Sri Lanka Customer Reviews
We are very proud of the feedback that we get from our trips and are pleased to share reviews from past travellers. These are kept as up to date as possible. Please have a read through to get a real sense of the kind of experience that you might have on a family holiday in Sri Lanka.
Palmer Family (with children aged 7 & 9)
Travelled Summer 2023
Hi Caroline and Sarah. We had a really wonderful time. Sri Lanka is a very special and beautiful place – it really is a great place for families and has a great variety of experiences. Also, the people were wonderful and friendly without exception. We’d highly recommend Sri Lanka to any other families wanting an interesting holiday. Our driver and guide, Rukshan, was excellent. I think that is something that makes Stubborn Mule holidays really special. Having him with us the whole time to show us the sites, explain what we were seeing, take photos of us and so on really made for a special holiday.
He stopped by the road to get various fruits that we’d never heard of and presented us with flowers every morning. He was amazed that we’d never heard of mangosteen so got us some (after haggling – he’s a local after all!). When we asked about the odd pots by the roadside near Trincomalee, he stopped in minutes so we could try the excellent water buffalo curd and local honey. Absolutely delicious – and wolfed down by all of us!
We were very lucky with the Wilpattu safari as we saw a leopard – it just walked right in front of us! The tented safari camp was fun and a good experience for 1 night. It’s not like an African safari camp but still nice.
The hotel at Sigiriya was in a great location. The children loved it and we had a good time there and around. The sites there (Sigiriya Rock, Dambulla Caves, Polonnaruwa) were great. More for us than for the kids, though they did well going up the rock. One tip for visiting temples though is to take socks as it was too hot in the sun to walk barefoot on some of the floors.
The beach resort was our children’s favourite. It was hot there (38C) but made comfortable by the sea breezes and swimming pool. The catamaran trip was excellent – we saw loads and loads of dolphins and also a small whale (the first they’d seen in 2 months). The rooms there were fine but a little on the cramped side for 4 people. One highlight was seeing the local fishermen fish by hauling in nets to the beach.
A couple of other things I forgot – the elephants were amazing! We saw loads at Minneriya (also eagles, wild boar etc etc) but also by the side of the road, on the road and at the Millenium Elephant Foundation. That was great BTW – we’d been to one in Thailand and this was different and complementary. They gave us good information about the elephants – it was quite something to hold an elephant tooth! They were offering short elephant rides (clearly nationality dependent!) but claimed to be phasing it out. Overall though very worthwhile.
Our driver persuaded us to do a village walk near Hotel Sigiriya. That was great! We spent a long time with a woman and her daughter making and eating various foods. The best coconut sambol we had in Sri Lanka was from there with coconut our guide cut from the tree and then together we scraped out the coconut and made it into a sambol a few minutes later. Highly recommended.
Priestly Family (with child aged 11)
Travelled Summer 2023
Dear Liddy and Jess. The itinerary was the perfect balance of nature, culture and downtime and there wasn’t anything about it that we would change – thank you for pulling this together, and I have to say that the local company you liaise with really managed it so well – everything went to plan, with lots of fun extras offered too. Our Etihad flights all went smoothly (no issue getting seats together) – journey time, whilst long, was manageable and helped by the fact that our first stop was so calm and relaxing….!
First up I have to let you know how incredibly amazing our driver, Mr Ranga, was. He became the unexpected bonus of our trip and we were really sad to say goodbye to him at the airport. He was everything you need/expect from a driver – professional, courteous, safe, confident, punctual, car always clean and comfortable – but he was so much more than that.
His English was very good so he was able to talk to us and answer our questions, generously imparting his knowledge and passion for his country and its people. He was fun and kind and genuinely seemed to care about my family — especially E (he popped into a bookshop to buy her some famous Sri Lankan books when he found out she loved reading and bought her popcorn to feed the fish by the river).
He became a friend and his wonderful service and genuine care enhanced our holiday. Please do make sure that his local employer is aware of how wonderful Mr Ranga was.
WOW! What an amazing introduction to Sri Lankan hospitality. The hotel and staff were faultless – such beautiful and comfortable rooms and attentive staff. There was only one other family there for one night, so we felt like we had our own private estate and pool! The estate itself was stunning – so green and relaxing, E loved watching the chipmunks run around! We went on a bike tour around the gardens, also visiting a local cashew factory and coconut factory. The food was a real highlight, all so fresh and grown on the estate, curries were incredible, and breakfast a feast to behold (no need for lunch!). We were served tea and cake every afternoon which was delicious.
We enjoyed our trip to the Nature reserve and had a wonderful guide who was so knowledgeable – just as well as E had a lot of questions! Overall, it was a wonderful and calming experience, just what we needed after a long flight and we’re very glad we opted to stay here at the start of our trip.
Big Game Safari
E loved the safari (especially seeing the sloth bear and monkeys), so I’m glad we did it, but definitely not the most comfortable experience – it was soooo hot in those tents!!! One night only was just about manageable! We loved having our dinner outside under the stars and E twisted our arm to do the optional morning safari as she enjoyed it so much and was desperate to see a leopard.
A lovely hotel with good and comfortable accommodation but it was the staff that made this place amazing. It was the start of their season so they were very quiet and they literally couldn’t do enough for us, they even treated us to a private table Cotu one evening and E loved playing chef! They were so friendly and accommodating. The pool wasn’t ready on our first day but was a lovely place to relax at the end of our busy days thereafter. Given our location, we opted to eat out and experience some local food/restaurants for some of the time we were there. Our driver provided good recommendations – we couldn’t believe how cheaply we could eat such amazing food!
Dambulla caves were extraordinary, and climbing Sigiriya was one of our highlights – unforgettable (but not for the faint-hearted, especially on a windy day!!). Simply stunning — some of our best photos too! In the afternoon our driver recommended a local country tour (bullock ride, boat trip and insight into local cooking) – we’re so glad we did this, it was really interesting and we all loved helping to prepare the roties and coconut sambal (and enjoyed eating them afterwards!).
M and I really enjoyed the historical ruins at Polonnaruwa, but as it was a really hot day E found the sight-seeing a little tedious after a while, and the ground was scorching, even through socks! Two hours was probably about right. The elephant safari was fantastic – we saw over 200 elephants at Kaudualla, gathered around the lake and we watched them for hours, another unforgettable experience – we took so many photos! (on the way there we even had a couple of wild elephants cross the road which was unexpected but apparently not uncommon!)
Jungle Beach lodge
An undeniably beautiful, exotic hotel in a wonderful setting, but if I am being honest it lacked the personal, authentic charm of our other hotels. It was a great place to relax and enjoy the coast, but on balance, we preferred the less sophisticated yet more personal hospitality that the other hotels offered. That said, the lodge upgraded us to a jungle room with an outdoor shower (E was most impressed – especially when she showered with a falcon watching over her one morning!), and the pool man and lifeguards on the beach were all excellent – lending us fins when ours were lost to a large wave and even spent time helping E to improve her breaststroke technique.
The food here was really good, but as we don’t eat seafood our choice was more limited and often less ‘Sri Lankan’ – at first it was a welcome change to have a burger rather than a curry, but after two days reprieve we were keen to savour more typical cuisine again!
The pigeon island snorkelling tour offered by the hotel was ridiculously expensive, but our driver arranged this for us locally and it was much better value. We had as much time as we wanted, which was welcome as we had a fabulous experience swimming with sharks and turtles. M has scubered in some incredible locations and he loved the snorkelling experience, saying it exceeded expectations. Another incredible highlight of our trip.
The catamaran trip was also fabulous, we got to see Blue Fin whales and Spinner dolphins, after which E took great delight in throwing herself off the boat with some friends she made followed by some SUP fun. Such fun! En route to the mountains, we stopped at the spice garden – fantastic experience and E was so excited to see cocoa growing (and so of course we bought lots of cocoa powder home!)
Another wonderful setting, I could look at that view all day – further enhanced by a G&T in hand! Our room was spacious and comfortable, we did have a bit of an ant problem that the staff were conscious of and trying to manage. It didn’t detract from our experience though (comes with the territory when you’re in a ground-floor room in this kind of environment!).
The estate was beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed our tea-picking tour with Mr Das, who was so chatty and kind, especially with Esme (even buying her a gift when we left). The food was excellent, and the staff were friendly and attentive, helping us to arrange a tuc tuc to return us from One Tree Hill after a hike one afternoon through local villages and the countryside – another favourite experience.
Walking through the estate and bathing in the waterfalls was such a treat, we could have happily stayed at the Asburnham for another day! We played tennis on the old-fashioned court and E enjoyed a pony ride. We didn’t use the pool here as the temperatures were cooler (but that was welcome after the hot east coast!).
We enjoyed our trip to Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth which was fascinating. Our driver also offered us the option of seeing a gem factory and a wood factory – both were interesting and an insight into local industries, and thankfully we didn’t feel ‘too much’ pressure to make any unwanted purchases! The botanical gardens were impressive, and the colony of fruit bats was a real spectacle hanging from the trees. We also visited a tea factory as we left Kandy, never again will I drink my morning cup of tea in the same way!
Our visit to the Elephant Foundation was truly memorable – we learned so much and treasured our time with these amazing, intelligent animals. Walking alongside our elephant was magical but we will never forget our experience of washing – and being totally and utterly soaked – by Denga. Hilarious
Another lovely little hotel, very clean and convenient, with a very chilled vibe – E was delighted that she was allowed to swim at 10pm! It was interesting to be in Negombo over a weekend, watching locals and tourists enjoy the beach (although possibly a bit too busy for us). Super convenient for the airport and a lovely, simple way to finish our trip.
It was a truly special holiday that we will remember forever.
Thanks again, and very happy to chat at any time if helpful.
Marshall Family (with children aged 7 & 9)
Travelled Summer 2023
Hi Liddy. Thank you to you and Jess for organising such a fantastic holiday. We had a great time and really enjoyed the sheer variety of activities that Sri Lanka has to offer within a reasonably small area, whilst also appreciating we were still only touching the surface; there were lots of highlights and the whole family had different personal favourites.
– National Parks. The variability of experience in the three national parks (Wilpattu, Kaudulla, Gal Oya) was good, given that Wilpattu had a high level of animals and birds, Kaudulla meant we got to see whole herds of elephants (and up close), and in Gal Oya, we practically had the place to ourselves on both the land and lake safaris.
– Sigiriya and also Pidirangala at sunset
– Climbing “Monkey Mountain” (from Gal Oya Lodge) at dawn was our son’s favourite
– The food! Everyone got into Sri Lankan cuisine and particularly the sheer range of different vegetable curries!
– Guide. Very knowledgeable, both on wildlife and cultural items (he was very good at Sigiriya and Dambulla Caves). It also helped us get into the Sri Lankan cuisine and culture with various treats along the route and some good restaurant stops (one in particular in a countryside setting near Polonnawura was amazing)
Mason Smith Family (with children aged 15 & 17)
Travelled Summer 2023
Dear Liddy. Well of course you know that the answer will be that we had an absolutely wonderful time! It was a really special holiday, particularly as the boys are now older and so better travellers and good company in their own right. We fell in love with Sri Lanka – it is such a beautiful country and the people were welcoming and friendly. There was a definite sense of needing more tourism and we were asked many times to promote Sri Lanka on social media, leave reviews etc. I think the itinerary you helped us create was just about right with a good balance between some busy days sightseeing and then some more relaxing days.
I think it was wise to do the cultural sites earlier on in the holiday. Our driver, Bandara, was fantastic. He was so lovely, accommodating, informative, patient, and helpful, and was great with the children.
The first hotel after our flight was just the ticket to relax into our holiday. So tranquil and beautiful. The staff there were brilliant at talking us through the different foods and the guided walk, tasting different local fruits straight from the trees was interesting. It was great not to have to worry about dinner, this being already included.
The safari in Wilpattu was an experience. I’m glad we did it, and it was the boys’ first experience- but it was a bit whacky races of many jeeps whizzing up and down the same roads and congregating around the same animal. I’m glad we did this on what we were told was a quiet day in the park! The safari tents were pretty basic. We liked the outdoor eating experience there.
Hotels were generally excellent and lots had a real wow factor. The beach resort was beautiful and we loved our swim-up rooms. The catamaran trip was fun – we only wished it had been longer as we felt we didn’t have time to enjoy everything on offer in the time we had. We would certainly have been up for a full-day trip. The food on the trip was unexpectedly great! The boat crew were lovely and let the kids (including the big one I’m married to) have a go at steering the catamaran.
Our last hotel was amazing too, and they were so accommodating in letting us keep our room until the afternoon because we had a late flight.
Kandy was crazily busy due to the Perahera so you couldn’t walk around it. I’m glad we got to see the Temple of the Tooth and see so many elephants however we couldn’t explore the town, walk around the lake or get to the botanical gardens as everything was so crowded and busy. Had we known it would be like that we would probably have opted to visit it at a different point in the itinerary- we were there on the penultimate day and it was absolutely heaving, like a royal wedding crowd on steroids! Quite an experience though.
The experience was overwhelmingly positive and we loved our holiday. Support from Stubborn Mule has been excellent and I have already recommended you to others.
Ringrose Family (with children aged 14 & 16)
Travelled Summer 2023
Hi Molly and Kelly. We had a totally amazing trip and I hope managed to impart some of the wonderful culture to our children. Sri Lanka is such an amazing diverse country and a great place for families to visit. Also a lot more Dutch and French than Brits, so we didn’t feel overrun. Bandara our guide was superb. Having a single guide for the whole trip was excellent, and I don’t think we’d have wanted to drive regularly. What made him so special was the little extras – stopping to highlight local vegetation, chatting about culture and then some of the extra stops we made.
A couple of highlights in the Sigiriya area were local massages and a village tour via ox-cart and boat where we got to cook and eat with a local family and learn about village life. Also, a visit to an indigenous village was great fun next to Gal Oya National Park.
The whole trip was a great balance of relaxation, culture and activities. The children found some of the culture in one go fairly repetitive, but nonetheless really interesting. The Sigiriya climb was great – definitely best done early in the morning. And the Buddha caves were also interesting. The extensive ruins were less of a hit with the family – and I think you can probably do the 3 highlights as opposed to travel around the entire site. Particularly if you are doing it in the heat.
Local people were immensely helpful and friendly and really wanted to speak English. They regularly came up to speak to us – perhaps a result of having lost tourism for a few years. We never felt under pressure from local people hawking as you often can get.
Food was generally excellent – in particular the quality and cleanliness. The Western dishes were sometimes a Sri Lankan take on them and cooked in coconut oil, but otherwise worked well.
