Sri Lanka

Tour Sri Lanka with kids from elephant safaris to south coast beaches

Last updated 14th March 2024

How do you plan a Sri Lanka tour with your kids? Sean King went with the experts at Experience Travel Group and had the family holiday of a lifetime. Here’s how it’s done.


Malabar Hill tea plantation, Sri Lanka

For parents scratching their heads thinking about where to take the family on a special holiday this year, a Sri Lanka tour could well be the answer.

There’s so much to see and do on this little gem in the Indian Ocean that there is no time for kids to be on their phones – except to take amazing photos that is.

In other good news, Sri Lanka’s seasons fall in nicely with UK school holidays: December to April is high season on the south coast and July and August are when the beachy east coast comes alive.

But the biggest appeal about a Sri Lanka tour is that it’s a real family adventure.


Cricket on the beach, Sri Lanka

Why we chose Experience Travel Group to plan our Sri Lanka tour

For a relatively small island – roughly the size of Scotland – Sri Lanka offers an unparalleled range of experiences. In fact, there are so many possibilities it definitely takes more planning than your average holiday. That’s one reason we teamed up with the specialists at Experience Travel Group (ETG) to help us create the ideal family tour.

Our brief was fairly demanding: show us as much of the country as possible; take us from jungle to mountains to rainforests to tea plantations and then to stunning beaches; add in some magnificent temples and don’t miss any places of outstanding beauty. But ETG more than delivered, right down to the perfect driver.


Daha Ata Wanguwa, ’18-bend road’, Kandy

And a driver-come-guide to take you around on a Sri Lanka tour is an essential, as public transport can be tricky and navigating the roads – and local driving habits – in a hire car, isn’t for the fainthearted. Also, our driver, Surendra, wasn’t just fun and knowledgeable, he made us feel really safe, which was truly appreciated, considering how much road travel our holiday involved.


Colombo, Sri Lanka

Start your Sri Lanka tour with an overnight in Colombo

After our 10 hour-plus flight to the capital, Colombo, we were grateful to be only a 45 minute drive from our first hotel, The Notary’s House.

This luxury boutique hotel sits in its own gorgeous gardens and coconut grove and tastefully blends colonial style with modern comfort. And, as an added bonus, the staff can organise complementary activities to ease you into the laid-back Sri Lanka mood, including guided walks and visits to a nearby temple.


Mudhouse, Puttalam, Sri Lanka

Bring ear plugs and get back to nature at the Mudhouse

The next day it was off to the Mudhouse in Puttalam, three hours north of Colombo.

As the name implies, this eco-lodge is all about getting back to nature and literally staying in a house made of mud and cow dung. In fact, from under our mosquito net at night, the sounds of the jungle were deafening: definitely bring ear-plugs, and a sense of adventure for this stay.


The Mudhouse, Sri Lanka

Set up by three friends, almost 20 years ago, The Mudhouse reflects their joint ambition to build a sustainable forest lodge using only traditional materials and techniques. And it’s hard not to fall in love with somewhere created with so much passion, and hard work. Plus, what it lacks in mod cons, The Mudhouse more than makes up for with early morning and evening wildlife hikes; bike rides; kayaking on the lake and yoga sessions with Master Atuhl.


Santani Wellness Kandy, Sri Lanka

Find serenity in the mountains close to Kandy

Sri Lanka’s second city, Kandy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the legendary Temple of the Tooth. It was here that we had stayed at Santani Resort & Spa Kandy; a luxurious wellness retreat, nestled amidst a sprawling 116-acre tea plantation and spellbinding forest.

As the retreat is perched on a hillside, our mountain-view rooms offered an unparalleled way to experience the breath-taking scenery. And waking up to the sights and sounds of the forest was unforgettable (again ear plugs are a must). It’s hard to put your finger on, but there is something truly wonderful and tranquil about tea plantations, so a walk around the grounds and down to the river was simply joyous.

Fusing modern European design and ancient Ayurvedic principles, Santani offers a holistic experience, encompassing diet, yoga, treatments, detox, and spa facilities. Although, the superb food deserves a mention all of its own.

Santani welcomes teenagers, but I would recommend mid-teens to make the most of this internationally acclaimed wellness retreat.

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Pristine beaches, Sri Lanka

Add the less travelled east coast to your Sri Lanka tour

From Kandy we headed towards the heat and sunshine of the east coast. Meandering our way down the infamous 18-Bend-Road above the city, dodging troupes of monkeys that linger roadside, and driving into the Batticaloa region, which only re-opened to visitors in 2009, at the end of the country’s 30-year civil war.

Unsurprisingly, Batticaloa feels totally different from the rest of Sri Lanka and, although the coast offers stunning beaches, it remains comparatively undeveloped.


Karpaha Sands, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

Tucked away Karpaha Sands on a practically private 15km beach

We stayed at Karpaha Sands, which features 17 tented villas along with two family suites and sits in the middle of a 15km long Sri Lankan beach. A tucked away hotel, it’s quite tricky to reach, so the beach feels almost private, particularly as there’s not a soul to be seen for miles, apart from local fishermen.

Karpaha also has a lovely swimming pool, a spa and offers a wide choice of family activities ranging from paddle-boarding to cookery classes. Plus, Umberto, the attentive general manager, told us they plan to open a kids’ club in 2024.

Stay close to Gal Oya National Park in the heart of elephant country

Our next stop was Gal Oya Lodge, set in 20 acres of private jungle close to the Gal Oya National Park – the country’s 8th largest out of 26.

