We decided to be a bit more adventurous this year and booked a holiday to Sri Lanka as a family of four. We had read so much about it before and a few of our friends had already been and highly recommended it. We booked our holiday as a family package including airline flights, transportation upon arrival in Sri Lanka and accommodation as well as day trips. We got a few recommendations and started our research on places to go and areas to visit.
Kensington Mums Tip: We bough the Lonely Planet Sri Lanka Guide Book and got reading on places and things to do and see. The kids also had a responsibility in reading and choosing top 5 places to see by placing post it notes on the page they were interested to see.
We arrived to Colombo Airport and were greeted by our driver Faiz who would be taking us in an air conditioned mini van around Sri Lanka during our stay. First stop was 2 nights at Citrus Waskaduwa south of Colombo. The ride lasted 2 hours and the kids quietly slept in the back of the van. The roads were very pleasant as we took the highway to get there. It is not the case for all destinations; even though the distances are short, trips can be long and roads twisted especially around Kandy. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the friendly staff at Citrus Waskaduwa, the kids were super excited to go swimming. We checked into our room which has breath-taking views of the sea, a double bed, sitting area by the window and an en suite bathroom. We had a quick bite to eat from their a la carte menu in the restaurant and went for a quick dip in the pool. Food can be spicy, especially for kids, so don’t hesitate to mention it and the Chef will ensure the dishes are mild. It was slightly raining but that didn’t stop my kids from having a splash. The evening was a quiet one as we also had an early start the next day
We started the day with a boat trip on the Madhu River in Bentota. We got to visit Cinnamon island and learned about the various plants and herbs which grow on that island. Locals showed us the making of cinnamon from scratch off the tree bulb. We were treated to cinnamon tea and also had the option of buying cinnamon in different form to take home. The boat ride was very pleasant and our guide was explaining along the way the different types of birds around. We also were lucky to see a monitor lizard and monkeys. We went down further south to the fort city of Galle which took around 2 hours by car. We walked on beautiful sandy beaches and explored the area by foot.
We ate in a cute little restaurants called Calories, it is all about healthy eating so it was a good start for us and the New Year. Galle is known for its unique Sapphire and Ruby gems boutiques, especially a particular one; a third generation family business, established in 1983 called Lihinia Gems.
We then went on to see the turtle hatchery in Kosgoda. The manager Dudley Perera took us around explaining every step of the turtle conservation project and why Sri Lanka (and the village of Kosgoda in particular) is a prime turtle nesting site. Dudley showed us how eggs collected from nests on the beach (or even bought from poachers to avoid their sale in the markets) are reburied in the hatchery where they can hatch in safety. Most are released as soon as possible at night (hatchlings should never be released during daytime) but some are kept back for a short period for ‘headstarting’ till they are stronger. We got to see some special case turtles, some as old as 105 years old and 85 years old. The 105 year old turtle was unable to go under water due to his history of eating plastic bags in the ocean thinking they were jelly fish. The 85 years old turtle had one arm missing. Some turtles were newborn and were being looked after, and others has problems with eye sight and were also being looked after by the volunteers and Dudley. The kids loved the experience and even got to hold a 2 day old baby turtle. Dudley gave us an insight on awareness about these fascinating creatures and the dangers faced by them is crucial to their conservation. Kosgoda is really home to the most amazing and resilient people who are going a great job conserving our turtles.
