Sri Lanka family holidays
Family holidays in Sri Lanka deliver the whole nine yards. Whenever you visit, you’ll find jaw-dropping wildlife, intrepid adventures and eye-widening ancient sites, topped off with plenty of downtime on those world-famous sweeping sands.
Families often return to Sri Lanka’s well-loved shores, knowing they’ll discover something new on every trip. There’s plenty to keep kids of all ages smiling, from cheering on a cricket match in Galle, to trundling by train through tea fields, or whale-watching just off the coast.
Add in sunshine somewhere all year round, and it’s easy to see why Sri Lanka constantly bowls us over!
Highlights of a family holiday in Sri Lanka
- Cycle between the ruins of an ancient capital, imagining its glittering past
- Bump along dusty tracks on the back of a bull-cart at a working coconut farm
- Stay overnight in a wilderness camp, and venture out at first light in search of leopards
- Get breathtakingly close to the unique elephant gathering in Minneriya
- Bodyboard in some of the best beginners surf in Asia, or just kick back on the beach!
With a UK based team of Destination Specialists with offices and partners across Asia, ensuring we focus on staying really local in our approach. Our specialists have travelled extensively in the Philippines and throughout Asia, many having also lived in the region.Along with enjoying great travels, the team regularly inspect the best hotels, seek out new activities and
design new routes – for inspiration we’d suggest taking a look through some of their Favourite Journeys. The weather during any of the kids holiday dates is always an important consideration and we have that covered with our best time to visit the Sri Lanka section.
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How to spend your time...
Three of our favourite family-friendly itineraries in Sri Lanka
...and where to rest your head
Three of our favourite family-friendly hotels in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka with kids: what to expect?
Sri Lanka’s astonishing beaches are a huge draw for families. Different coastlines are at their best at different times of year, but there are always golden sands and palm-lined bays to explore somewhere. Dive and snorkel just offshore, go whale watching around the coast, or learn to bodyboard in perfect beginners’ surf.
If you’re in the south, a visit to Galle is a fantastic way to delve into the country’s history and culture. Kids can clamber over the famous fort walls, watch dolphins pass offshore, and perhaps catch a world-class cricket match (or a less formal one down a side street - cricket is everywhere in Sri Lanka!).
Sri Lanka’s wildlife is guaranteed to grab any kid’s imagination, and watching wild animals appear just a few metres away will always be a thrill. You could learn about vital turtle conservation, spot leopards on an intrepid safari trek, or even get tantalisingly close to elephants in northern Minneriya.
Fancy waking up to a dawn chorus with a difference? Big game camping in a national park is a great option for families looking for wildlife adventures with a few extra creature comforts. Head out early on family-friendly safaris, and cosy up around the campfire each evening to relive the day’s adventures.
The eco-friendly Mudhouse can give kids an immersive taste of off-grid living. Opt for family yoga classes, pristine stargazing and traditional Sri Lankan cookery classes - without any WiFi distractions!
For an awe-inspiring journey to remember, rumble by train through Tea Country’s lush landscape, and perhaps finish with a few days in a classic hillside resort. The kids can run about on the lawns, while you sedately sip a fine Sri Lankan cuppa in the shade.
Things you’ll all love in Sri Lanka
What to do in Sri Lanka: Discover more with our hand-picked experiences & highlights
A close encounter with these ocean giants is a bucket-list-topping experience, and you can’t get closer than a boat trip into their migration path off Sri Lanka’s idyllic coast. Feeling the boat rock beneath you as a whale surfaces nearby is an experience you will never forget.
Before the monsoon season begins, elephants from far beyond the borders of Minneriya National Park journey to the park’s vast ancient reservoir to quench their thirst and take shelter under the trees. This extraordinary event is The Gathering; the greatest assembly of Asian elephants anywhere in the world, an unique opportunity to encounter these powerful and majestic animals in the wild.
Travelling by train has to be one of the most immersive and atmospheric ways to see a new country, and the Tea Country train is one of the world's most extraordinary train journeys. Feel your senses stirred as you climb up through the highlands, surrounded by views over lush tea plantations and stunning scenery in every direction.
No electricity, outdoor showers, walls made of mud (literally), in the back of beyond, no air-con and miles away from civilisation as we know it… and we love it. The creation of a mad man or a genius, we can’t quite decide - perhaps a well balanced combination of the two - The Mudhouse is a ‘marmite’ type of retreat… you’ll either get it, love it and adore it, or you’ll quickly slip away in search of a few more creature comforts!
Responsible Travel in Sri Lanka
From rustic eco-lodges to conservation-first wildlife projects, Sri Lanka is overflowing with opportunities for the conscious traveller. When the tourist industry represents the third largest source income, its important that the country looks after it and that it, in turn, looks after the country.
