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Saman Villas
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All reviewsprivate pooldressing roomour honeymoondeluxe villasri lankaoutdoor bathroomindian oceanromantic dinnerspa treatmentslocation is beautifulsitting areaoverlooking the oceansound of the wavesrain showerperfect endlittle touchesspent nights
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Reviewed December 8, 2011

Most people stay at Saman Villas for between one and three nights following a tour. We have just returned from a 13 night stay, during which the hotel was running at between 25% and 50% full. Since there are only 27 rooms, this was hardly over-working facilities which are supported by around 130 staff! Indeed there were many times when the attendants in the pool area outnumbered the guests using the pool - and very many times when the staff providing the dinner service outnumbered the number of diners!

Part of this low occupancy was down to the weather, which was "on the turn" during our stay (Tropical Storm 05A caused 20+ deaths in the Galle area on the first day) - but whilst this may have affected bookings, I suspect that there are other reasons. The main reason seems to me that management of the hotel is over-focused on "service" and under-focused on value-for-money and efficiency. In some areas they are trying too hard to please and in others they are overlooking some important basics - but I know they read these feedback pieces and I would have high hopes they would address the issues raised (as they have already addressed the water issue reported by Alistair a few days ago).

Some of the negative points mentioned by others are a direct consequence of having too many staff for the number of guests. Or, to put it more correctly, too few guests for the number of staff! We found every single one of the staff very polite and extremely eager to please - so much so that we would sometimes get asked (for example) if we were enjoying our meal, or if we wanted more coffee, three times in as many minutes. I'm not a great fan of that sort of "service", nor do I particularly want people to be rushing around and anticipating my every move.

So....having laid out some of the shortcomings in the round, let me move on to the positives - and then some specific points:

Positives:
- Absolutely fantastic beach location. You won't find better - anywhere!
- Beautifully designed and constructed rooms and ocean-facing facilities (though not so great on the landward side, which looks a bit unpromising when you arrive)
- Absolutely excellent food - the Sri Lankan breakfasts are especially to be recommended, even though you do need to give them 60 mins preparation time (BIG congratulations in particular to the chef who was on duty last Sunday breakfast - probably the best curries we have ever had anywhere! Well done!)
- Wonderful horizon pool with panoramic views and extremely attentive staff
- The staff : restaurant, room-service, pool and gardening staff try particularly hard - even the security guards are welcoming!
- Tips policy: Staff are prohibited from appearing to solicit tips and we very much welcomed the facility to distribute a tip to all staff when settling the bill.
- Room service - Very extensive menu - and the staff who deliver the orders are surprisingly cheerful about battling through some awful weather on occasions!
- Very comfortable beds - and delightful open-air bathrooms in the deluxe rooms!

All the above mean that we would return without a second's thought!

There are other positives too - such as a complementary 15 minute massage, daily complementary tea or coffee served in the room etc. And (outside the hotel) it was very pleasant to be able to walk down the beaches without excessive hassles from local vendors (yes there are 2-3 people who will try to sell goods or services every time you go out, but we found them all very polite and reasonable - in contrast to some experiences elsewhere)

Now the specifics - all of which could be improved by management action:

