I don’t often like to return to places I’ve previously visited unless there is a specific reason, but when it comes to Sri Lanka, the rules are different. We took our second trip to the country during the Easter break this year, and each time I find myself wanting to see more, to explore the country further. Well, lucky for us living in the UAE, it’s easily accessible to us and only around a four hour flight away!
There is so much to see and do in Sri Lanka, it can be hard to know where to start. But with our son being just three, we were looking for an easy holiday that was both relaxing and had a bit of culture, but we didn’t want the stress or hassle of moving around too much on this particular occasion when we had just a week to spend away.
We plumped to spend the week at the Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa because it had everything we need with a small child, and while there is also plenty to do in the area, the spot is a little isolated from many of the tourist hotspots located down near the Southern highlands so we wouldn’t have the added pressure of feeling like we needed to be on the go and seeing things all the time. Also we’re members of the Shangri-La loyalty programme and having stayed with them quite a few times now, they tend to treat us pretty well, and any extras you can get on holiday are always a bonus!
It is possible to fly direct to Hambantota from Dubai with Fly Dubai on certain days of the week, but it fitted our dates better and worked out much easier for us to fly to Colombo from Abu Dhabi. The downside of this was that it meant around a four hour drive at the other end from Colombo to get to Hambantota, and it did feel like a bit of an epic journey, but it’s certainly a very scenic and interesting one, much of it along narrow and winding roads through villages and towns.
On arrival to the hotel we were welcomed very warmly, and taken straight to our room to check in. They told us that they hoped we’d be happy with our room, since they’d been able to upgrade us, so that’s always good news! What we didn’t realise until we reached the room and were shown around with our mouths agape, was that since we’d already booked a suite, and with hotel being busy at high occupancy for Easter, was that they’d upgraded us to none other than the Presidential Suite (Janapathi Suite). So of course, beyond being a pleasant surprise, we were over the moon! So if there’s a moral of the story here, it’s to always sign up for the hotel loyalty scheme – you never know how or when it’s going to pay off!
Needless to say the room was pretty incredible… fit for a king in fact! It was also massive, and at 2580sqft it’s bigger than our apartment in Abu Dhabi!
The toddler loved the giant sofa even though he was pretty much dwarfed by it!
The room had separate living and bedrooms, and the living area had a dining area with its own kitchen and a table to seat at least 10 people for all those presidential dinners. The suite even had its own spa room, which is definitely a first for me in a hotel room!
As for the hotel itself, it’s situated on a long and wide beach, though the waters are rough so sadly swimming is not permitted due to the dangers. The upside of this is that the beach is very quiet, most people only seemed to venture onto it for a stroll, we were the only family we saw out there with full bucket and spade set determined to build our very own grand design in the sand!
Aside from the beach, the hotel really has so much to do you can never be bored, and it’s excellent for families. There’s a kids club for kids aged four and up with a large soft play structure and plenty of organised activities (games, arts and crafts, movies, nature hunts etc), and kids under the age of four can still make the most of it as long as they are accompanied by an adult (or book a babysitter for a couple of hours, I forget the cost but it was very cheap, much cheaper than usual hotel babysitting rates).
And when it comes to the pools, water babies will be happy for hours. There’s a family pool for swimming and a shallower pool with two waterslides, and a large splash pad with a small slide for the little ones.
If you want to stay active there’s daily cycle rides around the grounds, plenty of space to run, and even a trapeze! It was mostly kids having a go at this but anyone who’s game can have a go! And for some child free time, there’s also a far more peaceful adults only pool at the other wing of the expansive hotel.
There’s even a golf course which helped keep my husband happy, and even the toddler enjoyed chasing him around helping to ‘find’ the ball – not sure how much help this actually was, but it did turn the round of golf into some good family fun time!
One of the best things about the hotel having a golf course also meant it had a ’19th hole’, a family friendly bar/restaurant that was open all day. Often we find at hotels the restaurants don’t open until 7pm in the evening which can sometimes be a bit late when you’re travelling and eating together with little ones, but this was perfect for us as it meant if we were tired after a long day, there was always somewhere to eat that was open for an early evening meal (aside from room service) when the toddler was hungry.
The hotel also has its own Artisan Village with a number of local craft shops to support and help preserve these traditional arts. Batik, painting, wood carvings, weavings and lots more can all be found there and it’s just a nice extra within the resort.
If you’re looking for somewhere to relax, there really is everything you could want and if you’re so inclined you don’t even need to leave the resort, though with a country as amazing and rich as Sri Lanka that might be a bit of a shame!
There is a main town nearby that is great to explore to see a bit of of what daily life in Sri Lanka looks like (a photographers dream) and of course the hotel can organise a number of excursions to see wildlife and temples. We chose to go on an Elephant Safari and visit an Elephant Orphanage which was a long day, but well worth it! They even have child seats for the safari vehicle as long as you ask in advance and it’s definitely a good idea since it’s a long journey and the vehicle is pretty open and exposed.
The Elephant Orphanage was interesting to see and it’s good to support places that do such great work taking care of rescued Elephants and it was lovely to see so many baby elephants!
The highlight though was visiting Udawalawe National Park where hundreds of Elephants roam wild, and they come incredibly close to the vehicles, it really is quite an amazing sight!
The national park is a wildlife enthusiasts dream, said to be one of the best places in the world to see elephants in the wild and water buffalo, lizards, birds, monkeys, snakes and more can all be spotted amid stunning scenery.
Sri Lanka really is an incredible destination, one I know we’ll be back to as we still have so much more to see! We loved our stay at the Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a luxurious resort stay – it was perfect for what we were looking for with a good balance of things to do and opportunities to relax. We did also venture out into the nearby town, but this post is already so long I’m going to put that into a separate post, so look out for that if you’re interested to see more of the real Sri Lanka.