Throughout our travels many in Sri Lanka we have been buoyed to see an ever-growing awareness from hotels that have started to push back on single-use plastics and explore alternative ways to keep you suitably hydrated and pampered. There are especially responsible safari camp operators too, such as the team from Mahoora who consider every step of their operation when it comes to scoring their RT credentials.
We've long enjoyed designing and operating slightly alternative programmes throughout the country, whether that be a cycling tour on the outskirts of Galle or a streetfood walking tour in Colombo; each an opportunity to keep a step closer to the real Sri Lanka experience.
Our Sri Lanka Specialists' top tips for families
With quite a few parents among our well-travelled Destination Specialists, we know how important it is to get the finer details sorted before travelling with kids, and we always go the extra mile to make sure they are. We want everyone to enjoy each moment without sweating the small stuff.
If you have any questions, or want to have a chat about planning your family holiday to Sri Lanka, we'd love to have a chat. In the meantime, here are a few FAQs to help you get started…
- Is it easy to travel in Sri Lanka?
As Sri Lanka is a relatively compact destination, everything is fairly close together and journeys between stops are shorter. Apart from being a real bonus when travelling with kids (as all parents know, long journeys with littlies can be tough!), this means you can mix it up a bit and include several stops on your family holiday itinerary. You’ll get to the best of the beaches, wildlife watching and bustling city sights without spending too much time on travel!
- When is the best time of year for a family holiday in Sri Lanka?
One of the reasons Sri Lanka is a natural choice for a family holiday is that it is a genuinely great year-round destination. From December to April, you’ll find the best weather overall. The east coast and north of the country are dry and sunny from May to September, so ideal for UK summer holidays. For winter sun and Christmas breaks, head for the west and south west.
- Is Sri Lanka safe for families?
Yes, in general Sri Lanka is very safe country for families to travel in. After the events of Easter 2019, Selective Asia’s founder Nick spent time with our ‘in-country’ teams and local guides to get a first hand understanding of the security situation, and start mapping out a recovery plan. The country was quickly open for business again, but we urge you to read Nick's insights for a well-rounded, first-hand report, and if you have any questions, please do give us a call.
- Do I need a guide in Sri Lanka?
Having an experienced, knowledgeable and welcoming local guide on hand during your trip is absolutely invaluable. They’ll meet you upon arrival, act as translator, transfer you between locations, and generally make everything go as smoothly as possible. They’ll leave you to your own devices as much or as little as you wish, but we think a good guide is essential for a successful family holiday. We pride ourselves on using only the best guides in a given region. All our guides are trained to the highest level, and fully certified and licensed. Sri Lanka is unusual in that you will be with the same guide throughout your entire trip. This gives continuity to your family during their holiday, and builds a warm relationship that makes your visit truly special. Find out more about our brilliant guides here.
- What vaccinations do I need for Sri Lanka?
When planning a trip to Asia, it’s important to consider the possible requirement for vaccinations and immunisations. Most importantly, we stress that you should contact your doctor or medical practitioner well before you depart to get their advice on any vaccinations you may need for your trip. If you’ve travelled recently and believe that you are already up-to-date, it is still worth checking as vaccinations have a varying life span. The NHS Fit For Travel Sri Lanka web page confirms that malaria is ‘not normally present unless the illness was contracted abroad’, and the NHS Travel Vaccinations site has lots of up-to-date information.
- Do I need a visa to go to Sri Lanka?
Yes. All foreign nationals (excluding Singapore & the Maldives) require a visa or an Electronic Travel Authority to visit Sri Lanka. From 01 August 2019 for a period of 6 months only, tourists from 48 countries (including UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand & most European countries) are entitled to a FREE tourist visa for a maximum 30 day stay. You will still need to either apply for your ETA online or queue at the airport, but there will be no fee. If you are arriving in Sri Lanka by air, you can obtain your Electronic Travel Authority in advance of your departure with the easy-to-use online visa service. Alternatively most nationalities can obtain their visa on arrival at Colombo Airport.
- What should I pack for a trip to Sri Lanka?
Though you can pick up some stuff you need in the cities, we’d recommend taking supplies of any essentials, such as favourite nappies, formula etc., as well as your preferred brand of sunscreen and insect repellent. Light, long sleeved shirts, a light scarf or two, and long trousers or skirts will mean that you’re prepared for any modest dress code requirements. They’ll also help provide valuable protection against strong sunlight and mosquitoes. If you’re travelling with tinies, consider taking a really good baby carrier, as push-chairs might be more difficult to get about with.
- What’s the best currency to take to Sri Lanka?
You can’t obtain Rupee outside of Sri Lanka. You will find ATM machines in most major cities and there are several in the arrivals area at Colombo Airport. There are also a number of money changers at the airport offering fair rates of exchange on most major currencies. Hotels will also change currency and will often also accept payment in £, $ and Euro. In most shops and restaurants only Rupee cash and credit card payments are accepted. Travellers cheques are no longer accepted in Sri Lanka.