1. My biggest gripe was over the price of drinks, especially locally-produced Lion beer. Saman Villas currently charge LKR600 for a small 33cl Lion beer. At current exchange rates this is £3.55!! These are the sort of prices that one would blench at in most establishments in London - but the local comparisons are even starker:
a) Large Lion beers (67cl) are available in cans or bottles at LKR150 or 160, so Saman Villas are charging a 700% mark-up on the retail price.
b) There are several establishments along the adjacent beaches where Lion beer costs between LKR250 and LKR350 for a large 67cl bottle - this is roughly a quarter of the prices in the hotel.
c) The most expensive and swankiest hotel in Galle charges LKR350 for the same small Lion beer that Saman Villas charges LKR600 for.
All the above means, in my opinion, that Saman Villas are charging roughly double any reasonable price for Lion beer. LKR300 for a small beer would STILL be the most expensive beer anywhere in the area - but, crucially, would probably be cheap enough that people would drink more in the hotel, rather than heading off to the beach bars. And, even more importantly, it is my opinion that people choose to eat out of the hotel BECAUSE the drinks prices are unreasonably high - and actually the hotel would make more money and would have happier guests and staff if they cut the drinks prices to induce people to stay in to eat. The food at Saman Villas is extremely good (better than the three other local restaurants we tried) - and yet no-one seems to visit for dinner....and many of the hotel guests seem to eat out. And those who turn up "on spec" for a drink at the hotel are put off from returning by the high prices. That is a crying shame! My strong advice would be to halve the price of long drinks (I believe that soft drinks are similarly over-priced) and to cut prices on the wine list by 30% (the cheapest bottle of South American wine is LKR4200 - nearly £25).

2. Another indicator that management aren't on top of the game can be found in the information provided in the rooms. We found a number of discrepancies between the information in the rooms and the actual facts - for example, different notice periods for ordering Sri Lankan breakfasts, prices of trips (eg Galle). I'd suggest a complete review and reprint with accurate facts (would be easy/cheap to do at the same time as repricing the room service bar tariff ;-))

3. The above points are simply a reflection of the fact that management appear not to be commercially-minded. They are much more attuned to pushing the "service to the max" idea than to ensuring that the basics of price and ensuring that everyone "sings from the same hymnsheet" when it comes to basic information. An example of that was a small problem I mentioned - which was the number of staff who crossed our "private" sunbed area when going to service a couple of adjacent rooms, instead of going the "proper" longer route. This perhaps wouldn't have been a problem at all if we hadn't wished to raise the electric blinds to see the ocean before we got out of bed in the morning....but it was an irritation that management clearly understood and seem to have addressed as soon as it was mentioned (we saw only one person cross afterwards, having seen 12 do so the day before).

4. The restaurant menu apparently changes every three weeks. We didn't see it change during our two-week stay. This wasn't a huge issue, as we both had a number of favourites that we were happy to have several times - but perhaps management could change the menu more frequently, especially if they know they have guests staying more than a week? Again this would be another incentive to eat in rather than go out, especially as the ambience and view in the restaurant is at least as good as any alternative.

5. I'm not sure that the "private dining locations" are well-promoted or well-used. They are a good idea, especially for honeymooners keen on privacy, but they seemed to get no promotion - though, to be fair, one of the locations was actually washed away by the second night's storm and perhaps the weather wasn't especially conducive.

6. There is a need to be aware of steps. We weren't at all bothered by that, but there are a few steps in most rooms which are a potential risk in the dark - and a fellow guest broke an arm falling on the main steps near reception (claiming poor lighting - though the lighting seemed adequate for the location in our view).

7. There are a small number of staff who don't appear to know exactly what their jobs should be, especially in the area of reception and "guest liaison". This was the one area in which I was less than impressed, having been given inaccurate or incomplete information about both trip costs and foreign exchange rates. This is another area where the basics of the job seem to have been neglected in favour of jumping up and appearing to be "guest-friendly" and eager to help. Staff training and better job-definition would help.

8. Telephones: Why do the room phones not have a button for the restaurant but just for the "Executive Chef" (who is a very nice chap by the way!) or for room service?

9. Trips: It isn't clear to me that the trips arranged by the hotel are any better than those arranged by third parties. In most cases they just appear to be marking up a locally-sourced product (trips to the gardens, taxi to Galle etc) and not adding any particular value other than saving the hassle of finding someone reputable. I think the hotel's "trips offer" to guests could be tightened up considerably, perhaps in partnership with a local provider (or other hotels in Bentota)?

But - the important takeaway from all of the above is that we had a great time and wouldn't have missed it! And neither should you, if you want a quiet and relaxing time. We hope that management will have addressed the specific points raised above by the time we return again - perhaps as soon as next year.

