Planning a luxury trip to Sri Lanka – lucky you!
Sri Lanka dishes up an exotic mix of fascinating temples, ancient cities, beguiling beaches, eight epic UNESCO sites, tea plantations and cool forested mountains.
Now that you’ve decided to go, you have the pleasant task of deciding where to stay in Sri Lanka.
Even if a travel agency is helping to book your trip, you’ll be happier with the accommodation selected if you can suggest some Sri Lanka hotels you’d like to stay at.
Because… In Sri Lanka, you won’t lack for choice.
The tricky part is weeding out what looks like a good hotel from what actually is good.
Guide to the 15 best hotels in Sri Lanka
We spent a month on the teardrop-shaped island and absolutely loved our time there.
We stayed everywhere from sprawling luxury resorts in Sri Lanka to boutique villas to eco-chic lodges with private pools.
Here’s our curated list of 15 boutique, beautiful and best hotels in Sri Lanka.
Get the scoop on their pros and cons, and discover specific room tips and recommendations on the type of traveler each hotel appeals to (e.g., couples, families, beach lovers, honeymooners).
Note: All these hotels offer king-size beds as standard beds (not smaller queen-size beds).
Best Colombo hotels
International flights arrive in Colombo, the capital of the country; it’s where you’ll find some of the finest 5-star hotels in Sri Lanka.
Take a day or two to rest up here before starting your tour of the rest of the island.
1) Shangri-La Colombo
Where we stayed:
Squishing our faces against the 32nd story windows of the Shangri-La’s Horizon Club Lounge, we could see Colombo’s old colonial parliament buildings fronting a lagoon below, with the sea port in the distance.
On the other side, giant diggers looked like ants as they crawled along a huge swathe of reclaimed land by the Indian Ocean – working on a $1.4 billion construction project to create a new financial district, luxury condos and even a theme park.
Sri Lanka’s capital is booming.
And there’s no better symbol of that development than the Shangri-La Colombo skyscraper, which opened November, 2017.
Heat and traffic chaos may reign outside, but it’s cool and calm inside this city Colombo hotel.
Sari-gowned hostesses guide you through the glass-walled lobby, which sparkles with a massive Swarovski crystal chandelier shaped like a lotus flower.
If you’re booked in Club Level, check-in is done in your room.
A rooftop pool is great for a late afternoon swim after a day of sightseeing.
The hotel is also conveniently located for a jaunt to the nearby colonial Fort district and restaurants inside the old Dutch Hospital.
Or you can take a complimentary tuk-tuk arranged by the concierge.
All 541 rooms and suites, decorated in soft hues of teal and ivory, offer the same level of comfort – from silky-soft linens and marble bathrooms with rain showers right down to mother-of-pearl amenity boxes with scissors, gold-embossed letter paper and a USB hub.
Staying long-term or traveling with the family? Check out the hotel’s serviced apartments, which offer kitchens as well as washers and dryers.
Swing for a club level room – the Shangri-La’s Horizon Club is one of the best club lounges we’ve experienced.
It rivals the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco club level lounge, which we think is also pretty special and perhaps the best in the U.S.
We were especially impressed with the extensive evening food service.
You can enjoy everything from salads and cheeses to hot lamb tarts, shrimp satay and grilled veggies.
And in a country where good wine is hard to find (and expensive), unlimited complimentary pourings of fine South African wines is a real treat.
The hotel’s Kaema Sutra restaurant is renowned in Colombo for its innovative take on Sri Lankan food.
We tried the uniquely Sri Lankan dish of “hoppers” (bowl-shaped rice flour pancakes).
The black hopper appetizer, made from squid ink and filled with buffalo curd, was delicious, as was the fresh tuna curry.
What we love most about Shangri-La Colombo:
The Shangri-La is a luxurious enclave with all the Western comforts.
It’s the perfect chill-out spot for shaking off jet-lag after a long international flight and to gently ease you into the exoticism of Sri Lanka.
