Why Sri Lanka is fantastic for young kids

Sri Lanka is a popular destination for travelling families right now and it’s not difficult to see why. Over the past few years we’ve had some amazing family adventures with our boys (aged two and three) but our recent trip to this teardrop-shaped island has perhaps been the best ever! You can read our travel itinerary here. It’s a relatively small country so travelling between places is easy, yet it still offers enough activities, must-see sights, and fun to keep the whole tribe entertained. Indeed, for a country roughly the same size as Ireland, it manages to offer so much variety – both natural and cultural – that we’re sure you’ll fall in love with it too.

TraveLynn Family in Sri Lanka

Tourism is booming here, which is a fantastic testament to the resiliency of its people, who over recent years have had to overcome civil-war and the devastating tsunami. As with other places, the rapid development isn’t without its problems and, as a result of limited regulation and flagrant breaches of planning laws, a few recently-untouched places are becoming over-developed with little consideration to the natural environment. All of which means: don’t leave it until your kids are older, NOW is the time to visit. These are the reasons why we think Sri Lanka is fantastic for young kids…

Pristine beaches

Elephant Rock, near Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has some of the best beaches in the world; with thousands of miles of coastline to choose from, you’ll easily find clean, pristine sand, perfect for building sandcastles and digging holes. You really don’t have to look hard for a quiet patch to yourselves. Just be careful of those huge waves with the little ones; they will love jumping over the crashing shoreline but ensure you hold their hands so they don’t get swept away by the strong current. Our favourite spots were the shady bay of Mirissa, and Elephant Rock Beach (a ten minute tuk-tuk ride down a dusty track from the party scene at Arugam Bay).

Close encounters with wild elephants

Kids on safari in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka

Take your little ones on a jeep safari and meet elephants in the wild, for a fraction of what it would cost in Southern or East Africa. You are pretty much guaranteed to see them on a three hour safari (just the right amount of time for young kids, with the help of snacks along the way). Bouncing around in an open jeep also adds to the adventure! It’s likely you’ll also spot crocodiles, buffalo, plenty of colourful peacocks, and if you’re extremely lucky and look very very hard, a leopard. We loved our experience in Udawalawe NP, camping the night before at Kottawatta Village. You can also hang out with the elephants at Minneriya National Park, Yala National Park, Kumana National Park and the lagoons around Pottuvil.

Ride the rails

Train to Haputale, Sri Lanka

Our boys absolutely love trains. There’s something about seeing a train arrive at a station, jumping on-board and then sitting back as you chug along a track that all kids (and parents!) enjoy. Book your trains either online before you arrive, or at the station in Colombo (especially during peak season) and take what are considered to be some of the most beautiful train journeys in the world – along coastal tracks or lush, green mountain passes and tea plantations. Your kids will love hanging out the window and sticking their tongue out like a dog Dad, or sit in a doorway with your feet dangling over the side, watching the world pass by. One of the most beautiful stretches is between Ella and Haputale.

Mountains that little legs can climb

Little Adam's Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka

One of the highlights of our trip was hiking to the top of Little Adam’s Peak in Ella. You can take a tuk-tuk part of the way, and then it’s a forty minute walk (for our 2 and 3 year old – adults and older kids will do it in half the time!) to the summit. There are quite a few steps for little legs to navigate, so take some snacks to coax them up and enjoy those stunning views from the top.

The history

Galle Fort with kids

Sri Lanka is clearly a winner in the natural beauty stakes but it’s no slouch from a historical perspective either. Throughout history it’s been controlled by the British, French and Dutch, who left their mark with forts, grand buildings and churches but the local influences are apparent as well, be it temples, palaces or ancient ruins. The kids will love experiencing it all and the majority of the sights are free and easily accessible.

Distances are short

tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka

As mentioned earlier, a fantastic amount of natural and historical variety is compacted into a relatively small area so there is no need to take internal flights or long, overnight journeys and it’s unlikely you will need to travel more than four hours to your next destination. Train is always our preferred mode of transport but if the tracks don’t take you to where you need to go, it is always very easy to arrange a car or tuk-tuk. Just ask your hotel the night before. Strong haggling techniques are very rarely required. A car will get you to your destination quicker, but we always prefer the tuk-tuks (called tri-shaws in Sri Lanka, with a speed limit of 40km/h, although they usually bounce along at closer to 50km/h). For some reason the boys are always more chilled in them; something about the open sides and air rushing through.

