Green Global Trek was invited to a stay at Jetwing Yala and we jumped at the opportunity to experience and write about this hotel.
What we know ahead of time about Jetwing Yala is two-fold:
Firstly, the location is right next to Yala Natural Park, which is the largest of the many protected wild parks in Sri Lanka, known for sightings of leopards. It has been a while since we visited an elephant park and we have not yet been to Yala, so we are eager to go.
Secondly, we know that Jetwing Yala is the greenest most sustainable hotel in Sri Lanka, and that fact alone is a great drawing card for us.
We drive about 3.5 hours to get from the Galle region to Jetwing Yala, which is on the East Southern coast.
The understated elegance of Jetwing Yala
The hotel is in a very unusual location. It is nestled right next to the largest game park in Sri Lanka, (Yala National Park) and it is on the ocean.
As we walk into the entrance of Jetwing Yala, it is clear that this hotel is something special. One immediately gets a feel of spaciousness and tranquility.
This is one of the restaurants and seating areas with a gorgeous view over the sand dunes to the Indian Ocean, which is a few steps away. The thatched roof combines well with the modern glass structure to create a very enticing area.
Ahh what a vista!
Tables outside the bar area ~ a great blend of nature and good architectural design.
Chilling in a big comfy swing chair, looking out to sea. Jetwing Yala exudes understated elegance, relaxation and takes maximum advantage of its proximity to nature.
Everything at Jetwing Yala has a spacious feel…. and the dining deck is no exception. Dining al fresco enhances the whole food experience. In the evening, this same patio is strung with little lights making for a romantic setting for dinner. Due to their location right next to the elephant park, we are told that it is not that unusual to see elephants come right up to the deck.
In fact, fairly recently, an elephant walked right through the lobby, captured by the hotels security cameras and seen by a few of the night shift staff. Obviously a rare event, and appparently no damage was done… the pachyderm was just “checking out the facilities”. This elephant’s got good taste!
It’s a short path through the sand dunes to the ocean. And a reminder that we are in elephant country!
It would be easy to forget that people come here invariably to see Sri Lanka’s magnificent wildlife namely the elephants and leopards. The wide beach, with it’s peach colored sand, in and of itself, is worth the trip.
The ocean here can be rough for swimming, but even so it is is great for strolling on the beach.
Pre-breakfast skip and a hop between the rocks on the windy beach… (But not for too long… A delicious breakfast awaits!).
Breakfast is quite a production at Jetwing Yala! Our favorite of the plentiful offerings of both Western and Sri Lankan fare, is the hopper station. Hoppers are a classic Sri Lankan crispy rice flour “crepe” with an egg in the center, that finds its origin in ancient Tamil country. It is called Appam in Tamil but is more often referred to by its anglicized name: the hopper. A must try!
The String Hopper is a traditional Sri Lankan food consisting of rice flour pressed into noodle form and then steamed. Also known as Idiappam in India, where it was first recorded in the first century A.D. It makes a perfect base for Sri Lankan spicy curries.
Buffalo curd is another delectable Sri Lankan specialty. Buffalo curd is a variant of yogurt, although more tangy and slightly bitter. It is always stored and served in red terra-cotta pots. Best eaten with a generous portion of Kithul ~ similar to maple syrup, but made from the Sri Lankan kithul tree.
Jetwing Yala augments its beautiful architecture, with a culinary offering that surprises. Beyond the bountiful breakfast buffet, we discover the intriguing smaller, more intimate restaurant, TheThambapanni, that features a cross section of Asian flavor profiles. Coral cod cake with mint and watermelon or Mutton leek soup – now THAT’s the kind of hard choices we like to have to make! We ask to meet the Chef and are delighted to learn that he worked, for several years, as an executive chef in one of our favorite cities in Asia, Luang Prabang, Laos.
The bedroom is super spacious and luxurious, we could have easily spent a week staying in that lovely room, with the view towards the ocean and its uber comfy beds.
The sweeping views are not limited to the common areas. The balcony of our bedroom is simply blissful. A perfect spot to read the newspapers or just enjoy the view and fresh air.
A beautiful and airy outdoor sitting area has a great view and is perfect at sunset.
Environmental Best Practices role modeled at Jetwing Yala
This glass water bottle is the first hint we get that Jetwing Yala does things differently. Indeed, Jetwing Yala we learn, has its own water desalination and bottling plant on the premises of the hotel. Seeing this first indication of forward thinking eco practices leaves us thirsty for more!
(Before we launched into the Asian chapter of our Green Global Trek, nearly 3 years ago now, we lived in Nicaragua, Latin America. There we were determined to have positive environmental impact. We launched bamboo plantations and created a social impact business that tackled directly climate mitigation and climate adaptation by building low carbon bamboo houses for victims of hurricane rendered homeless. Ever since, we have had a vested interest in discovering climate mitigating business practices wherever we can.)
