TRAVEL | Why Now is as Good a Time as Any to Visit Sri Lanka for a Family Holiday
Sri Lanka – the magical country in which we celebrated our 10th
wedding anniversary a year to the day – Easter 2018
(All images are my own)
A year to the day and myself, my husband and our two children were midway through our 10th Wedding Anniversary trip of a lifetime to Sri Lanka and now this incredibly beautiful and captivating little country is in mourning.
Today the Sri Lankan Government have imposed a National Day of mourning in honour of some three-hundred people who died in a wave of terror attacks on churches and hotels in the country’s capital of Columbo. God rest their souls.
That’s all I’m saying on this cowardly act of barbaric, malicious evil on a country that captured my heart as nowhere has ever quite managed to.
And to capture my heart as Sri Lanka did is a tall order from a girl like me who has worked in international tourism board marketing for 20 years, took a year out to back-pack around the world in 2008, and has, so far, been lucky enough to visit 69 of the world’s countries.
Travel is in the Thomas Family blood. The bug courses through our veins and with every new destination we visit, our hankering to discover more of the world inflates like the hot air balloon that carried the two of us across the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya on our honeymoon, chasing the tails of galloping zebra and giraffe as the sun rose over Africa.
Our conversations over dinner are more often than not focused on where in the world we want to venture to next. Framed photos of our adventures cling to the walls of our home and our heads are filled with the most incredible memories.
Now, with two young kids to think about (eight-year-old Ted and five-year-old Ferne), the criteria for the destination of our next adventure always starts with a level of safety that, pre-kids, was at a considerably lower level. 24-hour bus rides across rather dubious South American borders, overnight elephant treks through the Cambodian jungle, nights spent sleeping in squalid hostel rooms above the bus station in the middle of Guatemala City – an area that makes Kings Cross look like Knightsbridge – that kinda thing.
The safety of our children when going on holiday is of course paramount, but lazing around a hotel pool for two weeks in some luxury multi-national, high-walled resort doing as little as possible ain’t for us.
We want our children to experience different cultures, make friends with local children, eat local cuisine, travel on local transport to secluded beaches and witness wildlife in their natural habitat rather than in a giant cage.
Why Sri Lanka?
We want to do all this secure in the knowledge that, well, we are all going to be as safe as we can possibly be. And this is exactly why we decided on Sri Lanka as our chosen location for our 10th anniversary holiday. The first major long-haul holiday with our children. A holiday that I spent weeks and weeks researching – and every article, every review, every recommendation that I read, and hell did I consume A LOT – pretty much all of it, based on our criteria and wish list requirements, pointed towards Sri Lanka.
The tear-drop shaped island of sacred grounds surrounded by the turquoise Indian Ocean. Where we would embark on wild elephant safaris, whale watching and seeking out pristine beaches.
Sri Lanka rates best for young families
Close to the Indian-subcontinent and similar to the one country I haven’t yet had the fortune to visit and travel around – it’s high on the list – but unlike Sri Lanka, India has a reputation for its harsh travelling conditions and of course the infamous ‘Deli-Belly’. Sri Lanka however, is a tiny island in comparison, there is less pollution, a better level of sanitation (we only experienced Western-style toilets, even in the airport and local shops and restaurants), and Sri Lankans are somewhat less extrovert than Indians, meaning less hassle, less haggling, and a lot less interest in the family of four blondes from the North of England.
Sri Lanka also has a culture that celebrates family, and I can honestly say that I have never experienced such warm-hearted, sincerity and the overwhelming kindness that came so naturally to every single Sri Lankan who met my children.
The warm and generous, unassuming hearts of the beautiful Sri Lankan people are at the beating centre of this incredible country.
Never once did we feel intimidated, under pressure, or in any kind of danger. Quite the contrary – we were inspired and enriched by the sincerity and wide-eyed smiles of every tuk-tuk driver, each and every waiter, taxi driver, shop assistant, beach vendor and fisherman selling the freshest of fish in the beach bars along Marissa Beach.
And last but by no means least – by every child playing barefoot cricket or football in a sudden downpour of torrential rain, who hollered for our son to come to join them.