Later in the afternoons, the pool can get busy, and you may not find a free sunbed.
One of the best hotels in Colombo, the Shangri-La targets business travelers. But it also suits sophisticated couples and families with (well-behaved) children on holiday.
2) Residence by Uga Escapes
Uga Residence occupies a former Victorian mansion, where all suites have private outdoor courtyards.
The hotel offers a swimming pool and gym too (along with the largest collection of whiskeys in Colombo).
While we didn’t stay at the Residence by Uga Escapes, we did have dinner one night at the hotel.
And judging by our meal (and reports on TripAdvisor), we can confidently say that the 11-suite luxury property is one of the best boutique hotels in Colombo.
(We stayed at its sister hotel, Ulagalla, covered next in #3 in this post – and we were very impressed with that hotel!)
Best hotels in Anuradhapura
Many travelers to Sri Lanka follow a two-week Sri Lanka itinerary – after Colombo, their circle tour of the island then hits the Cultural Triangle.
As the name suggests, the Cultural Triangle is a region packed with historic and cultural attractions, including several UNESCO cities and monuments.
The ancient city of Anuradhapura is one such UNESCO site – located at the northern point of the Cultural Triangle.
Where we stayed:
There are few (if any) 5-star hotels in Anuradhapura itself.
The best place to stay near Anuradhapura is Ulagalla – a wonderfully private, luxurious eco-resort.
Nestled in a 58-acre estate, Ulagalla is built around a beautiful 150-year-old mansion.
Housing the restaurant and reception, the mansion looks over the resort’s main pool, large enough to energetically swim laps.
The property itself is like a private nature reserve, with peacocks, tortoises, troupes of cheeky monkeys and monitor lizards.
It abuts a large man-made lake filled with water lilies – we spotted kingfishers, egrets, storks and other birds while kayaking the lake at sunset one evening.
Committed to doing its part to help protect the environment, Ulagalla has a solar farm which produces half the resort’s energy.
Accommodations are in 26 thatch-roof chalets on stilts (built from biodegradable materials), sprinkled far apart for maximum privacy.
All but two chalets have private plunge pools.
“Pool villas” are 850 square feet in size.
New “deluxe villas” are larger and offer a whopping 2,100 square feet of space to spread out in, along with a dining space and two bathrooms.
There’s also an 1,800 sq. ft. two-bedroom villa.
Our pool villa had a four-poster king bed, polished wood floors, beaten brass bedside lamps and colonial-style furnishings.
The separate living room was equipped with a Nespresso maker, fridge with fresh milk and a jar of homemade cookies.
Our bathroom featured a huge glass shower with windows for looking out at the greenery while we lathered up.
Each chalet also comes with two bicycles so you can cycle to breakfast or around the property. Or you can phone reception for a golf buggy ride to the restaurant or reception.
For more seclusion, ask for a villa furthest away from the main mansion (jungle view) or with a rice paddy view.
Dinner is served from 6:30 to 10:30 pm in the open-air restaurant on the second floor of the main house mansion. With swaying overhead fans and candles lighting the restaurant, the setting is decidedly romantic!
You choose from several 3-course set menus (same price).
Must-try one night: Start with the organic salad greens from Ulagalla’s garden.
Then order the local Sri Lankan curry. It comes in about 15 small bowls on a wooden tray placed on a stand beside your chair. Beef curry, prawn curry, chicken curry, dahl, beans and different vegetable curries – it’s a very tasty selection!
What we love most about Ulagalla:
Being surrounded by unspoiled nature is quite magical. How can we forget the monkeys jumping on the roof of our chalet and swinging in the trees outside our windows!
We also love villa resorts with private pool suites. (Who doesn’t!) So having your own private pool is pretty special too.
Because Ulagalla isn’t close to any outside restaurants, most guests book on a half-board basis (where breakfast and dinner, except alcohol, is included).