Activities were fabulous. The catamaran trip was really fun and benefitted from being a small number of people. One family was staying on board and was expecting (and had paid for) a solo cruise, but it all worked out.
White water rafting was also excellent and well-run. The standard of health and safety was very high – local police seemed to monitor all boats to ensure that everyone had lifejackets for example. We organised our own side trips to the mangroves and then to Pigeon Island National Park, both of which are highly recommended! We managed to catch an eel from the boat and saw sharks while snorkeling…
Final thoughts & ideas:
– Itinerary (which I know we chose!) worked well, particularly with the unscheduled beach stop just before Galle.
– Definitely buy local SIM cards at the airport. I think they cost USD 7 each for 50 GB (loads!) and wifi was patchy if not non-existent.
– Try the local food early on! I had egg hoppers with curry on the first morning – bizarre initially but totally delicious. We didn’t eat from local stalls, largely as our guide recommended that we didn’t.
– Speak to the locals – most speak English and are delighted to practice, or your guide can translate. They love telling you stories and finding out about you.
– It is a very male-focused society. All questions/bills/etc were always directed to C and most interactions (eg hotels, restaurants) were with men who worked, while women tended to stay at home.
– Make sure you always have local currency for tips! ATMs worked really well.
– Sri Lanka felt like an excellent way to experience the sub-continent in Asia, but in a less hurried/more friendly and secure way.
I hope that is helpful, and thank you once again for your help in organising and sorting our problems!
Treharne Family (with children aged 15 & 19)
Travelled Summer 2023
We used Stubborn Mule, on recommendation from some friends, to book our Belize holiday in 2022. We were pleased with the service and had a great holiday so decided to use SM again. We did not shop around for comparable or cheaper prices as we trusted SM to help create a magical holiday at a cost which was good value, not necessarily cheap, but reflecting value for money in relation to the quality of the holiday, which includes ease of booking and assistance if required. What made SM stand out for me during our Belize holiday was that I had a query about our ferry transfer from Caye Caulker to the mainland. I emailed for support and clarification and received a substantive reply within a few hours, which was impressive bearing in mind the time difference.
I have found SM to be very good at reviewing their initial outline holiday itinerary and suggesting alternative hotels. For our budget to work, we asked SM to find one or two cheaper hotels for us while upgrading or staying longer at certain other destinations. They are very patient and accomplished at this.
We had organised our trip so that we had the same driver for the entire holiday. We had never travelled with a personal driver before so did not really understand how it would work. I asked a number of questions before we departed which were answered comprehensively but what I had not realised was just how good our driver was. Thilak was brilliant. He did not just get us from A to B safely but also acted as tour guide on occasions, made restaurant recommendations, sightseeing suggestions, and advised on the best times to visit places to avoid the crowds or the heat or to get the best views.
He was a font of knowledge and a very generous and humble individual. On one occasion we went to a restaurant that did not take credit card payments. I had not brought any cash with me. Thilak paid the bill and I paid him back the following morning, thus avoiding a very embarrassing situation.
Sri Lanka is a wonderful place, with wonderful people and wonderful food. We chose it as a holiday destination as it has a bit of everything and that variety satisfied my wife and I, and also my 19 and 15-year-old children. History, beaches, palaces, caves, wild animals, hikes, cross-country train journeys, ancient ruins, snorkeling, surfing – it has the lot.
I know that a number of providers offer and organise trips to Sri Lanka. I would recommend instructing SM to source, price, organise and book your trip to Sri Lanka. They were so patient with finding alternative hotels, locations, trips and routes for us. They were extremely helpful, providing additional information that I may have requested, even down to logistics like withdrawing Sri Lankan rupees at the airport, buying a Sri Lankan SIM card there too.
I was initially concerned by how much reliance we would place on our driver as he had our entry fees and vouchers for hotels and trips. There was absolutely no need to even give it a thought as SM had the whole holiday organised to military precision.
And finally, the way the team dealt with our hotel room issue ( we did not complain to SM but they still took on the role of sorting it out) was very impressive.
Hill Family (with children aged 10 & 13)
Travelled Summer 2023
Hi Claire. We had a fabulous trip thanks! We felt the trip over all was superb, and we’re already eyeing up the website to see where to go next!
Arnold Family (with children aged 12 & 14)
Travelled Summer 2023
Hi Emma. We had a truly glorious holiday. There are very small things that would be tweaked to make it the most unbelievably perfect holiday but it really was excellent. Here are a couple of examples of the small things: the wi-fi in all the hotels was patchy and intermittent at best and organising an eSim for our phones would have been a great idea… But wow, really, it was an excellent experience, Emma. We would certainly consider using Stubborn Mule again. Thanks!
Lewis Family (with children aged 10 & 11)
Travelled Easter 2022
Dear Helene. Thank you so much for arranging our trip to Sri Lanka at such short notice. We were so grateful for your help and had a fabulous time. We loved Sigiriya and the hotel was one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. We fed this back to the owners but wanted to let you know. It was beautiful accommodation and absolutely 5 star care. Food was incredible, curries and western food – all very cheap!! An incredible find by your team.
We added on a safari at Eco Park (apparently where most of the elephants are in this area currently) which was absolutely incredible.
We rushed through Kandy and enjoyed the cultural show that the guide helped us book.
Ella was fantastic, could easily have stayed a few more days. The guest house was great. The extra camp bed wasn’t really suitable for an older child but we managed to put the mattress on the floor which was okay.
The beach hotel was great.
Please can you give feedback to your local partner about how excellent our guide, Abi, was. He worked really hard to make our trip memorable. He was an excellent driver and really attentive to the needs of the children. We tipped him well but he was very keen for you to feedback to his company on how pleased we were with him!
Looking for ideas now for our next trip!!!!
Many thanks again.
Melling Family (with 2 grandfathers and 1 child age 11)
Travelled Easter 2022
Hello Kelly – I just wanted to say thank you for organising and helping us with our trip. We had such an amazing time! The itinerary was perfect, as were all the activities. Our driver was so helpful and lovely company. It was an unforgettable experience for all of us. Thank you very much! I’m already wondering what adventures we can have next!
Murugesans Family (with children aged 8 & 11)
Travelled Christmas/New Year 2021/2022
Hello Kelly! Sorry, it’s taken me a while to reply. Unfortunately, we were straight back to work after our amazing trip and absorbed in the day-to-day madness of life which if anything has only added to the magic of our time in Sri Lanka. Wow! What a trip! Dinesh our driver is just a fantastic individual. Knowledgeable, fun, kind, friendly and so proud of his country. We could not have asked for a better host. Thank you so much to your colleague for reassuring us before we went. She was spot on.
Yes, there were queues at petrol stations but Dinesh managed these with his charm and grin, and if anything it just added to the adventure. I would have no hesitation in reassuring and encouraging other families to visit Sri Lanka.
The drive to Kandy was fun with well-timed stops for king coconut, shopping, and photos. The stop at the Millennium Elephant Sanctuary was fun. Simpson’s Forest is beautiful. We enjoyed our time in Kandy despite the mixed weather. I think we could have easily spent longer here. We enjoyed the botanical gardens, our lunch, and the visit to Buddhas Tooth Temple but would have loved to have seen the cultural dancing and tea plantations too.
We enjoyed the Dambulla Caves but Pidurangala was sadly rained off – we took Dinesh for afternoon tea instead.
Sigiriya left us speechless! The local guide was great. Polonnaruwa was very hot but a lot of fun on the bikes – it was nice to stretch our legs after time in the car.
The elephant game drive was so much fun and a perfect balance after the cultural morning for the boys… (and us!). Really incredible to see so many elephants old and young everywhere! The elephant population seems to be thriving and very well respected.
Despite being full of Sinhalese visitors, the Kalpitiya resort staff were welcoming and the resort stunning! We had an amazing time joining in the New Year celebrations and chatting to other guests. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. The lagoon is beautiful!
Our overall impression is of a beautiful country with welcoming staff. We would love to go back and visit the south another time. We would completely recommend Sri Lanka to other families hopefully by next season Covid will be less restrictive and the politicians more organised!
Negombo felt over touristy but the guesthouse was beautiful and again the staff fantastic! We’d definitely recommend it.
Thank you Kelly for all your hard work in organising our trip and to all the team at Stubborn Mule.
Nottingham Family (three generations with child aged 10)
Travelled January 2020
Helene – Thank you very much for organising a very successful, well-balanced trip for a group with varying interests and needs, we all had a wonderful time. Your notes and advice were excellent and added greatly to our ease of travelling. Too many highlights to list, the train trip probably tops my list – with first class tickets provided free of charge by the company, and amazing tea garden and mountain views.
We kept pretty much to the itinerary, but several of the extras suggested by our excellent guide, Jude… Jude was a very good driver – not easy in SriLanka! – and shared his knowledge and good local contacts with enthusiasm and sensitivity.
In Jude’s home area particularly, Kandy, we enjoyed the cultural centre dancing display and also a boat trip on the lake, as well of course the included elephant centre and botanic gardens. The home stay family there were very pleasant, but I am not sure I would call the food, though OK, the best we had in Sri Lanka and the facilities were indeed very simple.
Ella was interesting, the view after the climb to Little Adam’s peak amazing, but we might have preferred some time in colonial Nuwara Elia, tho I know time was tight.
One extra at the very start of the holiday was a boat trip in Negombo on the lagoon, a fruit picnic sitting on plastic chairs in the water with monkeys on the nearby island and feeding from our boat – magic!
Thanks for arranging a happy and memorable expedition, which will long stay with all three of us for a long time.
Nath Family (11 adults and children aged 6 & 9)
Travelled Christmas 2019 / New Year 2020
Hello Lee – It was a fantastic holiday. Sri Lanka is a very beautiful island with friendly people and the food is delicious. Your help with the organisation of our trip and your flexibility and interest was outstanding. Thank you! Our trip demanded quite complex organisation with 13 family members coming from different parts of the world and W and L arriving a week later than everyone else – but you were completely on top of it all and not phased by it. The guidance notes were very helpful. We would certainly use Stubborn Mule again and recommend you to our friends.
Family R (with children aged 6 & 11)
Travelled Christmas 2018 / New Year 2019
Hi Liddy – Overall the trip was a huge success. You were right about Sri Lanka, I felt safe there as a female traveller and we had such a varied holiday. It’s buoyed our confidence, travelling as a trio so we will be back for more. Thank you again for your help at CoCoBay…the staff made our four days there fantastic, despite the poor start. I suspect we just arrived at the end of an exceptionally busy period. I’ve just given them a five star on TripAdvisor.
I would add that Rukgala was the stand-out hotel for us. I think it worked especially well as a single parent as you sit on tables with other people and there’s a mix of families, solo travellers, couples and small groups of friends. We had Room 4 (I think) which was close to the yoga so I could get three yoga sessions in with the girls within reach. It provided a bit of adult conversation and me-time in the 15 days. The yoga sessions were really high quality and eased stiffness after sitting in planes and cars. The rooms and food are superlative too.
Where would you recommend next Liddy??
Elliot Family (with children aged 2 & 4)
Travelled New Year 2018/19
Hi Lee – With regards to Sri Lanka what can I say but wow, wow and more wow. I have told so many people that this is the place to visit with children. So unspoilt where we were. People so friendly and so many interesting and varied things to see and then of course the pool to have fun in. I couldn’t fault any part of the holiday – the itinerary was perfect for our children.
I think what I really loved about your company was the type of accommodation you put forwards to us, the boutique hotels with the personal touches. I could see that lots of research had been done on the accommodation by your company.
Our driver was out of this world, his name was Danesh and if you could please send an email to his firm as he is one in a million! He made out holiday, understanding us as a family, what our needs were, when we needed out own time, also offering us fantastic information.
Harrison Family (with 3 year old)
Travelled Christmas 2018 / New Year 2019 to Sri Lanka and Mumbai
Dear Emily. Everything about the trip was fantastic and it exceeded our expectations in many ways. The hotels were all perfect, we particularly loved the Wallawwa, it was the perfect way to recover from the flight. The Sri Sharavi hotel was so beautiful, amazing service, brilliant pool and the perfect way to relax at the beach.
The Ashburnham Estate was our favourite place though, the location and views were breathtaking, all the staff were incredibly welcoming and friendly and it felt like a home from home (in a tea plantation!) We had high tea on the top of the hill with views all over the mountain ranges, homemade cakes, fresh tea and gin and tonic and watched the sunset before getting our tuk tuk back. A perfect way to end a day of picking tea and swimming in waterfalls.
The trips to Dambulla and Polannaruwa were fascinating. L really loved the jeep safari – although she enjoyed the bumpy jeep ride the most – but it was amazing to see the elephants up close. C was quite overwhelmed by his first sighting!
Sigiriya was wonderful, although L and I only walked to the bottom of it. C went all the way up and took some amazing photos from the top.
The Millennium Elephant Foundation was also a highlight, we had a lovely guide (who was obviously very experienced in using all types of mobile phone cameras!) who explained their work, let us walk with them, feed them and then the washing was brilliant. L was a little shy of them to start with but got into the water and spent a long time washing him. It was a real privilege.
We had a great time at the beach and the whale watching was a success as we saw one enormous blue whale up close. Quite something. It took us a long time to get there though and we were beginning to lose hope but it was worth the early start and the long journey.
Galle was very hot but we enjoyed having time to ourselves to wander about and do some shopping!
Deepal, our driver, was a lovely man. Very knowledgeable and kind, he gave us enough information and made sure everything ran efficiently. Obviously very experienced and had done the tours a lot so everything ran well. He switched some things around to give us less time in the car, which was appreciated. He wasn’t the greatest conversationalist but he was warm and friendly and it meant that we could just sit quietly when we wanted to. We asked to go to a beach we had been recommended on the way to Galle, which he didn’t know about but he did the research and found the best spot for us.
We absolutely loved Sri Lanka, the food, people, culture, nature, beaches – and because everything was so well organised there was no stress or anxiety about any element of the trip, we could just relax and absorb it all. L took it all in her stride, she was completely unphased by the heat, moving around, all the changes in hotels and the people. She was just excited by all the new things she was experienced and didn’t mind all the attention she got for being a little blond girl. She was often the only child where we went but everyone did as much as they could to make her comfortable and welcome.
India – Mumbai
Mumbai was a bit of a culture shock but wonderful in its own way. The hotel was nice but so big. It was a very different experience to all the wonderful small hotels in Sri Lanka. We did have a bit of trouble on the 2nd night with noisy neighbours, we complained in the morning and they moved us to a 2 room suite on the 31st floor with views of marine drive so that more than made up for a disturbed night!
