Touted as Sri Lanka's biggest resort to date, the relatively new Shangri-La Hambantota is a sprawling property in Sri Lanka's deep South. With 53 acres, 300 rooms, some 21 suites, an artisanal village, recreational facilities, and an 18 hole golf course, it's pretty dang massive. The service is the key aspect that renders it less soulless than you might think.
Sure, the resort really covers everything you need, like a bunch of restaurants, a couple of pools, and more activities than you can cover in your stay, but there's a reason for this. There's basically nothing outside. If you're on foot, forget it, no restaurants or recreational options await you outside the borders of the resort. It is, however, very close to the beautiful wildernesses of Ussangoda, Bundala, and Yala.
The cheapest rooms go for about $250 a night on a bed and breakfast basis, but they usually have a bunch of discounts if you're a Sri Lankan resident or book in advance, as low as $145 a night. We stayed at an Ocean Premiere Suite, which is about $400 a night or around $340 if you book in advance.
The rooms are up to a high international standard. Quality fittings, great linen, rooms angled towards the best view, and all the luxury amenities you'd expect. The options range from the smaller golf-course facing rooms to the super luxe Janapathi Presidential Suite. Overall, there's really nothing you could complain about the room itself. The interior decor isn't particularly inventive, but international chains rarely are.
We even got a beautiful little welcome to the suite/sweet life, with a Siddhalepa pack and a tray of dessert goodies when we got there to complement our view of the sunset pool and the horizon beyond.
The dining was probably one of our favourite aspects of the 4-day stay. We tried 3 restaurants whilst there, the Bojun Hala for our breakfast spreads, Ulpatha for some dining by the golf course, and Sera for some rather snazzy South Asian fare.
We'd recommend you opt for full board or at least half board, because there's really nowhere to eat outside the resort. Plus it's quite pricey if you're paying per meal, at least Rs. 2000 per head for a la carte, and Rs. 3500++ for the buffet.
Bojun Hala is the main restaurant, and their buffet spread is massive, with a whole host of cuisines, courses, and live stations on offer. At almost Rs. 3800 a head, you'd expect this level of variety and quality though. You can opt for anything from Sri Lankan to Thai to Continental fare, with pasta, noodles, hoppers, and other action stations. We particularly enjoyed their extensive dessert options (pictured in some of its glory above), especially the macarons and tiramisu.
We tried Sera for dinner. While it's meant to be a South-East Asian street-hawker inspired restaurant, the ambience belies that as it's pretty swanky.
Hanging trellises, beautiful open filament bulbs, and chic tableware came together for a pretty chic experience. We opted for a laksa and a glass of champagne while there. The first bowl that came out was throat-scorchingly spicy to the point of discomfort, but the staff was very much on the ball and quickly whipped up another less fiery batch for me within 5 minutes. The laksa cost a whopping Rs. 1400.
The view at Ulpatha over a post-golf session lunch was lovely. It was a hot afternoon, and I'd really earned my repast with some ineffectual but enthusiastic swings on the course. I opted for a fresh prawn salad at a pricey Rs. 1500 and an even fresher big bottle of ice cold Lion at Rs.700.
On par with the high standard of the food, the staff at Shangri-La Hambantota are trained impeccably. With manners uniform-crisp and lots of genuine friendliness and warmth, I felt welcome and very taken care of. This was probably some of the best service I've come across in Sri Lanka.
Ambience & Experience
I absolutely underestimated how big the hotel was. During a 4 day stay, I still didn't manage to explore all they had on offer. If you're exploring the outer premises, the artisanal village etc, the hotel will arrange an electric buggy for you. The property fringes a fairly long strip of beach, but the water is generally too rough for a paddle, which is a real pity and the only thing detracting from this being a fully-rounded beach resort.
The design is blissfully open-plan, with lots of fresh air, natural light, and blue accents that compliment the sky and sea outside.
Although they have undoubtedly tried to make the place couples-friendly too, the sunset pool did have quite a few noisy Chinese families in it when I tried to go for a dip. Overall, the sheer size of the premises and crowds don't really lend themselves to a sexy romance weekend. Travelling alone, I found plenty to do, but there was also lots of unwelcome attention from drunk bank employees on a mid-level corporate retreat (for example, some oglers tried to video/take photos during a sunset yoga class I attended with a foreign couple).
Activities & Sport
There are two pools, one free-form pool meant for larger parties and families, and one serene sunset pool meant for sipping on cocktails and hanging out with your boo. There's also a massive recreation area for children, complete with wet slides, jungle gyms, fountains, and more.
When I visited, the course just hosted a few holes, but I think they've expanded it to the full 18 now. It was a gorgeous drive, with a man-made pond on one end, plantations on the other, and the sea fringing the side.
The artisanal village is perfect for tourists who want a pre-packaged local experience, as it features local craftsmanship such as jewellery, batik, and more.
You can both learn about the art and buy some souvenirs while you're at it.
The Chi Spa features a whole bunch of treatments, open herbal-treatment chalets and closed indoor rooms for Balinese and Swedish massages. As you'd expect, prices are a tad steep with a 1 hour massage going at about Rs. 8000.
We opted for a luxurious Balinese massage, a soothing slow-stroke treatment with a friendly and experienced therapist, and topped off with a hot tub session.
Despite being an unwavering small boutique hotel and villa fan, I quite enjoyed my first Sri Lankan Shangri-La experience. If you're travelling with friends on a golfing retreat, a large family with children and adults of various ages and persuasions, or planning a corporate retreat, this resort is the ultimate spot to head to. The food is good but expensive, and we can't recommend the service enough.