Sri Lanka with Kids: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go
Sri Lanka is one of those places people fall in love with and return to time and time again. But should you consider going to Sri Lanka with kids? We say 110% Yes! There are so many reasons to consider Sri Lanka holidays with kids and it easily makes the top 5 in our list of family-friendly countries. We have been a few times ourselves and on the most recent visit, we took the kids. They would say it is one of their best holidays ever because there was so much for them to do and it was such an adventure.
Highlights for them were swimming with turtles, spotting elephants on safari and taking their favourite form of transportation, tuk-tuks! You’re probably here because you’ve already considered Sri Lanka for your next family holiday destination so the next step is to find a little more out about travelling to Sri Lanka with kids. We’ve given our own rough guide to visiting Sri Lanka with children so you that will be able to make the most of your trip.
When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?
When planning your holiday you probably start with figuring out when is the best time to visit the destination. This is the question many people think should be asked before they start planning their Sri Lanka holidays but because Sri Lanka has two separate monsoon zones, you can visit Sri Lanka all-year-round. It’s better to first consider what you want to see and do and then you can decide when is the best time to go. While it is monsoon season in the north and east of the island, it is the dry season in the south and west and vice versa.
This means that if you want to visit the Galle and the southern beaches, it would be best to visit from December to April. If you want to head up north to Jaffna or Trincomalee, these are best visited from May to October.
Flights to Sri Lanka with Kids
Flights to Sri Lanka can be a challenge with kids as it is 11 hours for a direct flight from the UK but if you have the time, a number of airlines allow stopovers. We flew with Emirates and while we wanted to crack on and get to Sri Lanka with a minimal stop in Dubai, we had a few days in Dubai on the way home which was a lovely way to break up the flight.
Sri Lankan beaches
With so many beaches to choose from, you’d think you can’t go wrong in finding the perfect beach. Not true. The Sri Lankan beaches are among the best in the world but not all of the beaches in Sri Lanka are family-friendly as many of them have strong currents and large surf. The last thing you want is to spend your beach time on a beach where the kids can’t go into the water. There are some real gems though so it is a good idea to figure out where they are and then work out when the best time to visit them would be as per the above.
Whether you’re looking to swim with turtles, take surf lessons or just stroll along wide stretches of golden sand, you’ll find something to suit you. We have only visited the southern beaches in Sri Lanka with the kids but there are also some lovely beaches in the north for families like Arugam Bay and Nilaveli Beach.
Sri Lankan Food for Kids
Sri Lankan food is up there with some of the best cuisines in the world. We love spice and the kids can handle a bit of spice too but if you’re not a fan of chilli, you’ll be pleased to know there are options with little to no spice.
Some of the best foods in Sri Lanka for kids are:
- Hoppers (for breakfast)
- Chicken fried rice
- Chicken curry (ask for not so much spice if you get the option)
- Kottu Roti
- Coconut roti
- Fresh fruit
Here’s a more comprehensive list of some of our favourite Sri Lankan food with a description of what they all are. We’ve included some recipes so you could give them a go at home before you go.
When eating out in Sri Lanka, we follow a couple of general rules. We tend to choose places where locals eat rather than tourist restaurants, although there are always a few exceptions. The beach bar on our favourite Dalawella beach does the most amazing pizzas and smoothies. Bedspace Kitchen in Unawatuna and Matey Hut in Ella are also worth checking out. It is absolutely fine to go to places where the locals go. The food will be freshly cooked, super tasty and super cheap.
We haven’t self-catered because the food is incredibly cheap and the supermarkets are few and far between. You can always find fresh fruit and snacks to buy from vendors on the side of the road.
Travelling around Sri Lanka with kids
There are a number of different transport options for travelling around Sri Lanka with kids. You may find that you get to try each option during your trip. What we would say is that even if you don’t fancy the idea of taking any public transport, you should try to make an exception for the Nuwara Eliya to Ella train which is one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.
Car with driver
Hiring a driver and car is by far the easiest way to get around. If you are not travelling on a budget, then this is the best option. Make sure to do some research to get a good quality, air-conditioned car. Not all will be able to provide car seats and if they do, they won’t necessarily be of the standard you are used to. We always take our Mifold car seats with us because they are the most compact booster seat.
We have used the same company every time we’ve been to Sri Lanka as they are friendly, reliable and reasonable with a good fleet of cars. Make sure to check out Kings Tours and ask for Sujeewa.
The trains in Sri Lanka are fantastic and cheap. The Ella to Nuwara Eliya stretch through the lush green Sri Lankan tea plantations is one of the most scenic train rides in the world and is a must-do when visiting Sri Lanka. Due to its popularity, it’s a busy route so tickets should be bought in advance. If you don’t fancy doing the whole 2-3 hour trip (or 7 hours if you’re coming from Kandy) then the most scenic stretch is between Haputale and Ella. If you want to go over the Nine Arch Bridge, you need to go one stop further than Ella and get off at Demodara.
We have two really important tips that will make your train journey even better.
- Travelling in the direction of Kandy to Ella, make sure to sit on the right-hand side of the train. All of the views out across spectacular tea plantations are from the right-hand side. If you sit on the left-hand side, you’ll just get an up-close view of the hillside.
