My lesson in letting go and discovering my inner wanderlust
I like to pretend I’m a go with the flow kinda gal, I really do. Especially since I met my husband I try not to plan things out too far ahead, other than booking accommodation I turn up without too much of a plan, open to discovering new things. Oh who am I kidding; I’m deep down an organiser – I love to plan, read, research, make lists, oh how I love a good list.
So when Mr Globetrotter suggested a trip to Sri Lanka not long after Master J arrived earlier this year I said: “sure, as long as you organise it!”.
That he did and we have just come back from a five-day package holiday break at a beach resort in Wadduwa, Sri Lanka – surprisingly refreshed despite managing three under five on the move and brimming with new travel ideas.
Our southern Sri Lanka experience with 3 kids
After a very convenient four hour flight from Abu Dhabi, we are met with driving rain and well, darkness. Not the usual neon glare and nightlife we are used to in most Asian holiday destinations. A long drive through the slow Colombo traffic sees us arrive at our accommodation The Blue Water Resort in Wadduwa close to midnight.
If driving rain and waking tired grumpy kids isn’t just the perfect way to kick things off its always nice to get a warm welcome at your hotel – I could best describe the front entrance to the Blue Water like a very exclusive and private rehabilitation clinic. Even inside it is dimly lit and there are no signs of human life at this hour. You could imagine my delight when once again, despite booking a family suite our room has not yet been set up with the kids bedding, or even the pre-ordered cot!
Putting my best optimistic face on in the morning it is still cloudy outside and quite damp, perhaps a good thing given the lack of any sort of shade over the toddler pool (moan, moan). The kids enjoy splashing in the toddler pool and the larger pool and we persist until the driving rain brings us indoors after lunch. (Have you ever tried spending 6 hours in a hotel room with three attention-seeking tots).
Did we make a mistake with a package holiday?
The first sign of optimism for me that all was not lost in this package trip was the lunch and dinner buffets. We always look at inclusive packages with trepidation that you are going to be served the same insipid slop three meals a day, fighting for the same ratty high chairs with the same group of diners and accepting that at the very least the outcome is you don’t have to clean the mess left on the floor.
I must say though the meals ended up being one of my trip highlights.
Delicious curries, themed evenings and a magnificent array of deserts, rarely did it disappoint. Trying to keep the three little ones tamed until the 7.30pm opening at dinner was a small downfall. As long as we were prepared to get them fed and act as master and servant for the first 30 minutes of every meal like a juggling circus act, an enjoyable evening was eventually had. Some evenings they also had a band or musician playing in the evening for the older kids to dance along to.
For all that I have somewhat ridiculed our accommodation, it was perfectly adequate for what we needed.
Visiting at an off-peak travel time (late November), it was certainly more full of pensioners than kids but our suite room (once set up) was spacious, the pool was lovely and staff friendly. A small shame that the hotels on either side of us decided to have competing 12-hour long parties on the Saturday – we are told these ‘staff parties’ are a very common occurrence as big employer pay for their staff to have weekend retreats. You may want to consider mid-week to avoid this.
Our beach front view was spectacularly picturesque but the changing seasons in November meant the ocean was still quite a murky brown and the currents too strong for swimming. We are told January to April is the best time for ocean-goers in southern Sri Lanka but it certainly didn’t detract from the scenery.
A south coast tour with Ruchi Tours
We did venture outside our fortress walls to take a day trip with Ruchi from Ruchi Tours. Unlike other guided tours we have been on where they pack you in like sardines to a “luxury bus”, make 15 stops to pick passengers up then constantly stop at roadside restaurant to force you into buying souvenirs, we had our own minibus. Ruchi’s English was excellent and he was very informative, giving us a lot of background about the place and the people while we drove.
Our mini tour saw us take in an estuary cruise in the little township of Aluthgama, where we were able to get up close and personal with the wildlife which kept the kids well engaged (until Master 2 fell asleep).
Then on to the sea turtle hatchery at Habaraduwa where Miss 4 delighted in being able to hold some newly hatched turtles – Master 2 was, however, less than impressed!