We decided to take ourselves around Mumbai and try and experience the city our own way and we walked miles on both days. It isn’t enormously buggy friendly but we just followed the locals and crossed the busy roads when they did and managed to avoid getting run over!!
The city is noisy and so busy but we saw all the sights and enjoyed walking the side streets and seeing the real city. We didn’t get any hassle from anyone, they were also fascinated by L and she got lots of very kind attention from the locals. We got a taxi up to the Hanging Gardens to see where C’s dad had played and then had a slightly hair raising walk to Breach Candy where Chris’ dad had grown up in the 40s and 50s. It was obviously quite different but a special experience for C.
All in all, the trip was a huge success and we want to thank you so much for the trip you put together for us. Everything went so smoothly it meant that we could just absorb the adventure. It was everything we had hoped for and your amazing planning and organising and recommendations made that possible, there is no way we could have put that together on our own. We will definitely be using your services again and I have already recommended you to several friends with children.
Raincock Family (with children aged 4 & 6)
Travelled Christmas 2018 / New Year 2019
Hi Lee. We just got back! It was amazing! Loved it all! Now we would like to explore the option for Mexico, flying out Boxing Day 2019 for 2 weeks.
Milne Family (with children aged 14 & 17)
Travelled Summer 2018
We all had a fantastic time in Sri Lanka. Thank you so much for all your help and ideas and planning our itinerary. I think we all agreed that the best bit was the amount of variety of activities that we did – we all had something different for our “favourite activity” of the holiday. We enjoyed having some busy parts, and the relaxing parts felt just about right, as we were always ready to move on.
Right from the start, everything went so smoothly – our driver, Asela was so helpful and nothing was too much trouble. He was very friendly and always had a smile on his face. We enjoyed playing Carrom with him at Rafters retreat.
All the hotels were perfect.
We didn’t go to Minneriya National Park – but to Kaudulla as that had the most elephants – we saw hundreds, which was amazing!
We were so pleased we went up Pidurangula – not many people we met had done this, and it was a real highlight.
Rafter’s retreat was certainly an experience! (Not much sleep was had!), but they really looked after us on the white water rafting.
The Millennium Elephant Foundation was great – we enjoyed our experience very much.
We were in Kandy for the Esala Perahera Festival. Asela advised us not to buy seated tickets and we were so glad that we didn’t, as we enjoyed being in the hustle and bustle of the crowds, and being able to leave when we wanted.
Thank you so much again. We will be recommending you to everyone we know! We do not have any immediate plans for a holiday next year (daughter is off to Indonesia with school!), but we will certainly be in touch in the future when we plan our next adventure!
Powell Family (with children aged 3 & 5)
Travelled Summer 2018
Hi Helene. I wanted to send you a quick note to say we had an absolutely amazing time in Sri Lanka. We couldn’t believe how much we managed to do during our time there. It was such a varied trip and my husband and children were also pleased with the holiday. We saw about 60 elephants on one of the safaris and also managed to see whales in Trinco. Our driver also made the trip, he was super friendly with the kids and helped carry our daughter whenever she was tired!
We had a fabulous time in the tea plantation, and I would recommend that you add on further tours. The tea tours / cooking classes and hikes can be arranged when staying in the Ashburnham Estate. The Tea tour was $30 per adult and $10 for our young children and took around 2 hours.
We have fallen in love with the country and wanted to thank you for arranging such a fabulous trip for us. It was truly a great a few weeks.
We’d like you to help plan our next holiday!
Rist Family (with children aged 8 & 9)
Travelled Summer 2018
Hi Lee. We had an amazing holiday and absolutely loved it all. The children both want to move to Sri Lanka because they had such a brilliant time there. Thank you so much for organising it. It all went completely to plan and we didn’t encounter any problems along the way. Our driver, Jude, was lovely: he was very helpful, flexible, patient with the kids (and us!) and answered all our questions. We would definitely recommend Stubborn Mule to our friends and family.
Henderson Family (with children aged 18 & 20)
Travelled Summer 2018
All in all a memorable trip in a very beautiful country… Horathapola and Raj were excellent and a fantastic start to the holiday. Two nights were just right… one would have been too short. Wilpattu Park was good and the big game camp was very good, the host really tried their best with the bbq etc.
The day planned for Sigiriya rock visit was a highly significant Poya Day when everyone and their entire family were pushing and shoving to climb up Sigiriya and detracted from the overall experience …on reflection swapping Sigiriya for Dambulla would have been better Dambulla was lovely and compact.
Polonarruwa was very spread out and probably better done by bike rather than into and out of the 4wd.
Trip to pigeon island was lovely (Nivali).
Ashburnham estate was absolutely wonderful and just the ticket after all the temple visits as was the tea visit and general ambience…a little gem.
Kandy was a disappointment as the visit to the temple of tooth was mediocre at best…
Millennium Elephant Foundation was wonderful getting up front and very close to these beautiful animals.
Wallawwa was another lovely hotel to wind down and relax before flying home.
Malone – several families, group of 15, from age 9 to mid-seventies
Travelled Summer 2018
Dear Helene – Thank you so much for making our holiday a total success. Everything worked like clockwork. Coach perfect, we all had a seat plus one! The driver was excellent, as was his helper, and Patum very helpful. Hotels and rooms were delightful and perfect for our needs. Each one had organised our rooms so little ones could be with their parents etc. Breakfasts and extras great. The trips all worked perfectly plus!! So again, many thanks, we enjoyed every minute. A fantastic way for us to celebrate our anniversary. The children had a ball, so many experiences.
Griffin Family (with children aged 9 & 12)
Travelled Summer 2018
Hi Lee! – I’m so sorry I’ve not made any effort to properly thank you for all your work sorting things out for us. We did have an amazing time and have some very happy memories (plus several thousand photos. Elephants mainly. Lots. Of. Elephants.) We did mean to send some of the kids pics in to your competition, but that scoundrel we all call time ran out on us again. Saw the winners though and some lovely pics in there.
Wallis Family (with children aged 12, 16 & 18)
Travelled Summer 2018
Dear Helene. We had a wonderful two weeks in beautiful Sri Lanka. The schedule was excellent and gave us a good variety of activities, culture, accommodation and adventure to keep everyone entertained. Particular mention must be given to our driver Ajhid. He was fantastic. Always cheerful, helpful, informative and happy.
He did not have enough seat belts in the car and I was not happy (you have seen the driving in Sri Lanka!) so with no issue or worry he left us at Wilpattu and arranged for seatbelts to be inserted. They should really have been there to begin with, but it was not his fault and he sorted the problem out with a smile.
He continued to be a legend. On one occasion he stopped at a temple we were passing and showed us how people offered food and prayed to Buddha and gave us a brief history of the religion. He was friendly and well known to people everywhere we went so we were able to witness the famous hospitality and generosity of the locals first hand. One evening in Nilaveli he asked if we would like to have a meal out of the hotel and took us to a local family to eat which was delicious. We felt no pressure to do anything but he always had additional ideas for interesting stop-off’s or stunning views.
There were really too many highlights to single out just a few but we all loved the Minneriya Elephants! The safari driver was excellent and got us really up close and personal with them. It was a real privilege to see nearly fifty elephants making their way to bathe in the lake.
The snorkelling at Pigeon Island was amazing. F and J swam over a shark (harmless!) and we all marvelled at the array of colourful fish in the coral. (We were advised to get an early boat to Pigeon Island as it gets very busy – good advice!). Visiting the elephants at the Millennium Foundation was a real joy as we got to wash them and the boys got to sit on one elephants back whilst she squirted them with water!
The Ashburnham Estate was very high (slightly hairy driving up there) but allowed for stunning views and a real insight into the tea plantation’s past. We visited the ladies tea picking on the hill during a tour and tasted the local tea. It piqued our interest so much that our driver arranged for us to visit a tea factory to see what happened to the leaves once they left the estate, which was very interesting. The food there was delicious.
The stay at the breath-taking Nilaveli Beach resort mid-way was a perfectly timed hiatus and allowed us to rest and re-group for the remainder of the trip.
Re things we could have missed…The initial boat trip along the canal was not great. We didn’t see much wildlife and the boat broke down many times due to the amount of rubbish in the canal. They were very pleasant and happy but it was our first activity and not a great introduction to the trip.
The whole trip was a wonderful insight into the many facets that make up the beauty of Sri Lanka, from the backdrop of the rich and diverse historical, religious and cultural influences of these welcoming and generous people, to the ever-changing splendour of the landscapes and climate.
Thank you for organising this memorable trip for us. We will be coming back to Stubborn Mule for more!
Shipp Family (with children aged 7 & 9)
Travelled Summer 2018
Hi Liddy – We had the most fabulous trip. So many adventures and a huge melting pot of different experiences… Thank you so much for arranging a trip full of so many precious memories. I really felt you listened to what we wanted and delivered something special.
Edwards Family (Grandparents with children aged 11 & 13)
Travelled Summer 2018
Dear Kelly – We had a wonderful trip and really enjoyed it all. It was an excellent mix of cultural interest such as Dambulla, Sigiriya and other temples etc plus wildlife viewing and local learning such as the cookery class in Ashburnham (brilliant) and the coconut tour and tea tour, both very good. We loved Horathapola and Ashburnham very much. Both places epitomised our favourite sort of accommodation, small, employing local people, environmentally aware, immersed in their communities and very comfortable, with excellent food and a welcoming atmosphere… We had a great time and would recommend our holiday to any family. Thank you so much for arranging this trip for us.
Herring Family (with children aged 7 & 9)
Travelled Summer 2018
Dear Liddy – I am so sorry it has taken so long for me to get round to writing to thank you for organising another fantastic trip for us to Sri Lanka, we really had a ball! From the off the trip was fantastic. Our driver Jaggard was a big character, lots of fun and showed us some great sights. All the accommodation was fabulous, it’s so hard to name a favourite as they were all so different and equally stunning!
I particularly liked Jim’s farm and the plantation style hotel in Kandy.
The kids (and us) thoroughly enjoyed the elephants and we had a truly memorable day at the orphanage and some magic photos!
The pace of the trip was perfect with two nights in each place so we got a feel of different areas and the chill out on the beach at the end was fabulous!
The food was delicious and G in particular enjoyed curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner! The Sri Lankan people were so kind and genuinely lovely and so sweet to the kids, and kept stroking B’s blond hair, which she found a bit odd to start with!
All in all a fantastic trip and we have many, many happy memories!
Many thanks once again and no doubt we will be in touch again soon regarding another trip.
Shingler/Jackson Family (with children aged 13 & 15)
Travelled Summer 2018
Dear Kelly. We loved all of the accommodation. It just surpassed all of our expectations. The rooms were amazing, spacious, clean, beautifully decorated. The service was fantastic, we could no way have chosen better ourselves. Thank you so much for the efforts in finding us such amazing places to stay. The itinerary was also pretty perfect – just as we were exhausted with a week of sightseeing, we had four nights at the beach to recuperate!
We loved the boat trip, the safaris, Sigirya rock, Pidurangula, the elephant foundation – it was all amazing, and there was something for everyone. Actually, having the elephant foundation on the last day meant we felt that there was no dip at the end of the holiday, as both the kids said that was their favourite thing. So on the whole, the balance of activities worked really well.
The Wilpattu Safaris and the night in the campsite was really special, and something we will all remember for a long time. I would definitely recommend that. The elephant safari was also brilliant – we saw so many elephants!
The beach hotel was beautiful -we walked to a couple of the other hotels on the beach and we were definitely in the best one! That was a real treat for all of us.
…. We had a brilliant holiday and we would definitely book with you again. We could not have organised this so well for ourselves, and it was very nice to have all that done for us, and done so well.
Many thanks for your help with booking and your patience at answering all my questions! You did a great job, and we will remember this holiday for a long time.
Brealey Family (with children aged 10,12 & 14)
Travelled Summer 2018
Hi Kelly – All in all, highly recommendable. There was not too much of any one thing e.g. temples, the weather was generally hot and sunny (not humid), the people were incredibly friendly, no hassle, everything felt (and smelt!) clean, and the food was plentiful, fresh, and delicious. Here’s some feedback from the holiday:
- Flights were all good
- Driver was easy to find at the airport and proved popular with all throughout – more on him later
- ATMs were not behaving at the airport but Ase, the driver, knew where to find ATMs that worked with foreign bank cards almost wherever we went
- Villa Green Inn was very nice. Lovely fresh food and two warm swimming pools. Rooms were simple (we don’t need complicated) and comfortable. Probably worth pointing out that this hotel is fairly isolated – we just stayed around the pool.
- Negombo lagoon boat safari was great fun – saw loads of wildlife incl baby crocs and large monitor lizards. Wasn’t expecting much from this and we were happily proved wrong
- Wilpattu was great fun. Our safari guide was friendly, but had limited grasp of English, but seemed very capable of spotting wildlife and knew the English names for the animals. Since we were in the back of the jeep, and he was in the cab, his lack of English was not a problem. We were very grateful for his patience in tracking down the animals especially leopards, and his ability to spot wildlife in the trees.
- The tents were good even if the bathroom was at an interesting angle, and one child emerged from the bathroom unaware that he had a small frog on his head
- Food was served in the open around a fire. The camp’s guides came and discussed the wildlife with the children who had wanted to know more
- Dambulla Resort was probably our least favourite hotel. The rooms were large, clean, and comfortable. The cabins were set in nice gardens, but somehow the place didn’t feel good. Partly there were very few guests, but I think mainly the staff were all very junior (very kind, tried to be helpful, and great at playing cricket with the children) but it didn’t seem slick or family-run…. Also, the children received multiple cuts to their feet in the swimming pool (uneven tiles/grouting)
- Sigiriya, Dambulla caves, and the village experience were good – our driver joined us for the last two, talking us through the caves
- The driver took us to a batik workshop, a wood carving workshop and a massage place. I’m not sure if he was on commission at these places, but there was certainly no pressure to participate, he asked if we wanted to go before taking us, no hard sells from the shops, and the whole family enjoyed the massages
- Minneriya was very popular with all
- Polonnaruwa – a longish drive to here. Unfortunately I was suffering a migraine so did not participate in the tour. It was incredibly hot and the children were flagging so made the day less enjoyable. That said, my wife was impressed with some of the sights. The driver found a lovely restaurant out on the edge of town overlooking paddy fields.
