Sri Lanka is a perfect place to travel with kids. There's so much to see and do for kids that one needs at least a month to enjoy it. With 8 days in hand, we marked the places on the map of Sri Lanka that can be visited with a kid in tow and off we went.
Here's our ultimate 8 Days best of Sri Lanka itinerary for you!
Colombo – Kandy / Sigiriya / Dambulla – Nuwara Eliya / Horton Plains / Udawalawe National Park – Galle (en route Mirissa) – Negombo (en route Bentota)
Day 1: Delhi to Colombo (Sri Lankan Airlines) / Colombo to Kandy (Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage en route) / Explore Kandy / Overnight at Kandy
We decided to skip Colombo and head straight to the Sacred city of Kandy. Squeezing in Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage on our way to Kandy served as a much-needed break from the journey. Mini-me could not hold her excitement. It's cute how kids do not get bored doing or seeing the same thing again and again but they enjoy it analogously every time. Enjoying the predictability is unique to children I guess. Having seen elephants in the untamed and wild in National Parks in India, I and hubby were not really interested in Pinnawala. However, we were definitely interested in cherishing the happiness and excitement of our daughter while feeding a baby elephant. Pinnawala is a lovely nature preserve where kids can have fun while spending time with one of the most giant and intelligent yet humble creatures.
Kandy looked beautiful and serene, drenched in rain. Our driver stopped the car for us to admire the bird's eye view of Kandy from Arthur's seat (Kandy viewpoint) before dropping us at the hotel. We spent some wonderful time breathing in the mesmerizing views from our room balcony while sipping tea (one of my favorite part of travel) while mini-me clicked hundreds of pictures airily (One of her favorite favorite part of travel.)
Our evening was adorned with a stupendous performance at Kandy Sri Lankan Cultural Show. It's full of life and color extravaganza. Performers with their energetic performances, vivid apparels, compelling folklore tales, perpetual twirling, whirling, and open-air grand finale act make you skip a blink. The kids and adults equally enjoy this graceful spectacle.
We ended our day with a visit to the Tooth Relic Temple. Evening ceremony at the temple is truly worth witnessing. Although we could not see the Buddha's sacred tooth relic as it's housed in a decorative gold structure but the all-embracing experience was beautiful. Walking on the streets of Kandy was the highlight of our first day in Sri Lanka. Despite all the hustle and bustle, Kandy has done my attention because of its tasteful classic Kandyan and colonial style buildings. Busy and vivid markets are worth a stroll. Mini-me was in love with tuk-tuks that it became our preferred mode of transportation in Sri Lanka.
Day 2: Kandy to Sigiriya / Dambulla / Overnight at Kandy
If you want to do Dambulla and Sigiriya in a day, you got to wake up pretty early. We started for Dambulla at 5 in the morning. But you would not regret getting up crazy early once you visited visited Dambulla cave temple and Sigiriya Lion Rock. The hike is not as difficult as we thought it would be. A visual treat awaits as one reaches the summit. Eyes get confused whether to admire the ruins or to take pleasure in the stunning surrounding views.
Day 3: Kandy to Nuwara Eliya / Overnight at Nuwara Eliya
Enough has been written about the scenic train journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and I'd love to travel by train but somehow I prefer road trips because they give a freedom to pause wherever and whenever you want to; touch and relish the amazing vistas; click pictures as and when you wish and give a chance to connect and know the local side. It's just a matter of preferences.
The road journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya turned out to be one of the most dramatic road trips I've ever experienced. With every turn, magic unfolds. I inhaled the fresh air and savored the bewitching vistas of the magical hill country winding alongside rolling hills blanketed by vividly colored flowers mocking the assorted color pallet and lush tea plantations, numerous waterfalls, and streams. Drinking in the pretty countryside makes you thirsty, craving for more.
We had lunch at a restaurant in Ramboda Falls Hotel. It was really a lunch with a view. Eating authentic Sri Lankan cuisine while chugging in the beautiful views of Ramboda falls that have shadowy mountains in the background surrounded by luxurious tea gardens. Is not it inviting? Absolute soulful and tummyful experience.
There are many tea factories on the way to Nuwara Eliya and in Nuwara Eliya. You can visit any one of them to see the entire tea production process from plucking to withering to drying. The tour of the tea factory lead by a graceful girl staff is a learning experience for kids. Mini-me was surprised to know that six to seven types of tea like green tea, black tea, white tea and many more can be obtained from the same tea plant just by changing the combination of different leaves of the same plant. At the end of the tour, they make you taste all the varieties of tea so you can buy the one you liked the most. My experience says that the price of tea at the factory is relatively higher than it's at outside shops. So, just experience the tea making process and buy it from outside.
It was amazing to take an evening stroll on the streets of Nuwara Eliya. Meandering through Victoria Park, Golf club and walk away surrounding Gregory lake; it was time for dinner. Araliya Green City food court was a perfect choice to dine while listening to the live band.
Day 4: Nuwara Eliya to Horton Plains / Overnight at Nuwara Eliya
Exactly at 5 am, we started 1-hour journey to Horton Plains. It's better to reach before 6 in the morning and start the hike as soon as it opens because it gets pretty crowded especially on weekends and also gets misty and hazy mostly after 10. It takes around 3-4 hours to World's End and back and is quite an easy hike. We stand on the cliff staring down the valley in sheer amazement upon reaching the World's End. Deep ravine showcases little villas with beautiful tea plantation gardens and they say you can see the south coast on a clear day. That's rare, though. It was an awesome experience. If time permits, you can enjoy the longer hikes to Mt Kirigalpoththa and Mt Thotupola.