We headed early in the morning to Kandy. We were going to stay there for 2 nights and staying at Mahawali Reach Hotel. On the way there, we stopped by and bought some healthy local fruits as the colours where just amazing and the smell divine. This fruit is called Rambutan and the kids fell in love with its shape. It tastes just like lychees, so fresh and tasty. The kids would fall asleep the minute we would start our journey so it was pretty easy and the time they were awake they would look around to make new discoveries to write in their travel journal. This is something interesting for kids as my older one had to do a presentation in front of his class on Sri Lanka. Keeping a travel journal is also nice to look back on. Our first stop for the day was the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. We got there just in time for their bath time. This is a nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala village. Kids loved it but wanted more of an interaction with the elephants. So we headed to the Millenium Elephant Foundation. The Millenium Elephant Foundation has been working continually to improve the treatment of elephants in Sri Lanka by providing a place of medical services and facilities. There we were able to learn a bit more about elephants and what harms them e.g the howdah or seat which is really bad for them. The kids loved interacting with the elephants by riding on them bare back, bathing and feeding them. This was more of an interactive experience and a great opportunity for some pictures up close and personal with the elephants. We would normally have small sandwiches in the car during the day as we didn’t stop for lunch so we could make good use of our time and day. As breakfast was included in our Hotel stay, I would pack up some sandwiches, fruits and nuts for the day. The next stop was the Spice Garden at Oakray Isiwara Ayurvedic Village
The Kandyan Cultural Show was very entertaining for the whole family, suitable for all ages this show lasts around 1 hour. During the show, there were performances by the Kandyan Art Association. During the show there were traditional folk dance which uses the Raban, an instrument similar to the drum. There was also a peacock Dance, harvest dance and fire dance which was the kids favourite. After that we were all exhausted and ready to check into our Hotel, The Mahaweli Reach Hotel. The hotel was the best one out of all four hotels we stayed at during our stay in Sri Lanka. We were welcomed by friendly staff who helped us check in with chilled juice drinks upon arrival. We had two connecting rooms which were very large, clean and comfortable. Only breakfast was included with our 2 nights stay. For the dinner there was an option of a la carte menu and buffet with assortments of foods and healthy choices. The hotel boasts a beautiful garden, open swimming pool and a Spa. The service we received was always great throughout.
Kensington Mums Tip: Bring with you anti-mosquito repellant that you plug in the bedrooms as well as lotions for kids and adults. This really helped us as we always get bitten.
For older kids, get them a travel journal with their own camera so they can document, draw and write about their adventure and discoveries. It is a great way to learn and to built on their confidence and research skills as well.
We started our day with a healthy breakfast and breathtaking view of the gardens. Our first stop was Storefield Tea Factory as recommended by our driver. This is a small family run tea factory. Imran took us for a tour that showed us the different stages of tea leaf processing and taking the time in explaining to the kids the various machines used and steps involved. Some of the machines there dated back to the 1930 and were still in use today. At the end of our family experience, we got to sample the varieties of teas produced by the factory including OPA (Orange Peko Adult), OP (Orange Peko), FBOP (Flowery Broken Orange Peko), Peko, BOP (Broken Orange Peko), BOPF (Broken Orange Peko Finest) White tea and Gold tea. After an intriguing morning, we continued our journey to Ramboda Water Falls in Nuwara Eliya. These are 109m falls surrounded by tea plantations. We hiked all the way down to the bottom of the falls and the views where breathtaking. While exploring, we could see the locals picking fresh tea leaves. We had a pit stop for a quick bite to eat at the Ramboda Falls Hotel as we were all starving and thirsty by then.
Kensington Mums Tip: We always packed some snacks to eat throughout the day especially for the kids as some of the car rides where long. We had water, and made sandwiches from the hotel in the morning, and sometimes we would stop and buy fresh fruits on the streets.
Our last stop was discovering the Botanical Garden in Peradeniya. This is a very large park which is kept clean and organized as tourists get to pay a fee to enter. The garden includes more than 4000 species of plants, including orchids, spices, medicinal plants and palm trees. Our favourite was the bamboo collection, is the largest known in the world. It was a nice afternoon where the kids got to run wild and we got to relax a bit surrounded by greenery and birds.
We headed off to Dambulla for the Minneriya National Park. The kids were excited for a safari experience where we got to see wild elephants, peacocks, deers and monkeys just to name a few. The whole experience took around 2 hours in a jeep and our tour guide who told us to be quiet at all times to be able to spot the animals. We captured some great pictures and lots of adventure and bumps.
