Family trip through Sri Lanka

Ceylon - pearl in the Indian Ocean


The big bull elephant is only a few meters in front of me, but it is like a ghost. His steps are almost silent and he wouldn't move, I would have overlooked him ...

The separation begins at the moment of the meeting. - Sinhala saying

"Papa, there!" Cries my son and points to one of the ubiquitous peacocks here, who tries to impress a peacock girl just a few meters away from the vehicle. "Papa, the peacock spreads its fur!"

I have to laugh out loud, like on our ten-hour flight from Frankfurt to Colombo, on which our four-year-old asked me if passengers were standing up, if they would get out now.

In the usual eloquence I explain the courtship rituals of the blue peacock to the little one. But just as I start to portray gender dimorphism in more detail, as is so often the case, I am interrupted in my boring comments: “Da Papa! Monkeys “And actually a group of adolescent whiskered >

Sri Lanka is a real wonderland for nature photographers and children.

Our journey begins with the worst possible sign. First, the little one gets pneumonia punctually before the family vacation, which we have to treat antibiotically three times a day for a week and only go to the airport after approval by the pediatrician, then the security staff in Frankfurt go on strike and our flight is canceled. It takes a lot of nerves, but we manage to postpone both the outbound and return flight for a few days.

I can only really believe that everything went well when I stroll along the beach in Negombo, at 35 ° C in the shade, with the current weather forecast from Germany in the back of my mind.

Traditional Sinhala boats on Negombo beach

We take some time to acclimatize, it is hot and our little one is in such a bad mood due to the long flight that tired parents find the first day to be an ordeal. A victim of the jet lag I use the time in which my friend and child sleep and explore the area extensively. I talk to Sinhalese, buy a few mangoes here, roam fish markets and put myself in the right mood to travel.

Local small-scale fishing on Sri Lanka's west coast, glossy crows take advantage of the hour

From Negombo we always travel north with some buses along the west coast. The last kilometers are over dusty slopes to our final stop, where you can imagine yourself far away from the typical tourist trails.

The Muslim residents of the place are interested, friendly, the sun is shining, it is warm and calm and the accommodation and the food are unusually good.

In front of the ever windy beaches of Kalpitiya, kitesurfers and flocks of spinner dolphins are particularly popular. The wind prevents swimming in the sea, so we decide to go out to the dolphins. Our son is enthusiastic despite the rough sea and I am grateful for my splash-proof DSLR.

Spinner dolphins are in large shoals off Sri Lanka's west coast, they owe their name to the jumps they turn.

Bar Reef is an hour away by boat from the coast. Despite the cloudy water, a remarkable underwater landscape with shy black tip reef sharks. While the crew is entertaining our son and the girlfriend discovers snorkeling, I switch cameras and dive.

Cloudy water make photography and the discovery of sharks difficult, but the bar reef offers a remarkable biodiversity with wide, largely intact reef landscapes.

After a few pleasant days on the coast, we travel further inland. Hours of bus driving in high heat, feared by parents with a small child, without air conditioning or a seat prove to be problem-free ... friendly Sinhalese make room for our little one, who thankfully oversleeps large parts of the journey and thus makes it bearable for us.

We make a stopover to visit Sri Lanka's largest national park, Wilpatthu, early in the morning. The entrance fee to the park is so high that we could buy entry for the same price of half a hundred Sinhalese people. Despite the high density of Sri Lankan leopards in Wilpattu, we unfortunately don't see a single one. Even elephants don't show up and wouldn't compensate me for the many other animal sightings, I would describe the visit to the park as a total failure.

Wide, open landscapes characterize Wilpattu, top left a curiosity: an Indian muntjak, a small deer species in which the males wear long, dagger-like canines, eat carrion as well as plants and even hunt small animals.

After so much nature, the cultural aspect should of course not be neglected. In the next few days we will visit some of the old royal cities, marvel at temples, lay flowers at the national shrine, the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, walk through ancient ruins and drive a lot with the widely available tuk-tuks. For the small two-stroke companion, which is available in almost every form in Asia, our smallest travel participant is more enthusiastic than old walls.

Bottom left: Ruwanwelisaya-Dagoba in Anuradhapura, next to it: White-bearded >

My first backpack trip with a child turns out to be much easier than I thought. The Sinhalese are a very child-friendly people and everything is done in our cheap accommodations to keep the little ones happy. We are not charged for his food a few times and special requests are fulfilled. Here he is allowed to sit at the wheel of a motorcycle, tuk-tuk or boat, there he is given a seat on the bus as a matter of course. Even the defused - but still spicy - food tastes good, much to our delight.

Thousands of fruit bats leave their sleeping trees to forage at dusk. I share a roof terrace with a British film team and take pictures of the flying foxes.

We try to use our time, which is unfortunately too short, as well as possible, because despite the relatively good roads, traveling overland takes much longer than expected, which is due to winding routes and too much traffic.

