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Sri Lanka family holidays

Rocky coastline  Rocky coastline
Buddhist sculpture near Weligama, southern coast.Buddhist sculpture near Weligama, southern coast.© Shanin | stockfreeimages.com & dreamstime.com
Sri Lankan landscapeSri Lankan landscape© Linutes7 | stockfreeimages.com & dreamstime.com
Boy with bananas Boy with bananas
Encounter with a tortoise on a beachEncounter with a tortoise on a beach
Capital City Colombo
Flying Time 11hrs
Carbon Footprint 10.03 CO2
Timezone GMT +5
Currency Sri Lankan Rupee

Today

Overview

This small island in the Indian Ocean is a far-from-obvious choice for family holidays on paper (the plane journey’s a slog at 11 hours, there are bunches of jabs to have beforehand and pills to take, and it’s recovering from civil war), but if you’re looking for something a world apart from glossy resorts with kids’ clubs, Sri Lanka could reward you hugely for your efforts. There are plenty of picture-postcard beaches for easy days spent splashing in the shallows, but the cultural side of the island begs to be discovered, including impressive ancient cities  – a legacy of the melting cultural pot of Muslim, Tamil and Sinhalese – and some fabulous temples. And animals only previously seen in school textbooks make their home here –the promise of a glimpse of a leopard or elephant should stir even the most recalcitrant of teenagers from their sunlounger. 

Tourism is on the up again in Sri Lanka (the last war ended in 2009) and there are plenty of organised trips to keep the kids entertained. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic, if a little hot for some tastes, and transport is cheap – your children (if not you) will love the experience of getting from A to B in a tuk tuk.

Do be warned, however, that Sri Lanka is not a typically child-friendly destination – hotel staff are friendly to youngsters but be prepared for raised eyebrows from everyone from honeymooners to backpackers unused to seeing toddlers around the pool!

Things to do with kids in Sri Lanka

Enjoy the sun, sea and sand, but ensure you know what the currents are doing – the south coast has a treacherous riptide. Hikkaduwa Beach, protected by a reef with shallow waters, is popular; you may even get to swim amidst leatherback turtles and dolphins. 

Jump in a glass-bottomed boat to see what goes on underneath the waves without getting your feet wet: Negombo and Balapitya have plenty of boat-trips. 

Don’t miss a visit to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage (as seen on Blue Peter) to watch the majestic creatures amble through the street and down to the river for their daily bath. 

Head for Water World, Sri Lanka’s only public aquarium (but give Dehiwala Zoo in Colombia a miss – it’s over-priced and not for the faint-hearted).

See some of Sri Lanka’s amazing wildlife. Yala National Park is a popular choice where you might even get to see a leopard. Note that you’re not allowed out of the Jeeps so make sure your children will be happy to sit in a confined space for some time.

Explore some of the temples and ruins, made more attractive to kids by the wildlife dripping from the trees (mainly birds and monkeys). But do check how accessible they are before setting off – the best temples are often in hard-to-reach places.

Head to Dambulla with its impressive temples to Buddha (including an enormous golden Buddha in the lotus position in the square) then on to the reclining Buddha and the cave paintings. Hawkers along the route sell melons if you need cooling down. At Weligama Bay on the southern coast there's an impressive Buddhist rock sculpture of the Kusta Raja or 'Leper King'.

Don’t miss the 650m-tall rock citadel of Sigirya, one of the wonders of the world. 

Be wary of Colombo, the country’s capital. A bustling city with beaches, shopping, museums and markets, it’s very crowded with lots of checkpoints in place and a very real threat of terrorism. 

Amble around the Cultural Triangle of Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, all ancient capital cities in Sri Lanka's colourful past. As well as housing Buddha’s tooth (in the Temple of the Tooth), Kandy, historical bastion of Buddhist power, has a small but good National Museum, botanical gardens with space to run around, and plenty of local arts and crafts to browse. Polonnaruwa, recognisable to many parents as a backdrop for the video of Duran Duran’s ‘Save a Prayer’ in 1982, is now a UNESCO Heritage site. 

Discover Galle, the former capital, with good beaches, good shopping and an ancient fort that’s fun to clamber around. Its incongruous Dutch appearance is a reminder of its colonial heritage.

Eat

Sri Lanka can be an exciting place to eat – you can often see your supper coming in on a boat if you’re on the coast, and there are plenty of fish and prawns on the menu. Food can be very spicy, which might be difficult for younger palates; good back-ups for family holidays are the fruit and, in some hotels, the buffet meals. 

Don’t miss ‘short eats’ – traditional café fare descended from British-rule high tea, when you are served a plate of sandwiches, sausage rolls and pastries and pay for what you eat. 

When to go to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has excellent weather from December until the end of April, but it can get extremely hot, even in the cool seasons, so think carefully before booking family holidays here with very young children. The amount of rain in the monsoon seasons varies, depending on where in the island you’re going, so plan your trip carefully - the monsoon in the north-east lasts Dec-Mar; in the south-west it's June–Oct.

Check the Foreign Office website (fco.gov.uk) for advice before booking to go to Sri Lanka. Although hostilities ended in 2009, there is still unrest and lots of government checkpoints and no-go areas in the north of the island. 

Cost

Expect to pay approx. £500 per person for flights with accommodation and tour costs on top. Sri Lanka offers varied standards and styles of accommodation that should suit most pockets.  

By Georgina Allen

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