Just one final comment: I wouldn't personally call the hotel a "luxury" hotel. I would say it was an excellent boutique hotel. Having a "spa" doesn't make a hotel a luxury hotel - and having a lot of staff who are keen to please doesn't do it either. Just as well - because we don't care for "luxury" in the form of over-priced or unnecessary services (such as spas).

Tuk-tuk tip: There are at least a dozen tuk-tuk drivers around, half of whom market their services on the beach and all of whom will pitch for your business if the main gate is opened. We used "Susi" several times - excellent English and very helpful.

Room Tip: Pay close attention to the aspect of the room. Several rooms appeared to be in permanent shade at this time of year and all of the rooms have slightly different outlooks. Perhaps private facilities (pools, sunbeds etc) are more useful in peak season than at other times? Also pay attention to the distance from the restaurant if travelling in rainy periods - we were glad to be only 15 yards away and some other guests didn't even venture out!
  • Stayed: November 2011, traveled as a couple
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7  Thank EE_on_the_road
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
myfacebook, Sales & Marketing Manager at Saman Villas, responded to this reviewResponded December 13, 2011

We thank the reviewer for sharing their holiday experience at Saman Villas and providing an overall 5 point rating.

We are pleased to note that our reviewer has invested a lot of time and given a lot of thought to compile a very comprehensive review which is very helpful to us.

Occupancies in typical boutique hotels are low and they vary from month to month based on seasonality and other factors. In November we experienced high occupancy for 2 weeks ranging from 78% to 100% and again experienced 2 weeks of low occupancy in December. We employ nearly 150 persons (not 130) including 3rd party contract staff and the marketing team based in Colombo. Our staff numbers are determined on a 100% occupancy and we employ them year round. We have most of the facilities of a large hotel. Per guest room land area and floor area that we maintain is very much higher than a large hotel. Our objective is to maintain very high standards and manage our business professionally; for an example we are one of the very few hotels in Bentota which comply with ISO 22000 food safety standards. We are one of the very few hotels in Sri Lanka who are active involved in community work. You may visit our responsible tourism page in our website for further details. All these reasons and many other factors tends to heavily inflate our overheads. This is the main reason why our food and beverage prices are higher than other hotels.

We thank the reviewer for providing many useful observations. All these comments have been passed on to the relevant executives for necessary rectification. We have already attended to some of the issues.

We would also like to comment on 2 specific suggestions made by the reviewer.

Prices of drinks: Prices of some of the beverages are been reviewed and changes will be made on 15th December.

Trips: The average length of stay of a visitor to Saman Villas is just below 4 nights. Many guests who stay below 6 nights come generally after a hectic tour and hence they simply want to relax. We have very few long stay guests and who may want tours. Hence we are not looking at excursions as a profit center. We simply offer locally sourced products at reasonable prices without any mark-up. Prices given in the excursions leaflet in guest rooms is without any mark-up and the driver/guide has to be paid directly by the guest. If a guest is unable to pay directly and pays through the hotel, we are compelled to add 10% service charge and 14.23% government taxes as we have to show it in our business turnover for services rendered through the hotel. This is explained in the excursions leaflet placed in every guest room. However, if any guest wants a special tour not mentioned in the leaflet we oblige.

We hope the reviewer will visit Saman Villas in the near future.

Thank you for your valuable observations and making favorable comments about the hotel.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 5, 2011

The wonderful place for couple relax or even for wedding. Nice atmosphere , services on high level, world class meals, big rooms all with ocean view. Frienly personal, professional spa. Wedding prepared and organized on high level. We had very nice stay there and reccomend it to all, who is looking for quiet place with high standards.

  • Stayed: November 2011, traveled as a couple
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Thank Marek H
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
myfacebook, Sales & Marketing Manager at Saman Villas, responded to this reviewResponded December 12, 2011

We thank the reviewer for sharing their holiday experience at Saman Villas and the excellent comments made in every aspect.

