Sri Lanka never really crossed my mind as a destination, but my husband happened to get a bug in his brain and started doing a ton of research, discovered that it was a direct flight from Beijing, found decent-priced airfare, and ended up planning a trip there during our spring break. I went not really knowing what to expect—just willing go along for the ride and see what we would find.
It ended up being a spectacular break. We loved it so much we could see ourselves going back.
Where We Stayed:
Large families traveling in Asia know that it can be difficult to find hotel accommodation without paying for an extra room. As a family of four, my own family can usually find rooms that work, but we’ve also discovered the convenience of using alternative lodgings. For the last couple trips we’ve gone on, we’ve rented local apartments or houses through Airbnb.
In Sri Lanka, we stayed in three different Airbnb accommodations because we wanted to see different parts of the country. Two of these were really great; one was a bit . . . rustic . . . but we made the most of it and made it work anyway. (The posted reviews had said that it would be rustic, so I guess I should have known . . . it was just a little bit more like camping than I expected.)
The great thing about getting a house through Airbnb, was that it was a more relaxing and home-like environment when we wanted to stay in during the hottest part of the day to read and relax. The three different hosts we had were extremely helpful in securing transportation, giving us ideas on what to do, and advising us on how much things should cost.
How We Got Around:
The transport between cities was by private taxi arranged for us ahead of time by our Airbnb host. In Sri Lanka, this type of transportation was affordable and convenient for a family of four.
While traveling within the city, we used tuk tuks. Again, our Airbnb hosts were extremely helpful in calling reliable tuk tuk drivers for us when we needed to go somewhere. The streets are busy and noisy and a bit intimidating, but the kids had a great time riding in the open air tuk tuks, taking in all the sites and sounds of Sri Lanka street life.
What We Did:
We started off by staying in a place near the beach near the city of Galle. We didn’t have the best place for swimming here (the waves were big and the tides were strong), but since my kids mostly dig in the wet sand or play on the edges of the surf with their dad, it worked for us. Our biggest interest here was that it was a short tuk tuk ride to the Old City in Galle. The 300-year-old Dutch fort has been named a world heritage site by UNESCO. It’s fun to browse the streets of the Old Town to admire the architecture, to see the mix of Asian and European influences, and to look at the ocean views.
Yala National Park Safari
We spent three nights close to Yala National Park to spend a couple days on safari. How many animals you see depends quite a lot on luck, but we were fortunate enough to see quite a few elephants, wild boar, water buffalo, peacocks, monkeys, and many birds (no leopards, though). A typical day of safari in Sri Lanka starts very early. We left around 5:00 am to get there when the park opened, and we didn’t get home until after lunchtime. It was a long day for the kids, but we all had a really good time.
It’s worth mentioning that Yala is the most popular national park in Sri Lanka when it comes to safari . . . which also means it’s the most crowded. You should expect to see safari jeeps lined up wherever there is something interesting to see.
My children were six and four (almost five) when we did the safari. They did great, but I’m not sure I would have wanted to do safari with children younger than this. You spend all day in the back of a pickup driving down extremely rutted roads. You should expect to be tossed around quite a lot . . . and to use a lot of muscle-power to keep yourself in your seat. My children were big enough to sit by themselves, but if my youngest had been smaller, I would have had to hold her (which would have made a very hot and uncomfortable day for me).
Tissamaharama Lake Boat Tour
Where we stayed for the safari was near Tissamaharama Lake. The host of our Airbnb arranged a boat tour for us. It was an evening boat ride, and with the sunset, it was absolutely stunning. The pictures I snap with my iPhone don’t do it justice. I was happy to enjoy the view, and the kids were enamored with our boat driver who picked them water flowers.
After spending a few days on safari, we traveled back towards the city of Galle, this time staying at an Airbnb that had its own pool. It wasn’t right on the beach but was a short tuk tuk ride to Unawatuna beach—a nice beach to lounge on and where there are several restaurants and shops to browse.
The host of our last Airbnb recommended a trip to the nearby Turtle Hatchery. We went in the morning to learn about how they rescue the sea turtles, and they invited us back after dinner to release a bucket of sea turtles back into the wild. This was my daughter’s favorite part of the whole trip.
Overall Impressions of Sri Lanka
The big take-away after our trip is that as a country, Sri Lanka is absolutely stunning. Truly . . . it’s gorgeous. The sunsets, the beach views, the architecture in Old Town Galle, the landscape in Yala National Park—it all made me wish I knew something about photography so that I could take pictures that could really capture what it looked like.
The people are friendly. They are always smiling and very helpful. English is the common language in Sri Lanka. Even with the thick accent, knowing everyone speaks English makes it easy to get around.
Overall, there were so many things that we could do in this country that we couldn’t possibly fit it all in and still have the relaxing, laid-back vacation we were looking for. The only disappointment, really, was that we didn’t get more time there. But I guess that means we’ll just have to go back again.