Sri Lankans love children, and travelling with kids more or less guarantees you a warm welcome wherever you go. Locals will always do whatever they can to help or entertain – there’s certainly no need to worry about disapproving stares if your baby starts crying or your toddler starts monkeying around, even in quite posh establishments.
Having said that, travelling with babies may prove stressful. Powdered milk is fairly widely available, but disposable nappies and baby food are rare, while things like baby-sitting services, nursery day-care, changing facilities, high chairs and microwaves for sterilizing bottles are largely unheard of; car seats will also probably have to be brought from home. Breast-feeding in public, however discreet, is also not something that Sri Lankan women usually do, while prams are virtually useless, since there are no decent pavements to push them on – the common sight of mothers burdened with a tiny baby on one arm and a small child in the other scrambling on and off packed buses or fighting their way across busy roads is one of Sri Lanka’s more stomach-churning sights. The heat, and the associated dangers of dehydration, are another concern, not to mention the risks of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
Older children will get a lot out of a visit to the island. Sri Lanka’s beaches are likely to provide the main attraction, with endless swathes of golden sand to muck around on and warm waters to splash about in – though you should always check local swimming conditions carefully and guard carefully against the very real possibility of sunburn and dehydration. Beaches apart, the outstanding kids’ attraction is the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnewala, a guaranteed child-pleaser, especially for its cute babies – this is one of the few places in the world where children can see elephants that are even smaller than themselves. There are further elephant-spotting opportunities around Kandy, while a visit to any of the national parks is also likely to stimulate budding zoologists; Yala, where there’s a good chance of sighting crocodiles, peacocks, flamingoes and other wildlife, is a particularly good choice, as is Uda Walawe, where you’ll find another elephant orphanage. Activity sports, such as banana boating or kayaking at Bentota, may also appeal, while the island’s varied forms of transport – whether a tuktuk ride, a train trip through the hill country or a boat cruise along one of the island’s rivers or lagoons – should also keep little ones entertained. Energetic kids with a head for heights might also enjoy the challenge of clambering up Sigiriya and its rickety iron staircases. And if you’ve exhausted all the preceding possibilities, you can always go shopping: there are plenty of fun handicrafts to be had, with gruesome masks, painted elephants and wooden toys aplenty – if you’re in Colombo, don’t leave without bagging a colourful cuddly stuffed-toy animal from the Barefoot.