There is no denying that suddenly Sri Lanka is at the top of everyone’s travel hit list…and now it’s not just the backpackers who are doing it. It is absolutely possible to travel to Sri Lanka with kids. And where better to start than the famous old town of Galle? With its stunning historical architecture and quaint small-town feel, the city has suddenly become a fab family holiday destination.
Galle is the ultimate chill out, low-key destination. The plethora of panoramic ocean views, swaying coconut trees and spicy cuisine are enough to satisfy one’s desire for an exotic short getaway. Tourism is still nascent and you will find the authenticity and friendliness of the locals appealing. The seafront fishing town definitely takes on an island spirit providing just the right dose of cultural exploration and R&R to keep parents and little kids entertained. Plus it is quiet enough that you can feel safe allowing the children to really explore a little piece of the Subcontinent while you relax.
This is a holiday of chillaxing, lying in the sun and absorbing some historical atmosphere as well. If a peaceful getaway is what you are after, this is the perfect place to travel with children and a great way to try out Sri Lanka with kids.
A gorgeous coastline of crystal clear turquoise waters surrounds Galle. Watching the colorful fishing boats orcatching a site of the famous stilt fishing is quite fascinating. Before dawn, fisherman perch themselves onto stilts that have been passed on from generation to generation. (The stilts ensure that they do not disturb the fish and allow them to fish without any bait.)
Soaking in the beautiful views, breathing the crisp sea air and enjoying some of the freshest seafood are wonderful attractions on their own, but Galle is also bordered with beaches that are famous spots for dolphin and whale watching especially in the winter to spring months (December to April is prime whale and dolphin viewing season).
While all of Galle’s beaches are gorgeous eye candy to replenish the soul, many are unsafe for swimming especially for children. But unlike many of the surrounding beaches, Mirissa Beach is suitable for swimming. It is best known for dolphin watching and boogie boarding and is a nice place to grab a beachside snack or some fresh seafood. It’s about a 40-minute drive away from Galle.
Galle Fort is the main attraction in this sleepy town. Within the fort walls the quaint grid of brick streets and mix of Dutch and Portuguese colonial architecture exude loads of old world charm.
As the daytime heat fades away, one of the most pleasant strolls is the inside circuit of the fort walls. At dusk, you’ll be in the company of lots of locals, shyly courting couples and plenty of kids diving into the perimeter waters.
Inside the fort walls, you can fill your evening up by popping into shops, cafes and churches. The multitude of shops carrying beautiful Sri Lankan textiles and crafts are perfect for some fun browsing or purchasing. Restaurants and cafes can be an early dinner stop after the nice stroll. And, best of all, the fort is completely stroller friendly.
The turtle sanctuary right outside of Galle (near Unuwatuna) offers up a short morning activity watching the turtles and learning about the various breeds. The sanctuary is small and best suited for children under 5 as it will most likely lack the entertainment factor for an older crowd.
As southern Sri Lanka is becoming more accustomed to seeing tourists, Western food is becoming increasingly available, however, the spice palate may be gravely different from what your kids eat at home. Finding food prepared in the style that your children are most accustomed to can be a challenge.
In a pinch, carrying some food along for young children is very helpful (for example cereal, a pack of spaghetti or some macaroni noodles). Fortunately, local supermarkets do carry these goods. Fresh vegetables and meat in the market are also easy to find. Staying in a villa that has its own kitchen or chef is highly advisable with young kids or picky eaters of any age as the kitchen and chef can cater specifically for your needs.
(Do note that it is not safe to drink the water in Sri Lanka. This means that you should not eat raw fruits or vegetables unless they can be peeled.)
Barring the spicy favorites, some child-friendly Sri Lankan delights do exist, of course – take, for instance, the delicious hoppers (which are similar to appams found in some parts of Indonesia and southern India). Children can easily appreciate hoppers, string hoppers (rice noodles) or flavourful coconut rotis.
[For more travel tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant here.]
Most of the city and its outskirts are stroller-friendly making it perfect for infants to young pre-schoolers who can be easily entertained by the turtle sanctuary, beach and resort swimming pool splendour. If you have very active older children who require a lot of entertaining, keep in mind that Galle is a quiet, small place without a whole lot of organised sights and activities to do.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a holiday in Galle with kids has always been that it must be accessed by train, car or bus from Colombo. Most international flights come into Colombo at odd hours so try making your way from the airport to Colombo center or Galle avoiding rush hour times (Monday to Friday from 8am to 11am or 4pm to 7pm). Otherwise breaking up the journey by staying a night in Colombo is not a bad idea either.
With children of any age, travelling by private car is the most advisable option and pretty easy. Pre-book your car ahead of time via your accommodation and request seatbelts and car seats (if available) in advance.
The drive from Colombo to Galle on the new expressway can be an easy 2 and a half to 3 hours. The expressway’s infrastructure is so fantastic that, at times, you feel as if you could be in the countryside of Australia or North America. Pizza Hut and McDonald chains sprinkled along the way provide perfect air-conditioned rest stops outfitted with baby chairs and clean bathrooms.
While infrastructure is pretty good in comparison to most of Sri Lanka’s south Asian neighbors, keep in mind that it is still a developing nation and water sanitation must be taken seriously. It is advisable to carry a travel water kettle to boil any water given to children if your staying accommodation does not already provide one. Alternatively, only use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath. [For more tips on travelling to developing countries with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
If you choose to transit in Colombo, Galle Face Hotel is a great introduction to the old world charm that Sri Lanka has to offer. With a fine breakfast spread and ocean views, it’s a pleasant start to the day. The hotel is also conveniently situated on the main access way to Galle.
In Galle, the Galle Fort offers several accommodation options including inns, guest houses and private villas. If you choose to stay in the fort, you can enjoy easy access to activities such as cooking courses, restaurants and shopping. With their beautiful design, classic colonial-style hotels are a sure way to go (such as the Amangalla or Galle Fort Hotel). For a lower budget option, consider Mama’s Galle Fort Roof Café & Guest House (76 Leyn Baan St., Galle, Sri Lanka, Tel: +94 91 222 6415) which also offers cooking classes or The Fort Printers hotel.
Staying outside of Galle is very doable as well – you can easily find a beautiful beach villa on the outskirts, fully equipped with a full staff on the premises including a chef, butler and tuk tuk driver to look after your very last need. A key benefit of staying outside the fort walls is there is more space for children to run around outdoors and generally easier access to the beach. Outside the fort, consider a Jetwing Hotel property (specifically, Jetwing Lighthouse). Unuwatuna, Thalpe and Dalwella are all only a short 15 minutes away by tuk tuk from Galle Fort and city center. Villas in these areas are easy to find on travel websites such as TripAdvisor.com or HolidayLettings.com.
By Rakhee Jain