The obliging management team at the hotel accommodates our request for a deep dive into their environmentally sound choices. The range of practices instituted at Jetwing Yala covers the gamut. Renewable energy (solar), water desalination, solid waste management, composting, biogas for steam generation…
Jetwing Yala has received many awards and accolades for their green initiatives. We are eager to see firsthand what the fuss is all about….
Jetwing does a great job of educating its guests. It would be commendable even if they did all this behind the scenes, but the fact that they go out of their way to inform and educate their guests, is a valuable dimension. This sign is on the path from the hotel to the ocean front.
When one hears of solar panels, the mind goes to a handful of solar panels on a rooftop. We did not expect to find an entire field of solar panels. Quite a dramatic and impressive sight. This installation makes Jetwing Yala the single largest private solar panel installation in the country of Sri Lanka!
Solar panels close up.
The way it works: The energy generated by Jetwing’s solar panel field is directed into “the grid” and the total consumption of energy by the hotel is netted by the Ceylon Energy Board, such that not only does Jetwing Yala have a positive environmental impact, it also benefits financially by having a reduced electricity bill. This graph shows real time solar energy production that goes into the grid.
Not every guest will want to take a stroll atop the grey water/ solid waste management plant but Ben is definitely interested in how this all works. A highly regulated process, the water once purified is then re-used to irrigate the gardens. A great way of conserving water in an area that experiences frequent droughts. The engineering team is knowledgeable and forthcoming in its explanation of the process.
Coconuts are plentiful in Sri Lanka and many dishes make copious use of coconut milk and coconut meat. Hence a literal mountain of coconut shells are discarded. They would normally go into landfills, but Jetwing Yala smartly accumulates these shells and uses them as fuel in the bio mass oven for heating water and generating steam for the laundry.
Wood from the cinnamon trees (a fast growing tree, endemic to Sri Lanka) is used as bio mass fuel for the furnace which generate steam for the hotel for things such as washing sheets and towels.
The furnace uses both cinnamon wood from the commercial cinnamon industry (the byproducts from making cinnamon, which would otherwise be discarded), and as well the husks of the coconut.
The desalination of salt water to potable water is another critical eco operation. With the world’s continuing challenges around the issue of potable water, we are pleased to learn how Jetwing Yala converts salt water into drinking water, using a process known as reverse osmosis. This is a major contribution by Jetwing and one that serves as a role model to be replicated wherever possible around the island.
Yala National Park
One of the best things about Sri Lanka are the numerous national parks ~ protected areas administered by the department of wild life. So far, we have been to Wilpatu National Park, Udawalawe, and Bundala. There are over a dozen major parks and many smaller ones throughout the island. Yala National Park, is the oldest and largest park in Sri Lanka and we are excited to visit!
In the lobby there are three chalkboards which list the recent sightings of elephants, leopards and bears.
There are plenty of monkeys scampering around the bushes of the hotel. This black face langur posed for a picture on the side of the road.
On the road from the hotel to the National Park, we stop to watch a baby water buffalo at the milk bar with its mom.
Yala National Park covers 979 square kilometers, (378 square miles) and was designated as wild life sanctuary in 1900 and is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and Sri Lankan leopards and aquatic birds.
There are 215 bird species within Yala and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. The elephant herd at Yala numbers around 300.
The entrance to Yala National Park. One needs to be in a park approved jeep in order to gain entrance.
Even though this region has not experienced much rain lately, there are several natural bodies of water which are currently sufficiently full to provide a good water source for the animals.
Water buffalo and wild boar enjoying their day wallowing in a mud bath.
“Elephant Rock” on the horizon ~ a large elephant shaped rock is surprising in its resemblance to the many elephants that roam freely in these parts.
We are extremely lucky to watch a tiny baby elephant, not more than a few days old, enjoying playing in the water with its mom.
Yala is also full of a variety of birds both endemic and migratory. Sri Lanka is a bird lovers paradise.
The park closes at six and even though we have not had the pleasure of a leopard sighting we have had good elephant sightings and have enjoyed the natural surroundings.
Upon leaving Yala National Park we drive through the nearby Tissa Lake region. A large white stupa rises on the horizon in contrast to the lush green of the fields.
Tissamaharama Dagoba was built by King Kavantissa in the 3rd Century B.C. located between Tissa town center and Tissa wewa rain water reservoir. It was the largest dagoba on the island at the time. Today, for Buddhist pilgrims, it is one of the 16 most sacred sites in the country. The dagoba has a circumference of 165 m and stands 55.8 metres high and is enshrined with a sacred tooth relic and forehead bone relic of Buddha.
Sri Lankan school girls in their white uniforms with omnipresent long black braids coming out of school.
The South of Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist and yet, we still come across a small Hindu temple, suggesting there is a small population of Hindu Tamils in the area.
This region is where most of the buffalo curd is made. So it’s no surprise that we see herds of water buffalos alongside the road and in the fields.
What IS surprising is to see an elephant at the side of the road strolling along! But in actual fact, it is not that unusual around these parts.
You can best appreciate the size of the elephant next to the car passing it by. Not an every day sight… at least, for us!