In our recent travels, we spent 30 days exploring the breathtakingly diverse island of Sri Lanka by tuk tuk. This experience, especially with kids, ranks at the top of our travel experiences and has us wanting to revisit Sri Lanka time and time again. Read our full guide to find out why Sri Lanka has been named the top travel destination of 2023.
Back in May of 2018, Bre and I first journeyed to Sri Lanka, as backpackers, eager to discover the country. We spent thirty days driving a tuk tuk around the island, which made us fall head over heels in love with Sri Lanka. You can read about this initial tuk tuk adventure in Sri Lanka in our previous blog posts.
Fast forward nearly five years, we were excited to introduce our 20-month-old son, Indy, to the island paradise that we had been raving about. As a family of three with additional luggage (how does a tiny human require so much stuff?!), we had to consider our options for traveling Sri Lanka. We'd learned that the diversity of landscapes, from majestic mountains and verdant tea fields to serene beaches, contributed to its magic. To experience all of this, we needed a versatile means of transport.
While most families choose to hire a private driver, which is a great option, we decided that reliving our tuk tuk adventure was the only way we wanted to spend our month in Sri Lanka. We're not ones to take the easy route, so the challenge of navigating busy roads, fitting all our belongings into the back of the tuk tuk, and working around Indy's nap schedule intrigued us!
We invite you to immerse yourself in our comprehensive guide to exploring Sri Lanka by tuk tuk with kids. Since this is our second adventure in Sri Lanka, the generous team at Tuktuk Rental has provided an exclusive discount for our readers.
When booking your Tuktuk Rental, use the promo code THELOVE for a discount!
Our guide covers:
Is Sri Lanka Safe to Travel?
As we stated before, this is our second trip to Sri Lanka, but our first with a toddler in tow.
Prior to our trip in 2018, Sri Lanka was just becoming a hot tourist destination after coming out of a civil war in 2009. While traveling the country in 2018, we couldn't believe we were standing in a country just 9 years removed from division and destruction. It just didn't seem possible! The people were incredibly joyful and loving and willing to bend over backward to help each other and foreigners. The tourism industry was thriving and many foreigners were even considering making Sri Lanka a permanent home.
We even met up with our friends and fellow travelers Josh and Charlotte, who we knew at the time as the Spindrifters. They had just leased a property in Welligama and remodeled it, which would later become one of the most popular hostels on the island, Spindrift Welligama. We even considered staying in Sri Lanka more long-term as well, but we just weren't ready to commit to anywhere yet.
Between 2018 and 2023, a lot has happened for this little island nation which has included numerous traumas for the Sri Lankan people.
You may recall that in 2019, Sri Lanka was the target of a devastating terrorist attack that occurred on Easter. A total of 269 people were killed and 500 injured. Shortly after that in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and shut down the country to tourism. Following that, in 2022, just as the country was starting to reopen to tourism, there was a political and economic crisis that caused societal unrest, skyrocketing inflation, and shortages of goods, especially fuel.
Admittedly, our trip to Sri Lanka in early 2023 was with a little hesitation. We now have a toddler to think about, and we imagined that due to the economic crisis and all the turmoil of the recent years, the country might have undergone some changes. We speculated that petty theft or general crime may be on the rise as the country suffered from the recent events. We considered our medical safety. Would we be able to access basic goods?
What we found in February 2023 is that the country felt little changed from our visit 5 years earlier, at least through the lens of tourism. From the minute we landed, we were reminded how incredibly kind Sri Lankans are - especially when it comes to hospitality. For example, we stayed with a local family near Dambulla who loved playing with Indy, cooked us home cooked Sri Lankan meals, and even repaired our tuk tuk without us asking! Our theory about petty theft was quickly proven wrong and we felt perfectly safe leaving our belongings in the tuk tuk. We didn't experience any shortages in obtaining supplies like fuel, food, pharmaceuticals, or baby products. Lastly, prices were still very affordable for accommodation. We made sure top tip the locals well, when we could, and booked many tours through local people.
Overall, we couldn't believe how safe Sri Lanka felt after everything they have been through, and we were so happy to pour our tourist dollars into the country. Upon leaving, we once again agreed that we will have to move to Sri Lanka someday!
About Tuktuk Rental
Tuktuk Rental is a company in Sri Lanka that provides tuk tuks (also known as auto-rickshaws or three-wheelers) for rent to both tourists and locals. The company was founded with the aim of giving back to locals and providing a unique and immersive travel experience. They strive to give their renters a snapshot into what daily life is like as a Sri Lankan. Renting your own tuk tuk enables you to explore the country at your own pace in a fun authentic way.
Tuktuk Rental's tuk tuks come with proper insurance, documentation, support for the renters, and all of the needed supplies for your adventure. The company also provides driving lessons for those who are not familiar with driving a tuk tuk (like most of us), ensuring that their customers feel confident and safe on the road.
In addition to the basic rental service, Tuktuk Rental offers pre-planned itineraries, accommodation recommendations, and other trip support services to help travelers make the most of their time in Sri Lanka. Once you are on the road, you will even be added to a WhatsApp group consisting of all the other drivers currently on the road that can be used for tips, resources, or meeting up with other tuk tuk drivers. It's a blast!
Lastly, we have to say, Tuktuk Rental is truly a special company run by dedicated individuals that have maintained a connection with us ever since our first trip in 2018. Every time we walk into the office, it's like reuniting with family. Plus, they love kids and supporting families getting out on the road in their tuk tuk.
