Travelling Sri Lanka with a toddler isn’t as hard as you may think. Sri Lanka is a must-visit, and travelling with a toddler shouldn’t hold you back. With hidden beaches, remote jungle safaris, mountain treks, delicious food and ancient ruins, Sri Lanka has it all. This is one trip the kids won’t be heading to theme parks and the like, instead, they will be truly adventuring and developing their own sense of travel and adventurous spirit.
We recently visited Sri Lanka with our toddler, Oliver when he was 17 months old. This guide has been created to inspire you to branch out on your next trip and to put your mind at ease that it is totally doable.
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Travelling Sri Lanka with a Toddler
Sri Lanka has been consistently growing in tourism numbers for the past few years and was named by Lonely Planet as the number 1 country to travel to in 2019!
Generally speaking, Sri Lanka is a safe country for families to travel to. Crime rates are similar to most European countries. The only thing that you may encounter will be petty scams, however even these are few and far between and easily avoided with some street smarts. Take normal precautions that you would when travelling anywhere in the world.
Whilst there was a terrorist attack in early 2019, this was the first in over ten years and the military and government dramatically tightened national security. To put things in perspective, at present the Australian government warning level for Sri Lanka is the same as travel to France, Indonesia, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Security remains tight in Sri Lanka, and as mentioned before they are largely warm, friendly and genuine people. We never once felt unsafe during our visit. We honestly think travelling Sri Lanka with a toddler should be on all parents bucket list.
Sri Lanka has everything from backpacker to super luxurious and everything in between. Prices start slightly higher than what you would be used to in parts of South East Asia but are still relatively cheap. A decent enough private room with ensuite and air conditioning will start at about AUD $40 per night. It is also more difficult to find pools and baby facilities in more budget accommodations.
When travelling with a toddler in Sri Lanka make sure you book an air-conditioned room. Sure you might save a few dollars getting a fan one, but it gets darn hot over there and often the fans are not the best at cooling you. Especially so with a little baby who will likely be napping in the room during the heat of the day. This also makes it much more comfortable for you so it is win-win.
Rooms can book up quickly in advance so make sure you start planning early to get a place you like. In saying that, there will generally always still be last minute bookings available. Hotels and guesthouses will often have triple and family rooms ideal for having a bit more space. However, we just booked double rooms and would set up Ollies portacot. Be aware of the room sizes when booking though that a cot will actually fit, as some places are deceivingly small.
Nowhere we stayed had kids clubs, even the two 5* properties – apparently, this is quite common. Things like cribs and high chairs etc will usually be available at them though.
You should always confirm with your doctor before travelling overseas whether you need any vaccinations. Most travellers will generally have had most of these over their life already. The WHO recommends Sri Lankan travellers to have up to date Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies, MMR, Tetanus/Diptheria. We ensured Oliver had all of the ones he was physically able to, some of them earlier than the immunisation schedule in Australia requires. Doctors can easily find out which ones can and can’t be given early to ensure you and your little one are adequately protected.
One thing that made Sri Lanka so special was the people. They are so lovely and always seem to have a beaming smile on their face. Often locals will spark up a conversation with you, genuinely interested in your story. Even more so when you have a little toddler running around! They seem to absolutely love babies and go out of their way to ensure they have a smile on their face too! Whenever we were unsure of something, the locals were always happy to help. Travelling Sri Lanka with a toddler is a breeze thanks to the loving locals.
Bring any medication you think you will need as you will probably struggle to get your hands on it otherwise. Many items that are usually over the counter at home require a prescription in Sri Lanka. This means toddler suitable antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers should ideally be brought with you.
You never know when you will need them, and it’s best to be prepared. We looked around for infant paracetamol and never saw any. Make sure to bring rehydration sachets as well just in case.
Stroller/Pram or Carrier?
In all honesty, don’t bother taking a stroller if you are planning to travel Sri Lanka with a toddler. They are cumbersome and tough going on the uneven roads. Many roads don’t even have footpaths! We brought a lightweight breathable baby carrier with us, however, never used it. Instead, we would always carry Ollie or let him walk whilst holding his hand when safe. Obviously you may prefer using the carrier so this is totally up to you. We just feel it is easier and more comfortable to do it this way. Plus tuk-tuks are cheap and regularly driving past so if you become too tired, just flag one down!
Food & Dining Out
Sri Lankan food is delicious. Think lots of curries, flatbreads and some of the best-tasting fruit on earth. Food in Sri Lanka is usually quite spicy so make sure restaurant staff know when you are ordering something for your little one. Most places have at least a few western dishes, however, children’s menus and highchairs are generally only found in the high-end hotels and resorts. We always carry a portable lobster high chair that can attach to tables wherever we go.
