"Emerging from years of civil war as one of Asia's fastest-growing and most welcoming travel destinations, Sri Lanka packs incredible variety into an area one-quarter the size of the United Kingdom. Relicts of a Buddhist tradition dating back more than 2,000 years include the skyscraping domed stupas of Anuradhapura, the old royal citadel of Sigiriya, and countless mysterious monastic ruins. Wildlife enthusiasts can explore a mosaic of national parks and forest reserves inhabited by elephants, leopards, sloth bears and a varied birdlife including 33 species unique to the island. For many visitors, however, the island’s most alluring feature is the paradisial beaches that line the coastline, while others rave about the friendly people and superb seafood and spicy local cuisine. ”
- Philip Briggs
Sri Lanka is a beach destination for all seasons, with the southwest coast being at its best in winter while its eastern counterpart is most agreeable in summer. The island’s tropical coastline is best known for its sun-drenched palm-lined beaches, but it also offers great seasonal whale-watching, superb surfing and kitesurfing, and the opportunity to explore characterful old ports such as the fortified city of Galle.
Inland, the former Sinhalese capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, overlooked by ancient domed dagobas built on a scale to rival the Egyptian pyramids, lie at the heart of Sri Lanka’s renowned Cultural Triangle. Other highlights reflecting the country’s 2,400-year-old Buddhist tradition include the exquisitely painted cave temples at Dambulla, the spectacular royal citadel perched on top of Sigiriya Rock, and the revered Temple of the Tooth in the sacred city of Kandy. Travel north to Jaffna and you will find colourful Hindu kovils and an independent culture influenced by the city’s proximity to South India.
Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s leading ecotourism destinations. It supports the continent’s densest elephant population, and these charismatic giants are easily seen on jeep safaris into the likes of Yala, Gal Oya and Udawalawe National Parks. Yala is also renowned for its unusually conspicuous leopards and plentiful water buffalos, while Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the main stronghold for most of the 33 bird species unique to the island.
The southern interior of Sri Lanka is dominated by the neat tea plantations and crashing waterfalls of Hill Country. Here you can enjoy a bracing day walk through the dwarf cloud forests of Horton Plains National Park, embark on a nocturnal pilgrimage up the imposing granite prominence known to Buddhists as Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint) and to outsiders as Adam’s Peak, chill out in the time-warped colonial outpost of Nuwara Eliya, or get the adrenaline flowing on a white-water rafting excursion on the Kelani River at Kitulgala.
Sri Lanka’s culture is as varied as its landscapes. A strategic position along various shipping routes, together with valuable natural resources ranging from cinnamon to gemstones, has attracted traders and settlers to Sri Lanka since ancient times, supplementing the enduring Buddhist and Hindu traditions with a diversity of other influences. These include the British colonists whose most visible legacy is the Ceylon tea that now covers the island’s central hills. Over the centuries, Sri Lanka has bloomed into a diverse multicultural country having imbibed religions, beliefs and food from across the globe.
Following an extended civil war that ended in 2009 and the devastation wrought by the tsunami of 2004, Sri Lanka has rebuilt itself as one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations. Wherever you travel on this richly varied island, you can expect a warm welcome, excellent accommodation, and superb cuisine dominated by fresh seafood and searing local curries.
When to go
Find out when is best to visit
Sri Lanka’s weather in January is generally warm and dry, especially in the central, western and southern regions. If you are looking to explore the Cultural Triangle and then spend some time on the beaches of Negombo, Bentota or Tangalle, this is a great time to travel. The north-east (maha) monsoon will still be affecting the east coast, although the period of the heaviest, most prolonged rains will be coming to an end.
The weather in February remains pleasant, with beautiful sunny days on the west and south coasts and in central Sri Lanka. There is minimal rainfall in these regions and temperatures can rise to over 30 degrees. There are still rains in the east coast; however, these are beginning to become more sporadic and less intense. Independence Day is an annual, country-wide celebration that takes place on 4th February.
March is one of the best times of year to visit Sri Lanka. The north-east monsoon is almost over and the temperatures on the east coast are starting to rise. The beach resorts of the west and south coasts tend to be basking in glorious sunshine and temperatures in the mid-30s, although towards the end of the month there may be some rain. The Hill Country also experiences a rise in temperature during March.
Another good month to visit the island, April continues the trend of a warm and sunny Sri Lanka climate, particularly at the beginning of the month. As it’s the end of the dry season in the west and south, humidity is relatively high, especially in the Cultural Triangle. If you are looking to visit the Hill Country – including the city of Kandy and beautiful Nuwara Eliya, then this is one of the best times to visit. The mornings and evenings are not so chilly, the daytime temperatures hover around the mid-20s and rainfall is below average. The Sinhalese/Tamil New Year also takes place in mid-April.
This is the month where the focus really starts to shift from the resorts of the south and west to the beaches of the east. Here, the sun starts to consistently shine and the temperatures rise to the high-20s. The south-west, or ‘yala’, monsoon reaches the south, west and central regions this month. The rains tend to be short and sharp, and there are often gloriously sunny interludes. Swimming in the sea along the south and west coastlines is usually discouraged during this period as winds that accompany the monsoon can create large waves. The Vesak Full Moon Poya Day, or Festival of Lights, is celebrated in May.
The south-west monsoon continues to affect the southern and western regions of the island, with increased rainfall and lower temperatures in the Hill Country.If you’re seeking an idyllic beach, the east coast is the place to go. The temperatures rise in to the low-30s and days are usually gloriously sunny. This is a good time of year to combine an exploration of the Cultural Triangle with a relaxing stay at one of Passikudah’s or Trincomalee’s luxury resorts. The Poson Poya is celebrated in the Cultural Triangle.
Sri Lanka’s weather in July is similar to June – the monsoon is still affecting resorts such as Negombo, Bentota and Weligama, while the beautiful east coast is warm and sunny. There are lots of religious festivals that take place throughout the summer months including the Hindu festival of Vel, and Esala Perahera, also known as the Festival of the Tooth, which falls in either July or August.
Unlike many of our other Asia destinations, Sri Lanka is an excellent choice during the school summer holidays. The rainfall amounts in the south and west drop significantly in comparison to the previous months (they’re also lower than the following months, too) while the east coast climate remains very pleasant. The previously mentioned Esala Perahera may fall in August and is celebrated with parades and fire-lit dances in the city of Kandy.
The rains of the south-west monsoon increase again this month, especially in the western, southern and Hill Country regions. September also sees the last of the really good weather on the east coast – you may even experience rainfall during the latter half of the month. If you are staying in Trincomalee, we recommend heading out on a whale-watching trip as blue whales pass the east coast on their migration around the island.
Sri Lanka weather in October can be changeable – it is one of the wettest months across the whole island. The south-west monsoon is still affecting the south and west for most of the month, although this does start to fade later in the month. While one monsoon is ending, another is beginning its approach towards the north and east regions.
The number of sunshine hours increases in the south and west, however there still may be some downpours. The best time to visit these regions is later in the month. The Hill Country and Cultural Triangle will be experiencing high levels of rainfall this month, and the arrival of north-east monsoon means rainfall is increasing along the west coast. The Hindu festival of Deepavali, also known as the Festival of Lights, takes place in late October or November.
December in Sri Lanka marks the start of the high season for the beach resorts on the south and west coasts. The weather is also starting to improve in the Hill Country and the Cultural Triangle, although rain can still be expected. This month also sees the beginning of the whale-watching season off the south coast. The north-east monsoon continues to bring intense rainfall to the island’s north and east regions.
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