Sri Lanka is an intriguing island. Its mix of wild, open spaces inhabited only by wild creatures, incredible tea plantations, pristine beaches and preserved ancient ruins and temples means there’s something for every type of family to enjoy.
Sheree Commerford, the woman behind popular lifestyle website Captain and the Gypsy Kid, recently returned from a family holiday to Sri Lanka. During their trip, her clan stayed on the country’s south coast, at 17th-century, colonial-style hotel Amangalla and at Wild Coast Tented Lodge on the outskirts of Yala National Park, known for its dense leopard population. Safe to say, Sheree and her kids Captain, 5, and Sugar, 7, were able to explore varied sides of this beautiful country. This is what made it so special.
What makes Sri Lanka an interesting place for families?
It ticks so many boxes. There’s a strong cultural element, it’s safe and you can eat well. It isn’t as developed as Bali so it's in this sweet spot where the country isn’t overly modernised, nor is it under-developed.
Did it surprise you?
We had done some research but I don’t like to over plan when I travel; I like to be spontaneous. We had started to see Sri Lanka mentioned on social media as a great destination for families so it had made its way onto our list. It was such an easy flight to Singapore and then on to Sri Lanka. We didn’t know what to expect but it definitely didn’t disappoint: the people we met were stunning, the environment was beautiful and the food was amazing.
What did your kids enjoy most?
They can go from exploring on a safari to walking the streets and meeting locals weaving dresses. The smallest details can be just as exciting and interesting to them as going on a big adventure. They loved the ocean and being out in the wild but it’s meeting new people they loved the most.
As the adults on the trip, what did you and your partner find the most fascinating?
I’m big on discovering the fashion of a new place so I seek out the local makers. I love bringing home traditional dress as beautiful momentos of my travels. We went to a sari store and spent hours chatting to the owners. But being able to see a different part of the world, especially the chance to see animals in the wild in the national park was such a special, rare opportunity.
How do you balance activities with down time for the kids?
You can’t move at the pace you would alone or with friends when you travel with kids. You have to have lazy days but they can be the most special because you’re in the moment, connecting and talking about what you’ve experienced. There were many days when we didn’t leave the place we were staying and that’s as valid and getting out and exploring a nearby village, and part of the reason why we picked the beautiful places to stay that we did.
What are your best tips for families travelling to Sri Lanka?
Look into vaccinations before you go [Smart Traveller particularly recommends visitors protect themselves against mosquito-borne diseases]. I would also see your GP and get a medical bag put together so you have antibiotics on hand for any upset stomachs or fevers.
We had the kids look into Sri Lankan culture and learn about Yala beforehand so they had some ownership of the trip and excitement around what they were going to see.
The driving can be quite hectic and erratic, and you do have to drive a lot because destinations are quite spread out. Book drivers and vans from the hotels you're staying at so you ensure you're getting a good driver and a safe vehicle that makes travel comfortable for the kids.
How do your kids cope with the moving between different hotels and destinations?
As long as you aren’t in and out, they love it. I can't speak for all children but ours are nomads and every new adventure is something they're excited about. Travelling with children can be hard work but seeing everything through their eyes is just the best.