Bar Reef Resort

Kalpitiya Peninsula, Kalpitiya & Wilpattu, Sri Lanka Book from Book from £125 per night

Boho-chic beach resort on Sri Lanka's pristine northwest coast, with great snorkelling, dolphin trips and a cool pool
With the eagerly anticipated opening of this laid-back resort in 2009, the pristine beaches and dolphin-rich seas of the Kalpitya Peninsula on Sri Lanka's northwest coast opened up to savvy travellers. The people behind it include the man who spearheaded Ulpotha, the wellbeing retreat a couple of hours inland, and they have brought the same magazine-chic style and house-party ambiance to this stunning spot on the Indian Ocean dunes.

The focal point is an open-sided pavilion where fresh fish curries are served up in clay pots, and a sleek pool, lit at night by fibre optics which mirror the stars overhead. But you'll spend most of your day at the thatched beach club shared with neighbouring villa Khomba House and 2 other mini-resorts (Palagama and Dolphin Beach). Lounging on a deck chair facing the waves, surrounded by chill-out music and ice-cold beers, you'll wonder whether to take a canoe out, plunge into the clear seas or finish another chapter of your pot-boiler. There's a catamaran to borrow (if you know your stuff), waterskis too (ditto), as well as kite- and wind-surfing during the windy season (May-November).

As for the accommodation, take your pick from simple wattle-and-daub cabanas and larger family cottages. The emphasis is on indoor-outdoor living, with lazy days in the sun and sociable evenings by lamp- and star-light (mains electricity only arrived in 2010). The one thing to set your alarm for the is the dawn dolphin-watching trip; from November to April you'll see hundreds of these graceful creatures leaping out of the blue water next to your boat, and maybe a whale too. This was a real highlight for us and our boys.
Covid-19 update: some services and facilities may be changed as a result of Coronavirus measures.


  • The sensitive and stylish design makes the most of the stunning natural setting, with open-air bathrooms, thatched roofs, and comfy seating on airy verandas
  • Great for families - the beach is sandy and safe, the pool has a separate kids' section, and staff are lovely
  • We loved the help-yourself mentality, which applies to all meals and drinks (except wines and spirits which you can bring)
  • Water babies of all ages will love the snorkelling, sailing, kayaking and fishing trips
  • There's a great sense of space - houses are set in secluded gardens, with 2km of deserted beach a flip-flop walk away


  • Though staff are friendly and willing, a lack of experience can make the place seem a bit chaotic when the owners aren't around - recent feedback has been mixed
  • You're quite isolated - there's only one restaurant (and no nightlife) within walking distance, and very little to do in wet or stormy weather unless you're a kite-surfing fan
  • The food, though delicious, can get a bit monotonous
  • There's no guarantee of seeing dolphins; boat trips can be early (6-7am), bumpy - or cancelled
  • A few miles down the beach is a power station which can blot the view

Best time to go

The weather and sea are at their best from November to April, when the dolphins and whales are also most visible. However, be prepared for some rain at times, especially in early December. May to September is very windy - ideal for kite- and wind-surfing, but not for swimming or sunbathing. It's worth noting that this is the sort of place where rain cancels out most of the fun.

Our top tips

Bring insect repellent, a headtorch - and your family or friends! We advise staying for 3 full days (4 nights).

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • Beach Resort
  • 14 cabanas (for 2-4), 2 villas (for 4-10
  • Restaurant (unlicensed)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room: Driftwood Cabana


Accommodation is divided between simple cabanas for 2-4 and larger 2-bedroom family villas. All share the same simple beach-shack style, with open sides, lofty thatch roofs and smooth screed floors. We loved the quirky bits of recycled furniture: tables of polished driftwood, old ship lights, taps made from huge conches or cowries, and showers hidden within the trees. The living areas - some of them semi-outdoor - have inbuilt sofas with splashes of colour from sea-blue, lime-green or crimson cushions; these double as extra beds for those who don't mind sleeping close to the elements (they all have mosquito nets). Bedrooms are tranquil, enclosed rooms with kingsize beds. Bear in mind that there's no hot water in any of the lodgings (just sun-warmed), and some bathrooms are open-air.

The Cabanas are the simplest: open-sided wattle-and-daub huts which we thought charming, especially for a couple. They have rattan blinds to close them off in the evenings, and outdoor bathrooms (a simple sun-warmed shower, a pretty wooden basin and a toilet) within their fenced gardens. There's no air-conditioning, but you do get a fan. The cushioned seating areas can convert into 2 single beds, making them an option for budget-conscious families or groups of friends.

Those wanting more space are better off in one of the 2 Family Villas - spacious 2-bedroom thatched houses with high ceilings and a huge veranda. Both bedrooms have double beds (no twins) and ensuite shower rooms; together with the veranda's 6 inbuilt sofabeds, you could squeeze in up to 10 people per villa - and there's an additional loo and shower in the private garden.

Features include:

  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Mosquito net
  • Sitting area
  • Terrace


Meals are generally served in an ambalama - a row of clay pots laid out on a traditional oruwa (canoe), and typically filled with seafood curries using the catch of the day (think fish, crab or crayfish), plus rice and vegetables. Once you've piled your plate high, you can sit around the pool or under the thatch - there's no standing on ceremony, and guests mingle freely.

Sometimes there will be a barbecue instead, and during the day there is a simple à la carte menu, but - delicious and fresh as it all is - there is little variety. Also, they don't have a liquor licence so if you want wines and spirits you'll have to bring your own.

