Swimming elephants and a walk with the Vedda tribe – we’re ready for this new eco lodge in Sri Lanka…
At the northwest boundary of Gal Oya National Park is a new high-end eco lodge ready to show you the real Sri Lanka. Gal Oya Lodge, spread across 20 acres of private forest, promises a luxurious stay in the jungle, with strong eco-friendly credentials.
Eight spacious bungalows sit nestled in the forest canopy, each with its own breathtaking view thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and private verandas. Each bungalow has a private living room, bedroom with king-size bed, and en-suite bathroom (complete with both indoor and outdoor showers, and ‘his’ and ‘hers’ basins).
Also available is a two-bedroom villa perched at the highest point at Gal Oya Lodge. A large open-plan living space connects the two bedrooms which each have their own wraparound veranda allowing you to gaze at both sunrise and sunset.
The lodge has its own restaurant and bar, plus a small organic kitchen garden so you could pick your own chillies for dinner! An outdoor swimming pool, set against the backdrop of the low-lying mountains, offers a refreshing spot for a morning dip.
This is where Gal Oya Lodge comes into its own. The owners work with the local Vedda community (the aboriginal people of Sri Lanka) to offer guests unique opportunities, such as walking with the tribal chief to hear more about their way of life. Proceeds are given back to the community through medical and educational schemes.
Being a National Park, this area is a wildlife-lover’s paradise. Guides from Gal Oya can take you on safaris by foot and by boat – the country’s largest lake provides a wonderful vantage point for wildlife spotting, including the sight of swimming elephants!
Alternatively, take a jeep drive through the jungle to the mightly Nigala River which flows under a boulder field.
Recommended for… Wildlife lovers and those interested in the real Sri Lanka
Be aware that… The lodge is in a very beautiful but also very remote location – don’t expect wifi or mobile signal (great for a digital detox!)
Solar-powered hot-water system
‘Grey’ water from the rooms and kitchen used in the gardens
Anaerobic waste treatment system
No air-con required as polished concrete floors and high illux roofs provide a naturally cool environment
Tables and chairs made by local craftspeople
Produce grown by the lodge, or sourced from small, local farmers
Medical and educational schemes set-up to help the local Vedda community
Guest blogger Erin Steiner looks forward to an eco-friendly winter getaway in Sri Lanka…
I don’t know about you, but every year, after the fun of Christmas is over and I’m going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, all I want to do is get away. I want to go somewhere warm and sunny and beautiful and, instead of me taking care of everybody else, there is a staff of everybody else who takes care of me.
This resort offers 152 rooms that are spread out, along with the hotel’s facilities and spa, across 15 acres of beautiful beachfront property in southern Sri Lanka. The rooms feature native-grown and polished wood furniture and throws, as well as pillows and cushions that are all woven locally, reducing the hotel’s carbon footprint. No imported junk here! You also get your own private balcony with an ocean view.
The culinary team at the Ahungalla Hotel has won awards for everything from its teamwork to its energy efficiency standards and green approach to food prep. This hotel offers a buffet; a coffee shop; and private, individually catered, candlelit dining on the beach. The fare is local, which is a huge bonus for people who love their spices.
The hotel has a spa (a really great one). It also offers infinity and swimming pools, shopping, bicycle rental, and a full gym. It even has a conference venue and business centre for workaholics (ahem) who like to try to get a least a tiny bit of work done while they are relaxing.
I can only stay put, even in paradise, for a few days before I start looking for something to do. Here, among other things, I’ll be able to take hot air balloon trips, wander over to the Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery to see the efforts being made to save the local turtle population, or go whale watching.
Recommended for… Those looking for a luxury eco escape
Be aware that… The airport is a 3.5-hour drive away from the resort, so take advantage of the car service offered by the hotel.
The hotel is designed to be perfectly lit by natural light during the day so the lamps and lights aren’t turned on at all until night-time.
The hot water system is solar powered.
All of the waste produced by the hotel is handled or recycled on site; none of it is allowed to escape into the natural landscape that surrounds the grounds.
They only use locally grown food and locally produced furnishing. No imports here!
Erin Steiner is a freelance writer from the US who has written about travel, invoice software and geek culture for a variety of websites.
Ready for a 12-day rickshaw adventure in Sri Lanka? One that not only raises money for local projects but opens your eyes to an incredible part of the world? Then sign yourself up to this year’s Lanka Challenge!
2013 will be the fifth year for the Lanka Challenge, which takes place 6-18 September in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Here you can explore the scenic, and more remote and challenging roads, via your auto-rickshaw (three wheeler). Organisers Large Minority are a responsible tourism outfit who host charity and eco-friendly events helping promote the destination and give back to the community.
The 12-day rickshaw challenge will give teams of two or three an up-close and personal experience of some of the most fascinating historical sites and natural delights of the spice island, while raising money for local charities and environmental organizations. And a bit of fancy-dress and tuk-tuk customisation from Challenge participants is always welcome!
