Family travel in Sri Lanka FAQs


On this beautiful ‘Teardrop Island’ you really want to have the trip of a lifetime, not tears before bedtime. So here are a few of our most common family questions from travelers thinking about going to Sri Lanka, which we hope will help ensure that this really is a dream come true for one and all.

How safe is Sri Lanka for family travel?

This is Sri Lanka not Surrey, so health and safety works on a different level. When you travel by tuk tuk, for example, a three wheeled vehicle that’s like a taxi, there are no seat belts. Swimming pools won’t have gates or alarms, and not all activity operators will be accredited. If you are traveling with a responsible tourism provider, however, they will do risk assessments with the adventure companies they use, ensuring there are helmets and buoyancy aids when necessary, along with qualified guides and safety equipment, and so on.
Helene Cooper from Stubborn Mule: “Some people might be wary of climbing Sigiriya with kids, but it depends on the children. Yes it is steep and vertiginous, but if they are used to climbing it’s fine. I wouldn’t hesitate taking my four year old up. Keep a close eye on them at certain points as it does get very crowded and some tourists just barge past rudely. Get up at the crack of dawn and get to Sigirya first thing, so you don’t have to deal with so many people.
The crowds are more of a danger than the actual stairway, as a lot of the stairway is enclosed. There are only short sections that are potentially a hazard in terms of drop. The most precipitous bit is right at the top and you don’t have to do that final top bit if you don’t want to. So you don’t have to exclude youngsters, and of course, if they are under two years old, carry them in a backpack and you’ll be fine. Just because you’ve got kids, don’t let it stop you doing these wonderful things.”

Wasn’t there a war there recently?

The Civil War ended in 2009, following a 25-year-long fight for independence by the Tamil Tigers in the north of the country. Over 100,000 people perished. During that time, tourists still went to Sri Lanka but the north was closed off. This region has been open to tourism since 2009 and is stunningly beautiful. Unexploded landmines still sadly exist in some remote parts of the north, so do not stray from paths and marked trails in these regions, and ideally go with a local guide.

How tough is the journey to Sri Lanka?

You can take a direct flight with Sri Lankan airlines which is about 10.5 hours. You pay a bit more because it is direct but the schedules from the UK are at very civilised times, so you don’t depart or arrive in the middle of the night. Flying via the Middle East is very popular because it is much cheaper. It’s an eight-hour hop to the Middle East, and then a four or five hour hop to Sri Lanka.

How safe is the sea?

You won’t get many lifeguards on Sri Lankan beaches, so always seek out local advice. There are fishing communities everywhere so no better people to ask about tides and currents. In general, however, when you are on the south and southwest coast, be aware that there is a very strong rip, so best to keep to the small, enclosed bays when swimming. And learn how to recognise a rip current and how to get out of it if you find yourself in one. Here are some good tips from RNLI.

We will have our own driver guide. How safe are the cars there?

A responsible tourism company will always check that their local drivers adhere to the safety standards we are used to, with seat belts a minimal requirement. We do advise you to bring your own car seats or booster seats for children, as safety standards are different in Sri Lanka and we can’t guarantee their reliability.

How is Sri Lanka for multi-generational vacations?

This is one country that ticks beautiful boxes for all age groups, particularly on a tailor made vacation. That way you have your own driver who can take adults to an ancient site in the morning while teenagers hang at the beach, or take granny white water rafting if that is her thing, while the others go off to market to shop for spices. With beaches, surfing, wildlife filled national parks, tea plantations, ancient sites, hiking and cycling, fabulous food and a driver at your beck and call, Sri Lanka keeps a smile on everyone’s face. Older members of the family may want to consider extending their stay to go on a volunteering vacation here, too.
Helene Cooper from Stubborn Mule, one of our family vacation specialists in Sri Lanka: “I put together an itinerary for a family where the grandparents were paying for the whole thing. However, the grandparents were keen golfers, and that wasn’t going to work for the kids. So I had them staying at the beach, and then the driver was able to take the grandparents off to the local golf club for the day, and then came back and brought the kids to other sites.”