Regarded as one of the best places to stay in Sri Lanka, Ulagalla is perfect for couples looking for a serene escape. (We only saw adults during our stay.)
But families are also welcome and can be very comfortably accommodated, as the chalets are extremely spacious.
Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka’s most treasured UNESCO World Heritage Site. Centuries ago, this monumental rock, more than 650 feet high, was crowned with a magnificent sky palace.
Today, climbing the stairs up the rock, past sculpted lions’ paws and colorful frescoes, is a highlight of a trip to Sri Lanka.
4) Water Garden Sigiriya
Where we stayed:
Sigiriya is the focal point of this peaceful Sigiriya hotel.
As soon as you arrive at reception, your eyes lead straight to the looming rock in the distance (four miles away).
Accommodations at Water Garden Sigiriya are in spacious thatched-roof villas on stilts, perched beside water ponds and irrigation channels.
Most of the one- and two-bedroom villas have private turquoise-tiled pools, with tall grasses growing up around for privacy.
Modern in design, the L-shaped villas sport a Scandinavian-meets-60s-retro décor – think black-and-white-striped tub chairs and scarlet drop lamps.
Cool stone floors have wool rugs in the bedroom and living room. Floor-to-ceiling windows are covered with bamboo roll-down blinds.
Bathrooms are huge and feature an egg-shaped free-standing tub, separate glass rain shower and cinnamon-scented bath products.
For early morning coffee or an afternoon pick-me-up, there’s an in-room Nespresso coffee maker, jar of coconut cookies (replenished daily) and fresh milk in the mini-bar/fridge.
The resort is quite spread out, so golf buggies are used to ferry you about if you don’t feel like walking.
Ask for a villa with a great view of Sigiriya rock. Also, villas furthest away from the dining room and main swimming pool are more private.
Breakfast in the restaurant, which overlooks the large main pool, is excellent and continues until about 10:30 am.
To avoid the heat, we set off to climb Sigiriya Rock first thing one morning, then returned for a late breakfast.
And the fresh-squeezed OJ, bakery basket, pancakes, fruit and eggs (no buffet, everything à la carte) was enough to see us through until dinner.
You can choose a half-board plan (sensible, as the resort is miles away from other restaurants). A multi-course dinner is then included in the rates.
If not on the plan, an à la carte menu offers Sri Lankan and international options. Particularly tasty: The crab bisque soup.
What we love most about Water Garden Sigiriya:
At dusk, egrets, spoonbills and hordes of other birds gather in the lagoon right in front of the main swimming pool.
It’s magical to watch them, along with the peacocks that strut about the grounds.
Wine is shockingly expensive here, as it is at most luxury hotels in Sri Lanka.
You’d be wise to develop a taste for beer – the local Lion Lager is good (if you like beer) and a bottle only costs a few dollars.
The best hotel in Sigiriya, Water Garden Sigiriya suits well-heeled couples and two couples or friends traveling together.
Best hotels in Kandy
Nestled in the central highlands, Kandy was the last capital of the kingdom of Sri Lanka.
The second-largest city in Sri Lanka (after Colombo), there are lots of interesting places to visit in Kandy (the Temple of the Tooth being the most famous), and the city bustles with energy and life.
Needless to say, there are dozens of Kandy hotels to choose from. The three we’ve picked here are some of the nicest.
5) Elephant Stables Kandy
Located on a hill a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride away from Kandy, the Elephant Stables is an old colonial mansion formerly owned by an aristocratic family who kept elephants on the plantation.
It’s now been converted into a luxury boutique property with six rooms plus a luxury tent.
The hotel welcomes families, with three suites accommodating additional beds for kids. It also boasts a large infinity pool set in lush gardens, offering lovely views of the forests around Kandy.
Best hotels in Ella, Sri Lanka
Ella is a small laid-back town, surrounded by tea plantations and mountains draped with cloud forests. (To get there, we took the gloriously scenic Kandy-to-Ella train.)
