“Comfortable, stylish tents on a swathe of golden beach, with pods of playful dolphins a short boat ride away”
There are 7 tents in 2 categories - Family and Double - all named after different types of dolphins. They either have one double bed or 2, so the larger ones are perfect if you're travelling with 1 or 2 kids (there's a cloth divider between the bedrooms and the bathroom is located towards the back, through the second bedroom).
All tents have large polished concrete verandas replete with an L-shaped sofa, deckchairs and a hammock strung from a nearby coconut tree. This is a lovely homely area with tons of cushions and a cute stripy rug plus a rustic wooden table.
We found our Family Tent surprisingly sumptuous and stylish. The wall cloths are a sandy colour, patterned with an ethnic print dotted with tiny mirrors, and the indoor sofa and bedside tables are fashioned from smooth, painted cement, which has a pleasing curve. Windows are netted, with clever drawstring curtains for privacy. Overall the feel is of a luxurious desert retreat; spacious but also cosy. In the evenings, rattan lamps lend a bedside glow and a charming kerosene lantern (with a lightbulb) hangs by the entrance.
These lovely little details are continued through into the bathroom, accessed through a heavy wooden door behind a cloth drape. Here, the sink has an interesting shell tap and the water runs through a brass teapot. The indoor rain shower has hot and cold water; outside there's a dedicated space for private treatments and massages. The tents are cool at night, but they do heat up in the day so the slick air-con unit is ideal for siestas.
Although there is an a la carte menu, skilful chef Nalin likes to cook what people enjoy eating and will often incorporate guests’ requests into his buffet dinners. Meals are served in the sand-floored informal restaurant, open to sea views, and a chef cooks up additional hot dishes to order in an outdoor open kitchen area.
In the evening, there is always a delicious homemade soup for starters (we loved the fresh tomato version), followed by a selection of cooked dishes kept warm in clay pots and laid out buffet style - perhaps baked fish in breadcrumbs, vegetables in coconut milk and chicken cardamom curry. One night we tried fresh egg hoppers, cooked in a bowl-shaped pan; delicious. Puddings err on the naughty side such as creamy crème caramel or battered bananas.
Lunches tend to follow a more traditional Sri Lankan route, ie delicious curries and rice. We had 6 dishes laid out for us, including an ultra-fresh tuna curry, green bean curry, beef and onion curry, bitter gourd curry, and a couple of nice crunchy salads on the side plus accompaniments such as rice, poppadoms and spicy mango chutney.
Breakfast is even more informal, especially as some guests eat much later depending on when dolphin spotters come back to shore. A chef is on-hand to cook omelettes, pancakes and eggs to order, although we took the chance to try a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of coconut rice, dhal and sambal. Tropical fruit, tea and toast is also available.
Most guests tend to eat all meals at the hotel. There are no nearby restaurants although Bar Reef hotel serves traditional food if you want change of scenery. The setting is not so intimate, though.
Note that most water-based activities including dolphin-spotting are best between November and April.
Dolphin Beach is an ideal place for young children, right on the beach with a sand garden, a pool with a shallow end, plenty of shade, air-conditioned tents for middle of the day naps and calm seas. Two Children under 6 years old can stay free of charge on a Bed and Breakfast basis. The standard child rate would apply for any additional children.
Family Tents are, as their name suggests, the ideal choice for families with 2 double bedrooms plus 2 single sofabeds and room for a baby cot. There's a curtain-type divider between the bedrooms. All bathrooms have showers, not baths.
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
The traditional Sri Lankan food is all tasty and fresh; talk to the chef if your children won't eat curry as he'll be able to find something for them. Mealtimes could prove tricky with young kids - breakfast is from 8am and dinner is from 7.30pm.
Bring as much with you as you can: books, beach toys, suncream, hats and duty free drinks for starlit nights when your babies are sleeping.