- Trimco – another long drive. We saw the Hindu temple above Fort Fredrick, but it was getting late in the day so headed off to Pigeon Island Resort. Since this was a long way out of town we ended up just staying at the hotel. Perhaps this should have been booked as HB, or maybe FB, unless it was to give us the choice of a la carte or buffet – but there was nothing else around. Hotel felt slightly dated in places, but speaking to someone there, they are looking to modernise it. That said, the gardens were beautifully kept, the hotel was clean, the food was good, and the beach was fantastic. One child managed to bash his nose in the swimming pool on a step that was near-enough invisible. Pools appear to be nicely kept, but I’m not sure they believe in rounding off edges or making sure tiles are flush. There was no way these deficiencies were going to keep us out of the pools.
- We took a trip with the on-site dive company to snorkel at Pigeon Island. Our driver could have found a cheaper boat there, but we were glad we took the services of a guide as he helped our 10-year old sort out mask and snorkel in slightly choppy waters and got him very enthusiastic about a second snorkel on the other side of the island. The island needs some serious litter picking or someone to tell visitors to pick up their litter – the visitor fee could have covered this. Time of year was not the best for water visibility
- A very long drive back to the Ashburnham with a stop at a spice garden and a lunch-stop on the way
- The Ashburnham was a lovely retreat. There were some old (wooden) tennis rackets, a rugby ball, and some cricket equipment which the boys made use of, and had regular cricket sessions with the hotel staff. Weather was quite cool, and grey (rain at times), so the pool was only tested briefly. We did walk down to the waterfall for a bathe – this was great fun. We also had a tour of the tea plantation, which we enjoyed. The hotel was very comfortable (sofas, wood fires, afternoon tea on the veranda, etc.) and the food was yet again fantastic.
- Millenium Elephant Foundation – very good time spent feeding, walking, and bathing an elephant. The boys got to sit on the back of the standing elephant in the river and be showered
- We only had a few hours at the Morningstar back in Negombo before our driver took us on to the airport. However, it provided a nice break, and gave us a chance to unwind (and sleep) and have a fantastic dinner. Staff were very friendly and wanted to provide us with some food to take on the plane. Friends had remarked that this was their least favourite hotel – I can see it looks dated in places, but it was friendly and just near the beach.
- Seychelles were good but by the end of 5 full days, I think we’d had enough and the everyone agreed that Sri Lanka had proved far more fun.
- Ase, the driver was fantastic. He was flexible, chatty, humorous, respectful, knew where all the ATMs were, knew good restaurants, joked and played with the children (cricket), gave us enough space, and helpful in getting over our dietary requirements to restaurants. Very good at pulling over at road-side stalls and arranging fruit tasting sessions.
- Perhaps point out where tours, especially the safaris, are just for us, and not a bigger group
- WiFi in Sri Lanka is painfully slow (sometimes a few minutes for a google search page). Apparently locals just use 4G – this was no big deal from me – I was keeping away from the Internet, but it might be useful for others to know
Mycock Family (with child aged 4)
Travelled Easter 2018
Hi Charlotte – We had an absolutely wonderful 2 weeks and all just loved Sri Lanka. What a varied island. The itinerary worked really well and was the right pace for us, everything was great but the highlights have to include the safari (we saw at least 200, including one 1 day old baby, elephants) and the Millennium foundation – such a wonderful experience.
The hotels were all great, Horathapola was a lovely starting place with amazing food and they looked after us so well (they even got someone to bring us cold flannels on a motorbike half way through our walk). A says the man climbing the tree for coconuts was one of her best bits along we seeing cotton trees and the bullock ride.
Heritance Kandalama was such a total contrast but also brilliant. A lovely hotel in an amazing setting with very friendly staff and lovely facilities. For a large hotel the food in the buffet was a really high quality and there was a good pool cafe with a kids menu which went down well. The monkeys on the balconies most morning just really added to the jungle experience!
Sirigria and Dambulla were both amazing to see and we enjoyed both.
The stay at Ashburnum was just great, what a beautiful place and again such friendly staff. It was lovely to be somewhere that we felt very at home in, the chef was happy to cook early for A and we were able to put her to bed and then enjoy a relaxed grown up meal for a few nights of the holiday. Our driver was worried that we’d be stuck for activities while we were there (and was happy to come and take us out in the day) but there was plenty to do around the estate (and a bit of relaxing time)
Kandy was a bit of a whirlwind but we enjoyed all the sites and the hotel worked well for us.
Then we finished with a lovely few days at the beach. Again the Heritance was beautiful, the stretch of beach was just stunning and they had 2 amazing swimming pools. The staff again were very friendly. The only thing that let it down was the food in the buffet, they’d offered us a discount to upgrade to half board on arrival and based on our good experience at Kandalama we opted for it.
However after 2 night of quite disappointing food we asked for the remaining 3 nights to be refunded and instead ate in their a la carte restaurant (which was absolutely wonderful and a total contrast). Being more of a resort with people maybe coming for a weeks all inclusive it felt as though the buffet was slightly trying to cater to too many tastes and not quite getting the balance right. But in a fortnights holiday to only have 2 meals that we didn’t really enjoy isn’t bad going, and it was easily resolved.
We also did a day trip down to Galle, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.
Thanks for putting together such a great trip, it was really amazing. I’ve attached a few of my favourite photos.
Fox Family (with kids aged 10 and 12)
Travelled Easter 2018
Hi Lee – We had an absolutely brilliant time and completely loved Sri Lanka. Such a beautiful place and such friendly people. Our driver, Asee (spelling?!) was fantastic and we couldn’t have asked for more from him. We’d 100% recommend him to anyone and if/when we go back we very much hope to be able to use him again. A big thank you to you for organising everything so well. It went like clockwork and we couldn’t have been more pleased with how it all worked. Thank you very much!
D’Adda Family (with kids aged 9 and 11)
Travelled March 2018
Lee, well what can I say… huge thank you from us all for putting together such an incredible adventure for us all. I asked the kids in the car yesterday which were their favourite bits and honestly they struggled to choose just one thing! Ox carts, coconuts, monkeys, elephants, leeches, lizards, waterfalls, awe inspiring train rides, crazy road travel, beautiful views…
… incredible beaches, hair raising tuk tuk rides, temples, epic climbs, cooling swims, cookery classes, tea picking, exploring nature, safari, chilling in room as torrential rain hits the window, marvelling at and appreciating the randomness of everyday Sri Lankan life, challenging ourselves in many new ways, meeting and sharing tips with fellow travellers, hospital dashes and so many more things I can honestly say have changed me in some way, I can’t quite put my finger on how but I know it’s not a bad thing, so thank you.
Yes we did make the train which was incredible and we were lucky that they could only book us 2nd class as this meant we could hang out of the doors for the whole 4 hour journey, I loved that the kids scoffed at first class saying ‘mum, they couldn’t open the windows and they had TVs… who needs a tv with these incredible views’ I can’t lie I was a little proud of this mature observation.
98 Acres was amazing and yes the infinity pool was wonderful although due to the heavy rain it wasn’t that warm, but no worries as there was so much to do including a family movie session watching Wonder Woman (as it poured all afternoon!) The food and service was exceptional too so worth the detour, we also really liked the vibe of Ella and would like to head back….
We Escape was perfect and I would totally recommend for families, there were a couple of families there and they were all 3rd or 4th time repeaters, the pool was perfect for the kids, food wonderful with good choice and price and the staff were really helpful… The rooms were a great size, the only thing was there weren’t big windows ( I think we had been spoilt at 98 acres!), and the room was very clean.
The whole hotel had a great vibe and lovely mix of families and cool surfers (but not too posey which was my concern with W15). We did go and have a look and we agreed we made the right decision to stay at We Escape. The only thing is I think they are a little confused whom they are appealing to – it suited us fine but for backpackers it is expensive so they would go elsewhere for food etc, for example I wanted to do some washing and planned to get a load done there but at £1.50 a t-shirt was way to expensive which I was surprised about!! I would’t be surprised if in the future they lose the ‘poshtel’ label and go more hotel! We all had a wonderful massage there too.
The only hotel disappointment if I’m honest was our last stop ‘Morning Star’… the rooms were very ‘tired’ and basic…
So all in all incredible, inspiring and life changing and we are looking now to our next adventure so will be in touch.
Wall Family (with child aged 10)
Travelled Easter 2018
Hi Liddy – We had a great trip, Sri Lanka rocks. Great hotel choices with Koslava Living Heritage being the stand out, absolutely fabulous place with great rooms and great staff. The type of place you should go for 3 or 4 days really and escape reality! Siri was a great driver as well, really informative, although I reckon Satnav would be helpful from time to time! He went the extra mile though helping us get the best possible seats on our train and being a tour guide around the temple in Kandy.
Gutherie Family (with kids aged 14, 18, 20 & 22)
Travelled Easter 2018
A massive thank you to all of you at Stubborn Mule Travel. If turning 50 feels like an ordeal, then planning what you are going to do to mark the big occasion can loom larger.
As a 17-year-old travelling was a huge part of my late teens, backpack laden with clothes, essentials, beaded ankle bracelets, coral earrings, short hair and Lonely Planet in hand.
Is it possible to capture that magic carefree feeling once more as an ageing woman with responsibilities and your family in tow (four children and partner) in just two weeks?
The excitement of landing somewhere new with anticipation and apprehension of what may lie ahead and live out of a small hold-all, not care about wearing any make-up or jewellery or how many times you wear the same top and shorts and get sand between your toes. Can a holiday experience bridge all the age gaps for a family ranging in age from 14 to 50? All achieved with a larger budget than when you were 17 but still feel like you’re being a little edgy at 50!
The answer is YES!
Diaz Burtenshaw Family (with children aged 12 and 14)
Travelled Easter 2018
Hi Alex. We had the most wonderful holiday in Sri Lanka, everything went perfectly and we were blown away by the warmth of the people and the beauty of the country. Our driver, Thilak, was super and added a few memorable impromptu trips – we saw the fish drying on Negombo beach and wandered through the extensive fish market, drank King Coconut and ate red bananas. Thilak took us into the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy after the Kandyan dancing show – truly spectacular.
All the hotels were great, especially Coco Bay, Misty Hills & the Mahoora Tented Camp.
If we were to fault anything it would only be the length of the car journeys on some days – I don’t think we appreciated how big the island is – mind you we did want to see as much as possible.
All the best and thanks again for organising everything and for your advise. The Tuk Tuk rides were a real highlight too!
Macfarlane Family (with kids aged 7 and 11)
Travelled Summer 2017
Hi Helene – We had a the most amazing trip – so good we have no idea what to do next year as it could never live up to it! I might get more time in the future, but here’s a summary for now:
Morning Star – simple and clean with a wonderful welcome and great fresh food – we loved the breakfast and fresh grilled fish in the evening – small but nice pool – our children loved this place! Recommend Jetwing Beach hotel nearby for lunch and/or supper if Morning Star not offering it – wonderful staff and decent food at similar prices to MS.
Boat trip – lovely – a great intro . 2 nights in Negombo was perfect – more would have been a waste – visited a really interesting fish market.
Wilpattu – saw Leopards – thanks for arranging this! 2 great safaris. Tents were fine but very hot – glad was only one night. However the supper was really well done – little tables around the camp fire under the stars – we all loved it! NB Left at 10am rather than free morning in Negombo as afternoon safari started at 2.30pm.
Dambulla – saw the caves on the way there after the morning safari which worked fine – Rangiri Dambulla resort was mixed – lovely setting in garden, welcoming staff and very spacious room but food absolutely terrible! They didn’t even make tea in a pot at breakfast. It was so bad that on night 2 we walked out of the hotel to try and find something else, but the hotel is not in a great area and is actually not really in town so there was nothing else and ended up coming back to eat where we worked out there was one rice dish they couldn’t muck up too much – so we had it the next night as well – on the 4th night we asked Sam to drive us home via an amazing hotel with bats on the lake so we could have supper – this was amazing!!! It’s such a shame as they are obviously expanding and it could be great – just change the chef please!
Sigiriya – An amazing climb – absolutely fine for our 7 yr old – but we didn’t make it to the top as the wasps attacked tourists and it was closed. If we did this again we would stay close to it and start at 6am and come back for a late breakie as some people we met had done.
Additional safari – Sam booked us an extra safari as a large herd of elephant had been seen – park was a private one so loads of jeeps but Sam got us in early and we saw around 100-150 elephants on a plain before the rest arrived – incredible.
Minneriya – after the large herd we could not think what this safari could offer – but a different terrain again and our driver got us right next to a large family group who crossed the road in single file right next to our jeep – magical for all of us.
Polonarruwa – another incredible day – took longer than expected as much larger than expected – perhaps 4 hours – liked the bikes despite the slightly strange cycling after Sam in the bus! Would not miss this one – Sam got us a guide who was great on the history – the children loved it despite the length.
Passidukah/Annantaya – cannot recommend this hotel enough……we had an amazing villa with its own plunge pool that led straight onto the beach – had not stayed in anything like it since honeymoon – the children were in awe! The staff were fantastic, the pool was huge, the beach was white….we did nothing for 2 whole days – bliss…. – food very good too.
Gal Oya – so glad I said we had to stay here! The pool with the best view I have ever seen – eco jungle retreat – but key point – you had told us we could pick from a menu of safaris when we arrived so we assumed they had all their own kit – not so – they were still using the boats that everyone does – this meant they could not offer us a boat safari as everything was booked which was the one we most wanted to do having done a number of jeep ones – thankfully Sam had seen this coming and reserved a boat himself for us via a contact – so we got our boat safari but without the Gal Oya naturalist which would have been great and without being able to combine with a picnic etc. Via Gal Oya we spent the time with the leader of their project looking at wild cats which was brilliant – the children loved it, John went mountain biking twice which he loved, we did the walking safari one evening – amazing and saw elephants and also spent a few hours with the head of the local tribe hearing about their lives and seeing where they lived – absolutely all highly recommended. Food was good. Tents are comfortable and bathrooms are outdoor – John switched the tap and a frog jumped out! The child were absolutely fine on a camp bed and the sofa made up as a bed in the living area.
Ashburnham – again loved it – wonderful interconnecting room suite – all enjoyed the plantation tour despite the leaches – factory was interesting but sadly not working that day. A highlight was the cookery course for the children – wonderful!
Kandy – probably the least fav of our places and despite the Temple being “famous” is the bit I would lose if we had been short on time. Gardens were nice. Homestay as you pointed out was very basic. The family were really nice, but I would probably have upgraded very slightly if planning it again as there were a lot of mosys and quite a few mice or squirrels in the walls and roof. Cultural performance took place in a hotel conference suite which was very weird – the dancing was good and the children liked the walking over hot coals, but it felt too “touristy” for us. We loved the train journey and would highly recommend it – the views were amazing and it was very busy! – the later leave time was perfect and Sam collected us and took us to the elephant sanctuary which was for us another definitely do not miss – washing them in the river! E and I sat on one’s back and were squirted with water.