There is a lot to explore around the southern corner of Sri Lanka, we didn’t make it as far as the fortress town of Galle but it looks beautiful. Hikkaduwa Beach is favoured by families due to the off-shore coral reef breaking the waves making it great for kiddy paddling. Bentota is another popular family option slightly closer to Colombo and not as busy as Galle.
Staying in a large villa, normally with staff and daily housekeeping included is another popular accommodation choice for families visiting Sri Lanka.
Would we return to Sri Lanka with kids?
It wasn’t until our very long journey back through Colombo to the airport that I started to get a true sense of what this country was really about. Colombo is the main business centre of this island nation with a huge daily influx of workers that almost gridlocks the city – perhaps one of the things that will slow the further development of tourism in Sri Lanka the near term.
The whole country feels incredibly densely populated (apparently only the 40th most densely populated country in the world though), however, there is little in the way of high-rise development. Immediately off the main ‘highway’, you see what looks to be half-completed concrete block housing and children playing in the muddy puddles that are actually roads. It really puts into perspective my petty complaints about the hotel.
One thing that really made Sri Lanka feel different to tropical holidays past was the pace at which things moved. Had I been in a raging rush to get anywhere or the kids in the middle of a meltdown, I imagine the traffic would make me pull my hair out.
The fact that traffic stops to allow a stray cow to meander down the highway (this was frequent!), motorbikes with families of four aboard swerve perilously close to the ageing Lanka Ashok Leyland buses that are always full to the brim and beeping their horn at the crowd of tuk-tuks – was mesmerising.
Busy crowds of amazingly colourful people wearing everything from suits to traditional dress wait patiently at bus stops and one thing strikes me – none of them is standing there holding a mobile phone. Another thing that surprised me is the amount of colonial influence, much of the signage is written in English rather than Sinhalese or Tamil and you can see it in much of the building style in Colombo.
Through the buildings, we can catch a glimpse of the beautiful sunset over the Indian Ocean and again I lament the fact I only brought my iPhone camera for this trip!
Tips for travelling with kids in Sri Lanka
- The minivans we used did have seat belts but not long enough to wrap around our baby capsule; one of us had to sit cradling Master J in a row where the capsule could be wedged in. Miss 4 & Master 2 sat happily in ‘big seats’ on this occasion but if you were doing a lot of driving you may consider bringing your toddler seats with you. If you are based in one location though and only taking tuk tuks they will just be a nuisance and barely get used.
- Be prepared with a sling or accept a bit of child carrying; this is one of the places we didn’t even bother unpacking the double stroller. Roads were unsuitable, footpaths non-existent, even the pathways around the hotel didn’t have a single flat surface or were punctuated with ‘stepping stones’ – very un-stroller friendly!
- If you are staying in one of the more remote resorts, pack enough nappies, milk and snacks to get you through. We would normally head to the nearest convenience store to pick up extra supplies but our location made the nearest store far from convenient.
- Distances on a map can be very deceptive. It depends on the quality of the road, whether you need to cross through other busy towns and the time or the day of the week; if booking a tour try and get an honest estimation of your time and where toilet stops will be available, where you can grab food (that they will eat).
- If your little one is a train enthusiast, they will love the Coastal railway line, several times an hour they chug past with passengers literally clinging to the windows and doors, a lovely authentic experience – after a few days you barely notice the sound anymore!
- A package holiday comes with the convenience of hotels and flights being booked for you – but it still pays to do your own research on the family friendliness of a hotel – this is more than just whether it has a kids club.
Although our little Globetrotters loved spending hours by the pool, I couldn’t help but feel there was a big wide world out there we were missing tucked away in our resort. We live in a country (UAE) with an abundance of resorts, all competing for the best in their various markets and families are generally pretty well catered for making it a tough act to follow.
We (ok Mr Globetrotter) planned this trip only as a quick getaway – a reconnaissance mission – but it has served its purpose well, Sri Lanka you’re now on our bucket list, we will be back.
Disclosures: Our holiday package was arranged with Etihad Holidays but we paid for all flights and accommodation ourselves. This article contains affiliate links to preferred hotel providers which come at no extra cost to you but help us keep this site running as a free resource for travelling parents.
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