Thank you for making such favorable comments.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 5, 2011

Saman Villas is an extremely well maintained boutique hotel with excellent service, spacious and private rooms, and decent food. We stayed at the resort for two nights - one night in the deluxe suite, and the other in the saman villa suite with swimming pool. We would have ideally loved to stay in the deluxe suite with swimming pool, however they were not available. The deluxe room we stayed in was on the ground floor of a two level villa. The room was spacious, with an outdoor bathroom, a big bed, and a porch with lounge chairs. We didnt miss the private swimming pool because the hotel has a common infinity pool with a breathtaking view of the sea. Would recommend watching the sunset in the pool. The villa on the other hand has two levels, with a seating area, outdoor bathroom and private swimming pool below, and the bedroom with an additional bathroom upstairs. Both rooms were sea facing as well. The beach stretches on either sides of the hotel sufficiently and is quite private to the hotel guests. Since the hotel is far away from practically everything, there isnt much to do post sunset. The hotel gets very dark, as the surroundings are only the sea and trees. There are a lot of insects and mosquitos, especially after sunset, and would recommend asking for a bed net, and keeping the doors closed as much as possible. There is only one restaurant at the hotel and although their menu is quite elaborate, it could do with a little more consistency, as there were an equal number of hits and misses. The spa is exquisite, private and worth the time and money spent there. Saman Villas is definitely a place I would visit again and again!

  • Stayed: November 2011, traveled with friends
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1  Thank Mystique00
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
myfacebook, Sales & Marketing Manager at Saman Villas, responded to this reviewResponded December 12, 2011

We thank the reviewer for sharing their holiday experience at Saman Villas and the excellent comments made in every aspect.

We are delighted to hear the excellent comment made about our spa.

We have noted your comments about our menu and I have informed our Executive Chef and our Restaurant & Bar Manager to look in to this.

Thank you for making such favorable comments.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 4, 2011

We spent four nights in saman villas and I have to say that this was one of the most relaxing vacation my husband and I have ever had. You cannot fault this boutique hotel in any area - from location, food, ambience to service...it is perfect in every way. Saman villas meets the standards of any international five star hotel yet it is small enough to offer personal touches that almost make you feel that every guest is treated like royalty. I will be going back to saman villas again and again.

  • Stayed: November 2011, traveled as a couple
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Thank Rameeta K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
myfacebook, Sales & Marketing Manager at Saman Villas, responded to this reviewResponded December 12, 2011

We thank the reviewer for sharing their holiday experience at Saman Villas and the excellent comments made in every aspect.

Thank you for commending the hotel and making such favorable comments.

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 4, 2011

I stayed this hotel over the weekend for my husband birthday, but ended up being unhappy stay. i have some good feedback about this hotel from my friends but all about hotel pool- infinity pool. I booked a delux suite w/private swiming pool, but several facility problems in my room (the ditch stinks in the bathroom, music player is out of order, hot water capacity is low so didn't soak myself), outside three wheeler guy is coming just in front of my private pool did asking restaurant or tour guid, and worst is they forgot a complimentary BD cake for my husband! I told them when i checked out, but just talked back they would arrange that cake just for BD guy stays on the day! if i knew that, i am ok to pay extra, but surely they mentioned it on my reservation confirmation email. We left the happy with unhappy mood, and no staff sent off at the hotel reception, just handed over the bill!! It's pitty hotel other staff is friendly, but others aren't good. Judging from food and facility, not worth paying (food is so seasoned). when compared to other srilankan luxuary hotel, i won't recommend this hotel. I won't come back this hotel, either!!

  • Stayed: December 2011, traveled as a couple
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6  Thank Ayako_Bammy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
myfacebook, Sales & Marketing Manager at Saman Villas, responded to this reviewResponded December 16, 2011

We refer to the recent stay of two resident expatriates at Saman Villas and wish to explain in detail the issues raised by the reviewers.

