Sri Lanka is a very easy destination for families to travel around independently and on a budget. Check out our Sri Lanka itinerary with kids. But if you’ve been roughing it for a few too many days, and done one too many hair pin bends in a tuk-tuk, it may be time to treat yourselves to one of the best family resorts in Sri Lanka.
The following have been hand picked by myself and some fellow family travel bloggers, and all these accommodations welcome kids with open arms.
Nestled deep in the Sri Lankan Hill Country, set amongst 80 acres of pristine jungle and tea plantations lies the most perfect slice of paradise – Living Heritage Koslanda. This is where you find absolute tranquillity in outstanding stylish luxury, but where staff warmly welcome kids of all ages.
Choose from one of only four luxury villas, sympathetically designed to fit the magical setting, equipped with an outdoor plunge pool decorated with flower petals, a spacious open air living area centred around an ornamental light-well, an elegant double bedroom boasting high A-frame beams, and an outside seating area to while the hours away as you watch the clouds drift over the distant mountains.
Our boys loved splashing in the infinity pool and all the green open space to run. Meeting the resident cow and playing croquet was a big hit. But the highlight was walking down to the private waterfall to enjoy a dip.
The Grand Hotel is a sumptuous confection of a hotel tucked away in the misty hills of Nuwara Eliya, a region often referred to as ‘Little England’ due to its red telephone boxes, colonial buildings and rose gardens. The hotel itself is a remnant of British colonial rule and while it is unquestionably glam and sophisticated, it’s also exceptionally kid friendly with a tennis court, kids’ play area for littlies, billiards and snooker for older kids and plenty of grassy space to run around!
Their afternoon tea is a must, with elegantly attired waiters delivering towers of pretty sandwiches, jam and cream-laden scones and dainty cakes, with perfectly brewed tea or milkshakes and sodas for the kids.
It’s the perfect base for visiting the town’s pretty colonial buildings, gorgeous Gregory Lake and for exploring Sri Lanka’s famous highland tea country and its many tea plantations.
Located on the edge of the lovely Kandalama Lake in Dambulla, the stunning Signature by Amaya is the perfect place to revive after taking the hike up to Sigiriya’s sky high rock fortress. Between the warm welcome, the super cool dude whose only job appears to be waving a stick to keep the birds away from our (incredible) breakfasts, the tranquillity of its lakeside location and the luxury of our private garden villa, this place proved the very definition of family friendly.
Add jungle clad treehouses, a playground, locals hitting six on the resort’s own cricket pitch, Ayurvedic massages, a stunning infinity pool, table tennis, board games, cycling, and random cows strolling by, and we could have happily stayed a week.
If you are looking for a convenient and relaxing family resort in Sri Lanka, go to The Sands! Located just south of Colombo and on a train line, you can easily get here via public transport or take a taxi from the airport. It’s also not far from Galle so there are tons of day trip options.
The Sands is located right on the beach and you can splash here or enjoy the huge pool. There are lots of shallow sections making it great for little ones. There is an activity program the whole family can enjoy including evening shows. Our kids loved the fire dancing. Other facilities include a gym, day spa, table tennis, games, a library and even a night club.
The best part for families, however, is that there are family suites. We stayed in a two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two balconies and a living area suite which gave us plenty of space for everyone.
When we were touring Sri Lanka we were mostly in hotels so I was delighted to find a resort that offered tented accommodation.
Royal Retreat Sigiriya is a hotel that also has amazing glamping tents. You check-in at the main hotel and are then driven to the tents. I must admit, I hadn’t realised we would be travelling so far to get there: the drive took us onto a narrow road… to a dirt track… and into a forest!
On arrival we were greeted by our very own “staff” – a chef who cooked an enormous dinner for us and 2 other guys who helped him. One of them stayed on-site over night before being joined by the other 2 the next morning to make us an equally massive breakfast.
We only had a week in Sri Lanka so I was disappointed to only get one night in our tent in Sigiriya!
I will be adding to this post overtime. So if you’ve stayed at a fantastic family resort in Sri Lanka that’s not mentioned here, do let me know!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click to purchase, it is at no additional cost to you. But I receive a small commission.
We absolutely loved our time in Sri Lanka and it was easily one of our best family trips to date. So we thought we’d share with you our Sri Lanka itinerary with kids. If you’re planning a family holiday in Sri Lanka, feel free to copy it exactly for your own travels, tweak it to fit your own time or interests, or just simply use it for inspiration.
You can readhere why we think Sri Lanka is fantastic for young kids.
We focused on a Southern loop to take in pristine beaches, colonial architecture, a safari to meet elephants and some time in the Hill Country; a perfect mix of highlights of Sri Lanka for families. It was only about 2 to 4 hours generally between destinations which is very doable with young kids. Our preferred mode of transport was train, but if the tracks didn’t go to where we wanted we would opt for a tuk-tuk and time the drive with our 12pm nap/downtime. A car would have been faster, we just prefer to travel in tuk-tuks as they’re open and offer that sense of freedom as you watch the world breeze by. We did miss out some classic tourist spots such as Sigiriya and Dambulla, but the former particularly requires a lot of climbing for little legs (our boys are aged 2 and 3) and we figured we’d leave that for another trip.
So here is our day by day Sri Lanka itinerary with young kids.
Arrive in Colombo. Head to the train station first thing to book your train tickets (if you haven’t already done this online). Wander around the historic Fort area and old town quarter of Slave Island, visit Gangaramara Temple, let the kids enjoy all that Viharamahadevi Park has to offer – a playground, water fountains to run in, a small train, horse-riding, an aquarium – and head to to Galle Face Green around sunset for dinner from a street vendor and watch the kites and snake charmers. Getting around Colombo is very easy as all tuk-tuks use the meter. Just ensure you have Google Maps downloaded offline to direct them, if necessary. You can read more about Colombo with kids here.
Catch the train to Galle, just a 2.5 hour journey along the coast. Take a walk along the fort walls and explore the Dutch Colonial buildings. Try to time this later in the day to escape the heat and package tourist day-trippers. The full circuit along the top of the wall can be done in under 2 hours. However, for little explorers that like to climb the walls, look for dragons and generally walk a little slower, we suggest splitting the walk in two and saving a section for an early morning stroll on Day 4. Read more about Galle here.
After your early morning stroll exploring more of Galle Fort, take a tuk-tuk to Mirissa (LKR1800, 1 hour), via a turtle hatchery, to enjoy some beach time. The main beach at Mirissa offers a long shady stretch of sandy beach, perfect for building sandcastles. The waves and current are strong, so join the kids in jumping over the waves. You can also visit Secret Beach and walk back to the main beach through the jungle. Ensure you receive clear directions. We got very lost. The walk should take around 40 mins with little legs.
