Here are Catherine’s very intriguing opinions about why tourists shouldn’t bring their children to Sri Lanka for Christmas holidays:
Last Christmas, a friend of mine came to visit me in Sri Lanka with her two kids, aged 6 and 8. She wanted to enjoy a very long tropical family Christmas beach vacation. At first, she didn’t really think her kids would like Sri Lanka. The initial plans were for them to mostly stay in hotel rooms and watch TV or play games on their PSPs, while the adults enjoyed the beach. However, as we embarked on various activities around the island, it became harder and harder to keep the kids inside the hotel rooms. Sri Lanka, surprisingly, managed to interest them. Meaning, the quality girly time we had planned was mostly ruined. In the end, I was convinced that no one should ever bring their kids to Sri Lanka, and here’s why:
- You’ll never drag them away from the beaches
Okay, we were the ones who wanted to spend time relaxing on the white-gold beach in Unawatuna until the sun had disappeared down the horizon. Instead, we found ourselves trying to pry the two little ones off the beach. They were enamored by the warm sun and the lapping waves. They spent hours building sandcastles. Then, when the ocean was safe enough to swim, they both insisted on doggy-paddling among the gentle waves for even longer. There were several watersports options offered by our hotel. We wanted to try jet skiing, but instead, we ended up helping the little ones body board. My friend said she had never seen her kids so happy. So parents, think twice before spending this Christmas on Sri Lanka’s down south beaches. You might end up staying forever.
Alluring Unawatuna Beach.
- They’ll want to explore ancient ruins, no matter what
I couldn’t wait to show off my two favorite heritage sites in Sri Lanka—the Sigiriya rock fortress and the Dambulla cave temples—to my friend. She was concerned that historical sites would bore her kids and they’ll be fussy. We even tried to find a reliable local nanny to look after them while we toured the Cultural Triangle. But, my friend being the mom that she is, felt bad so we took the kids with us. Far from her prediction of boredom, the kids were absolutely fascinated throughout the entire trip. While we drove for five hours or so from Colombo, they played this game of counting the coconut and rubber plantations we passed by till they fell asleep. Visiting Sigiriya was a nightmare. Of course this Lion-shaped fortress built into a giant boulder by an ancient king looked just like the Cat’s Lair from Thundercats, the cartoon. Actually, the two giant paws at the original entrance do remarkably resemble the roaring jaguar paws of the Cat’s Lair. (Fine, I admit, I had to Google Thundercats to confirm this after the kids mentioned it.) The fact that this structure is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site with invaluable frescoes mostly eluded them; because they were too busy enjoying the panoramic view of the surrounding jungle from the top of the rock.
Lion Paws at Sigiriya.
The next day, we visited Dambulla, another UNESCO-designated heritage site. This attraction is a system of prehistoric caves incredibly turned into a Buddhist temple with magnificent Buddha statues and wall paintings. Well, at least that’s what I thought. The kids were two busy exploring “Yoda’s hiding cave.” At least, they didn’t start fussing about being tired or hungry. They were far too preoccupied for that.
Inside Dambulla cave temples.
- You’ll forever be showing them elephants
Apart from numerous heritage sites, there’s one thing Sri Lanka is very famous for—wild elephants. We planned a jeep safari at the amazing Udawalawe National Park, so everyone could see elephants in their natural habitat. As expected, the kids were super excited all the way. They loved riding the jeep Indiana Jones-style. And their squeals were uncontrollable the first time they saw a wild elephant lazily grazing. They gasped when they saw baby elephants playing in the mud with their mothers. They loved it so much, after the 3-hour safari was over, they demanded a second jeep safari, right there and then. My friend managed to negotiate to delay it. But, they were old enough to understand lies, so we ended up going on another jeep safari at the famous Yala National Park to see even more elephants, along with peacocks and leopards. The kids were not satiated but we managed to distract them by promising more baby elephants on a pointedly unspecified future date.
Baby elephants with their mothers in the wild.
- You just might find yourself hiking to the world’s end
My friend and I planned a short walk among tea plantations in the Hill Country, thinking it’ll be good for the kids. A short walk, however, soon became a full-blown day excursion to Horton Plaines National Park. My friend, at first, was reluctant to take the kids on a hike to the other end of the park. But, that didn’t matter. The kids were dead set on seeing World’s End, a chilling escarpment with amazing views of tea plantations and villages in the distance. Unlike the other national parks we’ve been to, Horton Plaines was colder, wetter, and greener. In the morning, we waded through the eerie fog, hoping to spot exotic animals. The cold or being so high up above sea level didn’t seem to faze the kids. When we finally came to World’s End, I think they were a little bit disappointed that they haven’t discovered the actual world’s end.
At the world’s end.
- They’ll never stop nagging you about going to see whales and dolphins
Trust me when I say we suffered. We thought the wild elephant obsession was bad but their dolphin obsession was just too much. There are dolphin-watching tours offered at Kalpitiya, a sleepy fishing village on the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. We finally went there, mostly because I wanted my friend to see the palm-fringed and powder-fine beaches there. We woke up at 6 a.m. to ride a speedboat into the sea to see pods of bottlenose and spinner dolphins. The boat ride was safe and no one got sea sick. It took 5-hours, but the kids never wavered in their determination to see dolphins. Their thrill was uncontainable when we finally saw hundreds of dolphins swimming past our boat. For them, it was like the Dolphin Tale had come true.
Dolphin pod at Kalpitiya.
While enjoyed some more family-friendly beach time in Mirissa, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, my friend wanted to treat them to a whale-watching tour (because they simply won’t shut up about another dolphin-watching boat ride). We arranged for one with kids, and you should have seen their expressions when they saw a real Blue Whale (at least the fin part) with their own eyes.
- You’ll spend all your money buying them Sri Lankan food
While we were driving around the country in need of some peace and quiet, the kids somehow developed a culinary obsession with Sri Lankan food, a feat I thought impossible at that age. They didn’t have the slightest discomfort with the various types of spices found in authentic local cuisine (unlike my friend, who needed getting used to the exotic flavors). They ate rice and curry like champions and loved digging into Sri Lankan “short eat” buns and pastries. They especially loved eating coconut rotis dipped in lentil curry and binging on mildly-spiced egg rotis. In fact, they insisted on snacking on Sri Lankan food throughout the entire tour! So, that’s another thing to watch out for before deciding to bring kids here.
Delicious Sri Lankan coconut rotis.
Essentially, the vacation almost drove the kids crazy. They couldn’t stop talking about elephants, dolphins, anthropomorphic cat hideouts, even long after they’d gone back to France, as my friend emailed me soon after. She felt sorry for them and took them to a Sri Lankan restaurant in Paris so they didn’t miss their vacation time so much. Now she’s planning to come again this year, even though she had high hopes of celebrating this Christmas in Vanuatu. See, this is why you shouldn’t bring kids to Sri Lanka. You’ll never be able to stop visiting.