Asia, Hotel Reviews, Newsletter, Sri Lanka

Gal Oya Lodge. Sri Lanka. Untold beauty and Attenborough Moments

31/10/2023 by .
Gal Oya Lodge

Michael Edwards savours Attenborough moments at Gal Oya Lodge in a remote corner of Sri Lanka

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. And when LP Hartley began The Go Between he was thinking of Norfolk rather than Sri Lanka.

The approved marriage for a Veddha man was to his mother’s brother’s daughter. For First Worlders weary of swiping left or right that is impressively simple. Marriage was cost-free too. The couple were wrapped in a bark-rope to symbolise that they were together forever. Nor did they need an extravagantly expensive honeymoon when they lived in the paradise of Gal Oya.

From the Gal Oya Lodge, the Veddha chief, Suda Danigala Maha Bandalage, takes guests on a walk through the savanna forest telling them of the traditions of the region’s indigenous people. With no written language and many youngsters leaving for the towns and cities, Veddha traditions are waning. Nowadays, even the chief makes his living as an Ayurvedic specialist and tour guide rather than from hunter gathering.

Gal Oya Lodge

Illuk grass thatched Gal Oya Lodge is the base for exploring the national park.  Secluded, detached bungalows are dotted through the eco-lodge’s 20 acres, every roof supported by tall, polished teak trunks. Tables are vast slabs of ancient tree trunks. Two chairs on the patio look out into a forest where the cicadas never fall silent.

An A framed thatched building is reception, bar, restaurant and lounge, giving views beyond the swimming pool towards Monkey Mountain. On a nook of a mezzanine between ground floor and dining room there is a small library. It’s a place to use the guidebooks to catch up on all your sightings of birds, butterflies, flowers and wildlife.

Gal Oya Communal Dining by Pete Helme Photography ph38 e1698765570444

Life at Gol Oya Lodge is busy from dawn departures for the boat safari, through morning cycle rides, to oxygen-debt ascents of Monkey Mountain. Consequently, the restaurant is flexible with early and late breakfast: think tropical fruit platters and hoppers. Lunches whenever guests are ready to order. Then evening meals of river fish, pork, pasta or curries served with rice, dahl, vegetables and poppadoms.

Naturalists from the neighbouring Jim Edwards Wildlife Research Centre share their in-depth expertise, showing how to set camera traps to record passing wildlife. Recently 20 leopards have been caught on film as well as many elephant, peacock, porcupine and a solitary sighting of an exceptionally rare pangolin. Naturalists identify individual leopards through their battle scars.

Gal Oya Lodge

On the drive to Lake Senanayake Samudraya for a boat safari, the naturalist will look out for bowerbird nests. Males build a nest as part of the courtship ritual to attract females. It can all become very Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen with the males even sticking fireflies into the walls to impress. If the female does not approve, she may destroy the nest.

The guide explained how in 1947 the Sri Lankan government moved the Veddha tribe from their caves decorated with painted hunting scenes to flood the landscape and create a lake for irrigation. When the monsoon season arrives the water level can rise by 34 metres submerging some of the islands.


Gal Oya Lodge has an unusual Big Three. Crocodiles, occasionally spotted leopards, and elephants who sometimes swim from island to island with their trunks raised like snorkels.

Thousands of birds gather on the islands. Cormorants sit on grey rocks spreading their wings to dry feathers. White bellied eagles scan the waters for fish. Grey herons colonise an island as a mass maternity ward, whilst monitor lizards dash to snatch eggs. Swooping spotted bill pelicans can scoop up 11 kg of water and fish.

Gal Oya Lodge

Then the boat moors up for the most idyllic of breakfasts or lunches with the crew unpacking ingredients from a silvery-tiered tiffin carrier. Perhaps on a shaded island or on one of the green lawns surrounding the lake. Licences to operate boat safaris have been granted to just four vessels so serenity is assured.

Over six hours drive east of Colombo and nearly six hours south of the High Tea Country of Nuwara Eliya, Gal Oya Lodge is remote and off-line, a blissfully peaceful paradise.


Tell Me More About Gal Oya Lodge, Galgamuwa, Sri Lanka

Gal Oya Lodge, B527, Sri Lanka

T: +94 (63) 492 9148  E:

Double rooms, including breakfast, begin from US$ 290. This rate includes taxes and service charge.



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