At 3,415 feet above sea level, Ella is much cooler than Colombo and the lowlands. Hiking and touring tea plantations are the most popular things to do in Ella.
8) The Secret Ella
Where we stayed:
One of the two best Ella hotels, The Secret Ella is, well, not exactly a secret.
But it’s so intimate and off-the-beaten track that it feels like a secret.
Sister property to the better known 98 Acres Resort and Spa (reviewed below in #9), The Secret Ella has 10 rooms.
Five rooms are in a one-level stone bungalow with green metal roof, surrounded by rose gardens – formerly a colonial tea plantation bungalow.
The other 5 rooms at The Secret Ella consist of new pine chalets with decks, rustic décor and staggering mountain views.
We stayed in one of the bungalow rooms.
They’re mod and comfy inside, though minimal in design – with polished concrete floors, high ceilings, white casement windows and white-washed walls.
There’s no air-conditioning, but we didn’t need this at night, given Ella’s high elevation. A fan and breeze from the open windows kept us cool.
Rooms also come with a coffee maker, kettle and a small empty fridge for storing milk for your coffee and tea.
The Southerland Suite in the bungalow has curved bay windows on two sides, bringing in lots of light. It’s lovely for a couple.
Families and privacy seekers may prefer the separate chalets, which are a little more expensive.
For breakfast, staff set up a wrought iron table and chairs for you in the garden.
Everything you can possibly want is on offer – fresh juice, porridge, buffalo curd, eggs and pancakes – all good.
Our last morning, a troupe of macaque monkeys entertained us with their antics in the trees.
At night, the candle-lit dining room is convenient. But you may prefer to take a tuk-tuk (inexpensive) to town for dinner.
What we love most about The Secret Ella:
The granite infinity pool has gob-smacking views of the surrounding mist-topped hills – and it’s a welcome place to chill after a few hours of hiking or sightseeing.
And you never know what wildlife you might spot here.
With a flashlight at dusk one evening, staff pointed out little wild boars (that looked like cute piglets) rummaging around in the bushes.
The dining room doesn’t have its own liquor license. But you can bring your own bottle of wine, or staff can arrange for a tuk-tuk to bring a bottle from the 98 Acres resort.
Couples and families are welcomed at The Secret Ella.
9) 98 Acres Resort and Spa
The best place to stay in Ella is this scaled-back eco-luxury resort.
Spread out on a 98-acre tea estate, the honeymoon-worthy 98 Acres Resort and Spa comprises thatch-roof chalets, built from old railway sleepers and other recycled materials.
Clinging to a steep hillside, they offer superb views of the surrounding hills.
The trail to Little Adam’s Peak starts right by the resort – you can hike up at sunrise and be back in time for breakfast.
The resort’s freeform pool is so inviting you might be tempted to hang out there all day, just blissing out in nature.
Note: There are lots of steps to get up and down from the chalets to reception and the restaurant, so you should be reasonably mobile.
Best hotels in Galle
Some of our favorite boutique hotels in Sri Lanka are found in Galle.
Steeped in history, the UNESCO-listed city boasts a centuries-old, coral-walled Dutch fort, colonial European buildings and an iconic lighthouse overlooking the sea.
It’s the hip heart of Sri Lanka – with funky boutiques, cool cafés and scads of new boutique hotels built within the Old Town as well as along the coast.
11) The Why House
Where we stayed:
Staying at the Why House is like lodging at a British country club hotel – but in the tropics.
You have your own private accommodation in cabanas and villas scattered throughout a high-walled garden estate, brimming with bougainvillea, breadfruit and cinnamon trees.
But you join other guests for gin-and-tonics before dinner, and may dine with them communally too in the breezy restaurant pavilion.
The 10 air-conditioned rooms are individually decorated and exquisite, especially the larger higher-category rooms (which are worth splurging on).
Floors are polished wood or concrete, and the furniture is colonial.