- Try the ‘Wade-Wade’ from the train vendors. They are little deep dried balls of dahl and are delicious!
The line from Colombo down to the south coast beaches can also get busy so try to avoid travelling during rush hour. If you’re travelling from Colombo, you can get on at Maradana station (the start of the line) instead of the central station (Colombo Fort) and you will have a better chance of getting a seat.
Tuk-tuks are a great way to get around on short journeys. Some are larger than others. The smaller, standard ones would fit the 4 of us with no luggage. You can get larger ones but they are a little harder to find. With the 4 of us and all of our luggage, it was a bit of a squeeze, so we wouldn’t recommend taking one for longer journeys.
They are a cheap way to get around and they are everywhere. Each of us sat on the outer seat and had the kids in the middle. Always remember to agree your fare before you set off. We found that a 5 km journey would cost us around LKR 400 (£1.50).
Buses are an experience! We used them a lot when we travelled around Sri Lanka before we had kids but, to be honest, we found travelling by bus a little hairy. We don’t say that lightly. We travelled by public transport through Africa and India and had no issues but there was something about the Sri Lankan bus journeys that made us decide not to attempt them with the kids.
Trains are a better option but there are some destinations that aren’t serviced by trains. If you want to get from the south coast to Ella in the hill country or to Udawalawe National Park, for example, you will need to consider a bus (if you’re travelling on a budget) or a taxi. If you are taking a bus, try to travel outside of rush hour.
Accommodation in Sri Lanka with Kids
The range of family accommodation in Sri Lanka is outstanding and there’s something to suit every budget. Whether you’re looking for simple beachfront accommodation or want to splash out on a luxury tea estate villa with private pool, you’ll find it in Sri Lanka. Something you may not have considered if you are travelling with a large family or a group is that private villas can be a great option and they often come with a cook.
Things to do in Sri Lanka with Kids
Take a Safari
There are a number of national parks in Sri Lanka and no trip to Sri Lanka would be complete without going on a safari and spotting the wildlife in their natural habitat. It’s a fun and educational experience for kids. The best places to do a safari are in Yala National Park (best for leopards) and Udawalawe National Park (best for elephants). We have lots more information on taking a safari with kids in these posts.
One thing we would like to say here is that if you want to see elephants, please do take one of these safaris as opposed to seeing the elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. We decided not to got there because we heard reports of the elephants being treated badly. As a rule, we don’t like to see animals in captivity and so the great thing about Sri Lanka is that you can see so many animals in their natural habitat that you don’t need to visit them in captivity.
Sri Lanka is home to an incredible variety of spices which is why the cuisine is so fragrant. We took a complimentary spice tour with the kids when we were staying at the beautiful Strathisla Tea Estate in the hill country near Matale. It was amazing to learn about the spices we use in everyday life and to see them grow either on a plantation or in the wild. We check out the closing plants the leaves fold inwards when they’re touched. Mimosa Pudica or the Touch Me Not Plant or the Tickle Plant. The boys found this hilarious. If you go on a spice tour, ask your guide to point these out.
Watch the iconic Stilt Fishermen
Stilt Fishing in Sri Lanka is a dying art but you can still see some of the stilt fishermen if you head to Koggala, about 25 km along the coast from Galle. There are some arguments as to whether these fishermen are authentic or whether they are just there to pose for photos for tourists. Either way, they are a great sight and its a fun and educational trip for the kids. You will also be able to see them at Weligama beach.
Climb Little Adam’s Peak
Climbing Adam’s Peak may be a stretch too far for the kids but Little Adam’s Peak in Ella is just perfect for them. The path up to the peak is mostly paved and is a lovely easy walk. There is a small stretch towards the end that narrows and there is a bit of a climb to the top, but it was perfectly manageable for a 3 and a 5-year-old. The walk took us about 3 hours, including some time at the top to take photos and a drink on the way back at the beautiful 98 acres resort.
It is best to do it in the morning when the views are clearer. Clouds tend to roll in later in the afternoon, and it will be much busier. We stayed at the Chillout Ella which is right at the start of the path to Little Adam’s Peak. It is a lovely budget-friendly option in Ella as it was a little out of the hustle and bustle of town and had beautiful views over the tea plantations.
Visit family-friendly beaches
With so many wonderful beaches in Sri Lanka, you’re bound to want to kick back and spend some time at the beach. Having 2 football mad boys, we loved the wide stretches of golden sand on Bentota beach where they could kick a ball around without anyone around. The calm waters of Dalawella were great for snorkelling with turtles and we also loved watching the surfers in Mirissa. Wherever you are in Sri Lanka, the atmosphere is super chilled.
In theory, rescuing turtle eggs from poachers and releasing the baby turtles sounds like a good idea but something didn’t sit right with us when we visited the turtle hatchery in Koggala. We were shown around tanks containing various species of turtle. Some had been injured and we were told they would never survive if they were released back into the ocean. We did wonder what sort of life it must be being confined to these tanks for however long they would live (and turtles live a long time). Maybe it would be better for them for nature to take its course rather than keep them in tanks and charge tourists to view them.