We found all staff always wanting to go the extra mile and produce a dish Ollie would like, even when things weren’t on the menu. Once he was prepared some grilled chicken and vegetables. Ollie actually loved all of the curries so he ate really well. A common Sri Lankan dish children are sure to love is Kottu. Kottu is a roti flatbread stuffed with various items of your choosing, a great one for kids is plain old chicken and cheese, however, there are usually loads of options.
In order to avoid any sickness, make sure to eat at busy or more popular cafes and restaurants. This ensures a higher turnover of food. When informed that a dish is for your toddler, they will ensure it is slightly overcooked for added peace of mind. Avoiding ice cubes is also good practice, however, most places these days buy their ice.
Packaged baby food from the stores can be pretty expensive, so maybe bring a few with you for those days your little one just wants some comfort food.
Nappies and wipes are usually available from the larger stores, however, don’t rely on your sizes always being available. You are best to bring enough with you to last the first few days and then buying a large 30 pack when you can. Always try to have a 30 pack worth with you as some towns have limited stores stocking baby goods.
When buying nappies the sizes run small in Sri Lanka so always make sure to buy a size up. They all seem to be the pull-up variety which seemed to be more comfortable for Ollie in the heat anyway.
You probably won’t find swimming nappies in Sri Lanka, so invest in a good reusable swimming nappie or pack your preferred brand and take them with you. We found that we could reuse the swimming nappies that weren’t soiled by hanging them out to dry after each use.
We brought a tin of baby formula and a bottle for Ollie from home. If you are planning to travel Sri Lanka with a toddler and they drink formula, definitely bring your own. You can actually buy baby formula in Sri Lanka but it is very expensive and it is hard to know what is the best quality. Cows milk is generally easily available from convenience stores however it will almost always be long-life. Supermarkets sell fresh cows milk at a high price. For sterilising bottles, every hotel, guesthouse and resort was happy to lend us a kettle to do it ourself. Just ask and they will usually be happy to provide one.
In Sri Lanka breastfeeding in public is perfectly acceptable, however, baby-change rooms are few and far between.
Heat and Hydration
As we mentioned before Sri Lanka is hot, and it’s likely your toddler has never been this hot in its short life. That means hydration is key. Keep those fluids up, yes you also mum and dad. This means you will need to have a good sippy cup for your toddler that they can properly drink out of. Ollie drinks loads of water as we offer him his sippy cup 24/7, it’s pretty much always in one of our hands. Tap water is a big no-no for drinking, so always buy bottled water and even use it to brush everyone’s teeth.
We found that if Ollie is over the water, he will drink more when we add coconut water to some of his water. (Only once a day to minimise sugar intake, 100ml coconut/150ml water. Just watch out your buying one without lots of added sugar, or better yet buy fresh ones. We also often add extra water to his bottles of milk to ensure he is totally hydrated.
Make sure to take some rehydration powder packets with you in case required. They are available however quite difficult to get your hands on, so best to be prepared.
Also, try and avoid being out and about during the midday heat. Conveniently this likely coincides with your little one’s nap time. If they are looking too hot, pour water over their head or wipe them down with a cool and wet cloth. Try and find a shady cool spot to relax or anywhere with aircon. Shops, coffee places, anywhere! Sri Lanka can be super hot for a toddler and their little bodies, so keep them happy and cool as often as possible!
Baths & Showers
We always shower with Ollie to make sure he doesn’t try and drink the water, as he usually tries to drink it if we bath him. Baths are few and far between unless staying in luxury properties.
Most of the time we are having cold showers and he doesn’t seem to mind. I think he’s actually starting to like the cold showers and they help lower his body temperature on those hot days.
Sri Lankan beaches can be quite rough in some areas with strong currents, rips and high waves. This means great surf for adults and bigger kids, but not so much for little ones. Always swim with your little one and stick to the shallows. It would also pay to look into the calmer bay-like beaches where they can easily frolic. Most beaches in Sri Lanka are not patrolled so never take your eyes off your kids.
It goes without saying that you and your toddler should always use sunscreen no matter what time of day. Just short periods in the intense Sri Lankan sun can lead to burns if you aren’t careful. Make sure to always apply consistently during the day. Especially because the little ones seem to quickly sweat off the sunscreen. SPF50+ is the best choice for not just babies but also yourself! Be sun smart guys! Make sure to bring a big bottle with you as it cost much more than from home and the range was poor.
A wide brim hat with a tie-up part under the neck is the best hat to use to ensure that your child can’t pull it off. Ollie hates wearing hats and the tie part is an absolute necessity.
