Sri Lanka

Evie far­rell and her daugh­ter take us on a loop around palm-fringed Sri Lanka, where ele­phants, tem­ples and kid-friendly beaches are just the start.

Holiday with Kids - - Contents -

Evie Far­rell takes us on a loop around fam­ily-friendly palm-fringed Sri Lanka.

It’s one of the hottest des­ti­na­tions for fam­i­lies right now, and the pop­u­lar­ity of this sun-drenched, palm-filled is­land is well de­served. Sri Lanka is the fab­u­lous fam­ily hol­i­day spot you’ve been dream­ing of, with white-sand beaches and palm trees, an­cient ru­ins and fortresses, epic train rides through ter­raced tea plan­ta­tions, wild ele­phants, pea­cocks and leop­ards, de­li­cious cur­ries and wide-grinned happy lo­cals who wel­come tourists with open arms.

“We need to buy land here,” I de­clared to eight-year-old Em­mie when we stum­bled upon the horse­shoe-shaped Hiriketiya Beach a few years ago, and we al­most did. This tiny bay on Sri Lanka’s south coast is calm enough for chil­dren to splash around in and learn to surf while par­ents take on the big waves out the back. It was one of many Sri Lankan vil­lages where we fell in love and tried to turn soil.

Surf­ing, saris and sa­cred rocks

When I ask Em­mie what she likes most about Sri Lanka, I get a long list of loves, from see­ing ele­phants in the wild and feel­ing the long grass whip her feet from the door­way of the blue train, to hik­ing Si­giriya Rock and learn­ing to surf against a back­drop of palms and blue sky. She adores get­ting around bare­foot, chas­ing the mu­sic-play­ing ‘bread men’ who deal fresh sugar buns from the back of their tuk-tuks, and gaz­ing at the sari-clad women who glide past, adding colour­ful splashes to the jun­gle-green land­scape.

You could spend months in Sri Lanka with the fam and still have more to see, but after many vis­its we have our favourites that take us on an easy loop, start­ing with a night or two set­tling in at beau­ti­ful Ne­gombo Beach. It’s only a 30-minute ride from the air­port and is a great spot to ac­cli­ma­tise to the heat, en­joy some lo­cal ‘short eats’ and get ready for an up­com­ing ad­ven­ture.

Next, take the train or a pri­vate car to Si­giriya for a few days. The climb to the an­cient ru­ins of a fortress palace atop Si­giriya Rock is chal­leng­ing but not dif­fi­cult,

although I’d rec­om­mend it for kids aged from five up. It’s also best to climb early in the morn­ing to beat the crowds and the heat. It’s worth­while hir­ing an ac­cred­ited guide here; they will ap­proach you as you walk through the gar­dens to the rock.

While in Si­giriya, visit the Dam­bulla Cave Tem­ple and make sure you try kottu (stir-fried shred­ded roti), hop­pers (fer­mented rice flour pan­cakes) and the ubiq­ui­tous curry tri­an­gles. There are also many tra­di­tional Ayurvedic mas­sage cen­tres around town where your ail­ments will be mas­saged away.

Only 40 min­utes from Si­giriya, Min­ner­iya Na­tional Park is home to hun­dreds of wild ele­phants that wander in herds and play along the grassy shores of the reser­voir, oc­ca­sion­ally charg­ing in for a splash. You can book your sa­fari through your ho­tel for around $50 a truck, plus park en­try fees.

Tem­ples, tea and train rides

From here travel to Kandy and spend a night, vis­it­ing the Tem­ple of the Sa­cred Tooth Relic, the Botanic Gar­dens and Child Ac­tion Lanka’s Buono, a cof­fee shop that helps lo­cal chil­dren and fam­i­lies break the poverty cy­cle.

The train ride from Kandy to Ella along the tea plan­ta­tion route is not to be missed. Book seats in the se­cond- or third-class car­riage, where you will have your own seats and the vestibule door­ways are open for fun! You can sit and watch the world go by as you pass vil­lages, plan­ta­tions, wa­ter­falls and moun­tains.

Jump off in laid-back Ella and en­joy this lit­tle town that sparkles with fairy lights in the evening. Wander along an easy path past colour­ful ladies pick­ing tea up to Lit­tle Adam’s Peak for gor­geous views across the moun­tains, and dis­cover wa­ter­falls and hik­ing trails that are suit­able for kids. Check the train timetable and make your way to the Nine Arches Bridge to watch the train cross while sip­ping a fruit juice from one of the hill­side bars. Then fol­low the train tracks back into town as herds of cows and kids pass you by.

You can visit a tea plan­ta­tion in Ella, or if you’re in­ter­ested in colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture, spend a few days in the Nuwara Eliya hill coun­try, where the el­e­va­tion is per­fect for grow­ing tea. Wander the town vis­it­ing tea plan­ta­tions, old colo­nial homesteads and his­toric build­ings like the Post Of­fice and Queen’s Cot­tage. There’s a colour­ful old park in Hak­gala Botan­i­cal Gar­den with an­cient rides and an old Fer­ris wheel, but close parental su­per­vi­sion is rec­om­mended.

Fish­er­men, forts and fall­ing

Fi­nally, choose a beach to spend some time at or beach-hop your way back to Colombo. Our picks are Hiriketiya, Dick­wella, Mirissa and Unawatuna. From Unawatuna, pop down to Dalawella Beach early in the

morn­ing to see the stilt fish­er­men, and be sure to spend a day at Galle – a for­ti­fied city built by the Por­tuguese – and wander its cob­ble­stone streets and fortress walls.

In Hikkaduwa, check out the gi­ant tur­tles that come into the shal­lows to eat the sea grass. Pay your re­spects to the peo­ple of Sri Lanka with a visit to the Tsunami Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre & Mu­seum, which is staffed by sur­vivors of the disas­ter, many who lost their en­tire fam­i­lies. The ed­u­ca­tional dis­plays are fine for kids, but some of the pho­tos can be con­fronting so keep an eye on them. Up the road is a memo­rial to the vic­tims of the tsunami and a stop here is also rec­om­mended to ac­knowl­edge those who passed.

Fi­nally, make your way back to Colombo and the bus­tle and chaos of this en­er­getic city. Of course, you will wish you had more time to ex­plore, but now that Sri Lanka has your heart, you are sure to re­turn. In fact, we love Sri Lanka so much we now host four guided fam­ily trips each year to this in­cred­i­ble is­land.

Sri Lanka Re­port Card

Info sri­lanka.travel Get­ting there Sin­ga­pore Air­lines op­er­ates flights from Syd­ney and Mel­bourne to Colombo via Sin­ga­pore. sin­ga­pore­air.com Sri­lankan Air­lines op­er­ates daily di­rect flights be­tween Mel­bourne and Colombo. sri­lankan.com Stay un­awatun­abeachre­sort.com Tours mumpack­travel.com

“You could spend months in Sri Lanka with the fam and still have more to see.”

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01 Swing­ing into the south coast 02 Rid­ing the blue train from Kandy to Ella 03 Surf­ing Sri Lanka’s south coast 04 Sri Lanka boasts a stun­ning coast­line. All im­ages © Evie Far­rell/mumpack Travel06

05 Sa­fari in Min­ner­iya Na­tional Park 06 The iconic Blue Train 07 Sri Lanka’s bliss­ful wa­ters 08 Em­mie and the ele­phants at Min­ner­iya Na­tional Park 09 A mo­ment of re­flec­tion at Si­girya. All im­ages © Evie Far­rell/mumpack Travel 07 09

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