The kids were oblivious to our conflicted feelings and loved seeing the turtles. If you do want to go, just make sure to ask around and do your research to make sure you visit the ethical hatcheries.
Sri Lanka is a great place to spot the might blue whale but you need to be aware that it may not be right for kids. The trips can be long and you may have to go quite far out to sea to spot them where the waters can get very choppy. We took a trip from Mirissa before we had kids and suffered from seasickness. The trip took 6 hours and as you are on a group trip, they won’t turn the boat back to shore if you or the kids aren’t feeling well.
That being said, if you’re confident there will be no seasickness and the kids can manage a 3-5 hour trip, spotting that iconic whale tail will be an unforgettable experience. When selecting a tour, make sure the company is accredited by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDC). They also a lovely whale resource you can check out with the kids before you go.
What to pack for Sri Lanka with kids
Despite being a small country, Sri Lanka has very variable climates. If you’re visiting hill country, the temperature drops significantly and expect rain, even in the dry season. You should consider packing thin cotton layers as it can get very hot and humid but also pack a lightweight waterproof and sturdy shoes.
Long-sleeved tops and lightweight trousers are essential in the mornings and dusk if you’re staying around rice plantations. We stayed at the beautiful Good Vibes Villa which is set back from the beach near Unawatuna and just had to make sure to cover up when the mosquitoes were out.
You can get snacks in Sri Lanka (the small packets of coconut biscuits are delicious) and of course, there’s plenty of fresh fruit but we like to take a few small snacks from home. These come in handy on the long plane journey and then if we’re doing long journeys. A packet of crackers goes a long way although you’ll want some kind of Ziploc bag to keep them fresh and out of reach of ants. We also have cereal bars. As great as the food is in Sri Lanka, we find that the kids sometimes just want something familiar, especially when they’re tired.
Make sure to bring your sunscreen with you because this is not something that you will be able to easily find. See our recommendation below for sunscreen.
The first thing we would say here is don’t forget your travel first aid kit. As soon as you get away from the larger towns of Colombo, Jaffna and Galle, finding a pharmacy will be tricky.
Make sure your vaccinations are up to date before you go. Check out Fit For Travel and with your local GP or travel clinic a few months in advance for the latest advice. It’s important to get advice a few months in advance because some vaccinations need a few doses a few weeks apart so you’ll need a good 6 – 8 weeks to get fully vaccinated.
Sri Lanka is malaria-free according to the WHO – but that doesn’t mean there are no mosquitoes. There are lots of mosquitoes due to the rice paddies. We like to wear anti-mosquito bracelets as well as treating our clothes with a mosquito repellant. We don’t like to use DEET on our skin (unless we’re in a malarial area) and find that VIE and strangely find that Avon Skin-so-Soft also works for us.
Whilst there is no malaria in Sri Lanka, there are cases of Dengue Fever. This is spread by mosquitoes and the best way to try to avoid bites is to cover up and use repellant.
There are a large number of stray animals around Sri Lanka. Whilst we’ve never had any issues ourselves, it just takes one bite or scratch from an infected animal and it can be very serious. The rabies vaccination will not make you immune, it just buys you time so that you can seek medical attention.
The sun in Sri Lanka is very strong and you will need appropriate sunscreen. Everyone will have their own preference as to strength – but as a rule, we always use factor 30 and make sure it is reef safe. Even if the kids don’t go into the sea, the water from showers will eventually end up in the sea and the chemicals in most sunscreens are extremely harmful to marine life. We use Green People Organic Children 30 SPF because our youngest son also has eczema and this is very mild on his skin.
We would not recommend drinking the tap water in Sri Lanka. We take a Sawyer water filter with us on our travels when we know we won’t be able to drink the tap water. We don’t like to buy bottled water so we filter the water from the tap and use our reusable Camelbak water bottles.
As mentioned in the Sri Lankan food section, the food in Sri Lanka is great. Just try to avoid tourist traps (unless they have fantastic reviews on Tripadvisor and are very busy) and search out local places to eat. This is where you’ll find good, authentic home cooking.
While you can never guarantee the hygiene standards of every place you eat at, our general food hygiene tips should help you avoid any unwanted stomach upsets.
- wash hands before eating
- only eat washed and peeled fruit and vegetables. Cooked food should be piping hot
- try to avoid buffets as you won’t know how long the food has been sitting around (unless you visit a busy local restaurant in which case the food should be freshly made). If you have to eat in a buffet, ask for some fresh rice (rice being a big cause of food poisoning) as they’re bound to have some cooking.
- avoid ice in drinks
While leeches aren’t really a health concern, we’re putting this in here just to make you aware in case you are squeamish, that leeches are a thing in Sri Lanka, especially in the hill country. Make sure to check the kids all over after an outing and especially if it has been raining. We’ve found them around the groin area after visiting spice plantations!! If you’re out and about in the hills, it’s best to wear sturdy shoes and lightweight trousers and tuck the trousers into the socks.
Two weeks in Sri Lanka with kids
For some ideas of what you can see and do in Sri Lanka in two weeks, take a look at our Sri Lanka with kids itinerary.