayaking, banana boating, jet skiing, snorkelling and SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) in nearby Passikudah.

Families Should Know:

The pool is unfenced, with a a step all along the edge. There are no lifeguards on the beach.

Distances:

  • Airport: 40 mins' drive (Batticaloa)
  • Hospital: 30km
  • Shop: 7km
Kid Friendly:

Location

The hotel is located on Kalkudah Beach, 9km from watersports capital Passikudah, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.

By Air:
Colombo Bandaranaike is the closest international airport (266km), but it's a good 7-hour drive away so an alternative is to fly with domestic airline Cinnamon Air to Batticaloa Airport, an hour’s drive from the hotel.

Getting Around:
If you don’t have your own transport, the hotel can arrange transfers from the airport, and tuk-tuks for local travel.

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 the hotel, then drive you to your onward destination(s) after your stay, as well as taking you on all day trips etc.

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

Airports:

  • Colombo Bandaranaike International 266.0 km CMB

Other:

  • Beach 0.1 km
  • Shops 9.0 km
  • Restaurant 9.0 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 2 independent reviews from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
9/10
Food
10/10
Service
10/10
Value
10/10
Overall

Fantastic time. Stunning location, beach and facilities. Design of main building and rooms is fantastic. Did not want to leave! Thank you Karpaha Sands.

10/10,

There are some places in the world you travel to and feel you need never go back. Been there. Done that. This is NOT one of those places. After a gruelling 21 hours of travel - after the 10.5 hour flight we then had a 6 hour drive from west to east across the whole country - we arrived at this amazing place in the middle of nowhere. It is 4km from the main road to the resort. It is difficult to describe the place but the pictures do not disappoint. The luxury tents [Palam] are actually on the beach and are the epitome of luxury. Wonderful quirky furniture and a huge comfortable bed. The outdoor shower was the biggest pleasure at any time of the day and night surrounded by exotic plants you could really feel you were in another world. The staff are the nicest, kindest and most helpful people who showed a genuine interest in you. We felt we made friends who we must go back to visit one day. A couple of points worth noting: there is no alcohol licence so its worth bringing some duty free with you. It is not easy to get alcohol and the only shop we went to sold only beer/ lager. The nearest resort where you can go for a drink/ food is made up of huge all inclusive hotels. We visited a few times simply to get some variety of food. It cost about SLR 2,500 to get a Tuk Tuk there and back [he waited for us at the hotel]. You cannot stroll down a street and pop into bars or restaurants as they simply do not exist in Passikudah. The food at Karpaha Sands does not live up to their ideals in the promotional material. The two fish dishes I had were totally overcooked and if you are there for any length of time there is not enough variety. They need to focus on good, simple, locally sourced meals rather than trying to cook European food. There was an abundance of amazing vegetables in the markets we saw. The staff go out of their way to help you and provide you with your every need. We had an amazing trip to a National Park [Madura Oya] which was recommended as an alternative to the main ones. We travelled through the park on our own in a jeep and saw a family of elephants within 10 minutes, not to mention the beautiful birds in the park. The massages at the spa were very good value and done with true expertise. Lying on the massage bed listening to the sound of birds singing and waves crashing will stay with me for a long time. My only disappointment was that the sea was too rough for swimming. I had been led to believe that the rainy season ends in January and while the weather was sunny for all bar two days, the sea remained rough. There is no lifesaving equipment whatsoever on the beach or at the hotel so it is very dangerous. The beach is a stunning stretch of sand but outside the resort areas it is full of plastic and waste left by the tide. So disappointing for a place as close to paradise as you will find.

9/10,

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