Keep toddlers in the shade as much as possible, young skin is not used to sun exposure like our’s and burns exponentially quicker. If hanging out at the beach you NEED an umbrella, shade sail or to hang under some trees.
This is probably one of the most vital things you need to be paying attention to when travelling Sri Lanka with a toddler. If you don’t you are in for a bad time recovering from sunstroke.
Shopping for supplies
We were concerned about the availability of baby products before travelling to Sri Lanka, however, realised most items can be sourced easily enough. Small convenience stores will often sell things like long-life milk whilst larger supermarkets sell disposable nappies, wipes and imported baby foods. Don’t assume there will be a supermarket in a town you are going to. It’s always best to stock up on items whenever you see a store and are in need.
Naps and Sleeping
When travelling we are quite flexible with daytime naps. Not everyone would agree with our schedule or lack of, but it works for Ollie and us. We were super worried about how we would manage to move around from place to place and do day trips whilst fitting in naps. Ollie used to only sleep in a cot in a dark room with his comfort teddy (monkey). However, two days into our travels and he was sleeping everywhere from taxis, at cafes and by the pool. Try and time longer drives with their general nap time as it is an effective use of time.
Ollie seems to decide when and where he wants to sleep and it works. Of course, if we can see he needs a rest day we chill at home and give him long naps in his travel cot. Otherwise, we try to be home for at least two hours in the day just after lunch when he is usually most sleepy.
We travel with a super lightweight Phil&Teds portacot (weighs 3kg) that sets up super easily. We also carry a mosquito net to cover over it. Often during daytime naps, Ollie would sleep in the room and we would do some work by the front door just outside. Once he nods off we re-enter the room.
The main tourist trail of Sri Lanka is quite spread out with journeys between towns often being a couple of hours minimum. Public transport such as busses and trains are exceptionally cheap (a couple of dollars per trip) but usually overcrowded, hot and slow. With limited time in Sri Lanka and valuing a happy toddler more, we opted to travel in cars. Driving can be fairly chaotic in Sri Lanka and luckily we always had great drivers. However, if they are driving too fast or recklessly, ask them to slow down.
The best tip we can give you is download to your phone the app PickMe. This is essentially the Sri Lankan Uber. It offers tuk-tuks, small cars, larger cars and even vans. You simply type in where you want to go and it will give you a cost figure for each option. Often these prices are cheaper than what you will be able to bargain any taxi drivers too. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to connect you with a driver, but often faster than trying to track one down on your own. We always chose the ‘minicar’ option. These are small hatchbacks that were able to fit Paige, Oliver and myself, plus all of our luggage (we had a lot). If you have a lot of luggage and another person I would probably choose the standard car option.
Car seats are not legally required in Sri Lanka so are very uncommon. Many cars don’t even have the ability to attach them, and they can’t attach on Trains or Tuk-Tuks. If you want to use one, bring it, but they are extremely bulky and hard to carry around. We always had Ollie share a seat-belt with us and requested safe driving. If you hire a driver for your entire Sri Lanka trip they may have a baby seat.
Tuk-tuks are great for going small distances within towns. They could possibly fit 3 adults if you squished but are best suited to 2 adults, some luggage can fit in the back. If flagging down tuk-tuks or taxis always make sure to agree on a price before jumping in or make sure they use the meter. Often you will need to haggle hard to get a good price in the more remote areas, just threaten to walk and find another if they won’t come to the party.
Whilst Sri Lanka was declared malaria-free in 2016, dengue is still a concern. Plus the bites themselves are annoying! We never had any issues with mosquitos during the day, however often come nightfall our rooms in cheaper guesthouses would have a few in there. Every night before bed we spray the room with fly spray and close up everything, leaving the room for 30 minutes to kill any bugs or mosquitoes that could be present. Most places would have mosquitos nets over your bed, however, sometimes they had holes in them. We also took our own mosquito net to cover Ollies portacot.
Make sure to bring baby safe mosquito repellant as it is nearly impossible to find there. We use a RiD Kids+ roll-on and OFF! family care spray, however, there are many options. We also put the repellant patches near his bed and we wear the wrist band repellants as we are always near him.
We don’t travel with a huge amount of toys for Ollie, just a few small ones that he really enjoys. This includes some toy cars, non-toxic crayons, a (super annoying) singing remote control, soft toys and softcover books. We occasionally will buy small things on the go and give them to a local child before we leave. For long journeys or when we are waiting for a long time, we usually have a few educational tv shows saved on our phone.
We hope these tips are helpful and have made you feel like it is less of a challenge to visit Sri Lanka with a toddler or baby!
Please feel free to ask us any questions. We would love to help in any way.