If your visiting between September and April, you may like to go on a whale watching cruise in Mirissa (tours are also running in July and August, but the water may be a bit choppy for little ones). It’s one of the best places in the world to see the blur whale!
We stayed at Lashan Guest House. It’s tucked away in a quiet area 400m from the beach, but the owners will happily drop you at the main beach in their tuk-tuk.
Day 6-7 Udawalawe National Park
It’s time to meet some elephants! Take a tuk-tuk to Udawalawe (3hrs, LKR5000, would be 2hrs in a car). We stayed in glamping tents at Kottawatta Village just outside the National Park. Book your 3 hour safari with the resort for 5:30am. Kids under 5 are free and so the total price for entrance fee, jeep hire and safari guide was LKR7500 for our family of 4. The resort provides snacks for the safari and breakfast on your return. You are pretty much guaranteed to see elephants! When not on safari, enjoy your time at the resort. It has an onsite restaurant, swimming pool with kids’ area, hammocks for napping and you’ll meet monkeys on your veranda. You can read our full post on Udawalawe National Park here.
Another tuk-tuk ride (4.5hrs, LRK7500, 3hrs by car) brings you to Arugam Bay, the surf mecca of Sri Lanka. But there’s more to this surfer town than barrels and boards (that’s as far as my surfing lingo goes!). Wonderful family friendly accommodation awaits at Elephant Road Resort, set back from the main party strip. Air conditioned rooms with two double beds and a comfortable outdoor space (with hammock and hanging bed) overlook a sandy courtyard where your kids can run free. The super-chilled Israeli owner (Miki) has created a community vibe, very welcoming of children. Miki also knows THE BEST spots around Arugam Bay. Our favourites were Elephant Rock Beach, Peanut Farm Beach and watching the sun set from Crocodile Rock. You can read our full post on Arugam Bay with kids here.
It’s time to say farewell to the beaches and head inland to explore the tea plantations and jungle-clad hills of the Central Hill Country. A tuk-tuk will take 4 hours to get to Ella (LRK2000). Again, you can do the journey quicker by car (3hrs), but be weary that there are many hairpin bends as you approach Ella and the open sides of a tuk-tuk may help with kids who are prone to travel sickness. Whilst in Ella, visit a tea plantation (the kids will love seeing all the big machinery in operation), visit the Nine Arches Bridge and climb Little Adam’s Peak (ask a tuk-tuk to take you as far as possible to save those little legs for the steep stairs they need to navigate at the top).
We stayed at Ella Ridge View, a lovely family homestay with lots of toys and other children to play with.
Day 12-14 Living Heritage Koslanda
After all that travelling, it’s time to treat yourselves indulge and in some luxury. Take the 1hr train from to Haputale; this stretch of track is perhaps the most stunning in all of Sri Lanka. A tuk-tuk will then drive you down into the valley to the tranquility of Living Heritage Koslanda. The smiling Mr Carrim awaits to escort you to your stylish villa with plunge pool and outdoor shower. Enjoy the incredible infinity pool, take a hike to the private waterfall, or just enjoy the space, freedom and peace that the 80 acres of pristine land offers. You can read our full review here. We only stayed 2 nights, but we seriously wished we’d stayed 3.
Today is your longest travel day. 5.5 hours on a train to Kandy. We found the bustle of Kandy to be quite a shock to the system after the serenity of Living Heritage Koslanda. However, there is a good playground, which the boys certainly appreciated, and a visit to the Temple of the Tooth is a must.
We stayed at River Side Homestay Appartment. This is a lovely family homestay about 5 minutes drive out of Kandy. Tuk-tuk drivers from Kandy will not know the way. Ensure you have the property marked on Google Maps on your phone and take the phone number of the owner with you.
Day 16 Back to Colombo
A 2 hour fast train completes the loop and returns you to Colombo. We spent our last day catching up with old friends who live in Colombo, enjoying a swim in their pool and eating pizza.
FAQ about travelling Sri Lanka with kids
I receive a lot of questions from parents about travel in Sri Lanka with kids, and particularly travelling Sri Lanka with toddlers. I hope the below answers any questions you may have, but if you do have a question that isn’t answered here, please comment below and I’ll get back to you asap.
Is Sri Lanka safe for travelling families? Yes. We never felt unsafe or threatened in Sri Lanka. We didn’t meet a single grumpy person in our whole two weeks. Not one! Everyone had 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. Please refer to the UK Government Foreign Travel Advice page for Sri Lanka for up to date information.
What time of year did we go? August. This is supposedly not the best time to visit the South West, but we had no rain whatsoever.
How did we get around Sri Lanka with kids? Mostly by train and tuk-tuk. We booked our train tickets at Colombo train station as soon as we arrived. If you want to book in advance, you can do so through a tour agency (click here). Tuk-tuks can be arranged the night before travelling to the next destination through your accommodation. You do not need a driver and car in Sri Lanka, although some parents prefer this for ease of travel.
Did we take car seats to Sri Lanka? No. They are unnecessary for trains, and there’s no way to attach them in tuk-tuk (we put one child in between us, and one our lap; it would have been a bit of a squeeze if we had a third child). There are no legal requirements in Sri Lanka for car seats, but if you are hire a driver and car for your entire trip, you may consider bringing one from home. If you’re child is aged 4 and over (or weighs more that 15kg), I suggest taking the Trunki Boostapak).
Did we take a buggy or stroller to Sri Lanka? Our boys were 2 and 3 years old at the time, but we didn’t take a buggy or stroller. In fact we never travel with one as we find them cumbersome and would always head back to the accommodation for naps (and much-needed downtime for parents). We didn’t even take a child carrier, but encouraged both boys to walk as much as possible. When little legs got tired, there was always a tuk-tuk to flag down, or even Dad’s shoulders. We had two large backpacks to carry and a carrier would have been cumbersome.
What luggage did we take? We took two large backpacks (like these ones) for each parent to carry. The boys were too young to have their own bags to carry. Backpacks for us parents meant we each had two hands free to cajole children.
If we had to cut down this itinerary what bits would we miss? If you really had to cut out something, I would cut out Arugam Bay. It was one of our favourite places, but it is a little out of the way.
What toys did we take to Sri Lanka to entertain the boys?
The boys had with them an Amazon Fire tablet loaded with all their favourite games and TV shows, and I packed some colouring pens and CBeebies magazines. And that’s it. Don’t be tempted to pack anymore as they’ll find sticks and stones along the way, and a couple of the places we stayed at even had toys.
What budget do we recommend for travelling Sri Lanka with kids? If you follow this itinerary and stay in all budget accommodation, then allow for £60 per day. However, this allow for more if your kids are older, or you have more than two children.