Don’t let the Bastards grind us down…
Before I regale you with our phenomenal family travel experiences in Sri Lanka, please remember that terrorism is a threat everywhere. Run a marathon, attend a pop concert, jump on public transport, take a trip to a supermarket, visit a local church or board a plane – everywhere and everyone is pretty much vulnerable to some act of terrorism. But we simply cannot press the stop button in fear of it happening to us.
Every destination across the world holds some kind of threat – natural disasters, child abduction, gun crimes, war, disease. Life must go on and we must continue to be cautious but at the same time, not let such hideous incidents prevent us from exploring and enjoying the beauty, magnificence and adventure that our world radiates.
I look back at the danger that we put ourselves in when Iain and I backpacked around the world in our mid-20s and I question how we actually got back to Blighty alive! We were bordering on stupid on several occasions with our choices but we took risks in the name of adventure, and we are here to tell our amazing stories from our travels around the world.
Whilst I don’t advise that you take your young children on a 3-day helmet-free white water rafting adventure down the Amazon River, allow them to swim with sharks or hitch-hike with them in the middle of the Mexican dessert – I hope that you will consider Sri Lanka, because this beautiful and peaceful little country does not deserve to be filed under a ‘no go’ label because of what I pray, is an isolated incident of absolute inhumanity and pitilessness. Just like Manchester, Boston, Toronto, London, New Zealand, Syria, Cambodia, Tunisia, Nice, Belfast, Egypt… the list goes on and will continue to do so.
Our Sri Lankan Adventure
We flew with Emirates – https://fly4.emirates.com
It’s a fair old flight time to Sri Lanka – nearly 11 hours direct. Then there’s the fannying around with getting to London Heathrow from Leeds. So we decided to break the trip up and spend a night in Dubai on both legs of our journey – that way we were able to fly direct from Manchester with Emirates, avoid any overnight flights, acclimatise ourselves to the time difference and keep the kids under control. And of course, get to explore Dubai. This was the third time we had flown Emirates with the kids and they never disappoint. Plenty of legroom for my 6ft 2husband, entertainment galore for the kids and decent grub for us all. Attentive cabin crew, and a level of service and equipment that keeps my inherent fear of flying under control.
We stayed at:
Wild Coast Lodge – 4 nights all inclusive
It was our 10th wedding anniversary and I for one wasn’t settling for anything less than absolutely incredible. Incredibly luxurious, incredibly experiential and incredibly child-friendly.
When I read about the newly opened Wild Coast Lodge, a certified Relais & Chateaux property deep in the heart of Yala National Park – Sri Lanka’s premier game reserve on the Southern tip of the island, I knew instantly that this was the place where we would be spending at least some of our time in Sri Lanka.
So many elements of the lodge drew me in – the super-stylish, luxurious vintage-style cocoon tented rooms with port-hole windows, copper roll tops and four-poster beds, all of which look out over a watering hole, designed to attract free-roaming elephants, sloths, monkeys and even leopards.
The Indian Ocean views from the infinity pool that snakes between the restaurant and sophisticated bar area completely open to the elements. Twice daily game drives run by English speaking in-house naturalists and of course its R&C status, which meant on the all-inclusive plan we opted for, we’d be fed and watered like kings and queens and in true French laid-back style, the kids could run a little riot and we wouldn’t have to control our behaviour quite so much.
Not one iota of this magical place disappointed. Wild Coast Lodge was small enough to ensure everyone got the most incredible personal treatment – Ferne (4) took a particular liking to the lovely young man behind the bar who made my daughter her favourite daily tipple – a Shirley Temple, which she sipped in the pool.
And Ted befriended one of the lodge’s naturists – sitting up front in the jeep with him for our daily game drive and listening with profound interest to facts about the wildlife in the park and how to spot elephant, leopard and most exciting of all – the crocs.
The property was also just big enough to ensure that the combined luxurious restaurant and bar area hummed with conversation and laughter on an evening, and if one of the children wanted to jump in the pool mid-way through dinner, no one batted an eye-lid.
