Searching for somewhere special to spend the school holidays? Look no further than Sri Lanka - the idyllic gem of the Indian Ocean. Small in size but rich in culture, this little island boasts everything from tea estates and coconut plantations to white sandy beaches and colonial forts. Sri Lanka is not necessarily the go-to family destination but children can experience vibrant local festivals, bustling street markets and observe animals in their natural habitats - it is safe to say there is no lesson quite like it. The country's complex climate sometimes puts travellers off, but if you play your cards right, you can dodge the wet weather and enjoy beach spots year round. Avoid the monsoons by travelling to the east coast in the summer months, the south and west during the Christmas holidays, and when Easter comes around, the whole country's your oyster. With a plethora of family friendly hotels and exciting activities on offer, read on to discover some of our top picks.
The charming beach town of Negombo lies close to Bandaranaike International Airport, making it the perfect spot to stop at after a long flight. Set in beautiful tropical gardens, The Wallawwa boutique hotel is a welcome retreat for weary travellers and parents can indulge in a post flight pamper at the Z spa, while children splash around in the hotel pool. With interconnecting guest rooms, Wallawwa is ideal for families and resting just 30 minutes from a sandy beach, it won't be long before the kids are in sandcastle heaven. The whole family can absorb the local culture, with visits to Negombo's fish markets, or a day trip to the bustling capital, Colombo. Supervised boat tours of the Muthurajawela Wetlands are popular and Negombo is the perfect place for children to learn to surf the waves. The colourful underwater world off the shores of Negombo provides youngsters with a fascinating introduction to marine life, ideal for an afternoon of snorkelling.
Travelling through the hills towards Kandy, visitors should stop at the Millennium Elephant Foundation, where children can watch elephants bathing in the river. The Bougainvillea Retreat is one of our top picks for families, due to the ease with which visitors can explore their natural setting. With a swimming pool and small cinema, the kids will soon feel at home in their vibrant, new surroundings. Visit Sri Lanka's most sacred shrine - the Temple of the Tooth - admire the Knuckles and Hantane mountain range or pay visits to tea estates and the homes of local artists. If you or your children are new to Asia, why not take a wild tuk tuk ride through the streets of Kandy? It will certainly be memorable and it is sure to keep the kids entertained.
Living Heritage Koslanda is a four suite sanctuary with a central courtyard, making it ideal for group stays. The whole family will enjoy exploring the nearby God's Forest, which is home to giant squirrels and monkeys. Train rides through the Hill Country are a popular way to discover its wonders and hidden amongst the trees of God's Forest is a cascading waterfall - the perfect spot for a cooling dip. All of the family can enjoy traditional Sri Lankan cooking classes or perhaps get involved with some tree planting sessions. Parents can unwind in the alfresco spa, while the youngsters splash merrily in the hilltop swimming pool. In the unlikely scenario that the children are at a loose end, there are games and DVD players in each room and plenty of space for little ones to run around in.
Yala National Park
From its ancient cities to its golden shores, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer, but a trip to this magical island would not be complete without exploring its spectacular wildlife. Visiting Sri Lanka's most famous wildlife reserve, Yala National Park, is a must, but just before exploring these vast plains, stop off at Buduruwagala to admire the seven well preserved Buddhist figures carved into rock. Sri Lanka has a leopard density that's higher than anywhere on Earth and for the top family friendly safari experience, why not head to the Leopard Trails Camp? Here visitors will discover these majestic predators along with a plethora of other species, including Asian Elephants, Grey Langurs and Sloth Beas. Leopard Trails runs a Junior Ranger Program which is perfect for entertaining the little ones, as they learn about wildlife conservation, identify bird calls and follow animal footprints. Noel Rodrigo's Leopard Safaris is another exciting option, providing visitors with luxury family tents and wildlife art classes for children.
Galle has historic sites, beautiful beaches and a range of wildlife activities, making it perfect for family trips. We recommend staying at Why House, where there's a pretty walled garden, a refreshing pool and rooms which can fit extra beds for children. Wandering the streets of Galle and visiting its 17th century Dutch fort, the whole family will enjoy the city's vibrant atmosphere. When at the hotel, children will be happily occupied, as the welcoming staff team will gladly arrange cultural shows, snake charmer performances and even visits from a local elephant. Out and about in the surrounding area, you will find that there are supervised bike rides, dolphin watching trips, boat trips and more on offer. Be sure to visit a turtle hatchery, some of which let children help to release baby turtles back into the ocean - a truly special experience.
Sri Lanka's East Coast is the mirror image of its West Coast, but remaining largely untouched and tourist-free; it is the perfect destination for summer holidaying with the family. Jungle Beach hotel caters for adults and children alike, and while being close to an idyllic beach, the accommodations are surrounded by greenery, creating cabins with distinct tree house style vibes. At Jungle Beach there's kids and parents yoga, kite making classes and organised cycling trips or crab hunting activities. Visiting the colourful town of Trincomalee is a must, with its historic colonial charm, striking Hindu temples and beautiful coastline. Keen divers should explore the coast of Kuchchaveli and don't fret - there are diving lessons for children available too.
So there you have it - our medley of Sri Lanka's top family friendly areas, hotels and activities. Why not choose a destination or two for this year's family escape, or if you're feeling especially adventurous, make it a trip of a lifetime and explore them all!