Are there any health risks such as malaria?

Sri Lanka is very low risk when it comes to malaria, although you should take precautions including covering up in the evenings, using repellents and sleeping under a mosquito net. See NHS site Fit for Travel for more details and keep an eye on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for up to date details or risks. During the rainy season dengue fever is also a risk, but few families travel during this time, and you just need to use the same precautions.

What about stomach upsets?

You just need to take the usual precautions, and if you travel with an expert local guide, they will know the reputable food outlets, from street stalls to sit down restaurants. However, do carry anti-bacterial hand gel to be safe; you can never have enough wipes (bring eco friendly ones please); and always check that meat or fish is fully cooked. Fruit that hasn’t been peeled and coconuts are always safe. Tap water is not great at all, so use bottled water or a filtering system such as LifeStraw, and avoid ice in drinks.

How accessible or inclusive is Sri Lanka for families with special needs?

Sri Lanka is far from perfect in this respect. However, a tailor made vacation is superb if you have family members with special needs as you can discuss all of these in advance with your tour operator, who will ensure that everything that can possibly be done to help, will be done. From ensuring the best type of vehicle for being driven around in, to making sure you have refrigeration for medication wherever you go, or selecting the best hotels for travelers with autism or a visual impairment. It is also worth noting that in Sri Lanka most of the properties are on one level, which makes them a lot easier access wise.
Helene Cooper from Stubborn Mule, one of our family vacation specialists in Sri Lanka: “For young people with autism, Sri Lanka is a lot easier to arrive in than somewhere like Delhi which is absolutely chaotic. With Sri Lanka you have your own driver who meets you, we don’t go anywhere near Colombo because it is a traffic nightmare, and we spend the first night in a really simple, family run quiet guesthouse in Negombo, not a big corporate hotel.”

What is family accommodation like in Sri Lanka?

There is a great mix of accommodation, but because family is at the heart of Sri Lankan culture, children are always welcome and accommodated comfortably. So, for example, they are very good at providing adjoining or interconnecting rooms. Or if families are happy to be flexible, hotels can put a beautifully made up mattress on the floor. On a tailor made vacation you can also choose between the likes of a luxury hotel on the beach, a plantation guesthouse or a family homestay – or a lovely mix of all styles. Tailor made doesn’t have to mean the Saville Row of vacations at all.

How are Sri Lankans with hosting nontraditional nuclear families, such as same sex couples or single parents?

Although there are anti discrimination laws applying to sexuality in Sri Lanka, same sex sexual activity is illegal here. However, in practice this law is rarely enforced, particularly for tourists, and shouldn’t be of concern. In fact, because you are either on a small group vacation with other families, or on a tailor made vacation with your own driver, you can sit back and enjoy so much of the trip if you are a busy single parent for example. For same sex couples traveling en famille, we have never had an issue in Sri Lanka. For all travelers, we do recommend avoiding overt public displays of affection, particularly in more conservative, rural areas. And do double check with your tour operator to be sure they have selected properties which are known to be welcoming to same sex couples. There should be plenty to choose from.

Helene Cooper from Stubborn Mule, one of our family vacation specialists in Sri Lanka: “We have booked vacations for several same sex couples with children. So, for example, we booked a gay male couple, who were white and traveling with their adopted, mixed heritage child. It was all absolutely fine, based mainly on the fact that Sri Lankan people are incredibly friendly. Also, in Asia men tend to hold hands anyway, so that isn’t a problem.”
Photo credits: [Top box: Indi Samarajiva] [Climbing Sigiriya: David Leo Veksler] [How safe is the sea: Roman Cherednychenko] [Rafting: Amila Tennakoon] [Health risks: Jérôme Decq] [What about stomach upsets: Jérôme Decq] [Family accommodation: Jérôme Decq]
Written by Catherine Mack
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Indi Samarajiva]