1. Complimentary birthday cake:The reviewers stay was for one night from 3rd to 4th December 2011 and the actual birthday of the reviewers’ husband was falling on 5th December 2011. Complimentary birthday cakes are provided only if the particular guest is staying on the day of the birthday. The reviewer wanted to arrange a special occasion with a special dinner and cake to be presented as a surprise. We agreed to provide a complimentary cake. When the reservation was confirmed, we sent the prices for the special dinner but the reviewer did not want to book the special dinner. The reviewer did not discuss or specify the time the cake should be presented after they arrive. The hotel staff had also forgotten to check with the guest about serving the cake, which was a complete oversight on our part.

The reviewer mentioned about the cake not been provided only upon departure; had this been just mentioned to the hotel we would have readily arranged the cake as a surprise. Upon noting our mistake, I immediately called the guest and apologized and requested to meet them in person to explain. Since the guest was not able to provide an appointment, I immediately sent an apology card signed by me and Chairman along with a bottle of Moet & Chandon to the guest residence before the reviewers’ husbands’ birthday.

2. DVD Player was broken: A full check is carried out in all suites before releasing for arrivals. Based on our check list records, the DVD player was functioning before the guest checked-in and therefore we are rather surprised with this complaint. We were informed about a defect only at departure and our Maintenance Department had immediately checked the unit and found it faultless.

3. Ditch stinks in the bathroom: All rooms are provided with a water feature – a small pond and a spout with water circulating daily for a total of six and half-hours. The system was operating since August 2010 without any problems. During this period the South of Sri Lanka experienced gale force winds and heavy evening rains resulting 19 deaths and 35 fishermen reported missing. The heavy rains continued until 1st December evening. The pond drain-out could not cope with the heavy rains and water was flooding the bathrooms. For the 1st time since August 2010 we had to stop circulation and empty the ponds. The system was restarted with fresh water on 2nd December. Although the ponds were emptied to prevent flooding, some water remained in the pipe lines. Later investigations reveled that micro-organisms had formed in the water remaining in the pipe lines, which had developed unpleasant odors. When the ponds were refilled and the circulation restarted these smells came into the bathroom. Such human errors occur everywhere in the world. According to what we read in the world press not so long ago the nuclear disaster in Japan was one such incident. Since we are aware of the cause of the bad odor, we have taken preventive measures.

Bath, shower and sink water was not affected at all and it was perfectly safe to use the water. There were other guests in the hotel during this time and we have not received such complaints.

4. Unable to soak due to poor water flow: All suites are provided with an oversize terrazzo bath. The bath spout is a unique design where the water flows from a 6-inch wide, open-top spout. Water flow from a 6-inch wide, open-top spout will look slow as compared to water flowing from a normal half-inch tap. The bath filling time is normal and this is the first ever complaint we have received regarding water flow.

5. Whilst in the private pool a person climbing on to the rock: We were rather surprised of this incident as no one made such a complaint. We would expect our reviewer to immediately raise such an incident, but our reviewer did not do so until they departed from the hotel. Although we have no way of verifying this, we immediately took the matter up with the highest level in the Police. On the instructions of the Southern Province Police Chief, the Officer-in- Charge summoned all the Three-Wheeler drivers to the Police Station and warned them severely. In consultation with the Police, we are taking a course of action to prevent such incidents in the future.

6. Too much seasoning in the food: We note that the reviewer had consumed a Sri Lankan dish for lunch which was mildly spiced and probably the spices did not agree with them. In the case of dinner the reviewer had chosen the 4 course set dinner which was also consumed by many other guests who had commented very positively. Over 95% of our guests are very happy with our food. This is evident from reviews in websites, blogs and our own guest comment book.

All issues that have been raised by the reviewer could have been resolved immediately by informing us. The Chairman’s welcome letter provides details of all Departmental Managers, and guests are requested to contact them to raise any issues. Sadly our reviewers did not raise any of these issues during their stay.

Thank you

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