Sri Lanka, situated in the heart of Indian Ocean, is an Island with a tropical climate. Most of the time it is filled with sunshine and warm breeze. The costal and lowland areas of the Island has a constant temperature of around 26-30 degree Celsius and towards the Central Province, where the altitude increases, the temperature drops. In Nuwara Eliya, the temperature is around 14-17 degree Celsius. However, humidity is high everywhere.
When planing a holiday trip to Sri Lanka, the first question come to your mind is, When is the best time to visit sri lanka ? In order to know the best time to visit Sri Lanka, you must understand about the monsoons of the Island. There are 2 main monsoons determining rainfall to certain parts of the country. It is important to know about them so that you can plan your trip accordingly. The Southwest (Yala) Monsoon is from May to September and brings rain mostly to the southwest coast, western part, and hill country of the Island. The rainfall during The Northeast (Maha) monsoon is less severe than the Southeast monsoon and is observed from December to February. It only affects the Northeast and Eastern coast of the Island. Between the two main monsoons mentioned above, there is the Inter-monsoonal period where there can be unpredictable weather in the Island everywhere, but mostly it is all sunshine.
The monsoons should not stop you from visiting the country because it affects only a specific part of the Island during that particular time. The rest of the Island would have the ideal weather for you to explore them. Depending on the time you visit Sri Lanka, you might have to just change the area that you explore to optimize your trip. The best time to visit Sri Lanka is all day every day, but the location within the country may need to be changed to get the maximum out of the trip.
December To April
Ideally, this would be the perfect time to visit the Island. Many tourists take advantage of the perfect dry and warm weather during this time and plan their holiday to Sri Lanka which means the accommodation costs would be slightly higher than the usual. Because the Northeast monsoon is active in the eastern parts of the Island from December to February, these areas are best avoided during this time.
A tour of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, which includes Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, is ideal during this time. Here, you will be able to explore and appreciate the historical significance of these scared cities. Even the Rock Temple of Dambulla along with their caves are significant of the rich Buddhist background and should be visited during this time.
December is the National Birdwatching Month, declared by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. This is because you can observe many species of birds; some who are endemic and some migrating from India, Nordic countries and Western Europe migrating across the island during this time. This might be the best time to visit Sri Lanka for those interested in bird watching.In order to view their migration two of the best places to visit are the Kumana National Park and Kanametiya Bird Sanctuary. They can organize special tours for you and educate about the different types of birds you observe.
March and April are the hottest and driest months of the year, though there may be light showers of rain towards the evenings as it gets closer to May, which is when the monsoon starts. It is the perfect weather to go to the beaches of Sri Lanka to enjoy a good tan or sea bath. Make sure to apply at least 50+ SPF Sunscreen as the sun can get too hot and end up giving you a nasty burn! The beaches in the North West coast like Kalpitiya, Negambo; beaches in Southwest coast like Beruwela, Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Mount Lavinia; and beaches of the south like Galle, Weligama, and Mirissa should be visited during this time. The Turtles also get ready to nest during this period, thus you may be able to see them coming to the shores more often. Visit the Turtle Hatcheries of Sri Lanka and support the movement directed towards conservation of this threatened species.
During April, the flowers bloom their best! It would be the perfect time to visit the Botanical Gardens of Sri Lanka, especially Royal Botanical gardens of Peradeniya and Hakkgala Botanical Gardens near NuwaraEliya. With the trees looking fresh and green and the flowers blooming their best, it is the best time to hike The Horton plains, climb The Rock Fortress of Sigiriya or The Adam’s Peak and enjoy a stay at the hills of Sri Lanka. To get a glimpse of the sights from these places located at great heights above the sea level is a once in a lifetime experience.
April is also when the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festival occurs. During this time, you can observe many of the traditions, fun games and food that is prepared by the locals to celebrate the festival. The sound of firecrackers, laughter of children and musical celebrations of the festival will put you in high spirits. You will also get to taste food that you might have never tasted before; Kavum, Kokis, Athiraha, Aasmi and milk rice are common celebratory Sri Lankan food made during the time of the festival.
May To September
This is when the Southwest monsoon is active; especially during May and June, when the rainfall is highest, Western and Southwestern coast of Sri Lanka including towns and cities like Matara, Kalutara, Colombo, Galle up to Negambo and Upcountry areas like Kandy and NuwaraEliya could be avoided. However, one must know that the rain showers in Sri Lanka are variable. They sometimes last for a very short period of time and the dry weather with sun and warmth returns soon. Your holiday might not be ruined though you decide to stay in these areas.
During May, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka celebrate the Vesak Festival and the streets will be decorated for it with colorful lanterns, banners, Pandols and flags. There will also be ‘Dansal’, which are food stalls where people give free food and beverages to those passing by, especially the less fortunate, promoting the generosity and peacefulness that the religion encourages.