Our Experience with Driving
Upon arrival at Sri Lanka's main international airport (CMB), we headed over to the nearby Tuktuk Rental office and were greeted by friendly staff. We were barely out of the car by the time espressos were handed to us and Indy was "driving" a tuk tuk with one of the staff members. After settling in, it was time for the driving lesson with one of their skilled female driving instructors.
Our second lesson went pretty much like our first lesson back in 2018. After a brief rundown, our instructor took us to an abandoned parking lot to practice starting and stopping, braking, and shifting gears. After some trial and error, it all starts to get a little easier and you will start to feel confident enough to head down a small road with very little traffic. Then we moved on to some busier roads to practice driving with the traffic. Within an hour or two, most people feel comfortable driving and ready to tackle their itineraries. Because this was my second time driving, our lesson only took 30 minutes or so.
So, how was it actually driving around the country? Both times we've left from the Tuktuk Rental office, we headed north-east over to the centra region of the country. This quickly transitions from city traffic to quiet country roads. We recommend this route so that you can save the busier south beach towns for the end of your trip, once you've adapted to driving.
When we were in Tangalle for a week, Bre wanted to learn how to drive the tuk tuk one afternoon. With a brief description of how to shift and a couple of minutes of practice, she was off! She drove us to the next town over without any problems. So, if you're nervous about driving, don't be!
Considerations/Tips While Driving
Does it feel safe driving on the roads in a small tuk tuk? In short, yes, and there are several reasons why:
Tuk tuks are required to maintain a maximum speed of 40 kilometers per hour, which makes for a slowish and steady trip.
Tuk tuks are not allowed on highways or freeways, so most of the time, you will find yourself on smaller less-trafficked roads.
In general, a lot of Sri Lankans use tuk tuks to get around the country, so you will be cruising along with a lot of other tuk tuks or motorbikes on the road.
It's best to stay on the very left side of the road in your own sort of lane (there aren't really lanes but somehow everyone knows their place). That leaves plenty of room for larger vehicles (i.e. buses) to make their way around you on the right side.
We recommend picking up a SIM card with phone data before heading out so that you'll be able to look at Maps, access the WhatsApp Tuktuk Rental group, and be able to reach out to the rental office shall you encounter any problems. The Tuktuk Rental office can help you get a SIM card prior to your departure near the office. It can run anywhere from $4 USD for a little bit of data or close to $12 USD for nearly unlimited data for 30 days of service. Most options come with hotspot capability which is always a nice backup if accommodations didn't have good wifi.
To navigate, we mostly used Google Maps but another option is MAPS.ME which you can also find in your app store. Both apps give you the ability to download offline maps which can come in handy if you don't have good service.
When using Google Maps select the following options:
Tell the app you are riding a motorbike so that it best estimates drive time in a tuk tuk.
Tuktuk Rental will help you with your route, but you'll usually want to max out a day's drive at 150 kilometers (93 miles).
It's good to be aware that there are a few busy areas in Sri Lanka that can cause for higher stress while driving. Those areas are Colombo, Kandy, and the entire south coast road - which tends to have more cars, larger trucks, and buses that all travel at pretty high speeds. Also, their horns are deafening, so maybe bring some earplugs!
Safety and Traveling via Tuk Tuk with a Kid or Toddler
Tuktuk Rental is well-equipped to accommodate families and provide the extra support needed to have a successful trip across the country.
When it comes to the tuk tuk itself, Tuktuk Rental is able to provide very safe car seats for any kids you are bringing along for the adventure. Car seats are not required in Sri Lanka, even in tuk tuks, so we did get some double takes from locals wondering why we had our toddler in a car seat. But, it gave us peace of mind to have that extra layer of safety during travel. Not only that, but Indy is notoriously wiggly in vehicles, so it also helped keep him contained. If you're not familiar with tuk tuks themselves, it's important to note that one side of the back seat is completely open. There aren't any doors, locks, etc, so it would be easy for a kid to jump out while the tuk is moving.
We received a lot of questions about how Indy did with riding in the tuk tuk for long distances and how his nap schedule worked out. We've always been fortunate that Indy naps really well on the go and has been doing so since he was a baby. Adaptability is not something he struggles with (fortunately), so he took his naps in the tuk tuk on travel days. Our longest travel day was from Galle Fort back up to the Tuktuk Rental office in Negombo, which took us about 5.5 hours. Indy did struggle a little bit towards the end of this long travel day. In general, we tried to keep our travel days less than 3 hours of drive time. We always had good snacks and books ready, but most of the time he just LOVED watching other vehicles and the hustle and bustle of Sri Lanka.
We know that every kid is different, so keep your schedule flexible and adapt to whatever works best for your child. We guarantee you'll have a life-changing trip!
Find out more about our route with suggestions of places to stay, things to do, where to eat, etc. in this blog post. Whether you're planning to visit beach after beach, take on the mountains of Nuwara Eliya, or surf endlessly in Arugam Bay, the tuk tuk will take you to all of those places and beyond!
Remember to use the promo code THELOVE when booking your trip with Tuktuk Rental for a special discount!
We hope you've enjoyed our unforgettable family adventure: exploring sri lanka by tuk tuk with kids blog. Discover the beauty and diversity of Sri Lanka in the most authentic way possible - via tuk tuk with your family!