Mary…your OCD is doing my head in. I’m a beach bum living a lifestyle. Just come and give spontaneity a try. You might like it 🙂
This was Mamboz Beach Cabanas’ owner Matthew Gale’s response to me when I sent him our standard (but fabulously Caviared) pre-visit prep email filled with questions and requests like photos and facts about the property and itinerary outlines.
I laughed, then shrugged, deleted the email, and thought, “I guess I’ll just wing it when I get to Mamboz!”
It was a good reminder that we started doing this because we LOVE doing this; it’s not about the stats and making sure the review follows a strict template or that we have all the proper social media handles and hashtags. So by the time I got around to Mamboz Beach, I was ready to just kick back and savour each moment as it came along. No more, no less.
Now if you’ll do me a favour, please, before you read any further.
Throw on Morcheeba’s “The Sea,” crank it up, sit back, and get comfortable … Good? OK, now you can continue reading about our secret little slice of paradise that we’re going to share with you. It won’t be here for long so take our word for it and make sure Mamboz Beach is on the itinerary when you visit Sri Lanka.
Mamboz Beach Cabanas is located in an area that, mercifully, hasn’t yet been attacked by sprawling hotels and big corporations. The keyword is “yet” because the day will come, and it will probably be sooner rather than later (not to sound too ominous or anything).
But for now, this place is still a natural beauty, with rich greenery, swaying coconut trees, soft white sand, cerulean seas, and basically every other paradise cliché you can think of. In other words, remember that time you really wanted that beachfront property which revealed itself to cost a small fortune so you settled for the hotel suite instead? Well, Mamboz Beach Cabanas is a dream come true.
It’s the perfect beachfront haven minus the big bucks; a place where you can easily switch off the iPhone and stay for a week. (Or in the case of some of the current returning guests, 3 weeks! I can’t blame them — it’s a hard place to leave!)
Matthew, who hails from Alaska, took quite a journey to get here. He was a commercial fisherman who ended up in Japan for nearly 15 years before stumbling upon an opportunity to buy a piece of land in Sri Lanka for what seemed like pocket change. Of course, he grabbed the opportunity (it was beachfront property!) and over the next 15 years, worked on building this little corner of Sri Lanka, cabana by cabana. What an amazing moment in time and opportunity — this place is simple perfection of natural indulgence.
He’s also an expert in Thai massage and has a fantastic reputation both locally and around the world (he travels the globe four months out of the year as a visiting masseuse). When that’s all over and done with, Matthew gets to head back here, to his piece of utopia where he spends the rest of his time living that beach bum lifestyle and decompressing with fellow guests!
I don’t care what anyone says, I’m convinced that Matthew is like an older version of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”! He’s swarve, grounded, adventurous, full of stories, and is one of those guys who just needs the clothes on his back. But there’s a reason why for that last bit.
When he first opened, it was one week before the tragic tsunami hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka in 2004. All of the possessions he’d had shipped over from Japan were washed away, which paved the way for him to adapt the mindset of simplicity. He got rid of the illusion that things are what make us happy and now, Matthew’s perfectly content with beer, chill music (there are some great tracks in the evening, by the way), great food, great company, and great natural beauty!
Getting There & First Impressions
Let’s just say this place is definitely off the beaten path. (And if you’ve read our #SriLankaForTravellers article with Condé Nast Johansens, then you know this was the theme of the trip!) To get here, you can rely on Google to a certain extent but after that, go back to good old direction reading and rely on your senses. Or, even better, get yourself a fabulous driver like Kalan (thanks again, AMW Group!).
Mamboz Beach is about 20km east of Tangalle or 7km south of Hungama, just past a beautiful lagoon. Even if you get turned around a bit down here, you won’t mind because it’s so pretty … just think of it as taking the scenic route.
Upon arriving, Matthew came out to greet me in his characteristic easy-breezy way. He doesn’t seem to have a care in the world and it’ll rub off on you in no time, making you want to just chuck your suitcase to one side, throw on a kaftan, and hop into a hammock.
Where You’ll Sleep
Like everything else down here, it’s about simplicity. The cabanas are simple, clean, fabulous, and perfectly suited to the environment. There’s an en-suite bathroom, the bed is draped in mosquito netting (a must in Sri Lanka) and furnishings are minimal but what else do you really need when you’re just steps away from a pristine beach? You can kick back in one of the chairs out on your cabana’s veranda or walk a few more steps to go hang in a hammock.
Don’t expect an amenities basket or fancy labels or designer anything whilst here. When you stay at Mamboz Beach, it’s about embracing the simplicity of life and letting go of all of the “stuff” you think you need on a daily basis. The last thing you’ll want to do is throw on makeup (let that skin breathe and tan!!) but if you do insist on laying out your beauty kit, you’ll be doing it on a window sill and a tiny mirror shelf. And hot water showers? Well, yes, they’re available … but I just embraced the cold water and let it be part of my decompressing ritual whilst at Mamboz!
