Driving down the dirt road, you have no idea there is a luxury hotel waiting for you at the end. You almost have to reach the end of the road before you can see any of it come into view. Then the top of the hotel peaks out and the road curves up a hill, and there is the Heritance Kandalama hotel. Well, what isn’t hidden in the jungle.
Never I have seen a hotel like it before. It almost looks like the hotel time forgot with vines hanging down the front of the building. The hotel is built around the rock face facing the Kandalama Reservoir. The hotel was built by Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. He designed it to blend in with nature allowing it to envelop the hotel and for waters and animals to be able to go under and around it.
Hallways of the hotel are open to surrounding rock face and the room balconies face the jungle. There are even signs on the doors warning you to keep them shut so that monkeys do not get it. Nature truly surrounds the hotel. While there I saw monkeys, huge squirrels, hawks, cranes, starlings, other birds and a centipede! (None in my room, though.) Not all of it was wonderful, though. Keep reading to find out why.
Every room has a balcony overlooking the reservoir at different heights. One wind faces Dambulla and the other Sigiriya. On a clear day, you can see Sigiriya Rock.
The rooms are decorated in dark tones that match the surrounding nature. My room was a deluxe room, which is the most basic room. It was on the smaller side, but since it was just me, I did not mind. The bed was very comfortable, and the air conditioning worked so well, I had to turn it off! However, the dark tones that look so nice during the day make it difficult to see anything in the room at night since the overhead lighting is not adequate.
My bathroom also had large windows facing out to the reservoir, which gave it the feeling of showering outside. As I discovered early on in my trip to Sri Lanka, the water faucets work the opposite way of what I am used to, and it did take some time for the hot water to arrive.
Due to the threat of monkeys and mosquitos, I did not spend to much time outside on the balcony. I spotted many monkeys hanging out on the hotel and around one of the pools! Overall, the rooms were nice, comfortable and clean.
There are three pools! Each pool is on a different level and has different scenery. I elected not to swim since I was not sure the water was warm enough for my now thin blood! And I wasn’t going to swim at the one where I saw the monkeys.
Located on the 6th floor was a wonderful lounge area with ample seating. You could spend several hours reading on these couches. If you are lacking reading material, there is a library on the top floor that you can take a book left by others.
There is also a Six Senses Spa on site. I never ventured down that wing to see what it looked like though. I was too busy looking for elephants and monkeys! Not only that, but this hotel is supposedly a mile long from end-to-end. I wasn’t going to walk a mile to get to the spa.
This was one of my complaints. The hotel is isolated and there isn’t any option but to eat at the hotel unless you want to take the 20-minute ride down the dirt road to the tiny town. There are only two options in the hotel as well. One is a buffet dinner and one a sit-down. I opted for the buffet both evenings because I was pretty tired each day. Both nights I was disappointed. The food the first night was terrible. The second night it improved, but given the amazing food of Sri Lanka, I was sad to find out that very few Sri Lankan options were offered. The breakfast was better, but the meat was being served outside with the bugs.
My last morning, I decided to walk down to the reservoir’s edge. I had been told it was safe. I was looking to get some shots of wildlife at a different angle. Instead, I was greeted with a huge disappointment. Chained up by the reservoir was an elephant for riding! I was almost in tears. The elephant scared me as I didn’t know he was there and was chained. He or she looked mad! I couldn’t believe the LEED certified hotel had an elephant chained up. I have written a letter of complaint to the hotel.
For this reason, I cannot recommend you stay at the hotel. A friend of mine told me after she found out I stayed there, that she stayed there last year and the elephant was there then! If the hotel writes me back with a positive response, I will update this post.
Since I can’t recommend it, here are some other options in Sri Lanka offered by Lauren of #ljojlo. If you do decide to stay here, you can check rates here.
Update: The hotel responded to my email with some positive things. I won’t copy and paste the whole email as it is long. Basically, they know it is an issue. They have to change it from riding the elephant to walking with the elephant. The hotel does not own the elephant and leases her and chooses to do so they can keep an eye on her to make sure she is being cared for properly. They were happy to receive feedback to share with the person that owns her and help convince him to change his ways. As I say about anything, change takes time, and the hotel and I understand that. The asked me to write back with any ideas or suggestions regarding this. I will be asking for the elephant not to be chained and not kept in such a confined area. I am so happy they responded and have taken action!
Sri Lanka is beautiful ?
It is and so much too see!
What a shame… as so much of the hotel… and the scenery around seems so lovely!
It really is. The hotel is so unique and they have ruined it.
Hi ? aw man, I was looking through the photos and thinking what a lovely place it seemed to be…and then comes the bad news. I really hope you get a response from the hotel, but I have a feeling it won’t be what we want to hear. Thank you though for writing such an honest review, it’s very refreshing to read about the bad as well as the good.
Me too but I haven’t heard anything yet. Thanks for stopping by!
Fingers crossed the hotel does the right thing! Lovely pictures, though.
I hope so too! I haven’t heard back from them yet. Thanks!
That’s a horrible way to “guarantee” wildlife. So disappointed to learn of this
Yes, it was shocking!
Oh no, the chained up elephant made me so sad at the end; venturing over to your post about the Elephants in the Wild to cheer me up!
Sad about the elephant! Good thing you wrote them. A refreshingly honest review.
Yes, it was. The hotel wrote back today and I will be updating the post with some of their response soon. Thank you!
Tiffany this must have been hard to write. We are so easily tempted by amazing infinity pools and on the surface luxury. It’s only when we dig a little deeper that we get the full story. The issue of riding elephants is very complex. I’ve had an ongoing discussion with a friend who is an expert on sustainable travel because while we are horrified at the way the elephants are treated sometimes it is one of the few ways the local people can make a living. You have done the right thing and shown how being honest and upfront can change things for the better. I am full of admiration. Thanks for sharing this important story on #FarawayFiles
It was hard as I really liked the hotel. I am so glad they wrote me back. It is hard to balance a local income need with the needs of the animals. I also understand change takes time. Let’s hope this helps. Thank you!
I love the location of this hotel, right in the midst of such beautiful nature. It reminds me of a hotel I stayed at in Bali. I’m surprised that the food wasn’t good when you just think how gorgeous Sri Lankan food can be. And it’s so sad about the elephant. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles
I was very surprised about the food. At least the hotel responded to my email and it’s seem positive. Thanks!