The drive along the South Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka is a must route for those heading this way. From Galle to Dikwella and up into the beaches of Tangalle, you will see what might have been something like Bali many moons ago. Less traffic, more palm trees, an elephant ambling out the front of a mosque and the beginnings of the outside world trading in their Western ways for the magic of island life in the form of surf schools and holiday shacks.
Hard not to blame them when you discover what lies beyond the over grown exit signs that regularly sprout into view on the main road. One in particular, that reads ‘Amanwella’ and points you down a bumpy dirt road really only big enough for a tuk tuk or two, will lead you to what is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary locations in this part of the world.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly with Qantas via Singapore to travel to Sri Lanka’s International Airport in Colombo. From Singapore’s Changi Airport, you will be connected thanks to One World partners, Sri Lanka Airlines or Emirates.
When you touch down at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, you have a few options in making the trip down to Amanwella. By car, it is a scenic five and a half hour drive, or you could skip the time with an Air Taxi to fly you down in just 50 minutes. Another option is by train from Colombo’s Fort Station, costing just a couple of dollars.
We actually suggest breaking the trip up with a two-night stopover at Amangalla, only a two hour drive from the airport. Aman hotels provide the option of booking private cars and this is a great option for a smooth, cool trip through the hot Sri Lankan landscape.
BOOK FLIGHTS WITH QANTAS HERE
The beaches of Tangalle are at their best in Sri Lankan Winter, from November to April each year. However the summer season, May to October, is the off season so if you prefer it to be a little quieter, this is for you. Temperatures are pretty constant all year round, so it's likely to be hot no matter when you go!
It is the stillness and the peacefulness you notice first when driving into the frangipani soaked courtyard of Amanwella. Next is the rugged coastline of the Indian Ocean which creates a dramatic backdrop for the contemporary angles of Amanwella, inspired by famed local architect Geoffrey Bawa. Described as ‘Tropical Modernism’ it is this minimalist approach blended with indigenous materials that makes the property, set amongst nature, so striking in the gentlest of ways.
Your contemporary home is hard to leave. This may be due to your own private plunge pool that opens up into your suite, ceiling-high glass doors and a sprawling terrace that overlooks the stunning South coast. The terrace was my favourite spot, a quiet moment here before the kids woke up, surrounded by the sounds of local birdlife and the waves rolling in, was my morning meditation. At night, you will find local treasures left on your bed and pillow as is the Aman way; children’s books of local Gods and bookmarks made from coconut shells. Age appropriate swimming toys and floating devices were left out by the pool for the kids and the most delicious citrus mosquito spray and sunscreen is on hand.
Hotel and resort stores rarely entice but with the Aman Resorts this is never the case. Outside, the local markets and shops along the roads, I found to have treasures for sure, but you just have to be prepared to annoy the driver and your family by making random stops. In the heat and traffic this might not make you too popular and as shopping wasn’t my ambition for this stay, it was a delicious surprise to find a chic curation of locally sourced artisan pieces from sarongs to antique jewellery, books and art at the Amanwella resort. The price tag isn’t shabby BUT the antique silver ankle cuffs that I acquired could never be found in any market or road side shack.
Adventures, classes and local cultural experiences are all on offer from heritage pottery classes in a nearby village (which I am so disappointed we couldn’t fit into our schedule) to a moonlight safari with the turtle conservation project to watch these ancient creatures emerge. This we couldn’t get the kids to stay awake for as the window is anywhere between 9.30pm and 1am but again, it would have been a great family adventure.
The list is long; surfing, snorkeling, whale watching, fishing and day trips to Yala and Udawalawe National Parks to go on safari seeing elephants, leopards and jackals. One adventure we didn’t know about at the time but wish we had, is visiting the Elephant Transit home in Udawalawe which is an elephant orphanage. That would be a must visit before heading to the nearby National Park.
Tangalle is such a cool part of that coastline, it’s worth just hanging and exploring locally. If you’re looking for something a little bit more laid back, jump in the hotel’s cute cream tuk tuks to nearby Dikwella for a fun day at the beach where board hire, pizza and a beer or coconut on the beach is easy on the pockets. Hanging out with locals and other travellers is the best way to really experience a place and to get all the best tips on where to hang and adventure.
The hotel offers traditional Sri Lankan cooking classes (which, again, with more time, Sam would have loved to do). Pretty much, the team can organize anything you might want to do or try. Sam and I had to work one afternoon and didn’t want the kids to have a sitter so they suggested a mini mocktail class just for them while we worked nearby. It wasn’t expensive and the kids LOVED it. They learnt about local produce and how to prep and create their own creations taking home their own little aprons and recipe books.
By candlelight, under the stars in perfect balmy temperatures, feasting on traditional Sri Lankan curries or fresh seafood caught only a few metres away. Music floats through the night sky as local musicians play wood instruments and the kids run off to draw and play checkers in the nearby library. This is the main restaurant, perched above the pool and overlooking the crescent beach of Amanwella. Further down on coconut grove is the Beach Club, a great place for lunch of BBQ seafood and Asian-Mediterranean salads. If you feel like mixing it up, the team can advise local restaurants nearby but the pizza down on Dikwella beach is pretty all time.
Pretty much the most kid friendly adult hotel we have been too. You know that rare combination where the feeling and style doesn’t reflect a children’s environment yet it is the most magical place for kids? The environment is very calm and serene and at the same time there is a freedom and safety that allows you to let your children roam free. The staff were INCREDIBLE with the children. Very patient and kind, always stopping to chat or teach them something about what they were doing or where they were.
Sri Lankan sarongs and swimsuits are the call of the day. Think wild island life gone luxe. Influenced by the local dress of mandarin collars and men’s sarongs, it felt a little exotic island on safari. If you’re planning a little adventure in the wild, pack with the mosquitos and heat in mind.
Yes, there are spa treatments on offer, as to be expected, in particular down by the Coconut Grove there was mention of some massage sorcery. But this trip, my choice of indulgence was to read a book, perched on a day bed in front of the 150ft main swimming pool, overlooking the silken sands of their deserted private beach. Made even more indulgent by the fact there is a resident life guard on duty at all times so I could actually read the book. What!!!! PS. He was a hawk too. He even followed them from the pool down to the beach.
Even though it felt like no one else was there, certain times of the day, like sunset at the hotel bar, is a stunning atmosphere to indulge in their stellar cocktail list while chatting to the very interesting, mostly European guests. My other favourite ‘get to know folks’ time of day is afternoon tea, also at the hotel bar. A stunning space where you can sit and sip on the most delicious sweetened ice coffee I have ever tasted and other hand made treats.
I would advise investing extra and booking the hotel drivers to get you to and from where you need to go. I still suggest breaking the drive up if you have children by stopping over in Galle. They can do a prepacked lunch for you to take on the road so you don’t have to stop anywhere random but the concierge can also suggest their favourite restaurant stops along the way. Check the latest vaccinations needed for the area if this is your thing. Typhoid and Hep A shots are strongly recommended due to contaminated food and water. I also put together a medicine bag with the help of my doctor before I left, for stomach and ear infections. Both homeopathic and antibiotics.
TO STAY AT AMANWELLA, BOOK HERE.
We recommend booking your Sri Lanka trip with a few nights in each of Amanwella and Amangalla to get a more diverse and rich experience of this beautiful part of the world.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM ELSOM
Sheree wears Albus Lumen in feature image