This bucket list destination brings all the adventure and relaxation you crave
Here’s the thing: I love travel. Love, love, love. I can travel non-stop on back-to-back trips and still want more. I have two boys and one is a travel junkie like me and the other is decidedly not.
My oldest, the travel enthusiast, was graduating eighth grade and I wanted to take him somewhere special to celebrate the occasion. We settled on Sri Lanka, a place that my son was not overly familiar with and a place that had been on my bucket list for ages.
Nestled in the heart of South Asia, the island of Sri Lanka is known for its rich cultural heritage, lush landscapes, and warm hospitality. Plus, there are plenty of active adventure activities to be had. Traveling with a teen can be both a ton of fun and a challenging experience. I wanted to plan plenty of active adventure excursions to keep us busy but also wanted to allow for downtime so we wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves. This trip turned out to be the perfect combination of both.
And the Journey Begins
I decided to stay at the Uga properties—they cater to families (with plenty of activities for teens), but they also provide a really unique, luxury experience. So in the evenings, or on days we had downtime, the resort was a perfect place to relax and recharge.
Our first stop was Uga Chena Huts which is nestled within the heart of Yala National Park. This eco-luxury resort provided us with an amazing, upscale, unique glamping experience. The resort consists of fewer than 20 luxurious villas each with its own private plunge pool, creating plenty of privacy amidst the wilderness. My son and I went swimming in our plunge pool both day and night, both together and separately. That plunge pool got so much use, it was one of the highlights of our trip. It felt so decadent to have our own pool and since it was steps away from our room, it was quick and easy to change in (and out) of our swimming suits. The views of the ocean from the pool were amazing.
We did daily game drives in Yala National Park and saw tons of elephants and other wildlife. The game drives went out twice daily—early in the morning and late in the afternoon, prime times to see the animals. The property also offered star gazing so we were able to unwind under the night sky with a guided stargazing session, where teens (and adults) joined us to learn about the constellations. It was magical.
Next, we headed to Ulagalla Resort located near Anuradhapura. Set amidst 58 acres of lush greenery, Ulagalla is equally stunning and also came with a private plunge pool. (Jack and I were quickly getting spoiled). This property is massive in size (one of our favorite activities was to bike around the grounds and through the rice paddies), but it’s intimate enough that there are less than 30 villas, so it never felt crowded. Even though there were other travelers present, we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
This property really caters to families as they have so many excursions. In addition to cycling around the property, they have a bike tour that goes through the local village and stops at historical sites and temples. This was such an amazing tour—the locals were so friendly, with all the kids coming out and waving and yelling “hello!” as we cycled past. When we stopped at the temple, local kids and adults gathered around us to ask where we were from and how we liked Sri Lanka. I’ve traveled all over the world and have met many warm, kind, and hospitable people, but Sri Lanka is definitely at the top of the list for friendliest. Everywhere we went people (kids and adults) smiled and waved hello. It felt so special and warm.
In addition to the bike tour, we went kayaking at dawn through the lily pads which felt so tranquil and magical. We also did a sunset jeep tour where we had drinks overlooking the escarpment (our guide told us that sometimes elephants make an appearance). We also did a cooking class (which we both loved even though at home we are not very good cooks) and went horseback riding in the lake (the horses were super playful).
One evening we had a fantastic dinner experience called Kamatha. It was a feast—we were served up traditional specialties—dozens of small dishes that incorporated vegetables harvested at Ulagalla’s organic farm; locally-caught lake fish; and free-range meats sourced locally. This was a very special treat and it was all the more magical because our dinner took place in the middle of a rice paddy. The three days spent at Ulagalla felt like a month—we did so much, but also had ample time to relax and just take in the scenery (from our private plunge pool, of course).
The next stop was Uga Bay, a beachside resort situated along the golden shores of Pasikudah. The resort offers snorkeling, SUP, and sunbathing (which isn’t bad given there are amazing views of the Indian Ocean). We also went scuba diving here. In the evening, we had a lovely beach dinner—the table and chairs were literally created from the sand. It was truly special and unique.
Before heading back to the U.S., we spent a final night in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital at Uga Residence, a boutique property that houses one of the city’s top restaurants Rare Bar + Kitchen.
My son and I spent 12 days together and it was a perfect mix of active adventure and relaxation.
Booking with a Tour Operator
When traveling with kids, it’s ideal to book everything through a tour operator so they can handle all the transfers, hotel bookings, and excursions. Not only is Scott Dunn ideal for families but they are experts in Sri Lanka, so they know how to put together the right itinerary. The company has been around for over 35 years and they customize every trip depending on what your family wants to do and see. Plus, they have access to the best guides and drivers, so you’ll get an expert trip that is curated for your unique needs and wants. Last but not least, there’s 24/7 support when you’re on your trip, which provides plenty of peace of mind, especially when traveling with kids. Scott Dunn prides itself on planning down to the smallest detail—knowing it’s the smallest touches that make the biggest difference.
Flying to Sri Lanka
Anyone traveling with kids knows the flight can make or break a trip. Qatar Airways is a great choice when traveling with kids due to its world-class service and family-friendly amenities. With spacious seating, in-flight entertainment, and attentive cabin crew, flying with Qatar Airways allows for a comfortable journey for parents and teens alike. Moreover, their extensive global network makes connecting to Sri Lanka from various destinations around the world convenient and hassle-free. From the U.S. there’s a stopover in Doha before connecting to Colombo. The airport in Doja is amazing (you could spend a week there just shopping) and the Qatar Airways lounge is a great spot to relax and enjoy a meal.