What vaccinations did the kids need for Sri Lanka? As we were living in India at the time, we were all up to date with vaccinations required. However, please consult a travel clinic for advice as every family is different.
Are antimalarials required for Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is currently a low risk malaria country. Please refer to the NHS Fit for Travel website.
Were we worried about dengue in Sri Lanka with kids? This is indeed a concern, but don’t let it stop you from visiting the country. We took the necessary precautions of using strong mosquito repellent (roll on seems to last longer than the spray), wearing long sleeves and trousers from dusk every day, and sleeping under mosquito nets (which were always provided in accommodations we stayed). Click here for further information.
Were mosquitoes a nuisance?
No worse or better than we have experienced in other Asian countries. Take the necessary precautions as mentioned in the previous question. Sand flies were more of a problem on the beach from dusk.
I hope this helps you work out your own Sri Lanka itinerary with young kids. Although feel free to copy ours exactly!
Disclaimer: TraveLynn Family was kindly hosted by some accommodations mentioned above. However the opinions and words are all our own, based on our own experiences. This post also contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I get a small commission that goes towards the running of this blog.
Everyone’s visit to Sri Lanka will most likely involve a beach, especially if you have kids. Sri Lanka boasts some of the best beaches in the world and kids will love playing in the fine pristine sand and jumping in the turquoise waters. There are also some great surf spots for older kids. But how do you choose the best beach for your family? We have only visited Mirissa and the beaches around Arugam Bay. So, we reached out to some top family travel bloggers to find out their favourite family beaches in Sri Lanka.
But first, just a few things to consider…
Almost all these beaches have big waves and a strong current for the majority of the year. It is advised, especially if travelling with young kids, that a parent supervise in the water. Also, many beaches can get busy over the weekends with locals visiting . If you’re planning just a few days on a beach, try and time your visit during weekdays.
There are also the seasons to consider. As a rule-of-thumb, the south- and west-coast beaches are best from September to March and the north- and east-coast beaches are best from April to September. Although we visited the south coast (Mirissa) and east coast (Arugam Bay) in August and had lovely weather at both.
The southern coast of Sri Lanka offers up many pristine beaches. Our favourite was Tangalle Beach where we had the beach completely to ourselves. At Tangalle you will find powder sand beach, turquoise waters and tall swaying palms. You can watch the fishermen heading out each day, enjoy some fresh seafood and breathtaking sunsets. The waves do get quite large and there can be strong currents, so we mostly frolicked in the water. We stayed in a little gem of a place called Moonstone Villas, where the friendly owner gave us great recommendations, we ate delicious curries and enjoyed the pool and outdoor spaces of the hotel.
Nilaveli beach located in the northern part of Sri Lanka is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka because of its unspoiled landscape and swaying palm trees dotting the entire beach area. Families will find soft sand here and kids will love roaming the shores in search of shells and crabs. We were staying at the Nilaveli Beach Resort during the off season (some undertows and rip currents during the off season) and had the entire resort and beach to ourselves (March to October is peak period and the water is safe and warm during this time)! Grandparents were able to lounge around and catch the stunning orange sunsets while grandkids and parents chased each other playing games into the night. If you’re looking for something to do beyond lounging on the beach with a coconut in hand, check out nearby Pigeon Island National Park which is home to many species of vegetation, coral and reef fish contributing to Nilaveli’s rich biodiversity.
We visited Sri Lanka nearly six years ago but it remains one of my favourite family holidays. When we visited, we spent ten days exploring the southern coast exploring the ancient fort of Galle, eating as much of the amazing Sri Lankan cuisine as possible and hopping from one beach to the next. One of our favourite beaches was Bentota, on the island’s southwest coast. It’s not the prettiest beach in the country but we loved it because there is so much to do there, in addition to the long strip of golden sand and warm, shallow waters. Nearby is Bentota Lagoon, a popular dive spot as well as Lunuganga, the Jungle Book-like gardens of architect Geoggrey Bawa (a brilliant spot for kids). Best of all, however, this area of Sri Lanka is home to a number of turtle sanctuaries, established to help protect these marine creatures. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to help release the baby turtles into the ocean. And finally, we loved this beach because it has a handful of beautiful boutique hotels that are both stylish and family-friendly! Weligama (Elizabeth from Wander Mum)
While Weligama may not be the best known beach in Sri Lanka, it was one of my favourites during our stay. A little rugged in places, but quieter than nearby Mirissa beach, it was the perfect spot for us to relax. Staying at the nearby luxurious hotel Cape Weligama, we could hop in a tuk-tuk down to the fishing town of Weligama (much to my daughter’s delight). The thick sand was great for building sandcastles and it’s a good surf sport – particularly for beginners. Nearer the shore the waves were gentle enough for my daughter (who was three) to play. As dusk came, the locals gathered on the beach to delight at the striking sunset. As we departed, the waft of fish caught our noses from stalls which line the streets. A great spot to relax, play, try local dishes and people watch!
If your family loves beautiful beaches then you can’t go wrong with Mirissa. Mirissa is one of the most beautiful beaches I have visited. The sand is white and powder soft. The water is safe enough that my preschoolers could splash around without a problem.
It’s also very easy to visit with restaurants lining the sand. We could eat and enjoy a drink while the kids played in the sand. However, this is my one complaint about this beach as well as it was relatively narrow and the restaurants took up much of the space when the tide was coming in.
We’ve travelled around Sri Lanka for a month with our 2-year old and have seen quite a bit of the country. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best season to visit the East coast and we mainly travelled inland. We did visit one beach town and stayed there for a few days: Unawatuna. Despite being a popular tourist destination, it doesn’t have that massive touristic feel. The beach is pretty good for young kids, and we especially enjoyed a little fresh water creek on the far west side of the beach. It’s just in front of Sunrise Seafood Restaurant and near Submarine Dive Center.
Hiriketiya on Sri Lanka’s beautiful south coast is the perfect family beach break. Surrounded by palm trees and a jungle that reaches right to the white sand, the horseshoe bay’s soft waves break close to shore for kids to learn to surf on, with a bigger surf out the back for mum and dad. Only minutes away from the larger towns of Tangalle and Matara, Hiri also has a few small cafes with good coffee and local and western food. Hour long kids surf lessons from friendly locals – including board – cost $20 AUD, and the small amount of accommodation ranges from guesthouses to boutique hotels.
Trundle down a bumpy lane to reach Hiriketiya Beach, a few miles from the
World’s largest sitting Buddha in Dikwella, on the south coast. Enjoy clean sands and a local vibe. With two almost-not- there beach bars and no loungers, this is back-to- basics seaside fun. Surfers are happy out near the breakers to this deep cove (aka Horseshoe Bay), whilst locals and visitors play in the waves. Get there early to watch the fishermen. Beware the semi-domesticated dogs and the coconut coir stagnant pool water at the back – the locals sometimes release it into the sea across the sand bank.