Soft landing and introduction to Sri Lanka

Viharamahadevi Park, Sri Lanka

Unlike many Asian capital cities, which can seem loud and chaotic on arrival, the relaxed coastal city of Colombo will gently ease you into Sri Lankan life. We loved arriving into Colombo where our hotel allowed a very early check in (4am!), tuk-tuks all use the meter (note, this is only a Colombo thing), the best park ever (Viharamahadevi Park) which offered a playground, water fountains, boating lake, small train ride, aquarium and also horse-riding! Our boys loved the park on the first day after we’d had a long nap to recover from the night flight. But even if that feels like too much hard work, head to the beach resort of Negombo, which is actually much closer to Colombo International Airport (about 30 minute drive, rather than the 1 hour to Colombo), for that first day or so.

Nappies and milk are readily available

Even a small town will have a convenience store to purchase cow’s milk. In Colombo you can get the familiar plastic bottles from the fridge. Once you travel into the countryside, UHT milk is generally sold in boxed cartons, which you don’t need to refrigerate until open. If there’s no fridge at the hotel/guest-house, we leave the carton of milk overnight in the sink with cold water. Not all places have a kettle so, if you need warm milk, pack a thermos flask for boiling water (provided by accommodation) to then add to the milk to heat. We do regret not getting our boys used to cold milk, our youngest always needs it heated to the perfect temperature and can seemingly detect a one-degree difference simply by holding the bottle!

Nappies are available from convenience stores. However, you may have to make do with the local brand. Don’t bother with Pampers, it’s not at all the same quality as the brand you’re perhaps used to. An expat friend in Colombo has done heroic research and recommends Soft Love nappies (or Drypers). Stock up when you see them and strap a pack to the side of your backpack. Also, get a size bigger than usual as they tend to come up small in Sri Lanka.

The People

Colombo friends

We didn’t meet a single grumpy person in our whole two weeks in Sri Lanka. Not one! Everyone has such a happy, chilled outlook and it’s infectious (except when train travel is concerned, the locals become strangely forceful there!). More importantly, everyone we met was so open and fun with our kids. So much so that our boys blossomed with every interaction and we could genuinely see the immediate positive effect of travel on their social well-being.

The Food

Food for kids in Sri Lanka

To average Western tastes, Sri Lankan food is spicy and you may find your little ones don’t like it. That’s fine as many places serve pancakes or omelettes and you’ll also find pasta, pizza and chips in many tourist towns, although I’m sure most kids will love the hoppers (a bit like a pancake in the shape of a flying saucer). If all else fails, there is tropical fruit aplenty and you can always find plain rice. However, us parents absolutely loved the local food and we were easily able to find restaurants to suit everyone’s palate.

It’s relatively cheap

This is always an important consideration for families as travelling with kids tends to inflate the budget. Sri Lanka is not as cheap as other Asian countries but your western money still goes a long way. Train travel in particular is very cheap in Sri Lanka. First class train from Colombo to Galle is just Rs800 (GBP4).

Family friendly accommodation

Ella, Sri Lanka

There are so many family homestays dotted around Sri Lanka which are perfect for travelling families as there will often be toys and new friends to play with. You’ll also find many hotels and guesthouses with a garden or pool, which is always a winner with the kids, across a range of prices. We booked most of our accommodation through booking.com. You can find lovely quiet homestays for under GBP20 per night or splash out on some incredible family-friendly boutique luxury (we loved our stay at Living Heritage Koslanda, with its abundant open space, infinity pool and private waterfall for swimming – read our review here).

Easy visa 

Apply online, pay the USD35 on application and it’s done. Easy.

No malaria, but you may need some jabs

No need for anti-malarials as the World Health Organisation certified Sri Lanka as malaria free in September 2016. However, it is advised that all the family receive vaccinations for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Hep A and Hep B, Rabies and Typhoid. Check with your local health provider for up-to-date information. Also, ensure you pack a lot of kids’ mossie repellent. There are quite a few mosquitoes in Sri Lanka (dengue is a serious problem) and the local repellent can be quite harsh on young skin.

TraveLynn Family in Sri Lanka

We absolutely loved our time in Sri Lanka and hope to be back again soon. Have you been? Do you have any favourite places?

Sri Lanka with young kids
Pin for later

Where would we be without our trusted Lonely Planet guide. The Sri Lanka edition was invaluable to our travels.

You may also wish to read:
Sri Lanka Itinerary with young kids
Twelve tips for travelling India with kids
Ten day Thailand itinerary with young kids and no internal flights or overnight trains 

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51 thoughts on “Why Sri Lanka is fantastic for young kids

  1. Pamela Goward

    Lovely photos. I particularly like the one of all of you together. This has provided lots of ideas for places to stay and visit. The trains sound fantastic.

