I’ve just been lucky enough to be one of the very first guests to stay at the brand-new Hilton Yala Resort in Sri Lanka.
Nestled between the Indian Ocean and Yala National Park, a vast lagoon-filled reserve where leopards, sloth bears and elephants roam, Hilton Yala Resort is a luxury hotel with an adventurous locale.
Guests are cocooned here in 5-star safari-chic suites and villas but the wildlife is just within touching distance. A peacock calls out while you sip your morning coffee, a monkey swings past the pool while you get ready for dinner.
A team of expert local rangers are on hand to guide you through game drives, bush walks and cultural excursions, imparting their knowledge and taking care of your safety and comfort.
Food is a big part of the experience here too, whether that’s enjoying canapes with a kick around a beach bonfire, hoppers with a twist for breakfast, or the cutest bento snack boxes with homemade pastries during a thrilling safari.
Sri Lanka is one of my favourite destinations because it offers such rich and rewarding experiences in the most beautiful settings. Nowhere exemplifies this better than Hilton Yala Resort.
There are just 42 rooms at this intimate retreat and each of them are absolutely stunning. Featuring floor to ceiling windows and local art, the considered interiors are not only generous but reflective of the local environment.
All room types include private outdoor areas with a hot tub or swimming pool. Deluxe Rooms come with hot tubs on the balcony, while Premium Suites and Premium Pool Villas come with private plunge pools.
I was the fortunate guest of a Premium Pool Villa and it was one of the best hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in.
From the minute I entered – curtains automatically drawing back to reveal a plunge pool and sunken seating area overlooking the jungle – this room made me feel immensely happy.
In addition to the generous outdoor space, the Premium Pool Villas also offer a walk-in wardrobe and the biggest bathroom and deepest bathtub I’ve seen in a long while.
The villas are really special and it honestly feels surreal to enjoy so much luxury in the middle of a jungle.
The rooms also smell incredible and no expense has been spared when it comes to comfort. A Japanese toilet with heated seat was an unexpected convenience I quickly got used to!
If you can tear yourself away from the plush cabanas at the main pool, the Hilton Yala offers a carefully curated list of experiences that allow you to immerse yourself (safely!) in the local wildlife and culture.
The Hilton have hired a team of expert local rangers to lead game safaris through Yala National Park and guests can choose a duration and location that suits.
We experienced a half day game drive in Yala Block 1 with Head Ranger Sajith who has over 10 years of experience working in Yala National Park. (I can verify this as we met on my very first visit to Yala in 2014 and I found pictures of Sajith on my blog to prove it!)
Sajith is passionate about the wildlife in Yala and engaged us with intriguing facts about everything from the dung beetles to birds, monitor lizards and Yala’s ‘Big 4’ – elephants, sloth bears, water buffalos and leopards.
We encountered 2 of those ‘Big 4’ minutes after climbing into the safari jeep. We came close to spotting a leopard too, discovering tracks that showed one had recently crossed the road we were driving on, but they were to elude us on this visit. Yala National Park has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world but they are very good at hiding!
The elephants of Yala proved to be much less shy and spying little family groups wandering about in the wild is what made this game drive for me.
The scenery of Yala National Park is just as alluring as its wildlife though and we enjoyed that raw beauty on bush hikes, sand dune walks and temple visits with the Hilton rangers.
We rose with the sun one morning to visit Sithulpawwa, a rock temple that was once an ancient Buddhist monastery dating back to the 2nd century BC. The climb was steep and sticky in the heat but the view, which at that moment belonged only to us, was incredible.
The whole of Yala National Park spread below us and with the help of some binoculars we saw the very rare sight of a tusker elephant exploring the lower temple grounds we had just walked through.
One evening we scaled sand dunes to watch the sunset as a surprisingly fast tortoise scuttled across the road.
Our time at Hilton Yala Resort was filled with magic encounters with nature like these.
One of my favourite experiences at the hotel to balance all the adventure was a visit to the spa. The Hilton Yala Resort’s spa is a zen-filled haven on the edge of the resort that has a tranquil outdoor relaxation area and treatment rooms with astonishing floor to ceiling windows overlooking the wilderness.
Each treatment room has an individual changing room that comes with a wardrobe to hang your clothes in and vanity area to do your make up in after showering.
I booked 2 x 30-minute treatments – a foot massage and a head, neck and shoulder massage – that began with a relaxing foot soak and scrub ritual that set the tone beautifully. My Balinese therapist was clearly an expert at what she does and the hour was over all too quickly.
Food is a big part of your stay at Hilton Yala too. Executive chef Jerome Tissera has created menus that feature contemporary Sri Lankan dishes and Asian classics with a twist for the hotel’s three restaurants.
Dhira Restaurant offers all-day dining that specializes in contemporary Asian cuisine.
At Sandali you’ll find grilled specialities including the most succulent steaks, ribs and burgers. Meanwhile at Vanya you must try the Crouching Leopard cocktail that became my go-to aperitif.
The dining settings are so beautiful too, whether that’s at Dhira which has panoramic views of the resort and ocean beyond, or at a secret wild spot around the hotel as part of the hotel’s Lanthaaruma bespoke dining experience.
I don’t want to ruin too much of the surprise about Lanthaaruma but let me just say that finishing our safari by following a lantern-lit path towards the untouched beach for sundowners around the bonfire was the perfect way to end the experience.
I have to mention the staff who are exceptionally experienced, friendly and adept at the little things that make a big difference, such as making menu recommendations and remembering guests favourite drinks.
For a new resort, the Hilton Yala feels like a very well oiled machine. This is 5 star service without compromises, which when you consider the remote location is truly impressive.
Is Hilton Yala Resort family-friendly?
Families are welcome at Hilton Yala Resort. All room types can easily fit a foldaway bed for a small child or adjacent suites can be booked for larger families.
Based on the facilities I’d recommend this resort for children aged 5 and above, especially because children aged 5 to 12 can participate in the hotel’s amazing Junior Ranger Programme, which has been created to make sure they get the most out of the wildlife experiences.
Children under 6 can access free buffet dining with a paying adult and you get 50% off buffet charges for children aged 6-11 years.
In terms of the safari, children under 5 years old can join the game drive for free. 50% charges apply for children ages 6-11 years and full safari tour rate applies for children 12 and above.
For more info and to book please visit the Hilton Yala Resort website.
I stayed as a guest of Hilton Yala. All opinions are my own. You can find more coverage from this trip on Instagram.