Having stayed most of our holiday in Colombo, we decided to head over to Hikkaduwa, a seaside town known for it’s strong surf and beaches. We stayed for 1 night in a lovely hotel next to the beach called Villa Paradise. The kids loved collecting shells and getting knocked down by waves on the beach. Repeatedly. And we just absorbed the stunning crystal clear waters and white sand.
Hikkaduwa is also known for it’s home to turtles and exotic fish. We visited the Turtle hatchery, which is a charitable mission that rehabilitates older turtles who had been damaged during the tsunami in 2004, as well as rescuing turtle eggs. The kids absolutely loved getting close to the turtles, and they even got to hold them too!
As a family we have such fond memories of Sri Lanka and Arugam Bay stands out as one of the highlights from our 3 week trip.
We loved it because the main stretch of sandy beach has calm and clear water – perfect for families with little kids. Our son, who was 3 at the time, loved the warm water and gentle waves.
For a total change of scenery we would walk a few hundred yards around the headland to reach the popular surfing beach. We spent many afternoons enjoying fresh juices and beer in the little beach cafe whilst watching the surfers perfect their skills.
Well of course I had to include my favourite too :-)! We also loved Arugam Bay, but more as a base for all the beautiful, quieter beaches around. Jump in a tuk-tuk from Arugam Bay and head South from town, turn off the road on to a un-marked, bumpy track towards our favourite – Elephant Rock Beach. From the small sandy carpark it’s then just a short walk across the sand, a scramble over the the big Elephant Rock (make sure you wear sturdy shoes, especially if carrying the kids) to one of the most beautiful stretches of pristine sand we have ever seen. Grab a coconut or cold drink from one of the make-shift shacks and watch the surfers, or walk further along the arc of sand and enjoy a family wave-jumping competition. A return tuk-tuk from town including a 2 hour wait time is LRK1400. We recommend staying at Elephant Road Beach Resort in Arugam Bay.
Do you have a favourite family beach in Sri Lanka? If you are a blogger and have one to add that isn’t in this list, please drop us an email and we’ll include it.
Pin for later
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click to purchase, this is at not extra cost to you, but I get a small commission that goes towards the running of this blog.
Where would we be without our trusted Lonely Planet guide. The Sri Lanka edition was invaluable to our travels.
Have you considered Sri Lanka with kids or even travelling Sri Lanka with a baby?
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! 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.
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; we visited Sri Lanka with a toddler! These are the reasons why we think Sri Lanka is fantastic for families…
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
We absolutely loved our time in Sri Lanka and hope to be back again soon. Have you visited Sri Lanka with kids? Do you have any favourite places?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I get a small commission that goes towards the running of this blog.
This month we chat to Kaylie from Happiness Travels Here about her favourite family holiday in Asia – Dambulla, SRI LANKA. Have you considered Dambulla with kids?
Our regular readers will know that we are huge fans of Sri Lanka. It’s one of our favourite destinations we’ve travelled with the boys and such an accessible destination for intrepid families. However, our Sri Lanka adventures focused on the South and East of Sri Lanka (including Colombo, Udawalawe National Park and Arugam Bay) and we didn’t make it further north than the central highlands. So I was very excited when Kaylie agreed to chat about Dambulla, a place we have not yet visited.
1. Tell us a bit about yourselves. Where are you from and how often do you travel as a family? How old are your children?
In 2014 with a 3 year old and newborn baby we were offered a fantastic opportunity to move from our home in New Zealand to Dresden in Germany. Prior to having children we had both been keen travellers and we knew being based in Europe would open up so many experiences, learning about another culture, a new language and the chance to travel as a family. We have now been in Germany for almost 4 years and the kids are now 4 and 7 years old. We have travelled to almost 30 countries during that time.
2. How many times have you travelled to Asia and why do you love travelling there?
I have always loved travelling to Asia. Asian destinations have this buzz about them, an orderly chaos that you can’t find elsewhere. The people are warm and the food is diverse and delicious. Prior to having children I travelled extensively through Asia, spending part of my medical internship in a paediatric hospital in Bangkok and also visiting my parents in the Philippines where they lived for 4 years.
As a family we have taken trips to Japan and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was the perfect half-ways point to meet my parents for an epic Christmas holiday, they travelled from New Zealand to meet us there. We fell in love with the Dambulla area in Sri Lanka.
3. Why is Dambulla your favourite destination?
You’ll find Dambulla in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. The landscape is breathtaking. Lush green jungle, impressive rocky spires, lakes and pristine national parks full of wildlife. Amongst all these vistas you will also find significant cultural sights. Dambulla sits within Sri Lanka’s “cultural triangle”. Inhabited as early as the 7th century BC the area is rich in history. The mix of awe inspiring nature and a rich cultural heritage made our stay in Dambulla our favourite during our 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary.
4. What were your top 3 things to do in Dambulla with kids?
1. Jeep Safari in Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park
We visited Dambulla with a 3 year old and a 6 year old. By far the favourite excursion for the kids was seeing dozens of elephants in Minneriya National Park. We took a private jeep safari through the park. This is easy to arrange when you arrive. It took about an hour to reach the grasslands and watering hole where the herd was gathered. There was plenty to see on the way, peacocks, deer, crocodiles and mongoose. Coming around the corner to see the herd in the distance, goosebumps rolled over my arms, as we got closer we could smell the organic grassy smell of the elephants and even hear the crunch as they chewed clumps of grass.
We sat and watched the elephants interact with each other. Juveniles chasing and playing in the watering hole, a group of females huddling around a newborn calf and the dominant male wandering amongst the herd giving each female a reassuring tap with an outstretched trunk. An unforgettable experience.
2. Hiking Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya is a large column shaped rock and home to an ancient fortress. Also known as “Lion rock” the final stairway sits between the paws on a giant lion carved into the rock. Ascending a 200m rock may seem like a strange activity for a family holiday but we seem to gravitate towards these activities. While the climbs can sometimes be a challenge for little legs, we thoroughly enjoy the challenge and often talk about our achievement for weeks to come. We arrived at the entrance just before the 7am opening, since we were travelling during Christmas, a popular time for domestic and international travellers, we wanted to avoid crowds. We skipped the museum and headed straight through the gardens to the base of the rock. The path is very well organised, one way up and one way down, the stairs are in good condition, steep in places, though always with handrails. Our 6 year old had no trouble with the climb, 3 year old Ella needed to be carried some of the way. I am sometimes uncomfortable with heights and there was a short section of stairs bolted onto the side of the rock where I felt my heart quicken a little but I felt safe and my even more height phobic mother was also fine. At the top we were greeted by expansive views over the jungle and a wide open plateau to explore.