On our way back to Nuwara Eliya, our driver suggested visiting Moon Plains which is few km from Nuwara Eliya because we still had a half day to go. Although apprehensive, we asked him to take us to the Moon Plains. As soon as we reached Potato seed farm which is the start of the Moon Plains, our apprehensions melted away in the mist. The ride along the bending and turning paths became enchanting as the breathtaking terrains unfolded before us. View from the Second World's End was seductive. Yes! Mountains fading into the distance, forests covered in the dancing mist, absolute quietness vanquished by the sound of birds every now and then, and the views that give new definition to the beauty sum up Moon Plains. One can see the colossal mountains of Sri Lanka viz. Pidurutalaga (tallest), Single Tree Mountain, Kikiliyamana Mountain, Great Western Mountain, Konical Hill Mountain, Kirigalpoththa Mountain, Thotupola Mountain, Hakgala Mountain and Namunukula Mountain from the Bomuruella Plains. One word. Spellbinding.
Day 5: Nuwara Eliya to Udawalawe National Park / Overnight at Udawalwe Resort
We prefer getting up as early as possible when we travel. It's always easy and hassle-free to reach and get entry at major attractions which are otherwise crowed at peak hours. As always, following our strategy, we started for Udawalwe National Park at 4 in the morning and reached there at 8 am The best time to visit Udawalwe for safari is at dawn (gate opens at 6 am) when you can witness the mesmerizing sunrise too . We missed that, however, the park was relatively less crowded and mini-me revealed in the 4-hour safari with an experienced guide arranged by our resort at Udawalwe. We saw a herd of elephants with a cute few months old baby elephant, crocodiles, water buffalos, monitor lizards, spotted deer, monkeys, and different species of birds. Spotting the beautiful vibrant toucan was the highlight of safari. We ended our day with a beautiful sunset at Udawalwe which washed away my regret of missing the sunrise.
Day 6: Udawalawe to Galle (en route Mirrisa) / Overnight at Galle
Finally, it was a beach time, the main reason people visit Sri Lanka for. We were off to Galle with a much-recommended halt at the beach town, Mirissa. It took us a little more than 3 hours to reach Mirissa. Mirissa beach lived up to our expectations. A pretty and quiet beach with laid-back aura. My little girl was a bit disappointed as we could not 'do whale watching tour because of the bad weather. I was sad too because she was utterly excited just thinking about getting a glimpse of friendly dolphins in the ocean and I guess it's the best thing kids can enjoy in Sri Lanka. We promised to bring her back to Sri Lanka during whale watching season.
Day 7: Explore Galle / Overnight at Galle
Galle is a dreamy little Dutch colonial town. The dazzling mix of colors and architecture bedazzled us. We explored the beautiful town on foot but our eyes and feet never felt tired. The lovely white lighthouse, lively streets with vivid shades of flowers, bizarre shapes of windows and doors and old Dutch Galle Fort which is the major attraction in Galle make it a perfect place to be. I'd recommend keeping Galle as a base for the most part of Sri Lanka trip. We spend our evening at Unawatuna beach watching the sun set in the ocean leaving behind the perfect shades to color our moments at Galle.
Day 8: Galle to Bandaranaike Airport (en route Bentota / Negambo) / Midnight flight to Delhi
It was our last day and we wanted to make the most of it. Our flight was at midnight, so we had enough time in hand. The sole reason to indulge in the Madu Ganga River Safari in Balapitiya was to see the point where the river meets the ocean but the cruise came as a surprise with its multitude experiences. Stopping by at the old Kothduwa temple inside the river, making way through amazing Mangroves, tasting the authentic cinnamon tea at Cinnamon Island, enjoying fish therapy and witnessing the river ending into the ocean; Madu River has a lot to offer.
We visited Turtle Hatchery with sheer excursion but left early dejected. I had imagined turtles toddling off down the seashore and It seemed like a real visual treat to witness these cute creatures in their natural habitat. But as we walked into the hatchery, I sensed that it's not what we imagined. It was shuddering and dreadful to see dozens of turtles of different sizes and ages squashed into the little ponds with dirty smelly water. “When would you release these turtles into the ocean?” I asked. “Some after few days and some after few months, it depends.” guide answered. Mini-me denied holding the baby turtle in her hands. Harassing them just for the sake of a picture is not a right thing to do, a girl of her age could also understand. What's wrong with us then? The whole thing seemed like a money-making project rather than the conservation project. They literally torture tiny animals for their own interest. I would never ever recommend anyone to visit Turtle Hatcheries in Sri Lanka. Animals are better off in the wild like we are always happy in our homes. Let them be. Please.
We stopped by at different beaches (Hikkaduwa, Bentota, Mount Lavinia, and Negombo) during our journey from Galle to Bandaranaike International airport. There's nothing like too much of beach right! Negombo is a beautifully perfect place while you wait for your flight back home because of its proximity to the international airport (20 mins journey)
Before you leave, do not forget to indulge yourself in shopping pleasure because Sri Lanka has a lot to offer in terms of local and traditional handicrafts. I too bought back a piece of Sri Lanka in form of amazing keepsakes.
Sri Lanka, we'll be back soon to enjoy the places we missed!
Sri Lanka has all the elements that make it an A-okay destination for kids. Hope our 8 days itinerary helps you enjoy and explore Sri Lanka better with kids.
Are you tempted enough to add Sri Lanka to your bucket list? What would you change in our itinerary if you've already been to Sri Lanka?