Gaze up at a sky full of stars at night, amble to the beach with a cup of tea for sunrise and gorge yourself on terrific breakfast treats before dipping in the infinity pool. True eco-luxury and not an easy place to leave!– Saskia, visited in November 2019
Often overlooked in favour of Sri Lanka’s trendy south coast, the island’s secluded eastern beaches are nothing short of spectacular – and one in particular is home to a truly special eco retreat.
The sole hotel in sight along the enormous golden arc of Kalkudah Bay, Karpaha Sands is a luxurious glamping haven set amidst towering palm trees – the ideal oasis to unwind with fabulous food, thoughtful service and divine environmentally conscious design.
Hidden down a sandy track with nothing but the empty beach and glimmering Indian Ocean ahead, this tented getaway is the perfect place to escape in sublime sustainable bliss.
With 17 stunning tented suites scattered between swaying palms, Karpaha oozes castaway cool – with a hefty helping of eco-chic.
Rooms come in three categories: the sea-facing Palam Suites face the Indian Ocean, ideal for honeymoon couples eager to step straight onto the sand, whilst Kolaya Suites, ensconced in their own leafy gardens, ensure additional privacy for hideaway types.
Seed Suites, the largest of the three offerings, consist of two bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms (as well as enormous outdoor showers) poised on either side of a shared living room. Tucked away in private gardens with beanbags, sun loungers and an outdoor dining space, the suites are spot on for families or groups travelling together, offering the perfect balance of private and communal spaces.
All rooms are generously proportioned and sumptuously finished, with big four-poster beds, artistic touches, campaign-style furniture and plenty of storage space – as well as all the mod-cons, including air-conditioning and portable speakers for funky evening vibes.
Huge bathrooms boast freestanding tubs for long afternoon soaks and the most striking outdoor waterfall showers we’ve seen, surrounded by stone walls and leafy red and green vegetation.
Travelling as two couples, we nabbed a gorgeous Seed Suite, perfect for chilling out with a pack of cards and a cold beer together before dinner, or dining alfresco on our private terrace, tunes wafting through the night air.
Guests are given smartphones by reception to keep in touch with staff – so ice and lime for G&Ts are just a text away.
Drinking & dining
Kickstart your morning with a sumptuous breakfast in the open-air beach-side restaurant pavilion. Feast on freshly baked croissants and dreamy banana bread, followed by a cooked western brekkie or superb Sri Lankan specialities. We devoured delicious coconut roti with dhal, vegetable curry and spicy pol sambol with gusto before hitting the sand.
Lunch and dinner options are lovely, with fresh seafood bought directly from the fishermen, while a mix of Sri Lankan and European dishes ensures that everyone finds something mouthwatering to savour.
In keeping with the sustainable ethos, there is a real focus on fresh local ingredients and much of the fruit and veg is grown in the hotel’s own gardens.
We enjoyed a fabulous rice and curry evening on our private terrace, followed by some excellent homemade coconut sorbet – such a hit that we had it two nights in a row!
Whilst there is a variety of choice on offer, guests staying longer than a few days might choose to venture into Batticaloa or to one of the hotels on Passikudah Bay for lunch, to experience something a little different. The hotel reception can easily arrange a trishaw.
Facilities & activities
It is wonderfully easy to slip into a rhythm of ambling between the infinity pool and the open-sided restaurant, from the sea where local fishermen pull their boats back into shore to the well-stocked games room – then to the beach and back again.
Try your hand at Sri Lankan cooking with a cracking two-hour class at the hotel or unwind with a marvellous massage at the Ayurvedic Spa. Don’t miss waking early for sunrise – we sunk into beanbags on the deserted beach and sipped tea as the sun rose over the horizon, the sky awash with pastel pinks and yellows.
For those keen to venture beyond Kalkudah itself, the clear, calm waters of nearby Passikudah Bay are a 25-minute three-wheeler ride away, with water sports available from May to September. Alternatively, cruise along the coast by catamaran for a fresh perspective on a little-known part of the island.
Guided tours can be arranged to mellow Batticaloa, less than an hour to the south, which boasts a historic fort, churches, markets and a striking sunlit lagoon, or to nearby villages and temples for an insight into local Tamil culture.
Karpaha’s excellent team are also able to organise day trips further afield to the likes of Maduru Oya National Park, ancient Polonnaruwa and the fishing town of Trincomalee.
• A stunning, secluded location, with miles of unspoilt beach shared only with the fishermen in their brightly painted boats.
• Fantastically friendly and attentive staff – some of the slickest service we’ve had in Sri Lanka
• Beautiful tented suites with a real focus on sustainable materials and eco-living. Unlimited free filtered water is available in glass bottles throughout your stay, for example.
• The Seed Suites: an unusual setup perfect for families or two couples travelling together.
• Incredible outdoor showers surrounded by plants
• Amazing breakfasts: pastries, tea and coffee and superb Sri Lankan specialities served in a restaurant overlooking the palm trees and the beach.
• The hotel does not currently have a liquor licence, but they are able to send a member of staff to the local liquor store for beers and spirits upon request. Guests also have the option of bringing their own alcohol to drink at the hotel, at no extra charge – wine fans might want to grab a bottle or two from duty free.
• The final stretch of the track to Karpaha Sands is a fairly off-road experience, with plenty of rocks and potholes. If travelling in a small car, it is probably worth calling the hotel in advance and asking them to send a vehicle to meet you at the top of the road, in order to avoid getting lost (the little sandy lanes are easy to get stuck on) or having a bumpy ride with a driver and hire car.
When to visit
Sri Lanka’s east coast is in season from May to October. The hotel is open year-round, but the island is at its hottest in April. The sea is often too rough to swim during the off-season, but according to the hotel it’s calmer from January. In any case, the infinity pool will always be a gorgeous place for a dip!
Location & information
The journey from Bandaranaike International Airport to Karpaha Sands takes 6 – 7 hours by car.
Trains from Colombo to nearby Batticaloa run daily and – though slow – are a wonderful way to see the country.
We recommend tying a visit to the east coast in with a day or two exploring the Cultural Triangle in order to split the journey in half.
Alternatively, for a swifter and truly unique journey, the hotel is able to assist with arranging domestic air travel from Colombo. Visit this page for more information.
For more information about getting to and from the airport, check out our travel tips.