Family-friendly 3 week itinerary for Sri Lanka – What you need to see


When planning your Sri Lanka vacation, you can either go through a tour company, or research or book the whole trip yourself. Many people choose the first option for ease, especially if they want to see lots of places in a fairly short amount of time. But, with a little bit of planning and some internet research, it’s easy to book all your own hotels, trips and transfers – plus, you’ll save a lot of money doing it this way!

Here’s a 21-day family-friendly itinerary that’s been tried and tested. It combines the best of both, with plenty of culture and cities, as well as a decent amount of beach time. There’s a few longer transfers but also lots of chilling out time to keep the kids happy.

3 week itinerary for Sri Lanka

Days 1–2Cool off in the capital

Arrive in Colombo and spend the first afternoon/evening getting used to the time change and the climate. The next day, go on a bus city tour to get an insight into the history and geography of Colombo without having to walk around in the heat.

Days 3–5Get close to elephants in Minneriya

Family outing by Mik Peach on

If you’re visiting Sri Lanka in July/August, you’ll be lucky enough to see the incredible elephant gathering in Minneriya National Park. Outside of this time, the area is still well worth visiting for the other wildlife. There are plenty of hotels nearby, including the stunning Habarana Village and you can book half or full-day jeep tours to the Park from any hotel.

Days 6–8Explore the ancient city of Kandy

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Me and my two sons at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Book an air-conditioned minivan to collect you from your hotel and drive you to Kandy. The journey is about 2 to 3 hours, depending on the roads and traffic and is a wonderful opportunity to see more of the real Sri Lanka. You’ll drive past forests, villages and herb gardens on your route.

Once in Kandy, you can spend one day on an excursion to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Children, in particular, love watching the baby elephants take their bath and drink milk at lunchtime. Spend another day exploring the ancient, lakeside city of Kandy, including time at the 17th Century Buddhist Temple of the Tooth.

Days 9–12Take tea in the jungle

Nine Arch Birdge. by Carlos Monforte on

Reserve seats on the iconic Kandy to Ella train and it’s guaranteed to be one of the highlights of your Sri Lankan trip. The journey time is about 7 hours but this will fly by as you travel through tea plantations, hilltop villages and across ravines. Chai and snack sellers board the train at stops so you can stock up on refreshments, but remember to pack plenty of water.

For a truly unique experience, stay at Ella Jungle Resort. Located in the middle of the jungle, rooms are reached via a cable car and a bumpy jeep ride through the canopy. While in Ella, make time to visit Ella Rock and falls, as well as taking a tour around one of the many tea plantations.

Days 13–15Sneak up on a bear in Yala

Book a taxi to drive you the 3-hour journey from Ella to Yala National Park and enjoy the dramatic change in scenery and climate along the route.

You’ll arrive in the afternoon and you can book a day-long safari from your hotel, or through of the many tour operators in the area. It’s an early start (about 4am) but you’ll be given breakfast in the jeep and you might be lucky enough to spot the famous sloth bears in the park. Spend the evening relaxing in your hotel and get ready to leave for the beach the next day.

Days 16–21Chill out on the beach

There are lots of beautiful resorts on the south and west coast of Sri Lanka but Unawatuna is particularly special. It’s a 3 to 4–hour drive from Yala but worth the journey and it’s definitely a good idea to save the beach part of the holiday to the end. The kids will appreciate a decent amount of time to relax in one place and you won’t need to do any travelling if you pick the right spot.

Unawatuna is a laid-back, sensitively developed resort with long stretches of sandy beach. The sea can be rough so don’t let young children swim without supervision. Restaurants and bars line the shore and you can dine out on the sand with the waves lapping in the background. It’s a truly magical place to end your Sri Lankan adventure.

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About the author

Cara Frost-Sharratt is a freelance food and travel writer who lives in London. She regularly contributes to a variety of magazines and is the author of London's Classic Restaurants and London's Landmarks, also published by New Holland.

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