Families taking their first steps into Asia often fall head over heels for Sri Lanka. Its vibrant culture makes an enticing prospect for those starting to travel further afield, and its familiarity and warmth means you can feel fully relaxed from day one. There are dozens of shapes that a family holiday in Sri Lanka can take, but this is one of our favourites. It’s a great all-rounder that grabs everyone’s attention with restful rural stays, exhilarating wildlife experiences (elephants definitely, and hopefully leopards too), imagination-sparking ancient ruins, wild swimming, and treks into the hills. Whether you’re after adventure, cultural immersion, or a gentle challenge, it’s a heady destination where you can fill your days with sun, sea, wildlife and history; memorable moments that really stay with you.
Take your time, go at your own pace and drink it all in, pausing longer where your interests lead you and being choosy about the number of stops you make. Sri Lanka is a country that you’ll be drawn to return to, so don’t feel that you need to include everything in one go! And as for how to round off your trip in perfect balance? Time on the beach after a full itinerary is always fabulous, allowing you to completely relax and be pampered before you head home. Then, perhaps, end on an urban high with some city sightseeing in Colombo? The choice is all yours...
After a long flight, a bit of dedicated R&R can get your family holiday off to a sublime start. Handily, the Horathapola Coconut Estate - both a working farm and a welcoming escape - is only an hour away from the airport. Set within 50 acres of lushly planted grounds, this elegant estate bungalow feels fresh, restorative and laid-back: a great family-friendly retreat. The garden is full of wildlife, and the farm is home to friendly livestock, including ponies and buffalo. Anyone with energy to burn can dump their bags and jump into the pool, whilst those looking for a few gentler moments can explore the lush grounds before you all regroup to plan out your next day or two. How about borrowing some bicycles and exploring the local villages? Or taking a guided walk to learn the secrets behind coconut oil harvesting? As evening approaches, enjoy a cool swim as the spiced aromas emanating from dinner’s simmering clay pots fill the air...
One of Sri Lanka’s greatest wonders is its wildlife diversity, and a high-quality safari in one of its 26 National Parks can really take your family holiday to another level. The best are truly astonishing, getting you close to some of Asia’s most iconic creatures in their natural habitats. Of all Sri Lanka’s National Parks, Wilpattu is the largest and, arguably, the most enigmatic. Inaccessible until only a few years ago, researchers are only just discovering the full depths of its ecosystems, with some saying it could be the most biologically diverse of all.
Stay on the edge of the park in a luxury tented camp, complete with air conditioning, gourmet BBQs and private plunge pools, and head out on jeep safaris at dusk and dawn to maximise the likelihood of seeing leopards (though they’re always close by even when you can’t see them.) Keep your senses alert for sightings of elephants, crocodiles, deer and a plethora of exotic birdlife. A lucky few are even treated to a glimpse of a rare sloth bear - please let us know if you see one! After each exhilarating safari day, return to camp to relive your adventures around the fire, enjoying a cool drink and a fine feast under a darkening sky by the flicker of flaming torch light.
The Cultural Triangle is a window into ancient Sinhalese culture, and a stop here brings extra depth and a spark of adventure to your family holiday. The cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are some of the oldest historical sites on the island; places of stupas, relics, sacred trees and classical structures. The rock fortress of Sigiriya rises imposingly from the surrounding jungle making for a very satisfying climb. Alternatively you can scramble up the adjacent Pidurangala Rock, which is more of a freestyle climb, and much less visited, but offers some absolutely glorious views. An immersive taste of day-to-day life awaits with a visit to a local family home, where you can help prepare lunch before enjoying a meal with your hosts.
Aside from the history, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to dividing your time in the Cultural Triangle, including the possibility of more National Park safaris, one in particular that pretty much guarantees elephants. Whilst scouring UNESCO sites is unarguably great, it’s often the simple, everyday interactions - such as a quick stop in a local town to purchase fresh fruit from a roadside vendor - that bring your experience into full, colourful focus. These spontaneous moments really connect you to a country, so build in some less structured time and see where the day takes you…
Arriving at the beach signals the moment to slow down and enjoy a few glorious days with nothing more urgent to decide than which local dish to try next! The broad spectrum of accommodation available along Sri Lanka’s long coastline means you can stay in whichever base suits your family best, whether that’s a chic boutique or a fully-staffed private villa. Though things are gradually changing, the east coast is generally less developed, and it’s still possible to enjoy a pretty deserted experience: just you, the beach and your welcoming home-from-home.
Trincomalee is a vibrant and interesting town with some discreet luxury resorts nearby. Apart from relaxing, swimming and eating fine food, you can go whale and dolphin spotting out in the bay, or snorkelling around a nearby island. Further south, Passekudah Bay has one of the most swimmable beaches in Sri Lanka. Although more developed, it’s a beautiful location, and the nearby settlement of Batticaloa is a fascinating explore if you fancy a change of scene. Take a cycling tour if you feel like getting out and about for some local-life immersion, and lose yourselves in the day-to-day wonders of somewhere new.
If you’ve spent the tail end of your adventures on the east coast enjoying the best of the beach weather, then Colombo - your exit point - is on the opposite coast. Luckily, there are several options for making the most of your journey back across the island. You might want to head into the jungle again, to one of the most remote spots in all Sri Lanka, to experience more of the island’s natural wonders? Or you could make a deep incursion into tea country, returning to Colombo via a couple of nights at a riverside adventure camp?
One well-loved Selective Asia approach is to head high into the hills around Kandy, to a very special 193o’s bungalow: the Ashburnham Estate. Set in the middle of nowhere, this is a blissful place to spend a cool couple of days picking tea, playing jungle tennis, wild swimming, taking guided walks and just enjoying the delicious food. It’s an unforgettable way to round off a trip. However you envisage it, we’ll make sure that your Sri Lanka journey, from start to finish, fits your family perfectly.
The guide price of £2,390US$2,790 is a per adult price (not including international flights) based on 2 nights on a coconut farm, 1 night at Wilpattu National Park, 2 nights in the Cultural Triangle region, 4 nights enjoying the sands of the east coast, 2 nights near Kandy and 1 in Makandura; all in our favourite mid-range hotels. How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
If you’ve still got it, prove it. And if you never had it (like us) then just sit back enjoy the show