The villa concept in Sri Lanka is much misunderstood and so it’s a theme I come back to – in the (probably) vain hope that someone might read this blog and help get the following messages out.
1: Villas are a wonderful option for staying in Sri Lanka, both for couples looking for luxury and privacy at a reasonable cost and for families looking for comfort and value.
2: Villas in Sri Lanka are generally not cheap and they are not basic self-catering units as you get in the west.
3: Villas in Sri Lanka are great value.
I’ll deal with point 2 first. We at Experience Sri Lanka spend much of our time explaining that villas in Sri Lanka are not like cheap European/Australian/US villas/self-catering units, that you cannot get them without staff and that you will pay a fairly decent rate, even for the most basic.
There are several reasons why the villas are not cheap:
1: They MUST be fully staffed at all times. Tropical conditions mean all buildings need constant upkeep (and I mean DAILY) or they will very quickly lose their ongoing battle with nature. If they are by the sea this is doubly true as salt has a highly corrosive effect. Labour is relatively cheap of course, though I hope anyone looking for a villa would expect the in house staff to be comparatively well paid.
2: The infrastructure/Policing/Legal structure in Sri Lanka is very definitely ‘third world’ (I mean that as a euphemism). It takes time and money to build a house, build local relationships and make it safe to let out to people. It takes patience and diplomacy skills at a high level to get bank accounts open, accounts filed and so on and so forth.
3: You cannot kit out a house to a decent standard at a low cost. There is no IKEA. There is only cheap plastic furniture or pretty expensive wooden antique/handmade furniture. These are the ONLY choices. This goes for everything from the plates and glasses right through to the beds and mattresses (quality mattresses are unbelievably expensive in Sri Lanka).
4: Most electronic and other good need to be imported – meaning the cost is vastly higher than in the west.
5: Building in the first place is a major undertaking – the lack of infrastructure, the blurred legal lines, the stodgy bureaucracy and the cost of raw materials that are not tainted in some way by various forms of illegality…. all adds up.
6: Quite simply these places tend to be dream tropical holiday houses – which are therefore done to a very high spec!
The best way to think of them is as mini boutique hotels – so mini you get them all to yourselves. The massive advantage is that staff look after you and generally, they are delighted to have you, delighted to tell people about their area and their country and you can get to know the area through them in a way that you could not at a conventional hotel.
You also get wonderful, fresh local food at cost price. They buy – you pay according to the total of the receipt. Nothing more. The cost of your villa includes the cost of cooking/cleaning etc… Trot to the local fish market, have loads of fun buying fresh fish and the cook will BBQ for you on the beach outside your villa. At no extra cost. Or for the keen, do it yourselves – totally up to you! Hotels tend to reserve their biggest markup for soft drinks – which makes travelling with children expensive. Fresh fruit in Sri Lanka is very cheap indeed, so the cost of as many fresh fruit shakes as they can drink is practically zero in the grand scheme of things.
These are just a few of our favourite places. Chosen because they offer a great holiday, our clients have had amazing times there (and we tend to get the very best feedback reserved for stays at villas or places run along similar lines) and because the owners have put a lot of love and attention into the villa itself.
A great advantage of a villa for families – is that the staff are often well used to children and can be paid extra for auxiliary childcare duties. On-site babysitting in other words – most even supply a nanny if you want… Folks, you know you deserve it!
And for friends or groups of friends, the stay becomes far cheaper than the equivalent level of hotel and with the freedom afforded by having the place to yourselves, much more fun, relaxed and informal too.
Sandana Kirana and Victoria in Thalpe, just south of Galle are fantastic stylish beach places – the place by the beach you always dreamed you’d have! Tiny Kilkili Beach bucks the rules above in that it is really pretty cheap and glorious for a couple. Southpoint Abbey and Villa are further down the coast in Koggala and are particularly good for families as the Sri Lankan owner used the place as a holiday home while her kids were growing up. Great activities locally too.
In Mirissa there are a number around, though we like the inland Mirissa Hills – though it is quite large I think this is best for a group or a large family – a wedding would be amazing here.
In Tangalle, Kadju House is simply amazing for a couple of family with older children, while Lansiya is the family place. At both of these places, you get what is virtually a private beach, thrown in too. For a large group, The Geoffrey Bawa designed Last House is mind-blowing. At the other end of the scale, Rannaway is homely and while fairly basic, the location makes it one of our favourites. Somewhere in the middle would be Moonhill and Teak House, but tried and tested and wonderful little places. Teak House has a particularly lovely garden.
Finally, there are options for taking an old Dutch colonial villa in the Galle Fort area – try 41 Lighthouse Street, among several other gems. This place you hire by the room, though you get the place to yourselves, making it incredible value for couples…
Of course, you can always take your own private island at the legendary Taprobane Island…
Inland from Galle, I have not yet been, but I am very excited about the prospect of visiting Mandalay one day. It looks beyond amazing… In and around Colombo there are a couple too – Java Moon for example and The Hideaway.
Which brings me onto my final point. These villas are a great place to get married! I should know since I got married in The Hideaway! If you are looking to escape for a private and romantic tropical wedding, I think you would be mad to even consider the conveyor belt style at the large resort hotels. The boutique hotels offer a much better option, but for me, the privacy and freedom afforded by a villa makes it by far the best choice. We at Experience Sri Lanka have organised loads and without exception, the happy couple has loved them.
Anyway, I have banged on far too long though already. There are many more and I strongly believe they are worth considering for anyone planning a visit to Sri Lanka*. Talk to us and we’ll help you find the best one. You’ll pay the same as you would if you go direct and we will fix the exchange rate there and then too.
*Except backpackers. Stick to the guesthouses if you want cheap. They are plentiful and great fun and functional. You get what you’re prepared to pay for.