Each room has a covered veranda with cushioned seating (you gotta love the peacock cushions!) and an overhead ceiling fan.
The British innkeeper Henrietta (“Hen” for short) has thought of pretty well everything to make your stay pleasing.
A vase of fresh flowers to welcome you in your room.
Organic lime-and-grapefruit bath products (but strangely, no body lotion). Paperback novels and magazines.
Glasses and a thermos of cold water refilled each day (which helps to cut back on plastic bottles for drinking water).
We even discovered headache pills in the wicker amenity basket.
We especially like the two unique Cabana rooms, each with a king-size bed and large open bathroom reached by a sheltered walkway.
Modern and spacious, they’re very private and have either a pool view or view over rice fields.
There’s no need to go out for dinner, as Why House offers 3-course set dinners by candlelight.
Hen asks in the morning if you plan to dine in that evening.
Say “yes” if the “Modern Sri Lanka” dinner is on the menu!
Mulligatawny soup paves the way for chop-chop (fried chicken and veggies) accompanied by bowls of chicken liver curry, prawn curry and spinach-and-coconut curry.
Finish off with the warm, seriously delicious, sticky-date pudding drizzled with crème anglaise and toffee sauce.
What we love most about Why House:
The large pool (indeed Why House as a whole) is a tranquil escape from the buzz of Galle.
Some mornings, Hen arranges water aerobics led by an instructor.
Why House is also only a free 5-minute tuk-tuk ride away from lovely Dalawella Beach.
You can rent beach beds and an umbrella for a song and easily bliss out for a few hours there. Wijaya Beach Bar also serves up delicious wood-oven pizza.
Room 6 is a family room with an upstairs loft with 2 twin beds and a small double four-poster bed downstairs.
It’s not ideal for a couple, especially if you like a larger bed. The bathroom is quite small too (though we hear it may be renovated in future).
One of the best hotels in Galle, Why House is family-friendly.
The Garden Villa has two interconnecting rooms. One room accommodates two adults and two children, while the other room can accommodate two adults and one child. A third bed for a child can be added in most other rooms too.
For a large family group, the whole villa can be booked.
Why House is also perfect for couples. We found it romantic and quite special.
11) The Fortress Resort and Spa
Where we stayed:
A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the Fortress is a 5-star hotel near Galle (located in the town of Koggala).
The first thing you see when you walk through the open lobby is the enormous fiber-optic-lit pool and the blue, blue Indian Ocean beyond.
There are five different room categories.
All rooms are equipped with super comfy king-sized beds (with Frette linens imported from Italy), arc floor lamps and modern lighting. Ensuite bathrooms come with rain showers, bathtubs and Bulgari toiletries.
The “Fortress” category (inside courtyard view) offers the best value with extra-spacious rooms.
All other rooms (which are timber paneled) are sea-facing and split-level; they have corner lounges.
Two “Residences” have their own outdoor pools.
If you want direct access to the garden, pool and beach, then choose a lower floor “Beach” room. Some come with indoor plunge pools. (These rooms are less private, however.)
For more privacy, ask for a top floor “Ocean” room with balcony.
Dining is excellent at the hotel – important because the Fortress is not conveniently close to outside restaurants, so you’re likely to eat in most nights.
The majority of guests therefore book on a half-board basis (breakfast and dinner included).
The lavish seafood buffet offered each week is especially popular, even with guests from other Galle hotels, who like to book a table if available.
Think grilled-to-order lobster, calamari, shrimp and all manner of just-caught fish done this way and that.
Candlelit tables set outside by the pool and under the stars add to the charm.
What we love most about the Fortress Resort:
The low-rise hotel fronts a pristine wave-washed beach that stretches for miles to the west. We don’t recommend it for swimming (the surf is strong), but the golden sand is ideal for long walks.
Just 9 miles away is vibrant Galle, which merits a full day’s exploration. Its famous 17th century fort inspired the hotel’s buttressed walls.
The Fortress appeals mostly to couples.
