Sri Lanka with kids is becoming one of the most popular family holiday destinations in Asia. Here’s why. It’s green, has stunning beaches, wildlife and history all thrown in together for the perfect family adventure holiday or luxury family holiday or a little bit of both. Blogger Meiling Wong-Chainani of Universal Scribbles and mother to Krysh (10) and Kyana (8) tells suitcases&strollers why Bentota is an ideal place to visit in Sri Lanka with kids.
Just over the famous Bentota Bridge of the River Bentara is the pretty rural coastal town of Bentota. This picturesque town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka is serene and relaxing with striking green landscape and tall coconut palm trees.
Bentota is a popular destination for families with kids as it has everything that Sri Lanka is famous for: golden beaches with rising waves that are perfect for surfing and other sea sports, mighty elephants, wildlife watching and superb Sri Lankan hospitality, warm smiles and great tea.
Poised as a tourist resort destination, Bentota has plenty of accommodation choices with family-friendly activities to entertain both the kids and adults that are within walking distances to the beach. If you and the kids are keen to visit historic sites like the Galle Fort or Wewurukannala Temple, Bentota is conveniently located so you can hop in and out of town easily for day trips. [If you prefer to stay in Galle proper, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Away from the busy and dusty main towns like Colombo or Galle, Bentota is quiet and soothing. This tranquillity is broken only by the regular loud tooting of the train as it rumbles down the main and only train track through the town. The trains chugging through the town happens like clock-work. Your kids will look forward to the tooting of the train as it signals the time of day be it breakfast, tea time or bed time.
Elephant rides are popular with the kids. Some hotels like Bentota Beach Hotel and Panchi Villa offer elephant rides as part of their accommodation attraction. If yours does not, some elephant minders at the hotels allow the public to ride their elephants for a fee. Negotiate the fees so it is no more than what you pay for at your local zoo. Your guide or hotel service staff will be better able to advise where you can go for elephant rides.
[For a more intimate interaction with elephants, see the suitcases&strollers story Ayutthaya.]
Sri Lanka is home to 90% of the sea turtle population. So sea turtle watching with kids is a must. Five of only eight species of marine turtles that are in existence in the world are found in Sri Lanka. Each year, these turtles visit the beaches of the island in order to lay eggs to produce their young. The best time for turtle watching is in the night, but if the timing does not suit your child’s schedule, visit one of the many sea turtle sanctuaries found along the beach. Admission is usually by donation.
Bentota is ideal for water sports like windsurfing, surfing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, body boarding, banana rides, tube rides, jet-skiing, deep sea fishing, river fishing, snorkeling or deep-sea diving. Seasoned surfers and experienced divers prefer the challenges of the open sea, which may not be ideal for kids. Hence, most water sports for families with kids happen in the Bentota Lagoon which is a wide river mouth shielded by a 3-kilometre long peninsula leading out to the open sea.
[If you are interested in SCUBA diving with kids, see the suitcases&strollers travel tips here.]
Companies like Sri Lanka Water Sport, Sunshine Water Sports Center and Club Bentota Water Sports will organise your water activities for you, but your hotel guide can also recommend other smaller, more affordable options on the river front. Prices may vary.
These same companies can also arrange a cruise down the famous Bentota River for you to enjoy and explore the bountiful wildlife of Sri Lanka. Kids will have fun spotting assortment of birds including the red-headed fish eagles and reptiles like the green garden lizard or baby crocodiles. The journey through the Forest of Mangrove Swamps will also be an adventure in itself.
Sri Lankan dishes like snake gourd curry, egg-plant stew, sautéed potatoes with mushrooms and dhal curry with plain rice or freshly made string hoppers (indiappa) are a must-try, as is the Sri Lanka seafood. For a good seafood meal, go to Wunderbar Hotel and Restaurant which serves great seafood at modest prices.
Eating out in restaurants in Bentota for the children can be a bit of a hit and miss. Remind the chefs not to add any spices unless your child does not mind them. Many restaurants also serve Western food like fried rice, spaghetti or French fries to cater to the rising tourist market. However, the taste can still differ from what young ones are used to and may not be palatable to them, especially if they are picky eaters. In case that is the case, do carry some biscuits or bread to assuage their hunger pangs.
[For travel tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant. For recommendations on travel-friendly foods to pack and take with you, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
The best bet is to dine at your hotel or villa. With typical Sri Lankan hospitality, most chefs at these villas and small guesthouses will be happy to oblige and cook you whatever you desire.
Do not leave Sri Lanka without buying some of the country’s best offerings. Batik, traditional masks and handicrafts, brassware, wooden ornaments, Ceylon tea and semi-precious and precious gems make great souvenirs.
Unfortunately, Bentota proper does not have any good shopping sites. Your best bet is in Colombo where you can find great bargains in shops like Paradise Road, Barefoot, Odel and House of Fashion or the malls like Majestic City (Galle Rd., Bambalapitiya, Colombo, Sri Lanka, +94 112 595763) and Crescat Boulevard which is attached to the Cinnamon Grand Colombo on Galle Road in Colombo.
Hotels line the stretch of Bentota beach. You are spoilt for choice between cosy inland villas like Club Villa Bentota, cool designer boutique hotels like Paradise Road The Villa or five-star hotels like Vivanta by Taj. Whatever your choice, you will appreciate the balance of colonial charm with modern comforts at these family-friendly hotels.
The internet connection in this town is not very sophisticated. Hotels generally have wifi connection but it is not readily available everywhere. Be prepared that you may not have easy access to your social networks or be able to check your messages. But this may be a blessing in disguise as it compels us to enjoy the amenities offered by this charming town.
Bentota is about 2 hours away from Colombo. Traffic in Colombo can be a nightmare, so it is best to start your travel plans to commute from Colombo to Bentota early in the day. Always give yourself some lead time and carry some snacks for the kiddos in case you are stuck in traffic. Hiring a private driver and car makes travelling easier especially when you are traveling with kids. Hotels usually can recommend reliable drivers. You can request car seats but they may not be readily available.
Carry a bottle of insect repellent with you and lots of mosquito patches for the kids. [For more travel tips on dealing with mosquito-born diseases with traveling with kids, see the suitcases&strollers Medical FAQs.]
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Sri Lanka. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath. It’s a good idea for kids to practice brushing their teeth with a bottle for a few weeks before the trip so they don’t use the taps by mistake.
The current of the sea can be quite strong and the waves are high. Keep a close watch on the kids if they are out at sea. [For more family beach safety tips, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the team from Bondi Rescue.]
By Meiling Wong-Chainani of Universal Scribbles