The lodge was luxurious and relaxed – laid-back sophistication, impeccable service and exquisite decor.
And when champagne is included on the all-inclusive menu and the mini-bar is stocked with more than even we could drink on a night, you know you’re in for one hell-of-a treat. The restaurant catered for us all. We were able to experiment with traditional Sri-Lankan breakfasts and delicious, freshly prepared curries, as well as freshly caught seafood and the best cuts of steak, whilst the kids tucked into stacks of pancakes for breakfast and fries with everything for lunch and dinner.
We then stayed at:
Cape Weligama – 7 nights on a bed & breakfast basis.
Another Relais & Chateaux property and possibly the most luxurious hotel on the island, Cape Weligama is set atop a picturesque singular promontory rising 40m above the Indian Ocean with a crescent-shaped infinity pool that can only be described as heaven clinging to a cliff top. Although I will mention that this particular pool is adults-only – we had to make do with the children’s pool. It really wasn’t that much of a pickle to be in though as you’ll see below with wonderfully shallow areas that are perfect for the little ones. Waiters were on hand and should one so much as cough, they were there by our side taking our fresh Pina Colada order and handing us cold towels to mop our brows, and fresh-fruit ice pops to cool the kids down.
I chose Cape Weligama because of its location as well as its reputation as one of Sri Lanka’s best hotels – close enough to the ancient city of Galle, with its fortified walls and evocative cobbled streets and guest rooms the size of your average three bed bungalow – perfect for families – boasting butler service and incredible ocean views.
This hotel is simply stunning – possibly a little OTT for us mere Northern English mortals – but what the heck, we were celebrating 10 years of life together.
Three Child-Friendly Highlights in Sri Lanka
If like the hubby and I, you’ll never quite surrender your love of Cafe Mambo in Ibiza, you’ll fall in love with Mirissa. There’s a vibe to this stretch of beautiful white sandy beach that you’d find anywhere on the white island or perhaps at a sunset beach party in Thailand. Only with a hell of a lot more kids.
We got the impression that most of the families hanging out and sipping cold beers on beanbags in the sand outside the many beach-lined bars whilst watching their offspring make friends and build sandcastles were our kind of people. Filled with a love of adventure, with lust to travel, appreciative of some decent tunes and with a memory bank of jaw-dropping Ibiza sunsets.
I can promise you now, the sunset over Marissa Beach quite possibly takes pole position over any sunset we have ever encountered.
Whale Watching on Cape Weligama’s luxury catamaran
We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of whale watching season in Sri Lanka and Cape Weligama offers luxury trips on its own catamaran. It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for, and when we pulled up and walked along the long, rickety jetty on Marissa harbour, we thanked the Lord we didn’t opt for cheap and cheerful option!
Some of the vessels didn’t look fit to carry cargo, never mind people, and the people onboard were packed within an inch of their lives. We made our way to the very end of the jetty and breathed a sigh of absolute relief when we were shown onboard the most luxurious catamaran. We were served breakfast before we took to the seas. The highlight of the morning cruise was chasing pods of wild dolphins – dozens of them playfully swan ahead, brushing past our feet as we dangled our legs over the side of the boat.
Sea Turtle Hatchery
Just a 20-minute crazy tuk-tuk drive from Cape Weligama is the Sea Turtle Hatchery. This humble little concrete building is run entirely by volunteers who are doing what they can to save the sea turtles for the next generation. Located right on the beach, the building houses injured turtles of all ages and sizes and releases thousands of turtles back into the ocean every year. The cuteness of these baby turtles is something else, and to watch Ted and Ferne take a baby turtle, walk down to the sand and guide it into the Ocean and set it free was absolutely adorable.
N.B. Whilst I appreciate that these types of places aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (there’s a lot of negativity surrounding the sea turtle hatcheries) we visited with the intent to release turtles into the ocean where they belong and whilst there are a number of older turtles swimming around in tanks that are on the small side, the good that is being done out ways the bad in my opinion.
We booked our tailor-made holiday with UK-based long haul specialist travel planners – Insider Places: https://insiderplaces.com/
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