3. Visiting Dambulla Caves
Dambulla caves are a significant heritage site not only because of the extensive cave paintings and 153 Buddha statues but also because the caves were used by ancient civilisations. 160 metres up, a Buddhist temple has been built into the side of the mountain, protecting the caves and the intricate and brightly coloured paintings within. The kids delighted in seeing some monkeys along the path up to the temple.
Our driver took us to collect our tickets at the main entrance, we then headed back out the road to use an alternative entrance which cuts a significant portion off the climb. Be sure to get your tickets first though as they will be checked only at the top.
5. Where did you stay and do you recommend it?
We stayed at the Heritance Kandalama. When I was researching our trip to Sri Lanka and talking to friends that had already been, I heard over and over how wonderful the Heritance Kandalama was. While it might not be in everyone’s budget we love mixing budget accommodation with a few nights of luxury.
The Heritance Kandalama is built into the side of the rock surrounded by jungle and overlooking the beautiful Lake Kandalama. The view is dramatic and Sigiriya rock can even be seen in the distance. The hotel is the masterpiece of a world famous architect and built to blend into the environment with minimal ecological impact. The hotel has a reputation for having one of the best dinner buffets and we were not disappointed. Extensive seafood, freshly BBQed meats, a large selection of local curries, fresh, healthy vegetable dishes and desserts that would rival those in Paris.
Three pools one with a natural rock bottom, another an infinity pool which in the right light seamlessly fades into the blue of the lake below. Changing levels and low rails mean toddlers need to be actively supervised when moving about the complex.
Tip: Book direct with the hotel for the best price.
In our family we have one adventurous eater and one fussy eater. For more adventurous kids mild chicken, prawn or vegetable curries are delicious served with rice. There were plenty of fresh tropical fruits. The hotel also had typical kids menu food available nuggets, chips, pizza, burgers pasta and more. Our favourite dish was served at breakfast, Sri Lankan Egg Hoppers, a crispy crepe like basket made with rice flour and coconut milk, holding a seamed egg. I enjoyed mine with a dahl and spicy sambols.
7. How did you get around?
We hired a driver and van. The roads in Sri Lanka are narrow and windy. What looks like a short distance on a map often takes much longer than expected. The drivers are quite aggressive. I would not recommend self driving. An alternative would be to travel the island with a combination of public transport and private transfers which can be organised by your accommodation.
8. What is your top tip for travelling to Dambulla with kids?
Legs and shoulders need to be covered to visit religious sites so take a sarong to wrap over shorts or light long pants. Everyone needs to remove their shoes, on sunny days the ground can get hot so take along socks for the children to wear.
Please do not take part in elephant rides or visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, these are not ethical experiences, the elephants are often poorly treated and it encourages traders to illegally remove elephants from the wild. There are plenty of opportunities to see elephants in their natural habitat.
Dengue has become more of a problem in Sri Lanka in recent years. Rates vary a lot depending on the time of year and the area of Sri Lanka so take this into account when planning a trip and avoid high risk areas.
9. What item could you not have done without in Sri Lanka?
We picked up sim cards at the airport on our arrival. The cost was around $10 USD and this included data, texts and calling. This was great to be able to research where we were going, stay in touch with each other, our hosts and our driver.
10. Where are you off to next?
Our next trip is to Tbilisi in Georgia. We have friends that live there and it looks like a beautiful historic city to visit.
Had we stepped into a parallel universe? Colombo seemed so familiar; the architecture, the climate, the people, the colours. It could be our home in Bangalore, except the traffic flows, there are no mounds of rubbish, it’s cleaner, the pavements are walkable, tuk-tuk drivers use the meter and there is barely any honking. Life here is certainly calmer than its neighbour, India. Have you considered visiting Colombo with kids?
In fact, compared to pretty much all Asian capital cities we have visited over our years of travel, Colombo seemed to be the most chilled. However, do not mistake the relaxed city vibe as backward. Colombo’s economy is booming and modernisation is prevalent as shiny new skyscrapers transform the city’s skyline, towering above villages where you’ll still find the essence of the bygone Dutch colony.
Colombo was our first insight into Sri Lanka and we loved it. Many people head straight to the beach resorts of Negombo on arrival, for a lighter introduction. However, we wanted to immerse ourselves as soon as possible into Sri Lankan life and we’re very pleased we did. Here are our 5 top things to do in Colombo with kids.
1. Viharamahadevi Park (Victoria Park)
Amongst all the green open space, at the north-eastern edge of Viharamahadevi Park you’ll find a superb play area for children! Plan to spend a full morning or afternoon here. There is a big playground, toy train ride, horse rides, a small aquarium and a wobbly bridge over a small lake where you can hire boats. And if it’s a hot day, let them run through the water fountains to cool off.
2. Galle Face Green
Head to Galle Face Green, right on the sea front, just before sunset. Watch the colourful kites soaring high and perhaps buy one and join in, before grabbing some dinner from one of the food stalls to watch the sun set. You may even see a snake charmer. Once night falls, treat the kids to some cheap fluorescent-light toys. It will keep them entertained whilst you stroll the length of the seafront, soaking up the atmosphere.
3. Wandering around Slave Island
We didn’t see another tourist as we wondered around the narrow alleyways of Slave Island (the name has stuck since Dutch colonial times, when slaves were housed in this area which was surrounded by water). The boys loved high-fiving people in the doorways and chatting to other kids as we walked past their homes. One family even offered our boys a selection of battered plastic toys to take home (we politely declined). Such a warm and friendly village atmosphere. We certainly felt like we were seeing a different side to the shiny new skyscrapers popping up around the city. Take a tuk-tuk to the Fort area afterwards as it’s a ‘must do’, although we didn’t find the area too engaging for young kids.
4. Gangaramaya Temple
Sections of Gangaramaya feel more like a museum than a temple, with an eclectic array of artefacts gifted over the years; shiny buddha statues, a life-sized stuffed elephant, bold artwork, Dutch antique collectables, vintage cars and a large Bodhi tree. There is no logical flow to the building, with pathways and steps leading you to different corners and rooms, all contrasting in nature; a wonderful place for the kids to explore! This is not your standard Sri Lankan temple. Ticket entry is LRK200 per adult, but this also includes entry to Seema Malaka, a beautiful temple/meditation centre sitting out on South Beira Lake, just a short walk around the corner.