After two weeks of touring, we were ready to do nothing but read in the hotel’s hanging bubble loungers on the lawn, swim in its infinity pool and stroll its gold-sand beach.
Best large Sri Lanka beach resort
12) Shangri-La Hambantota
Where we stayed:
You’ll find everything you could want at the Shangri-La Hambantota.
This secluded luxury destination resort is about a four-hour drive from Colombo.
Fronting the pounding Indian Ocean, the resort’s 59 sprawling tropical acres feature a wild unspoiled beach, an 18-hole Rodney Wright golf course, a kids’ club and outdoor water park (with slides), three pools (including an adults-only pool for quiet and privacy), several restaurants and even an artisan village.
The Chi spa offers aromatherapy and Ayurvedic treatments.
The 300 rooms (516 sq. ft. in size), including 21 suites, are spread over three breezy low-rise buildings, thoughtfully sectioned off into family and adults-only areas.
Rooms feature polished wooden floors, spacious marble-filled bathrooms and glass-enclosed rain showers.
What’s your preference?
The terraces of ground floor rooms lead out directly to well-maintained lawns, so they’re convenient for walking to and from the pool and your room.
But the balconies of upper-floor rooms (which have sea or golf course views) are more private.
There are four restaurants to choose from at the Shangri-La Hambantota.
Try Sera for hawker-style stalls, each tempting you with a variety of Asian cuisine flavors.
Or for a special occasion, reserve the Chef’s Table, where you’re treated to a bespoke menu at a private table. We were seated by the beach, with tea candles and lamps surrounding our table for two – very romantic!
What we love most about the Shangri-La Hambantota:
Attentive pool butlers bring drinks and fluff up cushions on your lounge chair while you relax by the pool.
Swaying peacefully in the hanging birdcage chairs is very chill too.
Also be sure to sign up for the complimentary guided bicycle ride through a quiet Sri Lankan village, with its own Buddhist temple, to a dramatic cliff overlooking the sea.
The Shangri-La is far from any other restaurants. It’s a destination resort, where (apart perhaps from doing a tour), you stay put at the resort.
And while the beach, streaked with different colors of burgundy and gold, is great for walks, it’s not safe for swimming.
Families, inter-generational groups, couples, friends traveling together – the resort has something for everyone.
Other Sri Lanka luxury resorts and hotels
Get ready to be blown away by the architecture of Tri, set on the banks of serene Koggola Lake.
Recycled materials and cinnamon wood were used to create a unique sustainable boutique resort geared to privacy seekers who love both nature and big doses of luxury.
Some villas have plunge pools. Mind you, the main lake-edge infinity pool is heavenly enough.
Indulge in yoga and Ayurvedic massage at the excellent spa.
Then finish off your day with a 6-course organic dinner guaranteed to gratify foodie palates.
14) Wild Coast Tented Lodge
Want to go glamping?
A member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a luxurious tented camp located next to Yala National Park on a wild secluded beach.
After venturing out on safari (keep your eyes peeled for leopards and elephants), take a dip in the huge freeform pool.
At night, retire to your tent (one of 28) shaped like a cocoon, with teak floors, four-poster bed and freestanding copper bathtub. Each tent also boasts a private plunge pool.
15) Camellia Hills
A hidden gem, Camellia Hills is a beautiful boutique bungalow with just five individually decorated bedrooms in the tea-fringed Castlereagh Valley, high in the hills near Hatton.
The country views are mesmerizing – mist-shrouded mountains and the blue waters of Castlereagh Lake.
Walk emerald hills and swim lengths in the garden pool. Relax by a crackling fire. And dine on some of the best Asian-British fusion food in all of Sri Lanka.
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Photo credits: 4, 6, 8, 15, 16, 20, 21, 26 to 28, 34, 35, 37, 38, 48, 53 to 55, 57, 60, 64 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 2 Fortress Resort, Sri Lanka | Remaining photos courtesy of the respective hotels