In Kandy, the quiet, former capital, we unexpectedly have more time than we thought and use it to drive to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, about 40 km away, a real highlight for our son.

The highlight of the trip for our son: a visit to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage with more than 90 animals that are allowed to bathe in groups in the nearby river every day

We travel overland, further south. The landscape changes from cloud forests to dry savannah. The coast is windy everywhere, the waves high, swimming with children is only possible in a few places. Everyone stays healthy, even if Papa throws himself off the rock while taking pictures, nobody is seriously injured. That was not how I had imagined the trip, I think, relieved.

Linsk below: Men bring in the rice crop. Right: I track the trail of a large elephant into the nearby Dornstrauchsavanne, there I lose its track.

Again and again I am amazed by the sheer number of animals that I see in Sri Lanka. Since peacocks cross in front of our breakfast table, sea turtles breed on the beach directly in front of our room and monitor lizards try in vain to snatch the eggs from the ground. Several species of monkeys can be found in practically every city park, bee eaters and kingfishers are as numerous as the pigeons at home and the traces of wild elephants are unmistakable and everywhere.

Top left: wild orchids, bottom left: stormy coast in the south of the island, right: whitebeard >

Loved by the lush fauna, we finally decide to visit another national park.

We decide against visiting the popular Yala and drive instead to the nearby Bundula National Park. In retrospect, it was a really good decision, because even while we are having a hot curry at noon, more than two dozen fully loaded tourist jeeps pass us in the direction of Yala.

In Bundula, on the other hand, we are the only guests, the visitor center is specially opened for us, our spotter is competent and the landscape of the park, with its wild coasts, swamps and trees, with its many birds, deer, crocodiles and some elephants, for me one of the most beautiful ever.

The heart of the nature photographer laughs and he wants a 400 mm prime lens.

My very personal resume: We were able to book a very cheap flight, the flight time of 10:40 hours was still bearable. Visa went online and was cheap, which unfortunately cannot be said of many sights in the country. Here the tourist likes to pay fifty times! of what a local pays what I think - income differences or not - is pretty outrageous. There is comparatively little hassle, even at tourist hotspots.

In general, the price level is low, although not as cheap as in SEAsia, for example. In return, the quality of cheap accommodation is well above the international level. I like the food, especially the curries, but I also like to eat spicy. The Sinhalese were exceptionally friendly and very, very fond of children, with a few exceptions, I can really recommend this country to families.

In terms of nature, there are certainly not many countries that play in a league with Sri Lanka.

The diversity and density of the fauna are really impressive and those who are interested should not go on vacation without binoculars and a larger lens on the camera.

Who does not yet have a Hindu temple or similar has seen the chance here, but here, as with the Dagobahs and similar religious buildings of Sri Lanka, the following applies: "if you have seen three, you have seen them all". The Sinhalese themselves were of particular cultural interest.

Most of Sri Lanka's cultural sights, which the average traveler has on their screen, I think are moderately interesting and sometimes overrated in travel guides.

You should bring enough time, because the country is small, but very diverse and it would be a mistake to underestimate the apparently short distances.

During my travel time (spring) the weather was almost always good, in the afternoons I often had fantastic light to take pictures, but the sea was rough and swimming in the sea was hard to imagine. Since the former Ceylon is located close to the equator, you need adequate sun protection (hello honey :) and a hat, and the sun goes down early, but there are no evening activities with our child anyway.

Clear travel recommendation!

  1. Great photos! What beautiful animals you got in front of the camera. And: I think it's great that there are three of you traveling with your backpack.

    LG, Aylin

  2. With the impressions and the great photos of it, that comes on the watch list ...

  3. Sounds like a very nice vacation!

  4. Beautiful, interesting report - since I have to ponder before every trip with the family, which lenses I take with me and which I don't, I would be interested in your equipment for this trip!

    • Till Schönherr

      Hi Markus,

      I still take photos in Crop, but RAW. My equipment consists of:

      EOS 70D
      Canon 18-135 mm STM
      Canon 11-22 mm IS USM
      Canon 100-300 mm IS USM (replaced by 100-400 mm USM EF IS USM II)
      Canon Speedlite 430 EX II

      For underwater shots:

      Canon SX230

  5. Hello Till,
    Thank you for the nice travel report and the really nice photos. I will also go to Sri Lanka with my girlfriend in October / Noveber. We are going for three weeks and want to take the trip in a relaxed manner, ie not rushing from place to place. I would therefore be interested in your specific travel route, precisely because you write that most of Sri Lanka's cultural sights, which the average traveler has on their screen, seem to be rather moderately interesting. In other words: which places can you recommend and which could we safely neglect? Is there even a recommended route?

    Thanks and best regards,

  6. Great post and lots of nice photos that increase my anticipation of Sri Lanka. We start in March. Good to know that children also enjoy Sri Lanka, because we are traveling with our son. I am already very excited!

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