The tropical island of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is awash with stunning landscapes and an amazing cultural heritage experiences. Fringing the coast are golden-sand beaches, while majestic mountains, lush tea estates and rainforests paint the interior in vivid shades of green.
There’s great hiking and trekking, white water rafting, kayaking and canoeing, as well as diving and snorkelling in and around the incredible reefs along its coastline. A wildlife lover’s paradise, vast areas are conserved in national parks and sanctuaries. A wildlife safari offers the opportunity to spot elephant, leopard, deer, giant squirrel, monkeys and a whole range of other quirky critters.
But its natural beauty is just part of Sri Lanka’s beauty and charm. While the old colonial powers have long since departed, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences still impact on the culture, religion, architecture and cuisine of this fascinating country. Colombo is the country’s commercial, economic and cultural hub, its streets lined with old buildings inspired by European Colonists and Moorish traders.
But Sri Lanka remains the oldest continually Buddhist country where the original soul of Theravada Buddhism has flourished since the second century. The country is home to many places of religious and historic significance including the fascinating ruins of Anuradhapura with its enormous stupas, soaring towers and crumbling temples, and Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy which houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic, a tooth of the Buddha.
Thanks to its close proximity to the equator and constantly warm temperatures, Sri Lanka is a great year-round destination. But climatic variations around the country, with two monsoon seasons affecting different regions, mean you need to carefully choose where in the country to travel and when.
From April to September, the southwest of the island is affected by monsoon weather with short bursts of intermittent rain throughout the day while the northeast is similarly affected from December to March. The best time to visit the west and south coasts and hill country is from December to March, while the east coast is as its best from April to September.
During July a series of important festivals are held across the country and while it is an exciting time to visit, accommodation needs to be booked well in advance and room rates skyrocket.
Sri Lanka’s west coast is its most developed and westernised region, and probably the best for families travelling with younger children.
In Columbo, Sri Lanka’s largest city and commercial capital, littlies will love exploring Galle Face Green, a huge green space on the waterfront south of Colombo Fort. Filled with local families flying kites and kicking balls about, the park is a great spot to burn off pent up pre-schooler energy. Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo’s largest, also offers great expanses of space, walkways, shady trees, a mini zoo and a great kids play area. It also provides access to a small aquarium and The National Museum. Close by is the Colombo National Museum of Natural History.
Outside of the city, the west coast also boasts a necklace of beautiful golden sand and white powder beaches lined with swaying palms. There are also plenty of kid-friendly resorts where you can kick back, paddle of build a sandcastle or two.
Sri Lanka may be small in size but travelling around the country can be slow and time consuming. Cities are busy and congested making the ubiquitous and cheap three-wheel trishaws your best mode of transport around town. Just remember to use your best bargaining skills and agree on the fare before you get in. Buses and trains are cheap but crowded and tend to be very slow, the 100 kilometre trip from Colombo to Kandy taking around three hours. Public transport is especially crowded around poya (full moon) holidays so it’s best to avoid non-essential travel during these times.
Mosquito borne illnesses including Dengue fever and Japanese Encephalitis and Chikungunya Fever are a risk, as is Malaria in regional areas. Keep yourself and your kids safe by applying a child-safe insect repellent (with no more than a 20% concentration of DEET) at regular intervals. Rabies is also a risk so be careful with children around animals.
Food and water borne diseases are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time, so caution is required when eating. Tap water is not safe to drink, use only bottled or filtered water.
There are no essential vaccinations for travellers to Sri Lanka, however we advise every member of the family is up-to-date with routine vaccinations before travel.
Medical care is variable in Sri Lanka but the capital, Colombo, has good clinics aimed at expats, which offer a superior standard of care. Just ensure you have an adequate level of travel insurance for your family to cover costs in the event of an emergency.
Sri Lanka, the spice island once known as Ceylon, is a rich melting pot of cuisines influenced by Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists as well as Indian, Arab and Malay traders.
Staples of Sri Lankan cuisine are coconut, boiled or steamed rice, curries of fish, chicken, beef and mutton, fresh and pickled fruits or vegetables. Sri Lankans love their spices, but there are plenty of simple grilled fish and chicken dishes for less adventurous palates. Many of the larger hotels produce western cuisine if your kids are especially picky.
Other popular dishes for kids are hoppers (a crispy fried pancake), string hoppers (steamed noodle pancakes) and flaky roti bread. Fruit is also abundant with mango, pineapple and papaya popular choices for kids. More adventurous diners will enjoy tasting their way through the country’s many fiery curries, as well as lamprais (a combination of meat, rice and sambal chilli), pickles and the fried salted fish.
Buddhism is the main faith in Sri Lanka, although a percentage of the population also follows Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Regardless of your own beliefs, it is important to be respectful. Remove shoes and dress modestly, covering up knees and shoulders, before entering temples. Be quiet and respectful inside temples. Don’t touch, climb on, turn your back on, or point the soles of your feet towards, the Buddha, as this is considered highly offensive. And never touch or pat the top of the head of a monk.
When it comes to mealtimes, remember always use your right hand. Sri Lankans eat with the fingertips of their right hands (though most places will offer you cutlery if you desire). They also use their right hand when shaking hands, handling money and passing small objects, a custom that is based on hygiene as the left hand is generally used in the bathroom. It’s one worth remembering!
Sri Lanka is a relatively good value destination for families. Accommodation is very affordable even at the luxury end of the market, but prices do increase during the high season between December and March. Many visitors rent a car with a driver to get around, as they are reasonably well priced and comfortable. But, if you are on a budget, the bus service is the cheapest way to get around. Food is inexpensive, especially if you stick to eating rice and curries and short eats (finger foods) with the locals, as restaurants located in resorts and hotels tend to be more expensive. Tipping is expected as is haggling over the price of hotels and shopping.
The one exception is the cost of entry into attractions, especially National Parks and government run archaeological parks, which can be high as tourist prices are applied, and these can be as much as 100 times more than the local price.
Feb/March – Adelaide Fringe
You’ll find family and kid friendly shows at Adelaide’s wild and wonderful Fringe festival.
March - Adelaide Festival
Australia’s premier Arts festival showcases theatre, world-class musicians, dance, writers and visual art.
March – Adelaide 500
This motorsport spectacular is packed with action and entertainment for families. The 2021 Superloop Adelaide 500 will occur on revised dates in 2021.
March – South Australia History Festival
Enjoy hundreds of events such as talks to workshops exploring the local history.
March – WOMADelaide
Enjoy family friendly performances and workshops by the world’s best traditional and contemporary musicians, dancers and DJs.
May – DreamBig Children’s Festival
This arts festival for schools and families is the largest of its kind in the world.
September – Royal Adelaide Show
Experience animals, rides, food and entertainment as the country comes to the city.
October – OzAsia Festival
Australia’s biggest Asian arts festival.
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