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A Family Christmas in Sri Lanka

It’s official, I’ve been seduced.  Move over Thailand, Sri Lanka is where it’s at!

Sri Lanka - Sky on beach

Having spent the last four Christmases in Thailand, we decided to swap our daily pad thai for egg hoppers and head to the Indian Ocean.  Now if you’re looking for amazing itinerary suggestions on what to do on adventurous two-week holiday in Sri Lanka, unfortunately you won’t find it in this post.

We were incredibly lazy and spent most of our time moving from sunbed to chair in our beautiful villa. The upside of this means I have reason to return…

Olanda Beach House

Our tradition is to hire a villa to accommodate our family of 8 adults and 3 children.  We prefer to stay in a villa as we like the extra communal area, it tends to work out cheaper than us all getting separate hotel rooms, it’s easier for the kids AND we do enjoy our own private chef (again much cheaper and better quality then eating out!)

How did we get to Sri Lanka?

For those of you flying from Hong Kong, Cathay now operate a direct flight which departs at 9pm and arrives approx. midnight local time. The return flight departs at a delightful 1am and lands approx. 8am local time.  Our UK based family flew with Sri Lankan Airlines.  The verdict – ancient planes with average service but it was the cheapest available.

Where did we go?

We decided to split the holiday in two parts, both revolving around towns along the southwest coast.  We spent the first 4 days in Bentota as it was slightly closer to Colombo airport (1.5 hours) and then moved down the coast to Galle (another 1.5 hrs from Bentota).

Where did we stay?

In Bentota I was looking for a cheap, luxury hotel. I flicked through Agoda and found an inexpensive rate for the Avani which turned out to be perfect.  The hotel is on a lovely stretch of beach, big grassy lawn and there are two big swimming pools.  The food at the hotel was quite average so I recommend eating out where possible.
Sri Lanka - Avani

In Galle, I was on the hunt for a 5 bed villa.  I trawled the internet and in comparison to Thailand, there are far fewer villas available .  I came across a website ‘Villain Sri Lanka’ <insert cheap laugh> who turned out not to be a money laundering front but an extremely helpful guy called Vinod who manages villas in Sri Lanka http://www.villainsrilanka.co.uk

Vinod talked me through a number of different villas but when Olanda Beach House became available, I knew it looked perfect. Stay tuned later this week for a more in-depth of review of Olanda.

What did we do in Sri Lanka?

BENTOTA

  • We took a 1 hour riverboat cruise through the mangroves.  I booked it through a tour guide who had a hut near to the Avani hotel.  This was really good fun, a relaxing way to see another side of Bentota.  Young kids might get a bit bored and restless on the boat but my 5-year-old loved it!
    Bentota Rivercruise
  • If you’re in Bentota on a Monday, head to the market – a colourful feast for the eyes and nose. The Bazaar sells typical tourist tat but the market itself is full of clothes, food and spices.
    IMG_3367
  • Hop in a tuk tuk (fun in itself) and tell your driver to take you to a few of the temples located around town
    Sky in a tuk tuk
  • Dotted along the coast are numerous sea turtle hatcheries.  Our hotel concierge recommended we visit one that was approx. 20 minutes by tuktuk from the hotel.  These hatcheries aim to breed turtles which are released back in to the sea and also act as a haven for rescued or injured turtles.  We enjoyed a short tour and the girls loved touching the turtles.
    IMG_3295
  • Whilst the food at our hotel (the Avani) was pretty average, we had two spectacular seafood meals at Restaurant Diya Sisila and Shangrilanka Villa. Both are guesthouses that operate small restaurants so best to book a table in advance.  My sister-in-law had actually stayed at Shangrilanka on her honeymoon and highly recommended it as a place to stay!

GALLE

  • When the beach in front of your villa looks like this
    Olanda Beach View - Galleit makes it very difficult to actually get up and go and do anything.  If you do get the chance to stay in Olanda Beach House, walk 5 minutes to your left and you will find safe swimming.  5 minutes to the right (where the white wall is in the picture below) is the Thalpe Beach Bar. We didn’t eat there but they do great coffee.
    Perfect Beach - Thalpe
  • Galle fort, built in the 16th century by the Portuguese then the Dutch is a beautiful spot to while away the hours.  You can walk the perimeter of the old wall (not that stroller friendly though) and even walk down to some hidden beaches.
    Galle FortWithin the fort is a shopper’s dream with everything from homeware to clothing.  My favourite stores included Barefoot and Mimimango which also has a hidden café.  In addition to the shops are numerous restaurants. A family friendly favourite is Crepology which has the winning combination of delicious crepes and a kids playroom.
    Galle Fort - Crepeology Playroom
  • We were incredibly spoilt by the beautiful stretch of beach directly in front of our villa. However, we did venture out to Unawatuna at night and during the day.  It’s a great place for drinks and food in the evening, in fact I highly recommend a NYE there!  Kingfisher is a lovely spot with decent food and there are supposed to be several good Italian restaurants.
    Sri Lanka - Unawatuna BeachBy day the beach is fun – clean, good sand and lots of activities available.  There are several fishing ‘glass bottom’ fishing boats that will take you out on a snorkeling trip. We hired one whilst we were swimming in the sea (approx. USD $50) and he took 4 of us out. Unfortunately the snorkeling wasn’t great but it was still good fun.
    Snorkelling in Unawatuna
  • One of the best things we did was take an hour-long bike tour with Idle Bikes.  Located in Thalpe, approx. 10 mins from our villa, you get the chance to go and explore the beautiful backroads and lush paddyfields.  You do have the option of bringing younger kids in a tuk tuk – although I actually don’t think it’s suitable and they would get bored. Our guide was great and stopped off to show us various plants and even a fresh coconut water break.
    Galle - Idle Bike Tours