The place is intimate with just three cabanas (which have en-suite bathrooms), a private room (affectionately called “H2O”) under the water tank, and a small room within the main house. All are double occupancy so there are never more than 10 guests on the property at any given time. Matthew has intentionally made it this way so that everyone staying here gets hands-on and attentive service and honestly, I think it would lost its charm and appeal if it was any bigger.
Where to Dine
In the main house (where Matthew lives), you’ll find the kitchen and a storage area where you can grab a bottle of wine from the fridge but this isn’t where you’ll eat. Instead, head back outside towards the gazebo where you can enjoy a candlelit supper, which is an array of homemade Sri Lankan dishes, complete with chill background music and the smells and sounds of the beach around you.
There’s plenty to drink (alcoholic and non) but if you want wine, you’ll need to purchase the bottle from the pretty fantastic selection in the main house (first world problems, we know).
Other meals are flexible and just as fresh and delicious. With no set menu, plain and simple communication is the way to go and the staff will make pretty much what you want. Breakfast, for example, can be granola, a fresh fruit platter, or a full-on cooked breakfast if that’s what your stomach is craving.
Oh, and if you’re in the mood for some coconut water? No worries, coconuts are collected and cut fresh on request.
Where To Unwind
It is just absolutely breathtaking here and again, I have to emphasise how grateful I am that this place is still untouched by massive tourism, big brand hotels and the like. The beach is blissfully secluded throughout the day, save for the early morning fishermen, and the sunrises and sunsets are out of this world. This is the stuff paradise is made out of, with a wide stretch of soft, white sand and waves lapping up against the shore. It’s fully understandable why Matthew decided to make this his home. Who wouldn’t want this beach as their front yard?
A word of warning, though: the waves aren’t gentle here so if you’re not an experienced swimmer, maybe stick to splashing around near the shoreline. And even if you are a seasoned water baby, don’t underestimate the pull of the waves!
There are also hammocks and loungers scattered across the property so grab a book, maybe a glass of wine, and spend the afternoon gently swinging away. There’s absolutely nothing chasing you here (trust me, you’ll forget about those emails and obligations in a flash!) so just enjoy yourself. You might even catch a glimpse of the neighbour’s buffalo sauntering by and grazing on the land. It’s just that kind of place.
Matthew also offers massages so make sure you book a session with him. Considering how popular he is, it’d be a shame to miss out on the chance to indulge in one, especially when set against this tropical backdrop!
If you fancy getting out beyond the beach, check out the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary just a short distance away along that lagoon you passed when getting here. This has the same blissful vibe as the rest of the area — you can spend a few hours gently floating in a boat on the water whilst bird watching and just enjoying nature.
Along Rekawa Road is a lovely little temple, locally known as Kahandawa Temple, but good luck finding it on Google! This is one of those places that you can discover once you’re here and chatting it up with someone like Matthew.
A little further away (about an hour’s drive) is Mulkirigala, an ancient rock cave temple site perched atop a mountain. You can explore the seven caves here which are filled with unique murals and Buddhas. For the fit and fearless, climb up the 533 steps to the very top for some awesome views!
Mamboz Beach Cabanas is, quite simply, one of the most stunning places I’ve been to in a while. I’ve nothing against big 5-star hotels (they have their place and I’ll never say no to a cushy room and top-notch amenities) but there’s something about this place. It’s that it doesn’t try too hard and just seems to melt into the surrounding environment, embracing nature and the local culture, and that is a luxury in itself that can’t be replicated.
If you’re looking for something that’s off the well-travelled path, whether for a honeymoon, solo trip, or a getaway with your partner or friends, put the south of Sri Lanka on your itinerary. You can’t go wrong with this hidden beach heaven!
Gurupokuna Village, South Sri Lanka
Mary Pratt is a writer and founder of The Caviar Spoon, a luxury lifestyle site that brings together consumers, brands, companies, tastemakers, and emerging talent.
Her roots are in talent acquisition and branding, where she used to constantly scout out rockstar talent and develop employer brand strategies. This grew into a passion that then extended to human and brand behaviors. Curious to find out what makes people thrive and companies stand out, she transitioned from profiling world-class organizations to reviewing places and products and writing about them from the inside out.
Having been misled by one too many mediocre editorials, Mary makes sure that her reviews cover all aspects. She digs deeper than most and offers a look behind the scenes to spotlight the talent who are making things happen. She knows that everyone has a story to tell, which affects the experiences they create, and she asks the right questions to gain intriguing insight into the individual and the company.
Mary has a deep-seated love for traveling and adventure and believes that life’s best indulgences are about the experience, not the extravagance. This means she’d be just as likely to write a review about backpacking through a remote pocket of the world as she would about a trip to a luxury resort. No matter what, she’ll always hunt someone or something down to bring the entire story to life.