Notes for others – everywhere provided pool/beach towels and we took far too much sun tan lotion as we were not lying round all day in direct sun! [2 sprays for a family of 4 and 1 after sun was plenty for 3 weeks – could have bought more if needed] Hardly got bitten but did use full strength deet [2 sprays] and the mosy nets over the beds. Head torches were essential for early morning safaris. We should only have taken the lightest possible clothes – which I think you did say! We lived in the really lightweight stuff we had and ignored the rest – normal cotton that feels fine at home was too heavy there. If we do anything similar again I would go and buy another couple of sets of the lightweight clothing. We had a big wash done at the beach hotel and that was great. Hats were essential and at least 1 spare that could fit anyone would be a good plan as the children’s were almost lost several times. Please can you add to your notes that the SR rupee is a closed currency so you cannot get it before you go. We paid for most things in cash, Sam always knew where to find an ATM and we avoided the hefty credit card fees without carrying too much with us at any point. Lightweight sarong that I could roll into a small bag was essential for the temples. We carried waterproofs for the hill country, but actually didn’t use them – got rained on a bit, but it was so hot it didn’t matter. 1 little bottle of antibacterial gel was very handy indeed.
If you need more on anything, please let me know and thank you again for all your help in getting our trip sorted. As you know I have already recommended you to several friends!
Castro Brown Family
Travelled Summer 2017
Liddy hello. We had an absolutely amazing holiday – thanks so much to you and Helene. All the hotels, the excursions and our fantastic driver Piyal, were brilliant. We fell completely in love Sri Lanka and the people and really felt sad to come home.
Herring Family (with kids aged 7 and 9)
Travelled Summer 2017
I am so sorry it has taken so long for me to get round to writing to thank you for organising another fantastic trip for us to Sri Lanka, we really had a ball! From the off the trip was fantastic. Our driver Jaggard was a big character, lots of fun and showed us some great sights. All the accommodation was fabulous, it’s so hard to name a favourite as they were all so different and equally stunning!
I particularly liked Jim’s farm and the plantation style hotel in Kandy.
The kids (and us) thoroughly enjoyed the elephants and we had a truly memorable day at the orphanage and some magic photos!
The pace of the trip was perfect with two nights in each place so we got a feel of different areas and the chill out on the beach at the end was fabulous!
The food was delicious and G in particular enjoyed curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner! The Sri Lankan people were so kind and genuinely lovely and so sweet to the kids, and kept stroking B’s blond hair which she found a bit odd to start with!
All in all a fantastic trip and we have many, many happy memories!
Many thanks once again and no doubt we will be in touch again soon regarding another trip.
Paton-Kerr (with one child aged 6)
Travelled Summer 2017
My husband, daughter and I had the pleasure of going on a fantastic holiday to Sri Lanka last summer, organised by Stubborn Mule. From the very start I felt that Liddy understood our individual needs and worked with us to tailor a holiday that was truly everything we had hoped for, and within our budget. The team are so clearly passionate about travel and we felt absolutely confident that Liddy knew exactly what she was talking about, with our best interests at heart.
Liddy was enthusiastic without being pushy and offered options at every stage, which encouraged us to think of doing things we had not previously considered. I especially liked the way that she understood my excuse of being too busy to do any of my own research and gave us a starting point which actually suited us perfectly, yet didn’t mind when we asked for a few adaptations as we gradually became more excited about the trip. She kept in mind the age of our daughter when thinking about which excursions would suit us best, and the experience she has gained from travelling with her own children was clearly evident.
The trip itself was organised to a tee, from the airport pick up via air-conditioned SUV with our knowledgeable, friendly and professional driver, to the fabulous and varied accommodation.
Our holiday felt luxurious, but adventurous. Having enjoyed backpacking across Africa and India when younger I was so excited to introduce our daughter to a foreign culture and her first travel experience. She, and we, loved every minute of our holiday. She loved the ornate rooms, four poster beds and views across the mountains – she really did! She loved the lizards on the walls outside and the fantastic swimming pools – the ideal antidote to a car drive. She was fascinated by the richly coloured temples and vibrant saris. She was so excited to go to sleep in a huge canvas tent with comfy beds (and a frog in the sink) and wake up early to go hunting for elephants and leopards, looking out, arms folded on the top of a jeep; what child wouldn’t?
The beaches in Nivali were truly stunning; wide expanses of pristine sand fringed by our boutique hotel blending into the palm trees. We relaxed, sunbathed, surfed, ate, and then hopped onto the convenient local boats to get to pigeon island for snorkelling. I couldn’t believe that after one day our 6 year old was snorkelling like a pro amongst basking sharks and colourful fish. A proud moment. One of the highlights for me was whale watching. Having been on no less than 4 trips before with the aim of spotting whales, and not having seen a hint of a fin, I felt anxious with anticipation. The moment I saw a blue whale breaching was a truly divine moment for me.
Stubborn Mule strike the perfect balance between listening and advising; between adventure and safety; between comfort and that sense of being part of the culture and environment so many of us travel for.
I would recommend them to anyone wanting a deeply memorable family holiday.
Douglas Family (with kids aged 5 and 8)
Travelled Summer 2017
We had an amazing time and it met all of our expectations, which were high!… Sri Lanka is simply a beautiful diverse country with so much to offer as a family holiday destination and we are so pleased to have chosen Sri Lanka and Stubborn Mule to introduce our children to adventure travel. The pace of tour was just right for us as a family and whilst there is still a lot of Sri Lanka that I would like to have seen, Kelly’s advice was priceless and gave us the opportunity to experience a lot of the country without feeling too rushed.
The children seemed completely unphased by the change in culture and travel times and adapted perfectly. The few days close to the airport was really helpful after a tiring journey and gave us time to settle in. The sheer variety of activities from climbing Sigiriya rock, to visiting the Dambulla Caves, going on safari at Minneriya, spotting monkeys on the side of the road, snorkelling on Pigeon Island and walking along perfect beaches, has given us so many memorable experiences that we will never forget. The itinerary was almost perfect, however, in hindsight there was so much to do in Kandy it felt a little rushed. I appreciate the Millenium Elephant Foundation may not be everyone’s cup of tea but we loved the experience of walking with our elephant ‘Pooja’ and taking her to the river.
Our transport was perfect and so spacious were able to stretch out and enjoy the views on the long drives. Our driver Sunil was great and took care of our every need from ATM’s to beer and was attentive without being over powering and happily suggested stops that he thought we would like. Taking cameras for each of the children was a good idea as they wanted to be like me taking lots of photos, also having a pool /sea everywhere with the exception of Kandy made a huge difference to the children and was an absolute must.
I’ve noted my feedback on each of the properties as well as a summary, which I hope you will find useful for other families.
Morning Star – This is a lovely little guesthouse, and was a lovely place to settle in to our holiday and the bustle of Sri Lanka. As per my previous email our only issue was with the original room/apartment we were given. It was set away from the garden and did not have the same feel as the family suite we were given on our return.
Elephas – A great little hotel and fantastic base to explore from. The rooms were beautiful and we were grateful for the swimming pool after a day’s sightseeing. The restaurant/ food buffet was nice and we were pleased that they did not charge for the children which I thought was appropriate given their age and the amount they eat.
Nilaveli Beach Resort – We loved it there and felt that we’d arrived in paradise! The rooms were lovely and views from the bed were amazing. The beach was deserted apart from the fisherman and we loved watching them pull the nets in each day. The sea was suitable for the children and they had lots of fun playing in the waves. The only negative was that the cost of their trips was significantly more expensive than what we paid by using the boats outside the Anilana hotel, given they pick you up from the hotel it makes sense to use them instead. I was unprepared and didn’t take my own snorkelling gear for the children, which was a big mistake as they did not have any small enough. I would also strongly recommend using a guide if you have small children as our guide was a fantastic support for the little ones and gave us peace of mind.
Jims Farm – It is a stunning and unusual property/location and I was really glad we stayed there, the rooms were beautiful and the view from the shower was very mystical as the clouds rolled in. The food was fantastic and it was nice to mix with other families over dinner. As our stay was short we were busy most of the time but made sure we took advantage of the farm tour which we really enjoyed- we all loved seeing the vast array of fruit/spices that they produce. We also took part in the cookery demonstration and it was great to see how they use produce direct from the farm wherever possible. One of the dogs ripped my sons flip flop to shreds so I would suggest you tell visitors to be careful with their shoes!
Home Stay – It was never going to be easy moving on to a home stay after Jims farm and NBR but after a slightly awkward welcome it was fine. The family were very nice and the food lovely, however, the bathroom was pretty poor (no hot water, leaks etc) and we were glad to only be there 2 nights.
Thank you so much for your help, the only question we have is where to next?
Johnson Family (with children aged 8,10 & 14)
Travelled Summer 2017
Dear Lee – we had such an amazing time – everybody is still talking about all the wonderful things we did and saw…. it was just a wonderful holiday – extremely well thought out and really seamless even though we were on the move quite a lot. Our driver was extremely kind and friendly, was always on time and smartly dressed. The people of Sri Lanka were extremely gentle and welcoming and we loved everything we did. It was perfect combination of sights, adventure and relaxation! Thank you so much Lee for all your help!
Agu-Patterson Family (with 14 year old & two 21 year olds)
Travelled Summer 2017
Helene – we had a fantastic time. The country is so beautiful and people are very friendly. Our driver, Sunil, was great – reliable and reassuring – we miss him! The accommodation was fab – highlights include the Horathapola Estate, the Nilavelli Beach Resort, Ashburnham and the Wallawwa – all serving great food with good service. We had the right balance of activity and downtime – so thank you.
We would have liked to have seen more animals – a lack of rain meant that the safari was open once a day but this didn’t dampen our enjoyment and the food at the Big camp was rather limited for veggies.
Our trip was so great that we didn’t want to leave – would love to return.
Thank you for your helpful advice
Rae Family (with children aged 11 & 12)
Travelled Summer 2017
Hi Lee… Sri Lanka seems a long time ago now but it was a fantastic holiday. Having now had time to think about it there are various bits of feedback that I think might be useful for future parties. I think the thing that made the holiday the biggest success for us was our driver/guide, Asela. He was superb, nothing was too much trouble and he was a real “fixer”. I am not sure that every family we met while we were away had the same experience so I think we were very lucky in this respect.
Tuck Family (with kids aged 7 and 10)
Travelled Summer 2017
Hi Helene – we all had a fantastic trip and loved all the places we stayed. We especially liked Jims Farm Villas and the Hotel in Galle… and you were absolutely right in persuading us to have a few days rest time in Trincomalee.
The only thing we would like to say is that most of the places our driver took us for lunch were good but there is a hotel in Galle (Rampart Hotel) which seems to be an LSR preferred lunch spot that is pretty awful and was one of the worst meals I have ever had. Only a minor thing, and it had no impact on our overall trip and satisfaction, but worth passing on if only to help save some other poor souls from the same fate.
Our driver Ranjith was really good and the boys absolutely loved him – he was definitely a driver rather than a driver/guide but he was extremely reliable and we really appreciated some of the small things he did like get up extra early so he was first in line for the park ticket at Wilpattu which meant we were first in the park in the morning.
Needless to say we will be recommending Sri Lanka, and Stubborn Mule, to our friends. I am sure we will be in touch in the future for another trip once we have narrowed down our wish list of places to go!
Thanks for all your help, guidance and advice during the planning process – and especially the responsiveness.
Scoular Family – dad and kids (aged 13 and 15)
Travelled Summer 2017
Hi Helene – Thanks for checking in. Yes we had a great time… I have jotted a few comments below, which hopefully are helpful.
– driver and vehicle. Very good
– support from local agency. Very good
– Sri Lanka. A wonderful country that I will return to.
In hindsight we were a bit ambitious with how many sights we planned to see. We dropped a few events around Kandy as the kids were pretty tired by that stage. That was just our personal choice and it was good we had the flexibility to do that.
The hotel in Trincomalee was fantastic. We loved the beach and the hotel and would return.
Kandy home stay: we didn’t really like this stop. I appreciate you were fitting around our budget but it felt a bit awkward staying in their home, and we felt we were tolerated as we were paying guests but didn’t really relax. The room was very hot. I would have chosen a small guesthouse that was more focused on receiving visitors next time.
All the other hotels were good. On the last night in Negombo we upgraded to the JetWing hotel as we wanted to enjoy the pool and relax outside on our last night, but the other place in Negombo where we stayed the first night was really nice and cooked us a great meal.
Elephant orphanage: this was one of the highlights. It was a really great spot.
Wildlife park on day 1: the safari tent experience was well done and we enjoyed both the day and early morning safari. The driver/ guide we had was superb.
Wildlife trip near Dambula: this was not so good and felt much more touristy. We were in a convoy of jeeps and turned back after an hr. We saw a herd of elephants but didn’t enjoy this trip do much. The jeep wasn’t great and the driver / guide very poor compared to the other park.
Sigiriya: this was a great place to visit.
Family S (with child aged 8)
Travelled Easter 2017
Hello Helene – Some feedback…the first hotel in Negombo (Morning Star) was good and I would definitely recommend it. The people who ran it were absolutely lovely. And the breakfast cooked for us was the best one we had in the whole two weeks. I only wished we’d got the chance to sample more of her cooking. Our driver really made the trip for us. Dinendra was excellent, thoughtful, intelligent, kind, with a lovely manner and lots of excellent suggestions.
He took us to the fish market and the vegetable distribution centre in Negumbo and they were two standout experiences. He also helped us change money. He clearly has excellent contacts! We couldn’t rate him highly enough. And it really is all about the driver because the man who picked us up to take us to the airport didn’t have very good English, and so we missed out on visiting Galle as we couldn’t get him to understand what we meant. A massive tick for Dinendra. Anyone who gets him is really lucky.
You were right to encourage us not to miss Sigiriya. It was one of our highlights. We all loved it, including E who was very proud of herself as she is scared of heights. Our guide was great there too. Very good English. I would recommend that anyone doing it takes lots of water as you get so hot!
Our hotel in Dambula (Rangiri) was my favourite. It was so beautiful, and so serene and the staff were lovely. We had it to ourselves for most of the time we were there which made it very special. We did have to explain to them that we didn’t need doughnuts for breakfast every day, but otherwise all was lovely. I can’t rate this hotel highly enough, it was heaven.
The people at the homestay were lovely, and we really enjoyed staying there. The food was AMAZING. The lady was a brilliant cook. The room was nice too, but it was VERY hot. A few more fans would make a difference.
