Sen Wellness Sanctuary, Sri Lanka
Rejuvenating wellness retreat with a heart on Sri Lanka’s south coast
Best for: Solo travellers, couples, families and small groups of friends who like being remote and close to nature.
Not for: Anyone looking for a super-private experience, or who loathes insects. The dining is communal and sociable, so this isn’t the place for a silent retreat.
Sen Wellness Sanctuary is a stylishly low-key, friendly, ethical wellness retreat next to pristine Rekawa Beach just along from the town of Tangalle on Sri Lanka’s south coast. Founded by Sri Lankan-born London-based osteopath Sam Kankanamage (who runs an integrated health clinic in London).
The Sen Wellness Sanctuary aims to offer a complete mind, body, spirit experience and supports long-term change. You can visit all year round for Yoga, Ayurveda and Meditation or join one of the group signature retreats that run a few times a year and when Sam is in Residence and offers Osteopathy.
The space and natural setting: it’s instantly inviting and conducive to proper unfurling. The kind-hearted staff and the delicious and creative ayurvedic Sri Lankan cuisine. Founder Sam Kankanamage is a remarkable osteopath and healer, so his group retreats are worth booking.
Sam is only here four times a year. Insects abound, as you are beside a lagoon. Weather-wise it can get extremely hot and humid, and though the beach is beautiful, the sea directly by the Sanctuary is too rough to swim in. Staff are available to take guests to a safe spot for a morning dip and trips to swimming beaches further afield can be arranged. Plans are afoot to build a hydrotherapy area on the beach.
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Come all year round for a bespoke stay, or join a seasonal signature retreat hosted by the founder Sam when osteopathy is also on offer.
Whether you’re on a group or bespoke retreat, the day is framed by optional daily sunrise and sunset yoga sessions which take place on the spectacular and almost empty beach or in the wonderful, huge and airy yoga shala. Morning classes tend to be energising and strengthening while the evening sessions focus on stretching and relaxation. Styles taught include vinyasa, yin and kundalini. The teachers change regularly so it’s worth checking ahead for the schedule. Novices will be in safe hands as the sessions here cater to all.
On the first day of your stay, you’ll meet one of two ayurvedic doctors who takes a medical history and plans a tailored programme based on your dosha (your Ayurvedic energy type) and health needs. On a brief stay the emphasis is on de-stressing and rebalancing, while on a longer one detoxing, cleansing and the removal of blockages can be addressed. Sri Lankan trained and local ayurveda therapists are overseen by the ayurvedic doctors.
Treatment includes herbal medicines and pills as well as medicinal (rather than spa-style pampering) massages and therapies such as shirodhara (where heated oil is poured from a pot in a steady stream onto your forehead), skin treatments, herbal baths and steams. Guests staying for longer than a week can embark on more advanced detoxifying treatments such as an Ayurvedic cleanse or a juice day. On the last day of your stay you get a closing consultation and nutritional advice as well as an individual blessing ceremony conducted by the doctor.
Sam Kankanamge hosts the Sen Wellness Signature retreats and offers osteopathy and acupuncture treatments as part of these programmes. With an established London practice, Sam is a renowned Osteopath with 20 year’s experience in supporting patients health and recovery.
Ceremony and ritual are valued here: on a recent visit, a shamanic cacao ceremony was offered, in which the brew, a form of spiritually charged plant medicine, was drunk. A guided meditation followed and insights gleaned were shared. The quarterly signature retreats are opened and closed with Buddhist ceremonies that include blessings from a local monk. Other rituals vary and might include a gong bath, mantra circle and a blindfolded trance dance.
In between treatments, you can chill in your cabana or in the shared space, listen to birdsong or read a book from the carefully curated selection. The sanctuary is surrounded by mangrove and a lagoon and feels remote – this is a place to truly go inward (be warned, there are insects and flies around).
The truly spectacular nearby Rekawa Beach is fantastic for early morning meditation, chanting, yoga and walks. It isn’t safe to swim off this stretch of coast, but there’s other local stretches of beach where you can. The beach is a renowned turtle nesting site so organised evening walks on the beach promise turtle encounters and some gusts have witnessed hatchings on early morning walks too.
Daily excursions/activities can include a boat ride on the lagoon (a must), an Ayurvedic cookery demonstration, local market visit, or a visit to a 3rd Century Buddhist Rock temple. The team can also organise extra trips at an additional cost such as visits to the National Parks and whale watching.
Sen Wellness are able to organise local excursions to Udawale National Park at special rates whilst on retreat.
Bedrooms: Guests sleep in stylish, modest ensuite cabanas, set off a suspended walkway, surrounded by mangrove, and just out of sight, the lagoon and the beach. They’ve been cleverly designed to draw earth energy upward. Twin or king-sized beds are adorned with teak headboards intricately carved by local craftsmen, and all have balconies. Fixtures include pretty lamps and embroidered cushions. There are also a few, more rustic bedrooms in the main building if you’re happy to share a bathroom but most guests opt for the cabanas. There are also plans to build one additional cabana on the beach with 360-degree views of the sea and lagoon.
Leave your hairdryer at home: the vibe is casual and come as you are. Bring cool, cotton clothes, your choice of insect repellant, and be sensitive to the local culture: unless you’re on the beach it’s not really appropriate to hang out in a string bikini. Pack some old swimwear or underwear to wear for treatments (you’re likely to be covered in oil) and a light sarong or kaftan to throw on after.
When to Go
The retreat is open all year round. The most popular season is from Christmas to Easter, when the weather is not as hot as in the summer months.
Food is home-style Sri Lankan prepared by a local chef (and some hardworking locals) with fresh, seasonal ingredients and spices bought in the local market and served buffet-style, and you all eat together at a communal table.
Inspired by ayurvedic principles, it’s delicious and predominantly vegan, though meat and fish occasionally put in an appearance. Dishes include pittu (steamed rice flour and coconut cakes), egg hoppers (egg cooked into a bowl-shaped crepe), coconut curry, jackfruit curry, manioc, a broth called kola kanda made with gotu kola ( medicinal greens). Desert is fresh papaya and watermelon or inventive sugar-free treats such as coconut and sesame balls or an Ayurvedic take on rice pudding. This is an alcohol and caffeine free zone, though herbal teas and juices are served.
The food is fresh, Vegetarian home-cooked Sri Lankan food that is prepared by Sen’s local resident chef. The Resident chef visits the local market in Tangelle to source the fresh, seasonal ingredients and spices that is served in a buffet style and shared for everyone to eat together at a communal table.
Inspired by ayurvedic principles, it’s delicious and predominantly vegan, though meat and fish occasionally put in an appearance. Dishes include pittu (steamed rice flour and coconut cakes), egg hoppers (egg cooked into a bowl-shaped crepe), coconut curry, jackfruit curry, manioc, a broth called kola kanda made with gotu kola (medicinal greens). Desert is fresh papaya and watermelon. This is an alcohol and caffeine free zone, though herbal teas and juices are served.
Sen Wellness Sanctuary, Rekawa Beach, Tangalle, Sri Lanka
Transfer time: 4 hours