Dr and tv personality, Ranj Singh heads to the Shangri-La Hambantota Resort & Spa to check out the family-friendly vibe
‘A new level of luxury arrives in Sri Lanka’, states the banner on this prestigious hotel’s website. It’s a bold statement, but even this doesn’t adequately describe the incredible experience once there. Having been long overdue a holiday, I really wanted to go somewhere that I could truly unwind and Sri Lanka looked like the perfect place. Four hours south of Colombo International Airport (CMB) or 45 minutes from Hambantota Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (HRI), I arrived at the resort up a beautiful private road, lined with palm trees and colourful local shrubbery. Immediately this place felt special.
Greeted personally by the staff, I was welcomed into the vast hotel reception with a refreshing drink and cold face towel. After the long journey I’d had, I was very grateful and was eager to settle in. Luckily for me check-in was swift, and before long I was being walked through beautiful open-air corridors to my room.
There are three room types and four suite types to choose from, catering for groups of all sizes. Having not been away for a while, I wanted a nice space to relax in and so I opted for the ocean view suite, which was incredible. Entering into the living and dining space, the room was clean, well thought-through and a comfortable home-away-from-home space to relax in. You could fit a whole family in there and it still wouldn’t feel cramped.
The bedroom was similarly sizeable with beautiful touches like towel origami, a helpful directory to the hotels activities and attractions, well-stocked bathroom and gorgeous views over the perfectly manicured gardens, towards the sea. Each day the room was meticulously cleaned, re-stocked with a fresh fruit plate and if you needed anything else, the staff were always more than happy to help. That was one of the truly stand-out features of this place – its ever-friendly and welcoming staff who made you feel like nothing was a bother.
After are a very comfortable night’s sleep, I was keen to get to breakfast. I’d heard so much about Sri Lankan food from friends and wanted to sample this famous cuisine. There are two main restaurants at the resort, Bojunhala and Sera. Bojunhala offers all-day dining, with buffet-style breakfast and dinner offering traditional Sri Lankan and international dishes. Even the fussiest of eaters would find something to their liking here amongst the array of fresh and cooked food. My tip: go for the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast hopper – it’s yummy!
Neighbouring Sera serves street food inspired cuisine from Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, all with locally grown produce. Eating here one evening was a real treat, but I couldn’t resist the range of options at Bojunhala. For an extra special experience, you can also book an amazing candlelight dinner at the third restaurant, Ulpatha. Here during the day you’ll find golfers kicking back after a day on the course. In the evenings, they’ll set you up on the lawn surrounded by candlelight and serve a bespoke 3-course meal ranging from beautifully crafted king prawn tacos to a meat platter fit for a king. One thing is for sure: you’ll never go hungry at this resort!
The food is just part of the experience though. Exploring the vast grounds, you’ll find the abundance of facilities and activities, and because of the resort’s size, you never feel crowded. Families especially are given a warm welcome with a range of services designed especially for them, including on-site childcare facilities and young people’s areas for when parents need a bit of time for themselves.
With three pool areas to choose from, you can either relax at the sunset pool (adults only), get your daily exercise done in the free-form lagoon pool, or have loads of fun with your children in the fun family pool area complete with two water slides and a fun fountain area. The pools all have adjacent bars serving refreshing cocktails and healthy drinks.
With everything from yoga, to mountain biking, to beach volley, there is something for the whole family – for free! The bike tour takes you through the resort, through the local village and up to a cliff edge overlooking the sea. The view at sunset is breath-taking – a great spot for snaps! En route you’ll pass a beautiful Buddhist temple where you can see monks going about their daily activities.
The resort is an unparalleled kids’ paradise with the Cool Zone offering a comprehensive programme of supervised daily activities. From dancing, arts and crafts, and kite-making, to games, movies and even drone flying, your young ones will never be bored, and you won’t have to do all the entertaining!
Peaceful and serine, the spa is a place for pure relaxation and pampering and an ideal retreat for parents. Here guests can enjoy a bespoke wellness experience, including facials and massages, as well as individualised Ayurvedic consultations for that extra personalised touch.
Shangri-La Hambantota is the only resort with an on-site artisan village, providing a first-hand window into local culture. Five traditional studio huts house artisan weavers, sculptors, painters and potters. You can purchase their beautiful work as a souvenir, or even have a go yourself. It’s a great place for the kids to come and do some painting! This is also the place to see some traditional Sri Lankan entertainment – complete with fire-breather!
If you like golf, you’ll love the 18-hole course set within the massive 58.8 hectares of grounds – the only one of its kind in the country. The course is divided into three beautifully landscaped zones, each with its own unique character. Whether a seasoned pro or keen to try it for the first time, they have everything you need to play a set of golf with friends or family.
If you want to see elephants up close and personal, then a visit to this stunning national park is a must. You’ll get a jeep excursion through luscious forest as your tour guide points out all the local wildlife. It’s an early start from the hotel, but they pack you a lovely breakfast – just be careful where you store it, as I found out: one of the elephants came right up to the jeep and pinched mine!
A trip to the nearby elephant transit home, where you can watch the team feed and play with orphaned baby elephants before they are released back into the wild, is well worth it too.
Jump in a tuk tuk and get whisked off through town to the boat mooring, from where you’ll sail down the river with your local guide. Another chance to see the indigenous wildlife, you might even get to spot a crocodile like we did! The trip ends where the river meets the sea with another chance to take some treasured pictures.
There is an expansive and unspoilt beach right in front of the resort. Whilst it’s not advised to swim in the sea due to strong currents (there are warning flags nearby), walking along the beachfront, taking in views of the Indian Ocean and perhaps a bit of shell-collecting is a must.
Something a little different, the resort has its very own 7 metre high trapeze where the whole family can go to learn basic skills and soar high above the ground! The instructors will help you feel at ease and ensure that you have a truly memorable experience.
And remember not to forget the mosquito repellent spray – whilst the resort is treated to reduce insect exposure and Sri Lanka is a low risk country, mosquitos are prevalent so protecting yourself when outdoors is a good idea.
How to book
Scott Dunn offers a 7-night mid-season stay at the Shangri-La Hambantota from £1,650 per person. This is based on a family of four staying on a half board basis and includes international flights and private transfers throughout.
How to get there
You can fly direct to Colombo International from London, with a car or air transfer to Hambantota.