5. Waters Edge
This tip comes from expat friends living in Colombo, who are regulars to Waters Edge with their two young boys. This is a lovely oasis from city life with manicured lawns set around a lake, providing ample space for kids to run free. There is also a playground and an aquarium, which along with the grounds is all free entry. Make a day of it and try out one of the many restaurants, or bring your own food to enjoy in the designated picnic area. If you visit for Sunday Brunch you can also use the pool for free. The swimming area has a separate kids’ pool and kids’ jacuzzi. Entry is normally LKR1000 per adult (LKR500 for children under 13).
Where we stayed
Colombo accommodation is pricey compared to the rest of Sri Lanka. However, this is the capital city. We stayed at the delightful Anugaa In The City in Borella. It’s a little out of the city, but with tuk-tuks being so cheap and plentiful, the 10 minute journey is really not a problem. Plus, if possible, they allow an early check-in free of charge. We arrived bleary-eyed from our night-flight at 4am and were warmly welcomed to our room, carrying our two sleeping boys straight from the taxi into the comfy beds.
The staff are wonderfully friendly and accommodating. It can be a bit tricky to find them at times if you need something, but you’re provided with a mobile phone to contact the owner if needed. This is also very handy if you need someone to explain to a tuk-tuk driver how to get you back.
We particularly enjoyed the lovely breakfast spread provided each morning in the quirky dining area (included in room rate); a fantastic array of fruit, traditional Sri Lanka food of hoppers, noodles and curry, as well as omelettes for the boys.
Tuk-tuks use the meter. Coming from India, this was extremely refreshing. Drivers may initially try to quote a higher fare, but if you then ask them to use the meter, they will generally oblige. However, unless you are heading to a major landmark, it’s unlikely they will know the way. Ensure you have offline Google Maps of Colombo downloaded to your phone, with a star locating your accommodation, so you can direct drivers when necessary.
Getting to/from Colombo
Bandaranaike International Airport, a 45 minute drive North of Colombo city centre, is the main airport for Sri Lanka, servicing flights from around the world. Do keep in mind that during the working-week rush hours, getting to and from the airport can take much longer. The easiest way to get to your hotel on arrival is to order a taxi from the desk on the right once you’re through baggage and customs. Our taxi was LKR2100, which is paid directly to the driver. Ask them to use the Expressway (much quicker, even in the middle of the night) and pay the extra LKR300 for the toll.
From Colombo you may wish to head east to Kandy, or south to Galle. Both are on the train network and this is the best way to travel (you certainly want to avoid all those hairpins bends in a car to Kandy!) Book your train ticket as soon as you arrive in Colombo, if you haven’t yet booked them online. As you can see from our Sri Lanka Itinerary with young kids, we headed south to Galle. The train journey is just 2.5 hours (LKR400 per adult, children under 3 are free) and much of the track hugs the coastline, affording lovely sea views as the train carves through palm trees and villages.
Have you visited Colombo with kids? Any top tips to share? Let me know.
Pin for later
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I receive a small commission.
In a country with a reputation for great beaches, it takes a lot for a stretch of sand to stand out. But the mere mention of the name Arugam Bay sends people’s imaginations into overdrive. Pristine beaches, great surfing and a relaxed vibe are supposed to await you on the East Coast. But does the reality match the myth and how does it suit a travelling family?
First impressions of Arugam Bay seem to confirm the guidebook hype; the crescent-shaped bay creeps into view as you cross a bridge, the low-lying rice-paddies provide the perfect foreground to take in the scene. It feels like paradise but some of the gloss begins to fade as you hit the main road. It’s not that the town has anything immediately wrong with it, the main road has all the creature comforts you’d ever need and there are enough restaurants, surf shops and hotels to choose from. It just has a sense that, as beautiful as it is, everyone else is well and truly in on the secret and you could be in any one of a hundred other beach resorts in SE Asia. Which is fair enough, Arugam Bay is no longer a secret backpacker hideaway and one should never complain about the tourists when you are a tourist etc.
We arrived on a Saturday and it was BUSY BUSY BUSY. Not just with foreign tourists but hundreds of Sri Lankans enjoying some leisure time at the beach. It was so crowded in the sea that we found it almost impossible to locate three feet of shoreline to call our own and the sideways angle of the strong waves meant the boys couldn’t be left alone to just paddle. After twenty minutes we left the beach defeated, headed to a generic restaurant and ordered a pizza. Don’t believe the hype.
Saturday afternoon in Arugam Bay – busy, busy, BUSY!
But, as soon as we left the restaurant, the tide began to turn and another side of Arugam Bay appeared. We headed over to our accommodation (the beautiful Elephant Road Resort) and immediately sensed a different atmosphere as we crossed the wooden footbridge over a little stream.
Elephant Road Resort
Miki the owner, has created an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the main street, a resort more in keeping with the vibe the area apparently had ten years ago. Elephant Road Resort is super-chilled and relaxed, but not isolated: the town is still only a two-minute tuk-tuk ride away but you are safely ensconced from the fireworks, bars, music and general busyness of the main strip.
We stayed for three nights and all the other guests we met during our visit were families. Older kids were keen for surfing lessons from the guru, Miki, whilst younger kids (including ours) just enjoyed the space to explore.
The resort is laid out around a central sandy courtyard, perfect for the boys to run around and dig holes. There are four deluxe family rooms to choose from, all providing en-suite bathrooms, air-conditioning and two double beds (perfect for families). There is also a lovely outdoor space to relax, with hammock and hanging double bed.
As with so many coastal places in Sri Lanka, the original resort was destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami, a single wall the only thing left standing after that awful day. But, starting from that single wall, Miki has created a haven for travellers who want something different to the usual beach resort hotels and backpacker hostels. The communal nature of the layout means you feel part of a small community, led by the chilled-out surfer Miki who seems to care passionately not only about his guests but also about the wider Arugam Bay community and his place within it.
The food at Elephant Road resort was healthy and tasty. Us parents particularly enjoyed the Israeli breakfast served in the communal dining area, whereas the boys were all about the pancakes. Miki also puts on a set menu dinner in the evenings if there is enough demand and you will enjoy the most beautiful mixture of Sri Lankan and Israeli meals, surrounded by your fellow guests all enjoying the easy-going atmosphere.
Shakshuka for breakfast
Make sure you pop to see the lovely ‘Aunti’ who lives next door, right by the foot bridge. The boys loved meeting her chickens and Mums (and Dads!) can purchase some coconut oil to protect your locks from all that surf.
Meeting the chickens next door.
Where to go
As mentioned, Miki has been around these parts for many years and knows the area like the back of his hand. He was able to point us in the direction of some absolutely stunning beaches, just a ten minute tuk-tuk ride away, down a bumpy, sandy path. Finally, we saw what all the fuss was about – pristine, quiet beaches with small shacks serving cold drinks and noodles. We were in heaven. Our routine was set for the next few days; mornings playing at the beach and afternoons napping in the hammock or hanging-bed back at Elephant Road.
