Sri Lanka is often associated with romantic honeymoons or rugged backpacking adventures, however as it grows in popularity the island nation is increasing in facilities and activities for travelling families. It’s unique landscape, colourful history and cultural charm provides a number of unique experiences the whole family will be recalling for years. Here are my top five unique Sri Lanka experiences with kids …
Fly a kite on Galle Face Green
While in Colombo head to the city’s playground by the sea in the heart of the CBD at dusk. Take plenty of small change with you and purchase one of the vibrant kites from the many vendors selling a curious array of all manner of brightly coloured inflatables. The kids will love watching their caricature kites sail across the pastel skies over the Indian Ocean, alongside hundreds of others. As the sun goes down take stroll along the promenade and enjoy the piping hot street food on offer and a cool freshly squeezed juice to cool down the little ones after the dizzying excitement of kite flight.
Watch the cliff divers at the Galle Fort
This recommendation comes with a warning kids – don’t try this one at home! Early evening on the lighthouse side of the ramparts is where heritage meets adrenalin. From about 4pm you start to see a crowd gathering around a handful of Bob Marley look-a-likes with only neon board shorts for protection. The guys get the crowd and youngsters excited with photos and tales of their past leaps of faith off the historic Dutch ramparts and into the shallow waters below. After a pass-around of the donation bucket, they are ready. Take a deep breath and hold on to your heart (and kids!) as these thrill seekers take a short run up and graciously throw themselves into the roaring Indian Ocean, reappearing drenched and gleaming from ear to ear. This is a unique experience for the holiday journal and one they’ll be sharing with all their friends back at school.
Boogie board and surfing lessons in Weligama
About forty-five minutes south of Galle is the increasingly popular ‘sandy village’ of Weligama, a picturesque bay dotted with colourful fishing boats at one end and novice surfers at the other. The wide expanse and tame waves of Weligama Bay make this an ideal spot for children to get their first taste of surfing and boogie boarding. There is no shortage of surf shacks to hire a board by the hour or book in a lesson with an instructor who will almost guarantee them to ride their first wave. The bay is a beautiful spot but with limited shade so be sure to slap on plenty of sunscreen. All those waves make for hungry surfers so grab the nearest tuk tuk and head to nearby Koggala or further down the coast to Mirissa for a better selection of child-friendly menus.
Take a scenic rail journey
Kids and windy roads don’t go well together so avoid the hassle and save them the pain by taking a scenic train ride through the hill country. Board the observation carriage on the Podi Menike in Peradeniya after a night in Kandy or nearby tea destinations and enjoy the rickety climb through the highlands on this iconic train. Children and parents alike are left breathless by the stunning views across tea plantations and the thrill of sheer drops as the train makes it way to Badulla over steep cliffs and narrow bridges. Keep young travellers entertained with a session of wildlife or station spotting and partake in a traditional game of echo play where passengers sing into the long tunnels as the train meanders through them. Sweet treats and spicy snacks are available to purchase from mobile vendors who hop on and off between stations but it’s worth taking along a packed lunch for the fussier eaters. No doubt once you reach the cooler climbs of your highland destination the kids will enjoy the respite from the heat and a full night’s sleep after such an unforgettable adventure.
Despite its small size, Sri Lanka is one of the most biologically diverse countries in Asia. This small island offers a unique and varied spectrum of native flora, birdlife, wildlife and its most enticing drawcard – Sri Lanka’s own ‘Big Five’ – elephants, leopard, sloth bear, sperm whale and blue whale. There is no better classroom than an immersive one where keen youngsters can hear and see (no touching!) wildlife in their own environment. There are a few ‘cowboy’ safari and whale watching outfits that have setup due the booming tourist numbers so be sure to do your research and use only tourist board accredited or travel agent recommended providers that will provide a comfortable, educational experience with a trekker/ spotter who can answer children’s inquisitive queries.
If your itinerary takes you along the South coast include whale watching in Mirissa (ideally between December – March) with a safari in Yala National Park for a chance to see leopard alongside elephants and sloth bear or to Uda Walawe National Park for a less crowded encounter with elephants and chance leopard sighting. Should you be on the West of the island particularly between November and April, your itinerary should include Kalpitiya for whale and dolphin watching along with Wilpattu National Park to see elephants and hopefully the illusive leopard and sloth bear.
These up close and personal encounters are sure to be ones they will never forget.
Harshi Hewage is the Marketing Manager at Manor House Concepts.
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