When it comes to picking a long haul family holiday we always like to go somewhere new, but with so many places still on the wish list where on earth do you start? So out came the atlas again and a few destinations jumped out for us, one of which was Sri Lanka.
There are plenty of fascinating things to do with kids in Sri Lanka besides the beaches; spot wildlife, swim with turtles, ride the train (or ride in a tuk-tuk!), go whale watching, see stick fisherman. And that’s before you introduce them to Sri Lanka’s delicious curry cuisine!
As both of our kids are in school, we were looking for Easter breaks in the sun, and this helped narrow down our choice. Looking at the weather during March/April, family friendly Sri Lanka looked perfect!
One great benefit you'll find if travelling over Easter for a Sri Lanka family holiday is that flights are pretty cheap, in general much more affordable than during the Christmas or summer holidays. We did end up taking the kids out of school for three days, but it was well worth it for the brilliant deal we got with Qatar Airways (and the fact we got a more extended holiday!)
We've taken a few long haul trips with the kids now and the flights to Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo were a breeze. You can fly overnight from Heathrow via a short transit through Doha and arrive into Colombo mid-morning.
Once you clear immigration (I'd recommend doing your Sri Lanka ETA visa online before you fly to save time and money), you’ll be ready to hit the sunshine. The first feeling of heat when you arrive in foreign climes is always welcome, and Sri Lanka didn't disappoint us, it was baking!
We planned most of our itinerary before leaving the UK, which I would recommend. From previous experience, we knew we’d want a pool everywhere we stayed. We also knew we wanted a bit of culture, a bit of adventure and some beach, so here's how our Sri Lanka itinerary panned out:
We were picked up from the airport and had a 3-hour drive to our first stop Jim's Farm Villas. A beautiful family-friendly farm set in the hills between Kandy and Dambulla with fantastic views. It was so beautiful in fact that for the first three days we didn't even leave the farm! We just chilled by the pool, got steadily used to the heat and ate some lovely food (everything is organic and grown on the farm). Bliss!
This farm is remote, but it makes an ideal base to explore the cultural north of Sri Lanka. While here, we organised a driver and went to Dambulla caves and also to Sigiriya, the ancient fortress set on a 200-metre high rock. We left at about 8 am and zipped up the rock in no time - even with the kids in tow.
The walkway up the rock is steep but safe; towards the top, you need to hold hands with the little ones, but everyone will be okay! It took around 45 minutes or so to get up, and along the way, you can see ancient carvings, before reaching the top where the view is breathtaking. An experience as a family we'll never forget.
After five nights at the farm, we got a ride to Kandy for the next 'must do' part of our trip; the famous 6-hour train ride from Kandy through the hill country to Ella.
We booked ridiculously cheap Second Class tickets on the day (about £6 in total for all four of us) and enjoyed the magnificent views and the breeze with the windows open. You could pay a bit extra for First Class, but the sealed carriage with air con didn't appeal to us as much. The air cools once the train climbs, so the heat isn't an issue.
On-board as you rattle through the countryside, you’ll find that hawkers board the train selling various street food and tea. We all tried multiple things (samosas, bread, bhajis, roti, nuts, fruits) and it was all delicious! The scenery changes as you head slowly through the villages, it's stunning and was a real highlight for us, well worth a day sat on the train.
On arrival in Ella, it was clear that this place has a very different and more hippy vibe. We stayed in 98 Acres, which we reached by jumping in a tuk-tuk. The four of us were only travelling with backpacks, but we all managed to squeeze in).
Regarding hotels in Ella, it’s not exactly a cheap place to stay, but it’s a unique spot with breathtaking views in every direction and well worth the money. They proudly display their 2015 award for “World’s Best Luxury Mountain Resort” on the wall. Perched up in the hills, 98 Acres is also a working tea plantation so tea pickers will often be seen dotted around the place. It’s ideally located for a morning walk up Little Adam’s Peak which we easily walked with the kids.