This ecolodge caters for families looking to add wildlife adventures, in the heart of elephant country, to their Sri Lanka tour. It offers safaris on land or water, and according to our knowledgeable guide, the park is home to 200 elephants, along with leopards, monkeys, buffalo, and over 200 species of birds.

We opted for a water safari and were lucky enough to see three elephants, two terrifying crocodiles, and five different species of eagle, both up close in nests and soaring high overhead.

Another fun family activity was a ‘Jungle Cookery Class’ with one of the local villagers, where we learned to make a classic Sri Lankan curry using fish caught that morning on the nearby lake, as well as local herbs and spices, all cooked in clay pots in a traditional mud kitchen. Many Sri Lankans swear that it’s clay pots and old-school fires which give their food its distinctive taste.


Stafford Bungalow, Sri Lanka

A stay on a tea plantation is a must on any Sri Lanka tour

The oldest, and highest, stay of our tour was Stafford Bungalow; a family holiday home built by the pioneering Scottish planters in 1884, and set in a 50-acre tea plantation in the Nuwara Eliya Provice.

At 1,200m above sea level, it was a pleasantly cool change from the heat elsewhere and we loved the laid-back atmosphere, which beautifully blends heritage style with a modern aesthetic. All-in-all the perfect place to wind down after our safari.

My advice? Don’t miss a bike ride around the tea plantation and local village, and spend plenty of time in the infinity pool and hot tub overlooking the valley.


Iconic nine-arch bridge, Sri Lanka

Head to Malabar Hill for Yala National Park and more beaches

After Stafford Bungalow we travelled south, taking in the picturesque town of Ella and Instagram favourite, ‘Nine Arch Bridge’, then making our way past Yala National Park before finishing up at recently opened Malabar Hill.

This high-end boutique hotel is set in peaceful countryside only a short drive from south coast surf resorts like Weligama, Marissa Bay and Unawatuna, and a mere 45 minutes from the historic town of Galle. Plus, the proximity of Yala means you can take one of Sri Lanka’s legendary leopard safaris.

However, we opted for a Blue Whale and dolphin marine safari instead, and I’m happy to report we sighted both.


Why House, Galle

End your Sri Lanka tour at Galle and prepare to be captivated

Just a little further along the coast towards Galle, we stayed at Why House, another charming boutique hotel this time with an aesthetic that’s partway between fabulous family home and cute country club.

It’s owned by the irrepressible Henrietta and set in beautifully manicured gardens. A great choice for families, it offers adjoining rooms as well as a family villa. There’s also babysitting available and a tuk-tuk service to nearby beaches and Galle town. And of course, kids will love Henrietta’s adorable and mischievous little sausage dog, Lettie.


Jetwing Lighthouse, Galle

Visit the local fish markets and make your own Sri Lankan feast

If you want to spend part of your Sri Lanka tour in Galle itself, Jetwing Lighthouse is popular with families keen to explore the historic city and local area. It features a wide variety of rooms and an equally broad range of prices, so there’s something to suit most budgets and size of family.

Also, the hotel organises a number of trips and we can highly recommend a visit to local fish and vegetable markets with Nalin, the executive chef. Then, follow that up with a master class in Sri Lankan cooking, where you get to eat the results of all your hard work. Delicious.


Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Make time to explore the history of World Heritage Galle Fort

Don’t miss a stroll around Galle Fort, originally built in the 17th century by Dutch colonisers who seized Sri Lanka from the Portuguese, the Fort was then taken over by the British when they ousted the Dutch in 1805.

It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a truly magical place so you won’t find it hard to understand why it has some of the most expensive real estate in Sri Lanka, as well as some of the country’s best restaurants; we particularly liked The Bungalow.

Our last stop was an overnight stay at the Colombo Seven, in the heart of the vibrant capital, another smart plan from Experience Travel Group as it meant we were close to the airport and relaxed and ready for our long flight the next day.

Colombo Seven also has a rooftop pool which was very welcome. And, as an Uber costs just £1 for a 10 minute journey, we were able to explore a bit of the city and try yet another excellent restaurant on our last night. A perfect end to our unforgettable Sri Lanka tour.

About Experience Travel Group

Set up in 2004 by two friends Sam Clark and Tom Armstrong, Experience Travel Group is a specialist tour operator. It all started with Sri Lanka and it remains close to their hearts.

ETG founder Sam Clark says: “What we like to do is get the whole family on the consultation call – or at least one with all of the family – to make sure we get something in there for everyone. We tend to encourage people to take their time and spend time in 4-5 different areas – Sri Lanka really pays off soaking it all in – that’s when you get the serendipity.

“Our fundamental value proposition is to ensure that each family has a genuine adventure together, as well as a relaxing, luxurious holiday –  as it’s the adventure which creates those all-important lasting memories. An adventure is about pushing the comfort zone and to calibrate that perfectly, it really helps to do one or even more of these in depth chats.

“We have signature experiences throughout the island – and all have versions designed for families – we tend to maximise the interaction and minimise – though still cover – the historical sites – and usually suggest exploring actively, at least in part, by cycle, or foot or whatever unusual mode of transport.”

How to plan a Sri Lanka tour

This Experience Travel Group Sri Lanka tour is an ideal opportunity to experience the ‘real’ Sri Lanka with a dash of luxury.

This fully guided tour includes international flights; 15 nights B&B accommodation; wild boat safari in Gal Oya National Park; tea tasting in hill country; whale watching on south coast; all transfers.

From £5,500 per adult and £4,700 per child

Find out more and book with Experience Travel Group