The Elephant walk was a real highlight for E and us. They clearly take very good care of them and we have some amazing memories to cherish forever… and a great video of E sitting on the elephant’s back in the river being sprayed with water.
Uda Walawe was also brilliant. We saw elephants (lots of them, pregnant ones and babies), water buffalo, jackals, lots of birds, deer. The guide was great and had amazing eyesight!
The hotel (owned by Lucy, very nice English lady) was beautiful. Stunning surroundings, incredibly stylish and E loved it here as Lucy was there with her two girls so E had a lovely time hanging out with them. We went on an amazing forest walk to see a waterfall, in the middle of a rainstorm, thundering and lightening and had to pick off leeches at the end of it! All very exciting and something we won’t forget in a hurry. Our only comment is that the food and drink was pricey. And because you are in the middle of nowhere, you have to be prepared to pay Western prices (which are in US dollars). I think it’s perfect for a honeymoon. But you do need to have money to spend.
Our last hotel was the most disappointing. It was in a stunning location, so beautiful, and the rooms were lovely, as was the pool. But every day we were there, they had a DJ playing incredibly loud, and incredibly bad music. From 3 in the afternoon until 10 at night. Our room overlooked the pool area, and it drove us nuts. We ended up leaving every night and going along the beach to eat to get away from it. We complained to the lovely woman in charge, who was clearly not in favour of it at all, but apparently the owners were trying to attract young people. On the Saturday night they had a free cocktails for the ladies event. They just need to decide if they want families or young people. With only 10 rooms, they probably can’t have both.
That was the only downside really. We all absolutely loved it. I think possibly the best family holiday we have ever been on. So amazing, it felt like a real adventure…
I would thoroughly recommend your company. Your itinerary was great. If we can travel to Borneo with you, that might be our 2018 trip. We’ve decided we want to do an adventure every two years (need to save up for it!).
Van Es Family (with children aged 11 and 13)
Travelled Easter 2017
Dear Helene – Sorry it’s taken us a while to get back to you. It’s been tough to get back into routine after our amazing holiday! Thank you for all the work you put into organising our trip. It was a truly memorable, fantastic experience for all of us. E (13) and G (11) loved it as much as we did. I wish I had filmed Eve’s face on the drive from the airport to Morning Star Guesthouse. She couldn’t believe how many people were crammed on a moped or in a tuk tuk.
We really loved the variety of our experiences in Sri Lanka. The Morning Star was an excellent place to start off and we had a lovely meal at Lords in Negombo. Sena, our driver and guide, was excellent. He was knowledgeable, easy to talk to, very reliable and always good-natured. He also very much enjoyed winding the kids up! It was so great to have everything organised for us so that we didn’t need to think about it – a true holiday!
The itinerary you devised had something for everyone and was varied and fun. The scenery, culture and wildlife were wonderful. The girls were more than ready to eat something other than curry and rice by the time we got to the beach at Weligama but they had loved trying all the different foods on offer.
I would say that the only average meals we had were when our driver tried to take us to places serving Western food. Understandably, it was never done very well! The meal we probably all enjoyed least was at the Leopard Den (or something like that!) before our first afternoon Wilpattu safari. However, we forgot about it the moment we entered Wilpattu National Park. Our guide there was amazing (and we saw 4 leopards in total!). A standout meal was at Jaga Food, Jayanthipura, Polonnaruwa. We were very glad Sena took us there for great food in a beautiful spot in the rice paddies.
I was really dubious about the Milennium Elephant Foundation and its treatment of the animals before we went. If the kids hadn’t seen it on the itinerary and got very excited about it, we would probably have missed it out. I’m really glad we listened to you and kept it in the itinerary. We chose not to ride the elephant but walked around with it and the mahout and loved seeing it close up and the relationship between the elephant and the mahout.
For me, I would have liked to have had a rough indication of journey time each time we got in the vehicle. Apart from one day, we were never in the car for too long though. I don’t know whether the family agree with me but the only day I felt as though there was too much travelling was when we went from Kandy to Living Heritage, Koslanda. Our guide obviously thought he was doing the right thing in buying us first class tickets for the train to Ella that day but being in an air-conditioned carriage where you couldn’t open windows made me feel separate from the landscape. I liked it a lot better when I walked down to 2nd class! Living Heritage Koslanda was a real treat for some indulgent chill-out time and we all loved it there (apart from when we walked to the waterfall and the kids freaked out at all the leeches!). The service and food were great and the kids just loved the infinity pool!
The family homestay in Kandy was excellent. The family were lovely, they really welcomed us in and it was such a privilege to have them share their new year customs with us. The lovely lady had cooked some chicken nuggets for the kids as well as all her delicious curries for when we got back from The Temple of the Tooth. After a lot of veggie curries, it was a nice touch for them! The family have a daughter in England so they spoke pretty good English and were very friendly.
In your advice to travellers, it might be a good idea to mention that the pools are heavily chlorinated so it’s a good idea to take goggles.
There is so much more I could say but I’d be here forever. Sorry it’s such a jumble – I’m juggling cooking dinner too (a sure sign of being back to reality with a bump!).
Thanks again and I hope Borneo was great. We’d love to go there too.
Bhular Family (with children aged 2, 6 and 8)
Travelled Easter 2017
Hi Liddy – the holiday was simply OUTSTANDING. All of us had the most amazing time, it was both relaxing, interesting and busy in the most perfect proportions. So much so, our youngest is only now beginning to acknowledge that he is in fact British and Sri Lankan (his preferred nationality). I could go on and on and maybe i will and send some pictures as well, but I’m sure my wife will be more eloquent and fulsome in her response.
We all loved it and thank you so much for helping us put it together, we are thinking about our next jaunt so we will be in touch for sure. I think some of the highlights were:-
– Swimming pool in Horathopola – awesome such a great start to the trip. My wife think’s it the best pool she has ever been in!
– The kids loved the Elephants at the sanctuary and in the national park
– I loved climbing Sigirya in the heat with my smallest strapped to my back
There were honestly so many amazing things to do, places to see, such great food and the people were fantastic, especially with the kids. So thank you and as I said, we will definitely be in touch for our next trip.
Morris Family (with two children aged 2 and 4)
Travelled January 2017
We had a great holiday, it was phenomenal. So many highlights, but the first few days based in Dambulla were probably the best. Sigiriya, the cave temples and the elephant safari were all great and the boys coped with them all brilliantly (although being carried up and down Sigiriya is hardly a hardship!). Our driver, Wasim, was the other major highlight. He really tried to tailor things to the boys’ schedule, found us great places to eat and just generally made everything extremely easy and relaxed, despite us cramming so much into the trip. He even brought along some toys and ride-on cars to keep the boys occupied. Couldn’t recommend him highly enough.
In terms of improvements, only a couple of minor things. The hotel in Dambulla was supposed to provide a cot but actually provided more of a crib – it was only big enough for a newborn and there was no way our nearly two-year old would fit in it. As a result he had to sleep on a mattress on the floor for the first time in his life and didn’t take too kindly to it, but we survived. Other than that, that hotel was probably our favourite in terms of the size of the room, the spacious grounds to explore and the friendly staff.
The hotel near Kandy was nice and peaceful – possibly a bit far from Kandy and it may have been better to stay closer to the city. The service was also slightly lacking, with the exception of the manager, who was great. Having said all that there may not be too many similar options closer to the city, and we did enjoy just having a bit of downtime there.
The hotels in Ella and on the beach were both excellent. It rained pretty much non-stop in Ella but the layout of the room and the massive balcony with the amazing view meant we could hang out there without the boys going stir crazy. One thing to note about the hotel in Unawatuna, which may have been our fault, was that we didn’t realise we had paid for the hotel on the night we were flying (our flight was at about 1am). As a result we got all packed up and ready to check out around midday, only to be told we had the room for another night. Not a major issue but for some reason we didn’t realise that.
So all in all a fabulous trip. I hope you have also had a good break if you have been away. Thank you for all your help during the process of organising the holiday and with luck we will be able to take another similar trip at some point in the future. Do you have any recommendations for countries that offer a similar combination of culture, wildlife and adventure suitable for little people?
Karen and family (with two children aged 5 and 8)
Travelled Christmas/New Year 2016/7
We have just returned from Sri Lanka and had the most amazing holiday full of so many memories and experiences. The itinerary was perfect in so many ways and just the right balance for the kids (who are 5 and 8). We really liked the variety and differences of the hotels – can really recommend W15 as a place for families and the kids were surfing non stop!! (And yes…. we saw blue whales and dolphins!!)
The guide we had made the whole experience all the better and we sneaked in some extra activities along the way. We also appreciated to have the flexibility in the itinerary and could change times suiting our moods and energy levels which was an added bonus and I am sure a contributing factor in making the whole experience and holiday such a success.
This is the first time I have travelled alone with the kids since my divorce and, if relevant for you, I also recommend this trip for other single mothers travelling alone with their kids.
Thank you so much especially in the thought which went behind putting together the itinerary for us. I will definitely be in touch again soon to arrange our next trip and recommend you to others travelling with children.
Wishing you all the best for 2017.
Bretherton Family (with two children aged 13 and 15)
Travelled Christmas 2016
Hi Helene… the trip was amazing thanks – the hideous journey out notwithstanding. So many highlights really, but Sigiriya really stands out.
Accommodation wise, the highlight was definitely Jim’s – the rooms, pool, staff and food were all top notch, except the spa, which was just OK.
Probably the ‘least good’ was Amaya Lake. The pool was great, the bar OK – but the room was pretty tired and the food not great. Not that it mattered much, we always managed to eat more than enough (buffet disease) and spent hardly any time in the rooms at all.
Mountbatten was great in all respects except service, which I can only describe as oddly ‘reluctant’.
Really liked Wallawwa. We expected it to be a ‘just OK’ airport type hotel, but it was fab. Really lovely. Same goes for Suriya really – first impressions were “oh, its a bit rubbish”, but it was great. Second best for food and the rooms were massive.
Our driver, Rangeet, was a real star. Highly recommended and patient with our incessant tardiness in the mornings!
There was a lot of driving around so maybe next time I’d not try to pack in so much, but that’s not a complaint – just a lesson for next time!
The only disappointment really was the Wilpatu safari, but that might have been down to the time of year. It was very busy with locals tearing round the place at 100 miles an hour, scaring off anything within a 30-mile radius, so we saw very little.
Cheers and hope you had a great Xmas and NY
Gray Family (with two children aged 10 and 12)
Travelled Christmas 2016
We had a truly wonderful trip to Sri Lanka and cannot thank you enough for all of the work that you put in on our behalf to ensure that things ran smoothly.
Most things went according to plan on the trip and we have had a think about things which worked particularly well and those that didn’t. Regarding the accommodation it was mostly very good. Ashburnham, Thalinka and the Palagama Beach Resort were fantastic all with excellent food, staff and facilities. The accommodation in Negombo, The Morning Star Guesthouse, was quite basic in comparison to those three, it was run by lovely people but the rooms were very basic and didn’t seem to fit with the standard of the rest of the trip.
The one place we were not so keen on was the Rangiri Dambulla Resort. Although the rooms themselves were very comfortable, clean and were very spacious, the staff at the hotel were pretty useless and the food was dreadful – so bad that we ended going out to eat in the evenings and struggled to find any good food in the town…
The Big Game Safari Camp at Wilpattu was in a wonderful setting and provided excellent food. The tents were pretty basic which was to be expected, although there were perhaps rather too many holes in the tents and the mosquito nets for my liking! If we had to pick a negative it would be that the beds had definitely seen better days, you probably wouldn’t want to send someone who was hoping for any kind of luxury there.
There are so many highlights – the Millenium Elephant Foundation was wonderful, we really enjoyed our time in Kandy and the trip to the Temple of the Tooth, Ashburnham was a real treat and the couple running it – Pieter and Hanny were so kind and helpful with everything. Sadly it rained heavily for one day while we were there so although the children were happy in the pool in the rain we didn’t explore the area as much as we might have done.
We all really enjoyed the climb up Sigirya, and the walk up to the Dambulla caves. The half-day elephant safari was fantastic, perhaps by the time we did the bicycle ride around the ancient city we had all had enough culture and temples!
The Palagama Beach Resort was a perfect place to end the trip, a lovely hotel and facilities, but what we had read on Trip Advisor about the surrounding area being pretty basic was certainly true – the area of beach in front of the hotel is nice and clean, but there is nowhere to explore and if you dare venture along the beach you either get caught up in all the litter or threatened by the local dogs!! Our driver organised a boat trip to go and see the dolphins and then take us snorkelling both of which were absolutely brilliant, we were lucky to see a huge number of dolphins.
Our driver, Lal, did everything possible to make sure we had a good trip. He was very kind and attentive, and found us many places to see and things to do along the way to break up the driving. He tried very hard to make sure that we and the children were happy and listened to us when it came to requests of things that we did like and things that we didn’t.
All in all we really did have a wonderful trip. I hope you appreciate that I am only telling you the negatives as I hope it will help you in the future, it is in no way a complaint from us, we were not expecting everything to be perfect and I think were surprised that there weren’t more hitches along the way!
Many thanks for all your help in organising a trip of a lifetime for us.
Cochrane Family (with children aged 3, 7 & 9)
Travelled October 2016
Hi Helene… We had an amazing time. Seena, our driver/tour guide was brilliant. Hotels were all great mainly as the staff were all so kind and very child friendly. Really loved Kandy and the house we stayed at was beautiful and food fantastic. Had a little difficulty getting the car to the house but more stressful for our driver than us.
Elephant sanctuary was such an experience and I must right a review for them as well. Highlight for the kids as well as the safari. Loved walking up Sigiriya – kids were very impressed with themselves and fell in love with the culture, people and food!
We have all said we would love to return some time. Thanks again for your help with organising the trip.
Symonds Family (with two children aged 7 and 9)
Travelled Summer 2016
We really did have the most fantastic time in Sri Lanka – so many thanks for helping us to organise it. Both our girls were pretty blown away by their Sri Lankan experience, and I would say that aside from those couple of small glitches, we really did have a wonderful adventure, a perfect start to what we hope will be many years of travelling to interesting places with our girls!
A few things to note:
- Our driver Sam was wonderful! Kind, knowledgeable, well informed, generous, and knew how to navigate the Sri Lankan roads safely. He was a great person to have around, we really enjoyed his company.
