Sri Lanka for Kids
Like a good rice and curry, Sri Lanka offers a dazzling array of choices. This is obviously not a first-world country, so the child who expects a packaged Disneyland experience won’t be happy, but any bumps along the way are more than compensated for by the Sri Lankans themselves and their love of children.
Eating with Kids
Sri Lankan hospitality means that people will go to any length to please young and finicky eaters; most places have a few Western-style dishes.
To ease your children into Sri Lankan food, try a breakfast of pittu. The coconut-rice combination will be kind to their palates. Also try hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes), especially the string variety, or nice and mild rotti (flatbreads with filling).
The profusion of fresh and exciting varieties of fruit should mean that everybody will find something they like.
Best Regions for Kids
The West: its beaches all along this sandy coast. There are all manner of child-friendly resorts where you can relax and maybe build a castle or two. Overall, this is probably the most child-friendly area.
The South: More beaches, lots of water-based activities and in the east there’s elephants.
The Hill Country: Many of the attractions here are more adult orientated, but the mild temperatures are a good respite from the heat elsewhere. Tea plantations and trains are an unbeatable day out.
The Ancient Cities: Ancient temples, forts, ruins, jungles and elephants. Hello, Indiana Jones!
There aren’t many attractions dedicated solely to children in Sri Lanka, but there are a lot of sights they’ll love.
> Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage A home for elephants near Kandy, with up to 80 ready to interact with visitors.
> Uda Walawe One of the best national parks for wildlife-spotting safaris.
> Elephant Transit Home Not far from Uda Walawe, this is a well-regarded halfway house for injured and orphaned elephants.
> Minneriya A national park renowned for its herds of elephants.
> Turtle hatcheries On the west coast, these are popular.
> Unawatuna Fringing reefs mean the beach here is safe and shallow for little ones.
> Polonnaruwa Kids can literally run themselves silly at the vast and car-free ancient heritage sites such as this one, with its very cool ruins.
> Three-wheelers Buzzing, blowing and completely unlike a ride anyplace else, these ubiquitous transport options are good for a thrill.
> Hill Country Train Rides Kids will love hanging out the doors of chugging trains (and giving their parents heart attacks!).
Planning & Practicalities
> Sri Lankan hotels and guesthouses invariably have triple and family rooms, plus extra beds can be supplied on demand. Baby beds and highchairs (in restaurants) are in short supply, however..
> For very young children, the dilemma is to bring either a backpack carrier or a pram/stroller. If you can, bring both. Prams are tough going on uneven or nonexistent footpaths, but are worthwhile in Colombo and Kandy.
> Check if your hired car (with driver) has a child’s seat. If not, you can get one in Colombo.
> Buy pharmaceutical supplies, imported baby food and disposable nappies at Cargills Food City and Keells supermarkets throughout the country.
> Breastfeeding in public is accepted, but parents will struggle with finding dedicated baby-changing rooms. It’s not a major problem as it’s acceptable for toddlers to be naked in public.
> Rabies and animal-borne parasites are present in Sri Lanka, so keep children away from stray animals, including cats, dogs and monkeys.
> Bring sun cream and children are mosquito repellent with you; you won’t find it in Sri Lanka.
> Travelling With a Toddler Stuart Butler
> We traveled with our 22-month-old son around the west and south coasts and the Hill Country. I’d be lying if I said it was all plain sailing and a perfectly relaxing holiday! However, it was certainly rewarding; travelling with him was a real ice-breaker with both local people and other tourists.
A few points to note: few places have baby beds. We knew this and came with our own, but we met many other couples with young children who ended up sleeping in the same bed as their toddler for the whole time. It was, in their words, ‘Not as romantic a holiday as we hoped!’ You should also bring an extra mosquito net as hotels rarely have spares.
Always order your child’s meal well in advance; otherwise by the time the food arrives they’ll be too tired to eat. Our son loved the food, but for children who don’t then pasta is normally available in tourist areas.
Some people travel by public transport but we hired a car and driver for the duration, which had the added bonus of meaning we had a babysitter on hand!
Without any doubt it was easier to travel along the coast than the hills, where attractions are more for adults. If you really want to make things easy for yourself then just choose one beach, make a base and take day trips from there.
Nappies (diapers), even if they’re the same brand you use at home, don’t seem to work as well and rarely made it through the night. The size scale is also smaller, so if you buy mediums at home you’ll need large in Sri Lanka.