Julian Carnall, Partner and Organiser of Large Minority, who along with Juan Paredes created the event says: “After the success of the last four Lanka Challenge events it is only natural to carry on our legacy and continue our meaningful adventure with the fifth edition. We hope to once again captivate the world through our responsible tourism initiatives, which in this occasion will also include the Tamil speaking areas”.
Paredes adds: “We want to bring positive change and make a difference, but most importantly we want to show the world that Sri Lanka is a safe and peaceful place to visit. It is an island of endless diversity, it is beautiful, sweet and gentle, exotic and interesting, simply fascinating – we both adore it.”
The organizers anticipate a total of 20 teams comprising 55 international participants for the 2013 edition.
cent of each team’s entry fee will be given directly to the Red Cross Society or their partners. Paredes adds: “Last year we collected over USD8,000 which we used for different charitable projects including donating invaluable medical equipment to the Jaffna region and planting more than 200 indigenous trees to offset our carbon emissions. In 2013 we intend to raise a very similar amount and touch many more lives through our sustainable initiatives”.
In addition to this, the organisation encourages each team to raise at least USD500 as well. Carnall adds: “The additional money raised by the teams can be used for their preferred charities in or out of Sri Lanka, or can be added to our total. We would also welcome support from any individual who is unable to join but still wants to support the event and raise funds”.
If you would like to find out how to get involved in a challenge of a lifetime, including full registration details, visit www.lankachallenge.com or contact the team via firstname.lastname@example.org. Teams are made up of two or three people and all you need is an international drivers license. Only 20-25 teams are entered each year and places are filling up fast…the deadline for applications closes on 6 August 2013.
Wildlife specialist Naturetrek’s new 2013 brochure contains 14 new tours, including four new UK options.
Those 14 new offerings (see factsheet below for details) include a spring birdwatching trip to Sicily, a ‘Killer Whales & Northern Lights’ tour of Iceland, puma-watching in Chile, a visit to India’s little-known Satpura National Park and an exploration of Baffin Island in Canada.
Wildlife watching around the world
Elsewhere, the vast array of existing trips includes butterfly-viewing trips to Hungary and Greece; birding tours from Sri Lanka to Florida; jaguar-watching tours in Brazil; flora-themed visits to Kazakhstan, Norway and Ecuador; whale-watching in West Greenland and Monterey Bay; tours observing bears in Spain and Finland; and other itineraries themed around snakes, snow leopards, wolves, dragonflies, red pandas and much more.
In total, Naturetrek now offers around 350 tours to nearly every corner of the world. That includes the ever-expanding range of UK trips, which takes in the Shetland Isles, the Scillies and the famous Somerset Levels starling murmurations.
Most tours are open to enthusiasts of all levels, although some will suit a more experienced and knowledgeable traveller. New for 2013, Naturetrek is launching a range of Beginners’ Birdwatching Tours, aimed at those who are keen to go birding, but fear looking foolish amid seasoned veterans sporting well-used binoculars!
Small groups and solo travellers
The majority of Naturetrek trips operate in small groups (average 10-12 people; maximum 16); because these groups include many solo travellers, there’s usually a room-sharing option for those who don’t wish to pay a single supplement. Each group is guided by a leading, experienced ornithologist or botanist (often both), and each tour departs at a carefully-chosen time when the widlife-viewing experience will be at its most rewarding. Nearly all trips are also available (at a different cost) on a tailormade basis too, for clients who cannot make the set departure dates, or who prefer to travel privately.
For more information on any of Naturetrek’s wildlife itineraries or to request a copy of the new 2013 brochure, call them on 01962 733051 or visit www.naturetrek.co.uk. (If you’re in the UK, they’re based in rural Hampshire in a beautiful converted mill with a Site of Special Scientific Interest nearby!).
Run by wildlife enthusiasts with 25 years’ of experience – the founders are naturalists and conservationists turned tour operators
A commitment to sustainable tourism has been at the company’s heart since its inception
Tours involve small groups using local accommodation and facilities to help support the local communities
Naturetrek develops partnerships with local communities and naturalists, such as financing the regeneration of land in Nepal to create two ecotourism camps – Koshi and Suklaphanta
Some tours include charity donations to organisations such as Butterfly Conservation, International Animal Rescue and the Environmental Investigation Agency
They are currently developing other conservation and sustainable tourism projects around the world
They are expanding their range of UK-based (flightless) tours
NEW tours for 2013
Islay & Mull… In Style!: Your first stop is a four-night stay on Islay, popular with birdwatchers due to its numerous species of visiting Arctic wildfowl. Then there are two days spent on the smaller island of Mull, with its mountains, moorlands and vast sea-lochs, home to otters, birds of prey, rutting red deer and much more. Accommodation is on each island’s best hotel; that includes Mull’s wonderful Tiroran House Hotel.