Peanut Farm Beach
The beaches we enjoyed were Peanut Farm Beach and Elephant Rock Beach. They were both beautiful, but our favourite was probably the latter with a seemingly endless stretch of sand and (relatively) easy water to play in. Although wear sturdy shoes to climb over the rock to get to the beach. As with all the beaches around Arugam Bay, parents will need to supervise children in the water as the waves are big and the current strong. There’s a reason why it’s such a popular surfing hang out! Plus, there is very little shade, so it may be worthwhile taking along a baby beach tent (check out this blog post for recommendations).
Tragically, only three weeks after we left, a British tourist was attacked by a crocodile in the lagoon near the Elephant Rock beach and died (read the BBC article here). We had waded through the lagoon ourselves (although not in the exact spot as the poor man) and had no idea there were crocodiles lurking – lots of other people were in the lagoon. Another attack is of course incredibly unlikely, but do keep this terrible incident in mind if you visit.
Elephant Rock Beach
On our final afternoon we were dropped off at Crocodile Rock (another 15 minute tuk-tuk) and took a slow walk along a windswept shoreline to reach the actual rock. A very gentle climb led us to the top where we were greeted by the most perfect vantage point for the approaching sunset. Take care of the little ones as the rock drops off quickly at the edge, although there are plenty of places to sit and watch the sky change colour; the low-lying rice fields providing the perfect canvas for this amazing sight.
Tuk-tuks are everywhere and easily the best way of getting around. Tuk-tuks around Arugam Bay itself are LRK200, whereas to get to the nearby beaches is LRK1500 return (this includes a 2-3 hour waiting time).
Arugam Bay is not on the train network. We opted for a tuk-tuk to take us there from Udawalawe NP for LRK7500 (4.5 hours). For a much faster ride and a little bit more money you can get a car. You can book either a car or a tuk-tuk from your previous accomodation. As you can see from our Sri Lanka Itinerary with kids, we visited Ella after Arugam Bay (check out these things to do in Ella with kids). Miki at Elephant Road Resort organised us a tuk-tuk for LRK2000 (4 hours). A car would be much quicker (3 hours). However, do keep in mind that there are a lot of hairpin beds as you ascend to Ella. The open sides of a tuk-tuk may make it an easier journey for the whole family.
Do we recommend Arugam Bay for young kids?
Absolutely! Just ensure you get your accommodation right. Elephant Road Resort was the perfect family-friendly base for our Arugam Bay stay. Close enough to the main tourist drag to stock up on milk, nappies and snacks, or to pop for some fried noodles or pizza, but nicely tucked away from the bustling party scene. Jump in a tuk-tuk to reach nearby beaches and find your own slice of paradise. Bliss.
Pin for later
Disclaimer: TraveLynn Family was kindly hosted by Elephant Road Resort. However the opinions and words are all our own, based on our own experiences. Also, this post contains affiliate links. Should you click to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I receive a small commission.
We were only twenty minutes into our safari, when a Mummy elephant and her calf appeared from behind a bush and stood just a few metres away from us. Watching such a majestic and powerful creature in their natural setting was incredible and her peaceful nature created a serene atmosphere in the early morning light. Even our two boys (aged two and three years old) instinctively knew to whisper, so as not to disturb the magical moment.
Sri Lanka is one of the best destinations in the world to see elephants in the wild, and all at a fraction of what it would cost in Southern or East Africa. We loved our visit to Udawalawe National Park where you are pretty much guaranteed to see them. If you ask my three year old for the highlight of his Sri Lanka travels, he answers straight away: Mummy Elephant.
The safari was just three hours long, the perfect length of time for little ones. We were provided with our own private jeep (including driver/guide). Half the fun of the safari was actually bouncing along in the open jeep through the bush with the wind rushing past. And it didn’t feel busy; much of the time, there wasn’t another jeep in sight!
Kids under 5 are free, so the total price for entrance fee, private jeep and safari driver/guide was LKR7500 for our family of four. We booked through our accommodation (see below) and we had a choice of a 5:30am or 2:30pm safari. We went for the early morning to embrace the morning light and avoid the daytime heat. Our accommodation provided snacks of banana, biscuits and chocolate bar each.
Other animals to see
There are plenty of peacocks and colourful birds to see. Your safari guide will point them out to you. There are also monkeys, water buffalo, crocodiles, and if you’re extremely lucky and look very very hard, a leopard. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t our day to meet a leopard but you may have more luck.
Where we stayed
We stayed in glamping tents at Kottawatta Village just outside the National Park. The tents (£19 per night at the time of writing, including breakfast) come with a double bed (which the four of us shared – cosy!), mosquito net, a large industrial fan (there’s electricity!) and an ensuite bathroom with hot shower. There’s a veranda overlooking the rainforest and expect to see a lot of monkeys. If camping really isn’t your thing and you need sturdier walls, you can pay a little more to stay in a bungalow.
We opted to stay for two nights as the resort is a lovely place to relax. There’s an onsite restaurant serving Western, Chinese and Sri Lankan dishes, a swimming pool with separate kids’ area, and some comfy hammocks for chilling.
How to get there
Udawalawe isn’t on the train network. We chose to get a tuk-tuk from our accommodation in Mirissa. The 3 hour journey cost LKR5000. Otherwise you could take a car, which would take 2 hours and cost a little more. You can easily organise a tuk-tuk or car through the accommodation you stay at prior to arriving at Udawalawe. We then organised a tuk-tuk to Arugam Bay through Kottawatta Village (4.5hrs, LRK7500, 3hrs by car). We always opt for a tuk-tuk over a car as we love the sense of freedom they provide; open sides, air rushing past as you drive through the countryside.
Where else can you see elephants?
You can also hang out with the elephants at Minneriya National Park, Yala National Park, Kumana National Park and the lagoons around Pottuvil. However, Udawalawe fitted in nicely with our Sri Lanka itinerary, breaking up the journey between the Southern beaches of Mirissa and the Eastern beaches of Arugam Bay. Also, research advised us that Udawalawe provides the best chance of seeing the elephants. However, Minneriya is famous for ‘The Gathering’ which takes place during the dry season (July to November), when hundreds of elephants gather around the shores of an ancient reservoir – although expect there to be A LOT of tourists.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I get a small commission that goes towards the running of this blog.
FAMILY FRIENDLY, BOUTIQUE LUXURY, IN THE HEART OF SRI LANKA’S HILL COUNTRY.
