Little Sri Lanka is like entry-level Asia for family holidays: a gentle introduction to the continent without the absolute culture shock.
That’s not to suggest it’s any less wonderful than the neighbours, just a bit easier on the senses, in a good way. Younger kids love Sri Lanka for the friendly Sri Lankans, beaches, elephants and endless sunshine.
All of which appeals just as much to teenagers, only with the added bonus of awe-inspiring temples and monuments, brilliantly lively cities, great street food, water sports and rugged outdoor activities.
Direct flights from London to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, take just over 10 hours
Southern Sri Lanka has average temperatures of 27˚C all year round, 8 hours of sunshine a day for 365 days and a short rainy season between October and November.
A growing number of eco-resorts and heritage hotels on the south east coast balance more commercialised development in the busier south west.
Family friendly elephant and leopard safaris in southern and central national parks.
Between 3000 and 4000 elephants roam wild in Sri Lanka.
The drive from Colombo Airport to Galle now takes less than two hours on the Southern Expressway.
Sri Lanka has 15 National Parks and eight World Heritage sites including the entire Central Highlands and the sacred cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura.
Sri Lanka’s roughly half the size of Cuba and easier to visit now than ever. Roads are improving all the time and the railway line between Colombo in the south and Jaffna in the far north has recently been re-opened. But the south coast’s a good choice for family holidays: the loveliest beaches are here along with several interesting towns and central Sri Lanka’s interior is still very accessible for a day (or more) exploring.
Galle was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and it’s their ingenuity you see in the World Heritage Old City walls and fort. The Dutch arrived later and bequeathed an impressively large hospital – the tropical climate didn’t agree with their northern constitutions. Now this historic town is one of the south coast’s most popular for pretty beaches, authentic atmosphere and family-friendly resorts and hotels.
Renowned for outstanding whale spotting in winter and dolphin watching cruises all year round, Mirissa is also where you’ll find palm tree lined white sands, sweet local restaurants and a laid back beachy vibe. Good for water sports and one of the top spots for sea kayaking and rewarding Snorkel Safaris.
South Sri Lanka’s most gorgeous stretch of coast, Tangalla is relaxed, with just enough development to add a few exclusive, paradise-style family resorts into the equation. The area also wins with kids because it has Rekawa Beach and Lagoon, a top spot in the country for turtle watching.
Sitting between Colombo and Galle, this sleepy little town is worth a visit for the turtle beach where conservationists set up temporary hatcheries between October and April. Not too far from the main tourist resorts round Hikkaduwa.
Some claim these beaches are the best in southern Sri Lanka. They’re certainly pristine. Not least of all because they were off limits for decades during the civil war. Now that peace is less tentative, pioneering eco-entrepreneurs have created just enough gorgeous, authentic hotels here to give families complete escapism.
Sri Lanka is a stunning country to drive around. Avoid using a car in any of the cities: taxis and trishaws are better options. The country’s public transport network is quite extensive, but first-class and air con are only available on some routes, so buses and trains can be uncomfortable for younger children and some journeys can take much longer than anticipated.