    1. I can imagine 5 is a difficult number with accom. We would often share the same bed to keep costs down. Works (just about) for a family of 4, but not when the boys are much older! But yes – Sri Lanka = GREAT adventures!

  2. Oh Jenny, it looks AMAZING!! I have loved following your trip online, and may have been just a little green with envy!! A fab selection of reasons and you have totally sold it to me!
    #FarawayFiles

  3. I absolutely loved Sri Lanka – we went in 2007 (I can hardly believe it was a decade ago) when the country was recovering from the tsunami and parts of the island were still out of bounds for tourists, and as you found, the wonderful people and amazing places made a trip to remember. I would love to go back with my daughter, perhaps to venture to some of the spots we missed last time. #farawayfiles

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  5. I agree with everything except maybe for the distances. Most of the places are around 2-3 hours drive from each other which actually deterred some of our clients traveling with children. As a travel agent, I had to tell them the driving hours as we’ve had a complaint from one of our clients before that her kid got sick the entire time as she had motion sickness. And as you may know, driving in Sri Lanka is an experience on its own. Lol.

    #FarawayFiles

    1. Compared to most other Asian destinations, 2-3 hours is considered short for independent travelling families. I can imagine 3 hours in a car winding around hairpin bends in the Hill Country isn’t fun for many people. Train is a fantastic option or tuk-tuk if there is no train (and if they’re happy with the safety element) as the fresh air would help. We found the roads to be relatively calm, but maybe that’s because we compare it to India. Also, perhaps suggest they travel during the child’s nap time. 🙂

  6. I absolutely loved this post. We nearly went to Sri Lanka pre kids but for whatever reason opted for Thailand instead. I would love to go but actually the thought of the anti malaria tabs and little ones put me off. I think I may need to revisit the idea although I’m not sure if my 1 year old will be a bit young ? It looks amazing thanks for sharing #farawayfiles

    1. Thank you so much! Thankfully you don’t need anti-malarials anymore, so I hope that changes your mind. 1 is a great age (if they’re walking) as you can still comfortably carry them in a sling of back-carrier. I can imagine it would be a bit tricky if they were still crawling though as not many places to put them down. It really was such an amazing country to visit!

    1. Totally understand that. Dengue is rife in Sri Lanka. We have it here in Bangalore too. I would be interested in seeing any stats for tourists getting it. The Jungle Formula mossie repellant for kids is fab. Just stock up on it as the local mossie repellant can be a bit harsh for little skin.

  7. flipflopglobetrotters

    We went to Sri Lanka as part of our 10-month adventure in 2015. Our son had just turned 2 and although he’s generally not a fussy eater, he didn’t like the Sri Lankan food and lived on roti and fresh fruit for a month. Other than that we really enjoyed Sri Lanka. Great recommendations! #FearlessFamTrav

  8. Clare Thomson

    Such a great post. I’ve always wanted to visit Sri Lanka and it’s interesting to read your insights about travelling there sooner rather than later. Love your tips about making the trip easier with children too. Great share for #FarawayFiles

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  10. You are braver than me – I’m scared of long haul travel with kids after taking a 7 month old (with a leaky bum) to Australia. 40 nappies in 24 hours. I cried more than him!! #familytraveltips

    1. Oh no! You poor poor thing! Flying with kids is rarely fun. It does get easier as they get older though. Thankfully for us though, Sri Lanka is only a one hour flight away as we live in Bangalore. But I can honestly say that Sri Lanka is worth the long haul flight, even with a leaky bum 😉 Thanks for reading!

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  12. talkingmums1

    I’ve always fancied Sri Lanka but was a bit hesitant with young children. After reading this it has jumped up on my list of places to visit in the near future x
    #familytraveltips

  13. Oh I love this so much Jenny! My littles are no longer little (mostly taller than me teens and tweens!) but I think we could all love everything you shared. Maybe not the playgrounds! 😉 I truly appreciate your sustainable and immersive approach to travel and would love to see and taste and meet Sri Lanka like you all have. Thanks so much for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

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  18. Whata comprehensive guide. I’ve been several times and love the country and we are exploring taking the kids- perhaps on the way to Australia. The food, the people and the landscape are just stunning! This post makes me want to go now! ‪ #familytraveltips‬

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  20. Oh gosh, it’s beautiful! This is just the sort of place I’d love to take the kids but my husband would feel a bit cautious. I’m going to share your post with him, maybe it will change his view on visiting! Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips
    Nat.x

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  22. Sri Lanka looks beautiful, it was funnily enough one of the assignment locations that was suggested to us for my hubs next assignment. The Adam’s peak hike is something that my boys would love to do. As usual the post is fun to read with great pictures.
    Thanks for linking up with #bebevoyage.

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