Bar Reef Resort

Kalapitya Peninsula, Wilpattu & Northwest, Sri Lanka Book from Book from £78 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.


  • 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
  • 6 cabanas (for 2-4), 2 houses (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
  • Whalewatching
  • 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

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 2 independent reviews from i-escape guests


We stayed at Bar Reef for the first three nights of a two week holiday in Sri Lanka. It was the cheapest of all the hotels that we stayed in during our stay but it was the one we enjoyed most. From our warm welcome on arrival (with a nice fresh watermelon juice as soon as we stepped out of the car), the service was faultless - the staff were incredibly attentive without being over the top, always smiling and making us feel that nothing was too much trouble. Rumiz, the front of house, deserves a special mention as he was wonderful. The set up is fantastic and we loved our open cabana and outdoor washroom / shower. The pool area is stunning and the poolside cabanas for keeping out of the sun were a particularly stylish and much appreciated touch. The buffet breakfast and dinner suited us really well and were a great introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine. The only negative that we found was the beach - due to the winds at the time of year we visted (August) a large amount of rubbish is swept onto this coastline. The stretch of beach by Bar Reef was a little cleaner than the rest of the beach but they told us that they struggle to keep it clean at that time of year. All in all though, a great hotel that we would definitely recommend.


We had a lovely stay here. Perfect place if you want to get away from it all, lovely beach and the pool area is stunning. The cabins have everything you need and ours was very private with lovely big garden area. The staff were so helpful and made us feel very relaxed and well looked after. Would also recommend the dolphin watching trip- we saw hundreds from the boat and it was pretty amazing. All in all a very special place we didn't want to leave.


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Rates for Bar Reef Resort