“Comfortable, stylish tents on a swathe of golden beach, with pods of playful dolphins a short boat ride away”
Dolphin Beach is a more luxurious and intimate option than its sister hotel, Bar Reef, a short walk along the shore, but they both share the same stunning vista: a minimalist triptych of sand, sea and sky. The beach gently shelves into the calm sea, which is ideal for swimming. The grounds are scattered with comfy places to unwind - hammocks strung beneath palms, and stylish fibreglass loungers. Even nicer is the sea-facing dome: a circular chill-out lounge decorated with cushions and topped with a grass roof. Watch wonderful sunsets from here then set your alarm clock: the early morning sea safari is a must for a glimpse of the playful resident dolphins, and if you're lucky, whales too.
- Roomy tents mean a sense of outdoor living and contact with nature without compromising on luxury
- Tasty Sri Lankan options at every mealtime
- Only 2 hours from Colombo international airport so an ideal first or last stop of your holiday
- Good for kids: family tents sleeping up to 6, calm seas and child-friendly food; and good value too
- The area is blissfully off the tourist trail so there are no souvenir shops, beach bars or nightlife
- Noise between tents is audible
- Views from the beach are rather spoilt by the dominating power station jutting out to sea
- Uneven roads mean a bumpy end to your destination
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Boutique Resort
- Restaurant (open daily)
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Outdoor Pool
- Spa Treatments
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Concierge Service
- Daybeds and hammocks
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.
- Air conditioning
- Cots Available
- Extra beds
- Internet access
- Mosquito net
- Safe box
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.
- Children's meals
- Room service
- Vegetarian menu
Note that most water-based activities including dolphin-spotting are best between November and April.
- Whizz out into the ocean on the hotel’s launch and spot huge numbers of dolphins, plus blue and sperm whales if you're lucky - and be back in time for breakfast!
- Paddle out in a kayak, available to borrow, or take advantage of the good swimming off the safe sandy beach
- Trawl out at sea, by arrangement, to fish for tuna, barracuda and treveli
- If the wind is up, try kitesurfing or windsurfing; nearby is one of Sri Lanka’s best areas. Ask for an instructor and the hotel will provide a packed lunch and cool beers for the day. Other watersports nearby include waterskiing, wake boarding, trick-sking and Donut rides
- Go for a dip in the infinity pool before sitting back on the terrace, or in the chill out dome, with a cocktail
- Canter down the beach on a horse safari and wind up trotting through sand dunes (by prior arrangement)
- Birdwatch at the lagoon or the nearby salt plains. Take binoculars to spot pelagic birds or look out for migratory birds on a rest stop
- Marine sanctuary Bar Reef and the closer St Anne's Reef are a system of coral reefs just offshore with great biodiversity, home to over 250 species of fish; both scuba diving and snorkelling are easily arranged (scuba diving needs prior notice)
- Stargaze at night with your feet in the sand
- Walk along the beach to watch local life: fishermen pulling in huge nets, boats heading out to sea and the day's catch ready to go to market; visit nearby villages on day excursions to witness local life
- Go on safari to spot leopards and elephants at Wilpattu National Park (1½ hours), Sri Lanka’s largest, although be aware that the animals here are very shy from years of poaching - again you'll need to book in advance
- For a longer trip visit the ancient city of Anuradhapura (4hrs) to marvel at vast dagobas and ornate carved buddhas
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Boat trips
- Historical sites
- Horse riding
- Plantlife / flora
- Private guided tours
- Scuba diving
- Traditional cultures
- Whale watching
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 friendly accommodation:
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.
Kids Activities on site:
- Sand garden and beach on the doorstep
- Pool (with shallow end)
- DVD library
- Kayak to borrow
Kids Activities nearby:
- Dolphin and whale watching trips, in season
- Kite surfing and other watersports for older kids, including snorkelling on the coral reefs
- Head to Wilpattu National Park (1-2 hours) for leopard and elephant spotting
Families Should Know:
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.
- Airport: 2 hours
- Doctor: 40 minutes