- Without exception, we enjoyed everywhere we stayed. Jim’s Farm Villas really is exquisite (you told me it would be!) and we shared our evening meals with another family who had booked through you. The Nilaveli Beach Resort was also very luxurious! The Siyanco Holiday Resort was very good, with the minor exception of their restaurant service being painfully slow. The Morning Star Guesthouse in Negombo was simple and charming. Wilpattu Treehouse was great fun – though very noisy, as the other room is in the same structure, and you can hear every word anyone says. So when the people below us got up at 5am for their safari on the morning we were leaving (and therefore not getting up ourselves), it was like they were in the room with us!
- You may have gathered that we changed our itinerary at the very end – we actually felt that there was too much travelling in those last couple of days. M (our younger daughter) found the travelling quite tough going, and we made a decision to miss out Kandy (O and I had been before to the Temple of the Tooth and the Botanical Gardens), forfeit out night at Athulya Villas, and book our final afternoon and night back at Morning Star. This meant that the children go to have a beach / pool afternoon on the last day, and just a short journey to the airport the following morning.
- The Wilpattu safari. Our schedule suggested we could discuss splitting our full day safari into a morning and an evening safari. What happened is that we got taken into the park at 6am (where, by the way, we saw a sloth bear almost immediately!), driven around the park until 12.30, then taken to a ‘lunch spot’ and asked to wait there for three hours, before going back out in the vehicle for the afternoon safari…… So in all honesty, we were a bit disappointed with Wilpattu (except for the sloth bear!).
- The Tea Plantation Visit. Just a note really for you to bear in mind. We were staying at Jim’s Farm but went for the tea plantation visit and lunch at Ashburnham, which was simply fabulous. However, it took over 1.5 hours each way to get to the tea plantation from Jim’s Farm and I would say that’s too long really. Would recommend in an instance like that, that you put people to stay at Ashburnham itself? Wonderful place, and lots for the children to do there with the pool, waterfall etc.
Many thanks for setting it all up for us!
Ryan Family (with two children aged 12 and 20)
Travelled Summer 2016
Many thanks we had a great time! Train ride was good and we saw different views of the countryside. All the accommodation was fantastic and we could not rate Jims Farm Villas highly enough. We especially liked the communal dining there and I bumped into someone who worked with my sister! What a small world! The safari was fantastic and everything on the camp was very well organised. The guided walk was good with a very knowledgeable guide.
The Thilanka in Kandy was not great as rooms were fairly basic with a limited view. The staff were friendly and helpful though, and the food was nice. We were glad however that we were only staying there for one night.
It may be helpful to point out that a few of the hotels/restaurants do not serve alcohol ie Rangiri Dambulla hotel, but they were happy for you to bring your own, you just had to know in advance.
Our guide was very enthusiastic and a very good driver, but did not always understand our English. He arranged for a cake for my husbands birthday, which was a nice surprise. He had a lot of contacts but his itinerary did not always match ours so that may be worth pointing out to partner in Sri Lanka. Having been there before we went to quite a few ‘touristy’ places but I think we would have got a better deal for eg silk and saris at the local market.
Overall we would definitely choose Stubborn Mule again, and certainly recommend to friends. Everything was very well coordinated and organised with all tickets in advance.
Only downside on the way back is we were affected by the plane crash at Dubai and had to be diverted as we the following plane, but Emirates were brilliant and immediately rebooked the flight but we could not get a hotel as there were no rooms, but today they emailed us to refund the tickets, so I would definitely fly with them again even though it took 36 hours to get home!
Thanks for all your help.
Family T (with one child aged 9)
Travelled Easter 2016
Here is our diary and thoughts about the trip. I hope it is useful.
This was the perfect hotel to begin our holiday (about one hour by car from Colombo airport). A former small colonial mansion with well-kept grounds, in very pleasant rural surroundings, the staff were wonderfully low key but very attentive and a great variety of food, luckily not all spicy, was served. Our ground floor room was very spacious, there was a good sized and clean swimming pool and the manicured lawn, provided us with an ideal cricket wicket. Our driver, Sumeda, was to prove throughout our trip a very handy cricketer and probably welcomed the exercise with all the hours of driving ahead. This estate has a coconut farm and our guided tour of the farm and the local village on foot was much needed after the ten and a half flight the day before.
Big Game Safari Camp (nights 3 and 4)
Given its relative remoteness and close to Wilpattu National Park, this camp was a very well equipped. Managed by a retired army major, the camp was very well run. On our arrival we were greeted and given our “orders” in true military fashion, which initially made me wonder what sort of camp this was but soon the efficiency of the staff, the comfort of the tents and the camp food made us very relaxed. The breakfast and dinners (round a camp fire) menus were naturally limited but excellent. The packed breakfast for the early start to the national park was less so. The nighttime nature walks around the camp were particular enjoyable. Our guide, on these walks was Danuhla, a recently graduated Kandy zoology student. He was very engaging and knowledgeable. Amazing what goes on in the forest at night if you look close-up. Nicholas (our 8 year old) loved it.
On our visit to Wilpattu National Park, we were very fortunate to see a young male leopard and a sloth bear within about ten minutes of each other and quite early on. Both these animals seemed totally un-phased by our vehicle. On our earlier than expected return to the camp, our excited retired army major plotted our sightings on a large map in the reception tent. It was beers all round (except for N of course) which was so welcomed because, gosh it was hot.
Rangiri Dambulla Resort (nights 5 and 6)
Our driver advised us that our local travel agent had an interest in this hotel and from the cramped but very manageable tent(s) for our previous two nights, our room (Room 1) for the next two nights was quite the opposite; large and more than adequately equipped. This included a TV, enabling us to watch the 20/20 World Cup final. What an unfortunate last over by England and what on earth was Mr Stokes doing bowling the second ball of this over like his first. Again good variety of food was on offer at the hotel and for the second night, there were enough guests staying to justify a buffet supper. The swimming pool was again of good size and as with at Horathapola, our driver, N and I played cricket on the lawn. The hotel is currently expanding, building more bedrooms and apparently for this reason the hotel did not hold a liquor license. So it was down to Food City, the local supermarket in Dambulla for bottles of Lion beer.
On our drive to Rangiri, we had been very ambitious. We visited the Buddha caves (circa mid-day) and later that afternoon we climbed up to the ruins of the rock fortress at Sigiriya to be there for sunset. That was not as planned on our itinerary but …! The climb to the top of the ruin rock fortress (200m in height) was well worth it for the sunset and the 360-degree panoramic view. And, to think that even in the 5th century, engineering was such that a system could pump water to the top of this large rock outcrop.
The following day, our driver knew of an elephant owner offering rides so that was our first stop. Our short elephant ride took us along the main road and into a lake. Our next stop was to the Aathreya Ayurvedic Hotel and Spa for a welcomed massage. One gets very stiff sitting in a car doing an average of just under 40km/hour with the air-conditioning on high. Lunch was in roadside hotel and the rest of the day was back at the hotel for a swim, cricket but no TV.
The ambitious feat of walking up to the Buddha caves and the rock fortress at Sigiriya on the same day enabled us to have a relaxed start on the morning we set off for Kandy. En route, we made several stops. Firstly to a spice garden (Tsiwara Ayurvedic Village), next to a batik gallery to be shown how the prints were waxed onto dresses, then a Jewellers & Gem Merchants (Amith Gems) and then finally a craft shop.
Once in Kandy, we parked at the Red Cross theatre, the venue for the evenings’ cultural dance show. Beforehand thou we had plenty of time for a visit to The Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. A, N and the driver were there for well over an hour. It was not for me as I was incorrectly dressed. After front row seats at the cultural dance show and definitely feeling the heat from the red hot coals, we went in search of Mountbatten’s Bungalow.
Mountbatten Bungalow (night 7)
A great hotel, just such a pity it was for only one night. Our ski chalet-style bedroom was extremely comfortable and the swimming pool was perfect even at 6.30am. The service at supper had been desperately slow but the morning staff more than excelled themselves as they laid our breakfast table on the manicured lawn. Mountbatten Bungalow is definitely a minimum two-night stay and has a history as the name suggests.
On leaving Mountbatten Bungalow, the original plan had been to take the train from Kandy to Ella. As the driver had pointed out that this would take about seven hours, we followed his suggestion and drove to Nuwara Eilya from where we caught the train to Ella. This reduced the train journey by about four hours. The drive to Nuwara Eilya took us through dramatic fertile hill/tea plantation country. We stopped at the Glenloch Tea Factory and the Mackwood’s Tea Centre. Nuwara Eilya (” Little England”) was certainly worth a walk about with its post office, race course and the Grand Hotel, are a taste of former colonial splendour. Once on the train we continued the climb through the highlands. Despite its’ slow speed, this train journey was certainly worth doing.
Villa Perpetua (night 8)
Tucked away on the side of a hill near to Ella with great far-reaching views. We were the only guests staying so perhaps our room, (Room 4) was the best en suite in the “house”. It was certainly approached by the least amount of steps but my goodness the smell of damp in the room was strong. The staff and food here were good and shortly after our arrival, out came the hotel’s cricket bat. N and our driver made use of the limited level outside space (the car park) to practice. Much of the evening was spent trying to organise an extra night at our next hotel. Villa Perpetua is a fine stop over for one night or if you have days’ excursions but for us our proposed full day there and another night did not work for us.
Kalu’s Hideaway (nights 9 and 10)
To get to this hotel we drove through Ella Gap, again dramatic hill country. We stopped at the small Rawana waterfall and not before long the landscape changed as we descended to the lowlands. Before checking in at Kalu’s Hideaway, we had lunch near the entrance to the Uda Walawe National Park and before arriving at Kalu’s, our driver knew of an unusual attraction; a rather large male elephant rather partial to maize! Once we had checked in to Kalu’s, we rushed off to watch the 3pm feeding time at the local elephant orphanage/transit camp.
Kalu’s Hideaway was perfect for a two-night stay and we were well fed and watered. This hotel is situated on a bank of the Walawe river and is owned is Ramesh Kaluwisharana, a former Sri Lankan opening batsman/wicketkeeper Test cricketer. He was in the Sri Lankan 1996 cricket world cup winning side and on display in the hotel there is much cricket memorabilia to admire. I could have sworn that the floor wax used to polish the front reception areas was linseed oil based!
The following day we were up early and headed for Uda Walawe National Park for a morning safari. Many elephants were on show along with several peacocks and peahens, some crocodiles and plenty of colourful birds (we are not twitchers, yet!). For our breakfast stop we joined the “tourist” picnic spot on the edge of a lake. There were many vehicles. Lunch was back at Kalu’s where we swam, played table tennis and cricket while peacocks just strolled around us. We left Kalu’s after lunch on the third day. By now we were travel-worn and were looking forward to more relaxed starts.
W15 Villa (nights 11, 12, 13 and 14)
The plan was four nights at this new 10-bedroom boutique hotel on the beach in Weligama, a short drive from Marissa and only 140km from Colombo. The prime reason for being on the coast was for whale watching. We had one boat trip pre-arranged through Blue Water Cruises and with a crew of four, we were the only passengers. This was a great ratio of passengers to crew. This boat trip lasted about three hours and we were fortunate to see a bryde’s whale and many spinner dolphins, all very close up. The second boat trip was just as successful but not as short, about seven and a half hours. In return for the early start and what seemed an age out in the Indian Ocean, we were fortunate to see three blue whales, again close up. It was just so unfortunate that N the day before had landed awkwardly on his right elbow and, after driving around Matara hospitals, N’s right arm was set in a plaster cast. He was very brave. The length he went to ensure a second whale-watching trip! While in Matara, we had lunch at the Rest House (rebuilt in its original colonial style following the tsunami in 2004) next to the old Dutch fort.
During our stay at W15 we had an enjoyable afternoon visit to Galle (35km), walking round the old Dutch fort, the old town and visiting the international cricket stadium.
Wallawwa (night 15)
Talk about saving the best till last, Wallawwa did not disappoint. We arrived just before dark having been on the seven and a half hour boat trip, a fast drive up the southern highway and a short visit to our driver’s home to meet and eat with his family. At Wallawwa, we had a wonderfully spacious room with our own private garden. Wallawwa is another former colonial private residence but on a much larger scale to Horathapola. Wallawwa boasted every aspect of colonial splendour with large reception rooms, several verandas and extensive manicured lawns. The staff were very attentive, the menus at dinner and breakfast provided plenty of choice and the swimming pool was of good size and clean. It was sad to go. Like us, most of our fellow guests were heading back to the airport, which was only twenty minutes away.
The itinerary was quite challenging in the heat, there was a lot of slow but unavoidable driving but we enjoyed seeing a wide variety of what Sri Lanka has to offer.
The local agents provided a young and enthusiastic driver. Sumeda looked after us well and was particularly great when we visited hospitals in Matara.
Thank you Liddy for organising a great and memorable holiday for us.
Family B (with three children aged 3, 5 and 7)
Travelled Easter 2016
Thanks for your email and I apologise for not getting back to you before now. We had a fabulous time in Sri Lanka and the itinerary worked really well for us. Our driver Siri was most obliging and knew exactly when to feed us with information and also when we were too tired to take anything else in.
The highlights were – the Wallawwa – what an amazing hotel! So close to the airport yet a world away from it, just amazing for escaping to after a long flight. The staff, the food, the accommodation, I can’t praise it highly enough. The tea plantation, fantastic tour from the Plantation Manager at the Ashburnham and then we whizzed around the narrow hill roads to the tea factory in 3 wheelers (I must not call them tuk tuk’s Siri would be most offended) which the children loved. Sigiriya and Dumbulla – both well worth the visit and interesting enough for the children not to get bored. The Palagama, again, a fantastic hotel and we really enjoyed some down time at the beach. The children loved that the sea was so warm – a complete novelty for them.
The downsides – there weren’t any really – it was unseasonably hot for the time of year, which took E and I some getting used to although the children coped really well. The safari at Wilpattu was OK, a bit long for the children and limited wildlife and bird life, which I was quite surprised at. I had thought we might see more varied bird life there. The guides were utterly useless – their English was very poor and I think that we spotted just as much wildlife as they did. They relied on their wildlife guides to identify and translate – it would have been better if we had cut out the middleman and just borrowed the book and gone with the driver! On a serious note, I know that this is a great way to provide employment for the young men in the area, but they really do need to improve their skills. However I understand that they are allocated on rotation so there isn’t much that can be done.
Finally, we did get hassled a lot by Chinese tourists in the cultural triangle both at the hotel and at the sights. All because of the children – my youngest is very blond, they are close in age and all look alike but it became a bit of a nuisance. We climbed up Sigiriya and were resting by the lions paw at one of Sri Lanka’s most famous sights and we were fighting off Chinese tourists wanting to take pictures of our children. Bizarre.
