As the first rays of sunlight streamed through my window, I drowsily opened my eyes to a panoramic 180-degree view of Knuckles Mountains. Victoria Lake shimmered below, as though waking up with me, and my infinity pool beckoned for a morning dip. Laying in bed, I blinked a few times to convince myself this wasn’t a dream in which I had become a billionaire – it was just my incredible (yet affordable) Airbnb in the paradise island of Sri Lanka.
Three years ago, on my first trip to Sri Lanka, I wrote: “It’s not a country for flashpackers: Our moderate budget only seems to afford drab guesthouses / budget hotels – average accommodation quality, no local insights, nothing memorable.”
Airbnb changed that.
I found homes with million dollar views, the design quality of luxurious boutique hotels, and infinity pools that could easily make the coolest infinity pools to swim in before you die list. I got a chance to sample traditional family recipes (adapted to my vegan preference) that feature in no restaurant menus. And I left the country with treasured friendships with local hosts I wouldn’t otherwise have met. All this while staying kind to my pocket!
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Behold, the most awesome Airbnbs I found in Sri Lanka:
Arjuna and Zane’s home: Menikdiwela (near Kandy)
I love the hill country of Sri Lanka, but I hate the crowds. The answer – Menikdiwela, a tiny tea plantation village with breathtaking views of the hills, where Arjuna grew up and after a long stint in Europe, moved back to design the kind of home I can see myself ‘living’ in. I don’t know if it was the wood-fired curries, the endless – often hilarious – conversations about life in Sri Lanka vs India, the curious locals in the nearby villages, basking in the winter sun by the gorgeous pool (with a flu, sniff) or the hikes we never went on (sniff) that made me promise I’d come back and stay longer.
INR 4546 (US$ 67) per night; www.airbnb.com/arjuna
Read: The Joy of Slow Travel
College House: Colombo
I think I’m slowly getting over my mental block of spending too much time in a city – and College House in Colombo has a role to play. It was love at first sight with this charming colonial-style home, dating back atleast 200 years; a home that has inspired dancers and writers through its fascinating history. I’ll save the stories for Valli and Fauzi – my hosts-turned-friends in the span of two short days – to tell you over a meal of thosai and chutneys! But using Uber to get around, catching up with Twitter friends at the local brewery, shopping at Odel, I felt I was home in Colombo.
INR 2800 (US$ 40) per night; www.airbnb.com/valli
Tip: The casual atmosphere is more that of visiting a friend’s home than a B&B – which is why I loved it. Read my review on their Airbnb page to calibrate your expectations.
Huma Terra: Hikkaduwa
It’s one thing to indulge in luxury, quite another to indulge in luxury that is hand-crafted by a French couple and commendably off-the-grid. We were only a 20-minute bicycle ride from the west coast (including the famous Hikkaduwa beach), yet in a world where our output in the dry decomposting toilets was used to make manure for the lush organic rice paddies surrounding us – aka our input 😉
INR 7,000 (US$ 100) per night; www.airbnb.com/solange
Tip: Local food can be prepared if ordered in advance with the cook. The French / fusion food is not vegan-friendly unfortunately.
Gem River Edge: Yala National Park
I was saving the best for the last, but as luck would have it, the last wasn’t to be. Still, I can’t help dreaming of spending a few days in the forests of Yala National Park, cycling in the buffer zone, going deep into the park on a 12-hour safari, living in an environmentally-conscious abode, gathering by night to swap wildlife tales over curries cooked on an open fire.
INR 2800 (US$ 40) per night; www.airbnb.com/ajith
Tip: Though most prices on Airbnb are listed for double occupancy, I always ask if single travelers are offered any special prices. Never hurts, and sometimes you get a great deal!
Villa Shade: Negombo
I love hitting the countryside soon as I land in a country, and I love Negombo for that – a small beach town with paddies and forests in the residential interiors, and closer to the Colombo airport than Colombo. Even after 3 years, landing in Sri Lanka and knocking on the doors of Villa Shade late at night, felt like going home; such is the warmth with which Shiraj and his wife have welcomed me both times. Although their home has changed to make more space for guests (and a sweet new infinity pool) and less for the bamboo forests I loved so much, I still appreciate its close-to-nature feeling, and borrowing their bicycle for a ride through the wilderness in the neighborhood was the perfect way to start my Sri Lanka explorations.
INR 1960 (US$ 28); www.airbnb.com/shiraj
Tip: Although the ‘chalets’ are listed on Airbnb, I prefer to stay in a cozy room in their family home; ask for it, it’s more affordable too.
Galkadawala Forest Lodge: Habarana
I can still catch a whiff of the cucumber curry, slow cooked for four hours on an open fire, as we soak in the silence of the dark forest with our hostess Maulie – who left her cushy life in Colombo and decided to recreate the harmony between man and nature in the heart of Sri Lanka’s golden triangle. Borrowing a sarong and joining the village women for a dip in the tank, hiking through mushy desert terrain, kayaking in crocodile waters and living off-the-grid, Maulie did more than create harmony; she created a place to fall in love with.
INR 4690 (US$ 69); www.airbnb.com/maulie
Ambavillas: Digana (near Kandy)
Just when I thought Sri Lanka couldn’t surprise me anymore, my tuk tuk stopped at the home of Lotte and Shadwell, and I entered a dream. Think, waking up in my glass-walled
palace room to a 180-degree panorama of Victoria Lake and Knuckles Mountains, mingling with local expats in the golf club next door, picking wild coffee beans with my hosts, swapping travel tales and dark chocolate recipes… if only I didn’t have to wake up from that worth-the-splurge dream.
INR 7400 (US$ 110); www.airbnb.com/lotte
Have you found any incredible Airbnbs in Sri Lanka – or elsewhere? Share away.
Note: I handpicked all Airbnbs for my Sri Lanka trip, and wrote this post with the support of Airbnb India.
See my Airbnb wishlist – Surprising Sri Lanka for all these finds in one place.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up with my referral link to get 20$ off your first stay.