What to do in Sri Lanka with Kids

Traveling to Sri Lanka with kids, how has it been?

We have loved traveling all over Sri Lanka. So much so, we were only initially staying for 3.5 weeks. Back in June I went to Colombo and extended our visas so we can stay another six weeks!  That was an ordeal in itself. We returned after India. We left again, went to for a family holiday to Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and had a birthday at Lego in Johor Bahru,  and are back again. We are off to have a family holiday in the Maldives again soon and will again return to Sri Lanka! We love it here!

What is Sri Lanka like?

Sri Lanka is like the calmer and quieter cousin of India. Sri Lankan is still glorious yet not as showy as India. Most of Sri Lanka is not as loud as India, although they do love firecrackers! In our experience, we have not had the gastro-upsetty-squirty-bum and sore tummy (is that a word?) like we did in India.

The Sri Lankan people we have met are lovely and honest people.  They are so kind and welcoming. I have only been ripped off once! There are alluring national parks to try to spy a herd of endangered wild Sri Lankan elephants, the endangered Sri Lankan Leopard or the highly endangered Sri Lankan Sloth Bear.

The beaches are clean and rival many of the most beautiful you can see in the world. Many Sri Lankan beach areas are famous for surfing. Down near Mirissa you can see a Blue Whale. Or you can see turtles nesting near Tangalle. There are numerous locations you can see other whales and dolphins. We are hoping to get to Willapitu National Park soon. 

Sri Lankan Food

They do like spice in Sri Lankan cuisine. I love spicy food so I find it delicious. I think if you are a person who is averse to heat and spice in your food you have to be careful what you eat. For example, even their tomato sauce has chili in it! We have experienced many meals that are beautiful. My favorite is probably pittu, a streamed grain. It can be served either as a savory dish with a coconut milk curry or as a dessert. I love pittu with fresh curd and treacle. It is weird at first, and then by the end, you are licking your fingers!

Sri Lankan people eat with their hands. You mix the food up and smoosh it together before you eat it. Like most places with questionable access to toilet paper and limited water, you should only use your right hand when eating.

You can still find some Western-style food, although it is exorbitant in price. When we were in Colombo for example and my eldest was bugging me for some fast food. It was over $10USD for his meal! Luckily many of the US-type food places are only in Colombo.  Although if I am being completely honest, I still prefer Indian food when compared to Sri Lankan food.

Sri Lanka with young kids: a toddler and a baby?

The best part about Sri Lanka is they have a real grasp of what is important – family! Our boys are young, eight, three and one. They have been welcomed into some homes and dare I say it hearts during our time in Sri Lanka. We have met some of the most gentle and kind people here, and the boys have been shown everything from festivals to Buddist chanting ceremonies. They have given offerings at the temples and seen the excitement of seeing elephants and monkeys at these temples. Although, I would not agree with all the animal use, in particular elephants by the temples. It is part of their culture, and you have to learn about the positives and negatives.

Sri Lankans

Maybe it is the Buddism influence, but they are calm, caring and kind. I feel very safe walking down the street at night and am we are all experiencing the country as a local. Although I have been called ‘baby’ and ‘cutie’, I didn’t feel harassed, and it didn’t feel seedy. They are just friendly.  

What we have loved in Sri Lanka

The kids and I love that monkeys are in the backyard trying to steal the mangoes. We have seen squirrels everywhere, monitor lizards chewing on grubs and a chameleon fading into the colour of the fence! The cattle roam the streets and get right-of-way. The birdlife is immense, and the species are diverse. Anything from giant storks to sea eagles, from seeing our first woodpecker to a kingfisher. We love that you buy an entire branch of bananas and hang it in your house. As I have said, the people are kind, caring and generous with their time. 

Elephant Transit Home – Udawalawe National Park

A place that was established to care for, rehabilitate and release misplaced baby elephants. Unlike, Pinnawalla “orphanage” they do great work here.

It is not a touristy place but it does get busy. There are 3 feedings scheduled per day. I have been told the early morning time is the best as it is not too hot and there are fewer people. We visited in the afternoon and it was very busy. If you wait about 15 minutes most people will leave and you are free to watch the baby elephants play.

To protect the calves and to limited contact with humans, you observe the cute antics from a viewing platform around 50 meters away.  The calves are free to roam the jungle together and return to get a drink of milk every 3-hours. To date, ETC has successfully released more than 100 elephants back into the wild. These elephants will be monitored after their release back into the wild and have the Udawalawe National Park as their new homes. They have reported that some of the elephant cows have already become mothers.

What haven’t we loved in Sri Lanka?

The roads are pretty terrifying. In particular the young tuk-tuk drivers, they are foolish and fearless. The scariest vehicle on the roads by far are the short-distance buses! Those drivers are insane; I am sure they are high as they look possessed. Crazy eyes! I bought the kids car seats, and although have had to be innovative with their attachment to the vehicles, I am very glad I did.

The animal treatment isn’t the best. Unfortunately, that is across Asia. Many people are trying to help save many of the species that in trouble. We are trying to seek our ethical travel alternatives and avoiding as much as possible any exploitative activities. The issue of elephant-human conflict is one I feel very strongly about.

Ethical Travel Tips

Try to eat vegetarian or vegan; if that is too hardcore, you can easily have a pescatarian diet (fish). It is straightforward here to maintain this.

Animal activities can be questionable. Be careful to limit how you support elephant activities. Never ride an elephant. If you go to a national park ensure you go with a reputable company. There are no licenses required and many cowboy operations that are being very disruptive to the animals.

Our Verdict

We love it here! If you are sick of going to Bali for the umpteenth time or getting bored with Phuket, Sri Lanka is a real alternative.