Yoga Explorers, Sri Lanka
Soulful yoga holiday in a tropical setting footsteps from the Indian Ocean
A lush, tropical paradise is the blissful setting for Yoga Explorer’s twice yearly Sri Lanka retreats. Located in Talalla Yoga and Surf Retreat in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, they enable guests to take their yoga with a side dose of safari, whale watching or surfing between twice-daily yoga sessions. Jo Thornhill who runs Yoga Explorers cherry picks teachers who fit her holistic view of yoga – expect exceptional teaching and yoga that goes beyond just the asana practise and into the spiritual realm.
The fun, friendly vibe of the retreat. Yoga Explorers only work with yoga teachers who are not only technically brilliant, but who embody their holistic yoga ethos. This sets the tone for a truly memorable, fun holiday experience and tends to attract a group that’s up for growth, both on and off the mat.
Lunch and dinner were both buffets, and it got a little samey on our retreat. We’re told they’re planning à la carte at lunchtime for future retreats.
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Pat McNulty reviews this wonderful yoga holiday with Yoga Explorers at Talalla retreat in Sri Lanka and finds magical gardens, a lush closeness to the ocean and exceptional heart-opening yoga teaching with Jim Tarran and Khadine Morcom of Vajrasati Yoga.Have a peek
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Twice daily yoga practice is the focus, with plenty of time for walks on the beach, dips in the pool and the option to go on a safari or whale watching. Or just find a hammock and hang out with a book.
The number one reason Yoga Explorers gets booked is because of the carefully-chosen teachers on its retreat rosta. On the Sri Lanka retreat, expect deep, challenging Vajarsati yoga with Jim Tarran and Khadine Morcom sharing the teaching, or Jonelle Lewis teaching energetic Vinyasa Flow classes for the April retreat. The morning session lasts two hours and the afternoon one about an hour and a half, as the mosquitos tend to kick in at sundown. Yoga takes place opposite the beach on a raised platform shala, so you get an incredible view and the whooshing of the Indian Ocean to accompany your asana practise.
The spa offers a menu of massages from deep tissue through to ayurvedic and aromatherapy. It does get booked up quite quickly, but there’s an ayurvedic spa on the road outside Talalla which is cheaper and the reports from yogis who went there for their massage were excellent. Swerve the mani-pedis at Talalla’s spa – better to get these done before you arrive in Sri Lanka if you can.
Yoga Explorers organises a day out for anyone who fancies it on the Wednesday of the retreat. You can either take a trip on a boat to go whale watching, setting off from Mirissa, a beach town just along the coast, when you’ll get the chance to spot blue whales – there’s nowhere else in the world you’re likely to see these rare creatures. There are also schools of Spinner Dolphins in the area, so keep your eye out for them on this outing as well.
Udawalawe National Park is a couple of hours drive from the retreat and is one of the best places in the world to see elephants in the wild, which are the main attraction here. There’s an elephant orphanage on the safari and you get to see the young animals being fed at the halfway house, where they’re made ready to be set back into the wild. Along with elephants, our group spotted jackals, eagles, water buffalo and iguana. Trips can be arranged on the rest day / day off.
Talalla Yoga and Surf Retreat runs a surf school. They can arrange for you to have a surf lesson at a nearby beach with one of their experienced instructors. They’ll lend you a surf board and no experience is necessary, just get ready to have a go and have some fun.
Talalla Yoga and Surf Retreat sits just behind a beautiful sandy beach, which is populated at various times of the day by a few fisherman, a lady selling her handmade dresses and a couple of other beach bars. It’s pretty quiet, even at peak season. The sunrises here are really special, and worth getting up at 5:45 to watch from the beach. It also makes a great spot for early morning meditation.
There’s plenty to see up and down the South Sri Lankan coastline, and taxis are fairly affordable. A trip to Galle Fort, a pretty colonial town about an hour away from Talalla, provides excellent shopping opportunities. Don’t miss Barefoot for handcrafted souvenirs, cocktails at The Fort Printers hotel, and Sri Lankan gems at any of the many specialist shops.
Bedrooms: There are two ensuite accommodation options. Bamboo huts come with their own terrace seating area, garden and a fan. They have one open side (closed at night with a wicker curtain) which means you’re protected from the elements but you may encounter visiting wildlife. Each is equipped with a mosquito net and a fan above the bed. Or choose a room in the sea view villas for a stylish, more traditional hotel experience with air con, poured concrete floors and rainfall showers against a backdrop of a stone wall in the bathrooms. They also have their own balcony or terrace.
Other spaces to be: Pad on down to the beach and there are hammocks to lol in, or wander round the sandy beach and find a spot to doze or read a book. The beach is relatively quiet – a few chattering fishermen and some beach bars with strings of fairy lights are neighbours either side of Talalla’s patch – and they’re not the sort of places pumping out music till the early hours. It’s all perfectly calm and civilised.
Sri Lankan rupees are a closed currency which means you can only buy it once you arrive. Prices for things like treatments are generally in US dollars, so do consider bringing some with you. Sri Lanka has so much to offer visitors, it’s worth staying around if you’ve time to see a bit more of the country after the retreat. From beautiful beaches and surfing to tea plantations to old colonial buildings and temples, there’s a lot to see. We found it to be a very easy country for solo travelling.
When to Go
Yoga Explorers Sri Lanka takes place twice a year in April and November and is timed to be slightly off season so the beaches are quiet but you also get the benefit of the beautiful weather.
Meals take place in a large, semi-open air restaurant which Yoga Explorers share with Talalla’s other guests including surf school attendees and other wellness retreaters. It’s a soothing mix of dark wood, vaulted ceiling and strings of glowing filament bulbs.
This is very much a yoga holiday rather than a retreat and this is reflected in the food. Delicious and hearty, the retreat comes with full board and a buffet at every meal. Breakfasts include pancakes and tropical fruit. At lunch and dinner choose from local curries – usually three or four at each meal – and salads made from vegetables freshly picked from Talalla’s veg patch. Some of the names didn’t exactly translate into English so well, but if you’re willing to take a chance on ‘gourd salad’ for example, your tastebuds might thank you for it. Freshly-caught fried fish featured at most meals.
Tropical fruit features heavily, there are cocktails and mocktails should you wish as well (though drinks of any description are not included in the price). You can drink as much coffee or the locally picked tea as you like. Arak is the Sri Lankan signature spirit, and retreat goers enjoyed the coconut-flavoured tipple in a cocktail mixed with fresh pineapple juice.
Talalla Yoga and Surf Retreat’s owners are super conscious of the effects of plastics on wildlife, particularly in the sea. No plastic straws are used at the retreat and if you go for walks on the beach they have sacks you can take up to fill with any plastic waste you spot on your travels.
Yoga Explorers Sri Lanka, Talalla Yoga and Surf Retreat, Tangalle
Train station: Matara
Transfer time: 3 hours