Departing 31 October & 1 November; prices from £1,195 pp**
Wild Flowers of Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula: Enjoy coastal and inland walks during this three-night break in search of Cornwall’s botanical wonders. The Lizard Peninsula is one of the UK’s top sites for plant-life thanks to its diverse landscapes and geology. The trip includes Gew Graze Valley, known for unique outcrops of mineral-rich serpentine rock.
Departing 31 May; prices from £395 pp** The Yorkshire Coast & Moors
This long-weekend birdwatching holiday starts at the chalk cliffs of Flamborough and Bempton, home to over 200,000 seabirds. Then follows a stop at Filey Dams Nature Reserve, a botanical hub for well known British birds such as the tree sparrow, before time on those classic North Yorkshire Moors.
Departing 25 & 28 June and 2 July; prices from £450 pp**
The Wild Flowers of Upper Teesdale Upper Teesdale sits in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This four-day expedition covers a variety of environments, from low-lying hay meadows to rough grazing pastures and summit heaths on high fells. Discover which species make up the ‘Teesdale Assemblage’ while admiring the breeding birds of these remote moors.
Departing 21 June; prices from £450 pp**
Iceland – Killer Whales & Northern Lights: This five-day break centres on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula where, in winter, killer whale pods and seabirds congregate as large shoals of herring pass by. Watch the spectacle on land and out at sea, and then, after dark, look skywards to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights.
Departing 3 & 18 February; prices from £1,295 pp*
Lesbos in Autumn: Lesbos lies just a few kilometres from the coast of Turkey, and has a magnificent coastline that supports a diverse bird population. From a secluded-village base, this eight-day trip offers an opportunity to explore the island’s many migratory hotspots whilst enjoying some Aegean sunshine.
Departing 28& 29 September; prices from £1,295 pp*
Fjords, Arctic Birds & Northern Lights!… A Norwegian Coastal Voyage: Including a three-night cruise during which the Northern Lights will hopefully be seen, this six-day trip to the Arctic Circle observes the seabirds which occupy this most extreme – and scenic – region.
Departing 26 February; prices from £1,795 pp*
Spring Birding in Sicily: Within the beautiful setting of eastern Sicily, this seven-day adventure focuses on the spring migration of native birds such as the nightjar and hoopoe. From the 800-year-old converted farmhouse base, daily excursions are made to watch the birds amid the spectacular Sicilian landscape.
Departing 1 May; prices from £1,295 pp*
Inuit Adventure: Narwhals & Other Wildlife of Baffin Island: On a ten-day trip around Canada’s largest island, expert guides will lead daily expeditions on Inuit sleds to discover the Arctic’s most elusive wildlife. Baffin Island is the only place in the world consistently inhabited by the Narwhal, with its distinctive long, narrow tusk, while other sightings regularly include polar bears.
Departing 2 June; prices from £8,995 pp*
Eastern Canada – Whales, Bears & Fall Migration: Ranking among Canada’s most stunning landscapes, Quebec is home to large populations of wildlife such as beluga whales and black bears. This 12-day holiday features walks and cruises through the beautiful creeks and forests where these creatures are regularly seen.
Departing 9 September; prices from £4,395 pp*
Chile – Just Pumas!: This 11-day trip starts off in the Chilean capital, Santiago, before heading into the heart of the Andes. The route passes flamingo-lined lakes to reach Torres del Paine National Park and its glaciers and mountains – which provide a perfect habitat for the puma. Days will be spent devoted to exploring, and seeking out this iconic cat.
Departing 14 March & 4 April; prices from £3,995 pp*
Peru – Mountain Lodges Trek to Machu Picchu: The classic landmark of Machu Picchu is appreciated fully on this 12-day trip, with six days allocated to trekking slowly towards it across the Peruvian Andes. The route offers unique insight into the landscape and wildlife of the area while plotting a slightly different course to the classic Inca Trail.
Departing 10 November; prices from £3,695 pp*
Not Just Tigers! Satpura – Best of Central India: This is a ten-day exploration of one of India’s most scenic – and least-known – tiger reserves. While tigers are shy in Satpura National Park and thus rarely-seen, there’s a good chance of encountering other iconic animals, such as leopard, sloth bear, gaur and Asian wild dog, in the 1,500km² grounds. The park’s equally empty of tourists, despite its beauty and sheer remoteness being so stunning.
Departing 9 November, 21 December, 8 February, 15 March & 5 April; prices from £2,395 pp*
Wild Sri Lanka… In Style!: This 14-day holiday provides the chance to encounter Sri Lanka’s diverse wildlife – blue whales, leopards, crocodiles, wild boar, warblers and parrots included. You’ll also get to stay in luxury accommodation and admire some of the tropical country’s most impressive archaeological sites, including ancient Polonnaruwa.
Departing 19 November & 14 January; prices from £3,595*
* Prices include flights (London), transport, comfortable accommodation with all or most meals and guiding from an expert naturalist.
** Price includes transport whilst on tour, comfortable accommodation with meals (breakfast and evening meals as a minimum) and guiding from an expert naturalist.