If you fancy a change of scene you can visit Dolphin Beach for dinner, just a short stroll down the beach. The Alankuda Beach Club is a good spot for evening drinks.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Communal dining
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating: Dinner is served


  • Dolphin-watching is the big thrill: catch the dawn boat trip (for prices see Rates) and you may see dozens of them leaping out of the water, even doing back flips right next to your boat. Staff are expert at spotting pods, and might even point out blue whales too, if you're lucky. The best season is November-April

  • Watersports on offer at the beach club include kayaking, catamaran sailing, wind- and kite-surfing (best from May-November, with tuition available for beginners), water-skiing, boogie boarding and donut rides. It's advisable to book such activities before you arrive

  • Just a short boat ride away there's snorkelling above the coral reefs. Spend an afternoon spotting tropical fish, stingrays, turtles and more

  • Wilpattu National Park, 1-2 hours' drive away, boasts one of the highest concentrations of leopards in the world, as well as elephants, sloth bears, samburs, spotted deer and water buffalo

  • Birdwatchers could make a day trip to Anawilundawa Bird Sanctuary for plovers, herons, stilts, egrets, sandpipers and francolins; out at sea you might spot white-bellied sea eagles, skuas and terns

  • The ruined cities and ancient Sinhalese sites of the Cultural Triangle are 3-4 hours' drive away, including the natural fortress of Sigiriya, the temple and rock paintings of Dambulla, and the 2,000-year-old city of Anuradhapura. You will need to stay overnight to explore these in any depth

  • Nearer to home, there's a Catholic shrine at Talawila (with huge festivals every March and August) and a Hindu temple at Munnsweram Kovil (dedicated to Shiva)

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Dolphin watching
  • Fishing
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Kitesurfing
  • Safaris
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Water skiing
  • Whale watching
  • Wildlife
  • Windsurfing


This is a child-friendly beach hideaway with plenty of accommodation options to suit families. The Cabanas sleep 2-4 and the 2-bedroom Family Villas sleep 4-10. However bear in mind that there are no cots, so those with tiny tots will need to share their double bed, use cushions or bring a travel cot. All in all, we feel it's better suited to older kids who will enjoy the watersports, splashing in the pool (though the separate shallow area is safe for young kids) and taking safari trips to Wilpattu.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cabanas are fine for budget-conscious parents with 1 or 2 older children who are happy to sleep on the veranda daybeds. Family Villas are better for those with younger kids, or who want more space (they have 2 double bedrooms).

Families Should Know:

There are no lifeguards by the pool or on the beach.

Kid Friendly: Loggerhead turtle


Bar Reef Resort is set on the Kalapitya Peninsula, which separates the Puttalam lagoon from the Indian Ocean, in the northwest of Sri Lanka. It’s a 3-hour drive from the capital Colombo, and just over 2 hours from the airport.

By Air
Colombo Bandaranaike International (110km away) is Sri Lanka's only international airport. Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving it.

From the Airport
It takes just over 2 hours to reach Bar Reef Resort from the airport. The simplest solution is to hire a car and driver for the duration of your holiday (enquire through our Tailormade Tour Operator), as this will also come in useful for day trips.

By Public Transport
Alternatively, you can take a bus from Colombo to Puttalam. Staff can arrange to collect you from there.

Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through

More on getting to Sri Lanka and getting around.


  • Colombo Bandaranaike International 110.0 km CMB


  • Beach 0.1 km
  • Shops 1.0 km
  • Restaurant 0.3 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 3 independent reviews from i-escape guests


This was our second stay at this fabulous resort. It is one of the most chilled and relaxing places we have ever stayed. The staff are delightful and really helpful.
We preferred the table service at meal times which we had had on our previous visit rather than the current buffet system, though that is a small criticism really. We also ate at 2 adjacent restaurants - La Palagoma and Udekki. We stayed in one of the garden villas as we were a party of 6 and would say the beach cabanas are more beautiful. The pool and facilities are excellent and beautifully maintained.


Bar reef resort is a wonderful and peaceful oasis of calm and tranquillity just perfect for a relaxing and unwinding holiday. It is perfect for families. Day trips are offered: we went to Wilpattu national park as well as dolphin-watching and both trips ran very smoothly. The dolphin-watching success rate is >95%, meaning that a free trip is offered the next day if not seen, and the pods are very large. We also saw a huge sperm whale on the way back. Wilpattu national park was a highlight for me; I had not expected such a beautiful landscape, nor such diversity of wildlife. Obviously it's more savannah than rain-forest, but it is mostly wooded. We were the first group for more than a week not to see leopards, but we saw elephants, different types of monkey, deer, jackal, cobra, mongeese, crocodiles, monitor lizards, peacocks, eagles, and lots of other beautiful birds, such as bee-catchers. As for the resort itself, it is beautifully laid-out, with all three room designs delightful. Ours had a fantastic garden with outside bathroom and a tree shower we all loved. Each room has a safe, and the resort was so laid-back and safe that no-one had any concerns leaving phones or laptops charging in the public area for hours on end. Most people congregate and spend the day in open-sided cabanas around the infinity pool. The food is good, with a different evening set menu each day (with choices). Since the food is made to order, if you come here straight from the UK you might say that service is slightly slow, but if you have been travelling for a bit you won't even notice. Without exception the staff are friendly and helpful, although a few don't speak much English.

This was our first trip to Sri Lanka and next time we'll come for longer and explore much more of the island. For an eight-day family break Bar Reef offers a great introduction to the country if you want to chill, or a perfect ending to a more adventurous holiday.


Nice place, a real escape. Impressive cabanas with private gardens. A little bit slow service. The only thing which disappointed me is absence of snorkelling.


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