Tips on traveling to Sri Lanka

  • Save yourself time on arrival by organising your visa online in advance. This is extremely easy to do and requires nothing more than a few mouse clicks and a credit card.
  • The local food is outrageously good although use common sense when it comes to food hygiene. Be sure to try egg hoppers and coconut rotti for breakfast!
    Coconut rotti
  • Accepted currency is either USD or Rupee.  I received a tip from a Sri Lankan friend who said the best exchange rate is actually at the airport. It’s worth changing up quite a bit of money on arrival as I had problems with a few ATMs.
  • If you’re picky about what baby equipment you use, from nappies to baby wipes, pack as much as you think you’ll need.  We found it fine to restock but it might be with brands you aren’t so familiar with.
  • There is SO MUCH to do in Sri Lanka. We barely scratched the surface but I would love to return to discover the tea plantations and cultural triangle. Globetotting have some awesome family itineraries.
  • We visited over Christmas and were extremely unlucky to have 3 days of unseasonably bad rain. Apparently it is highly unusual though and normally the weather is perfect.  If you’re wondering what time of year to visit, Selective Asia have a useful infograph.
  • Poverty continues to be a problem and the 2004 tsunami was a devastating blow, displacing half a million people. One of the best ways you can give back is to tip well from hotel staff to your tuktuk driver.  We found general prices in Sri Lanka to be cheap and so it allowed us to add on extra hefty tips where possible.

8 comments

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  1. Cathy (MummyTravels)

    Looks gorgeous – I loved Sri Lanka when I visited (pre-baby) but only had about a day in Galle and none around the beaches as we were doing the temples and tea plantations etc. I’d love to go back, and having seen a lot of the classic sights, I could lounge guilt-free with my daughter, although maybe trying to squeeze in a trip to see leopards at Yala as well.

    1. Nicola

      Yes I’d love to get to Yala too one day. Can’t wait to go back!

  2. Ling

    Likewise, my family spent Christmas in Sri Lanka’s South Coast in 2013, lazy-lie, and loved it! We did the Aman Fort and Beach thingy, and spent a couple of nights in Fort Galle, and another few nights at the beach by Tangalle. Yala was a amazing – we did it as a day trip from Tangalle had out first leopard sighting there! 🙂

    Another mum has shared on our site, her itinerary for a more adventurous 8 days through Sri Lanka with her baby under 1 and her 5yo son. It looks super fun too (her itinerary: http://kidsonboard.net/blog/travel-moment/itinerary-8-days-sri-lanka-with-my-kids) and covered the tea country as well as Sigiriya. I’d love to do that some day!

    Thanks for the post – brings back great memories!

  3. amy

    I’m going over Xmas with my 5yo and 8 month old and staying in Galle. Knowing the flight arrives so late from HK, do you recommend staying at a hotel in Colombo the first night or think it better to drive a bit outside of town to Bentota as you did?

    1. Nicola

      Hi Amy
      How many nights are you planning to be in Colombo/elsewhere before you get to Galle? We stayed in Bentota as we had a few nights to play with before our villa rental started. However, if you’re just staying for one night then might be best to stay in Colombo and then head out to Galle the next day. We just wanted somewhere with a nice beach to pass a few days and wait for all our family to arrive. We basically landed, speeded through immigration etc but had to wait aaaages for our suitcase! Then just slept in the van on the way down to Bentota (think it was about 90 mins?)

  4. Lattemama

    Thanks for sharing this again – perfect timing since we are just in the middle of planning a trip to Sri Lanka!

  5. Tina

    Hello, most people I speak to seem to hire a driver and a car for a tour of Sri Lanka. Given that your family stayed mostly in the south instead of doing a full country tour, what did you do for getting around/to and from the airport? We are also going to Sri Lanka for Xmas this year and booking cars now. Thanks! Tina.

  6. TripSriLanka.co

    It is lovely to read about your family holiday experience in Sri Lanka. The South Sri Lanka has more to explore including Bentota, Unawatunwa Galle beaches. Have you visited the central highlands, Nuwara eliya to enjoy the cold weather among the tea plantations? Nuwara eliya a beautiful tourist attraction in Sri Lanka, that wins travelers hearts again and again. Not only the Nuwara eliya, the beaches in East and North coast of the country too wonderful and calm places to check out on a holiday. Cheers.

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