Picture the scene: you’ve been travelling as a family for a few weeks, having the time of your lives experiencing all that Sri Lanka has to offer. You’re happy but perhaps a little weary, head full of memories but in need of some time to pause. Family travel has its challenges so, every now and then, you need to head somewhere slightly off the tourist trail for a chance to recharge and savour a little bit of luxury. You’ve all deserved it.
Living Heritage Koslanda (LHK) is one of those picture perfect resorts you sometimes see in glossy magazines at doctor’s surgeries; you look at the pictures longingly but fold the magazine away, assuming it’s for someone else, perhaps someone with more money and less children. But therein lies the magic of LHK – it’s an affordable slice of luxury perfectly suited to families. This beautiful resort, crafted with great care and sensitivity out of eighty acres of pristine Sri Lankan jungle, may be tucked away from the country’s well-known tourist sights but has enough activities, fun and friendly staff to make it the highlight of your holiday.
Arriving to Living Heritage Koslanda
The mood is set as soon as you arrive, the unmarked entrance to the resort is down a dusty, bouncy track which immediately builds up a feeling of getting away from it all. Our tuk-tuk driver edged along the road, unsure if we were going the right way but Google Maps (and the general sense of excitement) guided us along. A slow walk down the path led us to Mr Carrim, the smiling, happy General Manager who would look after us so well over the next few days.
The over-riding feeling of LHK is that of tranquility and being close to nature. Cloud-covered hills frame the horizon, vast spaces of lawn invite the children to play and the only tweets come from the birds nestled in the trees.
This is enhanced even further by the extraordinarily stylish suites (four in total) which sit on a small hill overlooking the rolling hills in the distance. Each luxury villa, sympathetically designed to fit the magical setting, comes equipped with an outdoor seating area, outdoor plunge pool and shower, en-suite bathroom, spacious open air living area centred around an ornamental light-well and an elegant double bedroom boasting high A-frame beams (with extra beds available for the children). Locally-sourced antique furniture provide a homely feel, including a small table and chairs for the kids, plus all the practicalities you will need; fridge, kettle and TV (with a choice of kids’ DVDs).
We must also give a special mention here to the magic of the bedroom. We had our very first over-sleep in four years (gasp!). It must have been the combination of soft beds, pitch dark room and complete silence that led both us parents to wake naturally at 7:25am, whilst our boys were still fast asleep (6am is the norm). For this reason alone, LHK deserves a gold star in our book, the rooms were the most comfortable we’ve slept in. Perhaps it was the fresh jungle air as well…
But once the boys finally woke, what we all absolutely appreciated was all the vast, open space on our doorstep to just be free…
How to keep the kids entertained
So you’ve hopefully got the impression that it’s a place to relax, to get away from it all and generally chill out. You might be wondering how that works with children; won’t they get bored in a place so remote and relaxed? The answer to that is a resounding no. Aside from the enjoyment of running around and taking in the fresh air, we also filled our time with:
Swimming in the Waterfall
A 45 minute hike (for our 2 and 3 year old, shorter for older kids) along a path through the jungle leads you to a fantastic private waterfall. It was easily one of the highlights of our entire trip to Sri Lanka. It’s not the easiest of hikes with two small children and we probably found it at the very upper end of our capability levels but, my oh my, was it worth the effort. Scrambling over the last few boulders to be greeted by the roar of that stunning waterfall is a memory we’ll never forget. We found a couple of comfy rocks, splashed around, took turns showering under the falls, had a pebble throwing competition and generally appreciated the magic of the location. It’s all within the resort’s boundaries so you’ll have the place to yourselves. We advise wearing sturdy closed-toe shoes and long trousers for the hike (there are a few leeches, particularly in the rainy season), pack some light-weight towels, water and snacks, and some reef-sandles for the kids to wear in the water. Mr Carrim also provides you with a mobile phone to call ahead with your lunch order when you’re on your way back! This is the life.
Marshmallows on the campfire
The crackling sound of burning logs greeted us as we descended from the dining area down to the lawn after dinner. Mr Carrim had a roaring campfire going, plus a dozen tasty marshmallows. Under a clear star-filled night sky we huddled together and toasted the marshmallows with the boys – such a happy memory which the boys adored.
Croquet on the lawn – it’s such a chilled out place that croquet seems to fit perfectly. The little ones might not know the rules but that doesn’t stop the fun.
Looking for animals
Being in the wilderness provides the opportunity to find so many animals. The boys found monkeys, frogs, geckos and even a couple of cows to meet.
Swimming in the incredible infinity pool
There are so many luxurious touches at LHK, things that you would only get to experience in other parts of the world if you paid ten-times the amount, but the best of the bunch must be the infinity pool overlooking the rice paddies and rolling hills. The kids might not notice the incredible setting though as they jump, splash and dive their way around the shallow end. If there are more perfect family experiences than this in the world, we’re yet to find them. Bliss.
As you’d expect, the food at LHK is of an equally high standard to the rest of the resort. We had the best Sri Lankan food of our trip on the first night, followed by the best chicken and mashed potato since leaving the UK on night two. There were great choices for the boys as well; pancakes, fresh bread and fruit for breakfast, sandwiches and chips for lunch and pasta, followed by ice-cream, for dinner – all served in a magical outdoor dining area under the stars.
So would we recommend Living Heritage Koslanda to other families?
You can probably guess the answer. So much of family travel is about hectic fun that it pays sometimes to slow down a moment and take a breath. Many boutique resorts are often focused at romantic honeymooners, but LHK is that rare thing – a beautiful, luxurious resort which welcomes families and, more importantly, understands them and their needs. Whether it’s the marshmallows or the infinity pool, the kid-friendly food or the lovely Mr Carrim (who the kids were still asking for a week later), we were made to feel so welcome and had the best family time we can remember. Pay them a visit as well, treat yourself and we’re sure you’ll leave with the same incredible memories.
Find out more and book online here. We suggest staying at least three nights.
There are quite a few options for reaching the resort, depending on where you’re coming from and what your budget is. Private AC taxis can be arranged from Colombo (or indeed anywhere), you can drive straight from Ella (a popular tourist town about an hour up the road), or (as we did) take the breathtakingly scenic train journey from Ella to Haputale (one hour, Rs160) and then take a tuk-tuk (Rs2000, 50 minutes) down to the resort.
Pin for later
Disclaimer: Living Heritage Koslanda kindly hosted our two night stay. However the opinions and words are all our own, based on our own experiences. Also, this post contains affiliate links. Should you click to purchase, it is at no extra cost to you, but I receive a small commission.
Were you an intrepid backpacker in your previous life? Exploring distant and exotic lands on a budget, getting off the beaten track and feeling like you were doing something different? Now that young kids are in the picture, travel priorities may have changed. But you don’t have to get sucked into the package holiday bubble. Adventure travel with young kids is possible! Jenny x