Aside from riding the tuk-tuks up and down the hill (great fun for the kids), while in Ella we also visited the Halpewatte tea factory. The factory was built in 1940 during British rule and seemingly hasn’t changed a great deal since then. It’s a fully working tea factory, and they offer an informative tour, culminating in some tea tasting and the freshest cups of tea you’re ever likely to drink.
After three nights in Ella, we headed down to the increasingly popular beach resort of Mirissa. It’s a good 4-5 hour drive from Ella which you could break up with visits to one of the national parks if you wanted. As we were meeting up with some friends, we made the whole journey in one go.
Mirissa was our first taste of beaches in Sri Lanka, and it’s rated as one of the best (if not the best!). It’s not hard to see why, it’s a beautiful sweeping arc of sand, very clean and popular with backpackers.
The sea was a little rougher here than we’d expected; OK for paddling but great for boogie boards. It’s relatively shallow, and there are lifeguards for reassurance, but you wouldn’t want your little ones getting out of their depth.
The first guesthouse we checked into was the ‘Spice House’. I wouldn’t recommend staying there with kids, it’s a poor location on the busy main road, and we took one look at our room and decided not to stay. We jumped in a tuk-tuk and headed down to Mirissa Beach – the best place to stay if you’re here for the beach. There are heaps of choices to suit all budgets, but we opted for Paradise Beach Club. Not our usual kind of accommodation, but right on the beach with a fantastic pool next to the sand (with the sea being rough this was essential for us). Along the beach are several low-key bars and restaurants; the pick of the bunch for us was the Zephyr where we ate a few times.
While in Mirissa, the best thing we did was to head down to Polhena beach by tuk-tuk. It's a calm turquoise bay protected by the reef about 10-15 minutes away. A few guys hire out snorkels and flippers, and we all got to swim with giant turtles which was something extraordinary.
There are also (Blue Whale) whale watching trips that depart from Mirissa, but as you'll be out in the boat for 4-5 hours, you need good sea legs. We wanted to go, but our kids tend to get seasick so we decided against it.
After three nights in Mirissa (and via lunch in Galle - highly recommend for a visit), we headed on to Hikkaduwa. With the new modern highway in Sri Lanka from Colombo to the Southern beaches, most people pass by Hikkaduwa.
Hikkaduwa is a kind of forgotten surf town. At one end of the beach are some bigger resort hotels while at the southern end where Villa Saffron is it’s a selection of more upmarket villas and smaller hotels. The sea is also here, but the beach is deserted at the southern end, and we loved just playing in the sand and kicking a ball around.
After being spoilt where we stayed at Jims Farm and in Ella, we just wanted to be made a fuss of again, and the location wasn’t the main draw. In Hikkaduwa, we stayed at Villa Saffron, a gorgeous new five bedroom villa right on the beach, with a fantastic staff and a chef. For our last two nights to have the place to ourselves, which was complete bliss. We stayed three nights and will always have fond memories of Hikkaduwa, mainly because of the fantastic hospitality at Villa Saffron.
Sadly Hikkaduwa was mostly destroyed by the Tsunami of 2004, in fact, it was the scene of the world’s worst ever train disaster that day claiming 1,700 lives as the coastal railway got washed away. It’s gradually coming back, but with beach resorts like Mirissa, Weligama and Unawatuna now served by the new highway further south it’s unlikely to return to its heyday of the 70’s and 80’s.
We took the kids to the Tsunami memorial and museum in Hikkaduwa, a pretty harrowing and humbling experience, but we coupled that with a trip to the turtle hatchery where we all got to hold some adorable baby turtles.
Below, we've put together this luxury Sri Lanka family holiday based on a similar itinerary and accommodation for the trip I took with my family. We can completely tailor-make this trip to suit what your own family is interested in and to fit your style and budget - just ask.
If you’re looking for Easter breaks in the sun, Sri Lanka holidays tick all the boxes. With such a wide variety of culture, beach, wildlife and landscapes you can easily travel around every few days and experience different parts of the island. Just over 2 weeks was perfect to get a real flavour of the place. If you’d like to plan a trip with your family to Sri Lanka or need other family trip suggestions, talk to one of our many well-travelled parents in the Travel Nation team on +44 1273320580 or make an enquiry by email.