Kensington Mums Tip: On the safari, make sure your kids wear hats and sunscreens at all time as we were standing up in the jeep most of the time. Also would be good to have some binoculars to spot the animals by far.
For the afternoon, we decided to go up and see the Dambulla Golden Temple. This was definitely a highlight to see in Dambulla and more like a Disneyesque concrete Buddha, monstrous golden temple. On the way up, the kids were happy to spot some more monkeys and we made it fun by doing a race. Make sure you have plenty of water for the little ones as it can get hot on the way up. We had a small snack at the top with breathtaking views of Dambulla. We also visited the Golden Cave Temple which had around 5 caves all very well preserved with hand painted walls and so many well maintained Buddhas absolutely stunning. When visiting the Golden Temple make sure your legs are covered and remove any hats and shoes at the temples. It is also important not to pose beside or in front of a statues of the Buddha (i.e. with your back on it) as this is considered extremely disrespectful. We also learned that Sri Lankan pilgriums wear white, which is considered a holy colour.
Our last day in Dambulla was spent hiking the Sigiriya Rock Fortess which we all read about and were very eager to visit. This iconic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka’s single most dramatic sight. The hike took around 2 hours to complete with lots of stop over for the little ones. We went there in the early morning to avoid the heat, but it was still quiet crowded. The steps going up are a bit uneven and steep so it was a bit challenging for big and little ones. We had to climb a series of vertiginous staircases attached to a sheer wall to reach the top. At the summit of the rock, was breathtaking views of a spectacular terraced summit of the rock that covers 1.6 hectars and a huge reservoir of water which now looks like a swimming pool. We spend a good time walking around, taking pictures and learning more about this amazing historical site. We sat in a shaded corner and had another snack before making our way down.
Kensington Mums tip: There is no shade on the exposed summit so a hat is recommended and plenty of water. There were many guided hanging around the entrance and will approach you once you are inside. Their prices must be negotiable.
We had free time in the afternoon so managed to pas by a local vegetable market that outsources to the rest of the country. It was amazing so see so many fresh fruits and vegetables some of which we do not see elsewhere.
We managed to make it back to the hotel in time for a swim with the kids and an early dinner by ordered room service to the room. This was the kids treat after climbing up Sigiriya Rock Fortress.
We were so sad that our holiday was ending. We had an early start to go to Colombo where we were spending just a few hours before catching out flight back home. Colombo is a completely different city, very vibrant, busy and colourful. We did a pit stop in Colombo’s market in Pettah. This area has heaves and hurls with local goods, spices and general chaos. With the kids it was quiet hard to walk around, so we didn’t last too long. We were staying at Hilton Colombo and right next to it was the Old Dutch Hospital which has been lavishly restored into shops, café and restaurants. We had heard a lot about the Ministry of Crab but didn’t know that we had to book a table in advance. The place was already shut for lunch and we asked if we can book for dinner they told us they were fully booked for another week. After a lot of sweet talking we managed to get a table and quickly ordered a 1.5kg of crab for the whole family to enjoy. Needless to say, it was a family feast! They give you your own bibs and hand towels as it all involves eating with your hands. Crabs are a major income for Sri Lanka’s fishing industry and they tasted divine. We highly recommend this high profile restaurant when you visit Sri Lanka and make sure you book a table before. We read that they had a pop up at the Shangrila in London. Fingers crossed they pass by again. We didn’t do a lot of sightseeing in Colombo, instead we did a bit if shopping for souvenirs and gifts for family and friends. Our favourite shop where we managed to buy top local brands from fashion to homewares and gift items. We all left happy from Odel. The kids go tot buy local products to show to their friends and also showcase at the school project.
We read a lot about the Indian Ocean sunset so we headed to our hotel top executive floor to catch breathtaking vivid colors that your eyes can’t quite cope with while enjoying light food and drinks.