In the month of August every year during the full moon, The Kandy EsalaPerehara takes place, which is an exciting procession that is held to celebrate The Festival of The Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Because the country’s main religion is Buddhist, a large crowd gathers to watch the processions. But it is not just limited to Buddhists. Tourists and others can also watch it. The festival is celebrated over five days. Some processions takes place in the night and some during day time. The one during the night time is the prettiest and grandest of them all. There are many parts for the night procession. People dressed in extravagant clothes, Kandyan dancers, drummers, flag bearers, talented artists dancing with fire and whips, and many elephants dressed in shiny clothes. One elephant will carry The Sacred Tooth Relic and people wait to catch a glimpse of it as they believe it will give them blessings. When you a buy a ticket for the procession, you can get a good seat where you will be able to observe all these and will also be provided with food and beverages.
From August to September, At Minneriya National Park, you will be able to observe the largest elephant group gathering in Asia. This is because, they come in search of water to the Minneriya tank, a man made tank during the time of King Mahasen. As it the dry season during this period, the lakes, ponds and lagoons have dried up and the animals out of thirst find their way to water. It is quite an interesting sight to observe.
While the southwest coast of Sri Lanka experience rain during this time, the Northeast coast is dry and should be explored, especially their beaches. The beaches of Trincomalee, Passikudha, Kalpitiya, Tangalle, Kirinda, Nilaveli and Arugam Bay are ideal for a beach vacation in Sri Lanka during this time. The sea is relatively calmer, thus enabling fun sports like scuba diving, snorkeling and surfing. Divers can explore the ship wrecks in Trincomalee as it is one of the largest natural harbors of the World and has been used so since the days of the past. You will also see how the fishermen do deep sea fishing to make their daily living. Arugam Bay is a popular surfing location for all those who are interested. It has different surfing points which an instructor from a diving school in the vicinity can guide you to find depending on your expertise. When there is a monsoon on the opposite side of the Island, the offshore winds of the other side is very consistent which makes it the ideal weather for surfing. Thus, during May to September the areas of the Northeast coast like Arugam Bay is ideal for surfing while during November to March the southwest coastal areas like Hikkaduwa is better for the sport.Water sports enthusiasts can use anytime during the year to organize their trip to the Island as it the best time to visit Sri Lanka all year around for them.
October To November
This is the period of time between the two main monsoons and the Island has an unpredictable weather. It holds record for the Island’s highest rainfall with or without thunderstorm as it can affect all parts of the country.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve, which is a World Heritage Site, home to many endemic species of plants and animals is best visited in the Inter-monsoonal period because it gets affected during the two main monsoons. Rain during the main monsoons will prevent you from exploring the forest well and make the ground slippery thus dangerous for trekking. Also during rain, the animals tend to hide away and you may not be able to spot anyone easily. The inter-monsoonal period will be an ideal time to visit this forest.
Starting from November until April, it is the perfect time for whale watching at the Dondra Point which can be accessed from Galle, Mirissa and Hikkaduwa beaches and also in Trincomalee. Here, you will be able to observe blue, sperm and fin whales. You can also observe Dolphins at Trincomalee and Kalpitiya putting on a show for you with their playfulness. It is important that you observe them from a distance and doesn’t bother them with the noise of the boats or other. Many visit these places at the wrong time and get disappointed when they don’t spot any whales or dolphins. Make sure to visit at the right time.
October is also recommended to go on safaris especially to the Yala National Park, an internationally recognized place for containing the highest density of leopards in Asia. Here, you will be able to spot the endemic species of Sri Lankan Tiger which is becoming endangered called the Panthera Pardus Kotiya. Of course, there are other species of animals to be observed as well.
Uva is a remote area of Sri Lanka and is known for producing the largest amount of tea for distribution. Visit this area during the period of August-October and stay at one of their tea estates. You will see the bright colored tea plantations across the hills and be able to enjoy a cup of fresh Ceylon tea made of their tea leaves. Upon your request, they may even be able to organize a session with the tea pluckers for you to pluck tea leaves as well. But watch out for the snakes! The weather in these areas are quite chilly, so take a sweater with you. Closer to the Uva province, you can also visit the Central Province, where you can take a hike up the hills during this time. Whether it is the Riverston hike to observe the Knuckles Bridge, a hike on the Horton Plains to observe the World’s End or a hike in Ella to observe the Ella rock, Mini Adam’s peak or the Demodara Nine Arches Bridge, it would be an enthralling adventure. Because the weather is relatively clear, the views from above will not be misty and be worthwhile the efforts of the hike. You can put up a camp and enjoy the feel of nature up there as well.