Anyhow I can’t thank you enough for another amazing adventure. I will be very interested to hear what you got up to in Vietnam, as it is top of our list for potential destinations in 2017!
Family K (with three children aged 7, 12 and 15)
Travelled Summer 2015
Well, where to begin? We had the most amazing holiday and it has really re-awoken the explorer bug in the adults and sparked things off in the children too (my 12 year old came home from school yesterday announcing he wants to go to Ghana next year with school!).
Our holiday started slightly unexpectedly, in that Tissa (our lovely driver/guide) had decided to change the order of things a little, meaning we went on the boat trip at Muthurajawela as soon as we left the airport. The result was the children saw their first snake, huge water monitor and Kingfisher within an hour of arrival – very exciting! The change to the itinerary was a great idea as it meant we had our last day at Horathapola free which turned out to be brilliant, because we were able to go to the local market in the morning, relax by the pool for a while and then do the ox cart ride in the afternoon.
Once we had done the boat ride we went off to the Catamaran and then the programme carried on more or less unchanged. Tissa did swap the Wilpattu safari so we did that late afternoon and went to Anuradhapura the following morning. This also turned out to be a really good idea as we saw two leopards and were fresh for the extensive tour the following morning.
My comments on the hotels are:
- The Catamaran was fine for the purpose of catching our breath after the long flight (good size room, clean, nice location on the beach), but I would not have wanted to spend much longer there, as the buffet was a bit limited.
- The Elephas was brilliant – lovely staff, big rooms (again clean and well appointed), fab pool and really good food. We liked this one very much.
Then we went to the Anilana. What can I say?!? It was amazing and worth every penny. When we first arrived, I wondered if it might be too formal for the children, but I needn’t have worried. The service was fantastic, the staff were all friendly and helpful and the location was brilliant. The buffet was AMAZING – and even when our 7 year old proclaimed there was nothing he could eat (two nights running!) they very kindly asked him what he would like and produced exactly what he had asked for.
- Off to The Sanctuary – we were the only people staying there that night and the lovely waiter could not have worked harder to ensure we had a lovely evening. The food was excellent and the rooms were lovely. Not sure if you have been there since the bathrooms have been refurbished, but they are excellent. Loved the monkeys in the garden and the bats flying around. The only thing you may want to point out to guests about this one is that no alcohol is served (Tissa came to the rescue and found a supermarket with some beer!).
- Finally to Horathapola. After Anilana everything was measured against a very high standard. When we arrived at Horathapola and were greeted at the door by Raj, it was like being welcomed into someone’s (very beautiful) home. Completely different from Anilana, but just as wonderful in a different way. Again, we were the only people there that night and they looked after us like royalty. We had the most delicious curry served at a table decorated with frangipane flowers. Breakfast the next morning was unbelievable – the food kept on coming! And then even on the second night, when the hotel was full, we would not have known, the service was so personal. They took us off to the market in tuk tuks and one of the waiters came with us to help with buying things (50p Hugo Boss pants made for a happy 12 year old!). The only thing we nearly came unstuck with here was paying as they do not take cards. As this was our last hotel we had run down our cash. Tissa lent us some, but again, perhaps something to forewarn people of in their itinerary.
Tissa was a brilliant guide. He was flexible with us when we wanted to slow down or speed up a little. He made every journey fascinating by telling us what we could see outside and stopping often to allow us to take photos. He bought us bananas, stopped at a little curd stall and lots of other little stops that all increased our enjoyment of the tour. He was very knowledgeable about his country and the wildlife and really enthusiastic about everything he showed us. The “van”, as it was affectionately known, was a really good size and very comfortable which was great for all the journeys. And he was a fantastic driver, which made us feel relaxed, even on the most horn-honking, cow-strewn, tuk tuk dodging roads!
We really enjoyed everything we saw and there was a good balance between the cultural, beach and wildlife. The pace was about right too allowing us all some down time now and again.
I can’t tell you how sad we all were to come home. This doesn’t usually happen – my husband and I are usually ready by about day 10 to get back to normality. This time, coming back to the UK just felt too boring and far too soon. Would love to go back again and do the tea plantations, Kandy and the south of the island. We were charmed by the people who were all so friendly and helpful wherever we went and by the country, which was truly beautiful. We have been to India before and were prepared to see beggars and poverty as we had there, but we hardly saw any signs of hardship in Sri Lanka. I am sure this is because we were in a bit of a “bubble”, but as an introduction to Asia for the children, it was perfect.
Finally, thank you to you and Kelly who were prompt and efficient as well as knowledgeable and helpful in putting together the itinerary and booking the hotels. I contacted three companies when I sent my initial email and you were the first to respond and kept up an excellent level of service right the way through. We would definitely use you again. In fact, I have been looking at your website already (looks different – are there lots more photos on there now?) for more inspiration – just a matter of saving up the pennies now! It won’t be next year for us, but maybe you will hear from us again in two or three years’ time.
Thank you for all your help, Very best wishes.
Family H (with three children aged 10, 16 and 18)
Travelled Summer 2015
Thank you for your email. We had an amazing holiday and the whole family enjoyed themselves. We loved the hotels – Horathapola was amazing and a superb start, Camelia worked well and Jim’s Farm was amazing but this may be because we stayed in the new rooms at the top of the hill which were quite incredible.
Kandyan Manor was not good and perhaps worse having come from Jim’s Farm. We stayed in rooms off the front hall. The rooms were very dated, neither of the bedroom doors shut (let alone locked) so we wedged them overnight with a stool! The bathroom was fairly bad as well although the host was charming. As I did not know what the actual breakdown was of the cost of the hotels, it was hard to judge the hotels fully but it was rather a let down for us all. We enjoyed both the Grand (in fact another night would have been nice) and Forest Edge.
Regarding the excursions, we thoroughly enjoyed them all. Our driver also tried very hard to find things we were interested in. He happily took us around the vegetable market in Dambulla and we also persuaded him to take us to the festival in Kandy. He was very good with L. We loved the walking, sites and white water rafting. I don’t think the elephant ride was quite what was planned. We ended up taking a rather nasty elephant ride near Sigiriya. I think that there was a problem with the ride we had booked and so he just found us an elephant to ride which of course was the tourist one up and down the road which was not ideal and left us all feeling rather bad about the whole thing. However, this was not his fault and was perhaps due to the Kandy festival.
However, those are the only questionable things. The trip was fantastic. We loved Sri Lanka and its people. We felt very safe at all times and adored the food. I would thoroughly recommend Sri Lanka to anyone and also your services.
Family B (with two children aged 8 and 11)
Travelled Summer 2015
Thank you for organising a fantastic holiday to Sri Lanka. We had a wonderful time. Highlights included the elephant ride, the dolphin-viewing trip (sadly no whales), white water rafting, the walk through the villages in the knuckles range (though the boys got a bit tired and hot and M got a leach on his leg that bled for ages) and Polonnaruwa (I loved this but the boys get bored around sights – philistines!).
The trip did not go quite as planned as the minibus broke down on the first long journey and so we had to change vehicle and guides. Lal, who replaced Tissa, was great – nothing was too much trouble and he was great at finding things to stop and see along the road such as water monitors in a river, birds and elephants. He probably didn’t do as much ‘guiding’ as Tissa would have done but M and I like wandering around sites on our own and so this didn’t bother us. Lal took us to the municipal dump in Trincomalee for our first view of wild elephants – a sad sight that we will never forget. Lal didn’t know where many of the hotels / accommodation were so it took a while to find some places but we got there in the end. I am not sure he enjoyed the trip up to Forest’s Edge though the view from the top was magical!
On a less positive note, probably the most disappointing thing for me was the jeep ride to see elephants in Minneriya. I was hoping to see loads of elephants but in the end we only saw about 12 and they weren’t that easy to find. The main problem was is that it started to rain and it appears that elephants, like me, are not that keen on the rain. The other problem was that we were in the only tourist jeep that didn’t have a roof and got absolutely drenched. We then went to the home stay and had to spend an hour drinking tea and making very small talk when all I wanted to do was go and get changed into dry clothes.
The other negative point was the cost of the food in Jim’s farm villas. As you told me in general we had to eat in the hotel and in all places up to this point the cost of the food was quite reasonable and an allowance made for the children. We were therefore quite taken aback with a bill for nearly £250 after 3 nights. Admittedly we spent about £70 on drinks but that is still quite a hefty bill for what was quite dull food, although cooked well – I have spent less for meals out in London! After eating chicken and mash potato on the second night we asked for more local Singhalese food. They also charged full price for the children. I could have asked about prices beforehand and also asked if the children could share but we didn’t know what to expect as previous meals were made up of small plates in the middle and everyone helped themselves. Anyway although Jim’s Farm is beautiful and the room was lovely, this bill really took the shine off our stay and made me quite worried about how much we were going to get subsequently charged.
(NOTE: There was an error on this bill and the clients were subsequently refunded part of the bill)
The home stay was interesting. It was nice to meet some real Sri Lankans, support the local people and the food was the best we had all trip. However it is quite disconcerting being watched while you are eating – I would have preferred it if we had eaten all together. Also there wasn’t a bannister up stairs so I was worried that the children might wake up in the night and fall over the edge to the floor below on their way to the loo. The bathroom didn’t have an effective lock, which made going to the loo in the middle of the night interesting.
Otherwise the hotels were lovely – where do you find them? We had a beautiful room in the Chaaya Blue and the view from Forest’s Edge was breathtaking as I said. I loved the quirkiness of the Kandyan Manor and Horothapola was just lovely. Our ‘room’ at Global Towers was bigger than most people’s flats. An added bonus there was that we encountered the local Hindu population celebrating the Vel festival – with people hanging from poles attached by hooks through the skin of their backs – yuck.
Anyway overall we had a lovely time. The countryside was beautiful and activities varied so there was something for everyone. We saw loads of wildlife and really wished we had brought some binoculars as there were loads of birds – might be worth suggesting this on your itinerary for future trips.
Family R (with one child aged 6)
Travelled April 2015
What an amazing trip! Thank you!
Lovely driver, cool itinerary (though his was slightly different to ours with a couple of extra things which we decided not to do anyway).
Only thing would have changed was day 2 which was nearer seven hours driving than four (took three to get to first stop. An hour to get to the second which we ended up not doing (long story!) and we assumed we were virtually at Dambulla by then but turned out to be three more hours.
Accommodation all great think our favourite was Horathapola – although the rooms were very basic everything else was amazing and the food incredible.
Very depressed to be home and now looking ahead to the next trip!
Family G (with three children aged 11, 13 and 15)
Travelled Summer 2014
It was an amazing experience and we loved every minute. Our guide was outstanding, Siri was friendly and helpful without ever being intrusive – he knew when to step forward and when to leave us alone as a family. The itinerary was ambitious – we knew that – but it was worth it -we all agreed that we wouldn’t have missed out anything in order to have travelled less or more slowly. Just a couple of “even better if” suggestions:
– the cycle ride was a terrific experience BUT it would have helped to have realised in advance that it would be over 20 miles – one of my girls doesn’t really cycle much and she found this hard going – I would have gotten her out on her bike at home a lot more before the trip if I had realised what was required – it was a great experience though. The roads chosen are not entirely “quiet country roads” they go several busy towns and a lot of construction – it can be quite daunting when you are watching your child cycling with a motorbike on one side of her, a lorry on the other and a bus coming towards us all. Sri Lanka traffic tends to use all the available space on a road!
– in most cases our itinerary meant that there were few options available to eat outside of the hotel – the hotel food was always good and most hotel restaurants were very reasonable – but it would have been useful to realise this and have booked half board in advance – we used our credit card more than expected and each transaction carries a fee.
But again I want to say that we had high hopes that this would be a “holiday of a lifetime” and it surpassed our expectations – Sri Lanka is an amazing destination, but the organisation and our guide made sure we got the best out of every destination. We met some other English tourists on the train trip who were doing a similar trip over 3 weeks with a different agency and they were thoroughly miserable – their hotels were not as good, they told us that they came to two of the hotels we stayed at for “a treat – a respite from the places that they were staying in” and their guide didn’t speak clear English to explain the basics of what is happening next, never mind the wealth of information about the wildlife, plants, recipes and culture that Siri dropped into all our conversations; their guide also took them to the Lion Rock to walk up at midday – whereas Siri made sure that we were up early to walk up in the shade and return before the hordes of school trips get going – everything was organised well on our trip and it is all those little things that add up to make the whole trip great – there were no distractions or niggles to detract from the splendour of Sri Lanka.
The variety offered was amazing – it was a terrific experience for all of us.
I would agree with all of my wife’s feedback. (Though I rather enjoyed the cycling through the towns, but you need to have confidence in your kids’ ability on a bike).
I particularly liked the fruit and veg wholesale market (I forget which town) and the fish market in Negombo. Very pleased we added the train ride; that was excellent. Lucky too that we dropped World’s End as it was zero visibility when we were there.
Stops at Gem Museum, Batik Museum, Herb Garden were less interesting for us but I guess they made useful journey breaks as we had signed up for a punishing travel schedule. In retrospect I would rather have stopped at some weekly markets or spent some time browsing in a town; we never really made time to wander on our own and meet people rather than be always guided round by the excellent Siri. I was really pleased I made some time to get a local haircut and shave (a short tuc tuc from Passakudah), I’d recommend that to anyone not inclined to lie on a beach.
I was glad that we had reversed the trip to start at Marina Riverside (Bentota). It was the poorest of the hotels so would have been a bit of anticlimax on the last day. Any future visitors should definitely take the boat trip to the beach which was a bit magical on our first day when we were almost inclined to just crash in our rooms. (All of the other hotels were higher than the standard we are used to).
Family B (with two children aged 13 and 16)
Travelled Summer 2014
The tour was excellent and always exceeded our expectations. Sunnil was always helpful, punctual, smartly presented, organised, friendly and thoughtful. He was lovely with our children. Thank you!
Family K (with two children aged 18 months and 5)
Travelled May 2014
Over all it was amazing. S didn’t want to leave … and I think for her it will always be a little bit of heaven. We are already thinking of going back and doing the southern coast once we have experienced a few more countries.
The itinerary was great – it was flexible enough to account for two young travellers and varied enough for us to have seen a bit of everything. The accommodation was mostly great! We loved staying in Horopothola and Jim’s farms.
The drives were long and that is okay but I think some slight tweaking of the itinerary would have meant a lot less driving on a few days. And lastly we didn’t stay in the last guest house because it was way too far away form Colombo and there really wasn’t anything around there to do.
Might be contacting you soon for out next trip!
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Sri Lanka in pictures
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