The best time to visit Sri Lanka

Updated: 05th April 2018

Stilt fishermen - Best time to visit Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours
Sri Lanka's coast is affected by different monsoons throughout the year

When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka experiences a pleasant, tropical climate and is very much a year-round destination. The country has two short monsoon seasons affecting alternate sides of the island at opposite times of the year, meaning you can always find sunshine and good beach weather on this tropical isle. Generally speaking, the best time to visit Sri Lanka is from December to March when it's mostly dry across the popular Cultural Triangle and southern coastline.

Seasons and Weather Overview

For such a small country, Sri Lanka has an extremely varied climate. The island is a year-round destination thanks to its proximity to the equator guaranteeing warm temperatures. However two monsoon seasons affect different sides of the country. From October to February monsoon rains affect the country’s northeast, then pour from April to September in the southwest. If you get your timing right, you’re bound to find beach weather and sunshine on one side of the island. It is simply a case of knowing where is best to go when.

The easiest way of explaining Sri Lanka’s weather is by dividing the country into several regions – the southwest, which includes Galle and Bentota; the northeast, which includes Trincomalee; the central region where you'll find the Cultural Triangle, and the hill country around Nuwara Eliya and Ella. To help you plan when to go, here you'll find a breakdown of the weather patterns throughout the year:

Sigiriya rock fortress - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

January to April

Southwest: Between January and March is a beautiful time to visit the beaches in Sri Lanka’s southwest. You can expect dry, sunny days and a sea that is usually calm. The region’s monsoon then begins in April.

Northeast: The first few months of the year see the continuation of monsoon season in the northeast, with heavy rains lasting until February before the region becomes relatively dry.

Central: Sri Lanka’s centre is reasonably dry during these months and it is a great time to visit the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Cultural Triangle including the Sigiriya rock fortress (pictured here).

Hill Country: Likewise, these months are a beautiful time to visit Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. Although, be aware that temperatures are a touch cooler here than in the rest of the country.

Trincomalee beaches - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

May to August

Southwest: This period sees the monsoon rains in full swing in Sri Lanka’s southwest. Although there is a large amount of rainfall, luckily it is not constant. Instead, there are bursts of intermittent showers at intervals throughout the day, which quickly clear away to blue skies.

Northeast: The best time to visit the northeast, including the beaches of Trincomalee (pictured here), these months see plenty of sunshine with consistently high temperatures along the east coast.

Central: This is also a good time to visit central Sri Lanka as the area remains reasonably dry. June and July are the hottest months of the year here, however visitors may also have to face the strong winds that keep the southwestern monsoon at bay.

Hill Country: Whilst there is an increase in rainfall during these months, it is not unusual to still have some completely dry days. This is still a great time to visit the Hill Country, however temperatures remain cooler than elsewhere on the island.

Tea plantations around Ella - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours

September to December

Southwest: September finally sees the southwestern monsoon draw to a close. However, the inter-monsoonal season means that there can still be rains and thunderstorms. The region’s dry season then officially begins in December.

Northeast: The north-eastern monsoon blows into this region from October. The heavier of Sri Lanka’s two monsoons, it brings a huge amount of rain that sometimes leads to flooding and difficult road conditions.

Central: Compared to the relative dryness of the rest of the year, this period sees high rainfall during the months of November and December to Sri Lanka’s centre.

Hill Country: Similarly, this period sees the heaviest amount of rainfall in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, which encompasses the small town of Ella and its surrounding tea plantations (pictured here). Despite the rain, it's a beautiful time to visit as the rains help keep the landscape looking lush and green.

Climate and Rainfall Averages

These weather charts give you an idea of the average temperatures and amount of rainfall each month in some of Sri Lanka's most popular touring spots:

Climate | Colombo

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp Min °C222223242625252525242322
Temp Max °C303131313129292929292929
Rainfall (mm)8969147231371224135109160348315147

Climate | Galle

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp Min °C222324252626262625242423
Temp Max °C323333323231303031303131
Rainfall (mm)345269174195102756711330324877

Climate | Trincomalee

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp Min °C202021201919202019181920
Temp Max °C262829323332313231292727
Rainfall (mm)66573354211854429066144168

Climate | Sigiriya

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Temp Min °C141515141414151715161716
Temp Max °C293133343331303231323029
Rainfall (mm)10866631299012332775159192132
Kandy-Festival-Itinerary2-Main-Group-Tours-Sri-Lanka

Festivals and Events

Home to four major religions on the island, Sri Lanka has many festivals religious in nature, following the lunar calendar as many countries in Asia tend to do. For this reason the dates vary year to year with 25 public holidays to contend with. The country can grind to a halt at these times of year though if planned properly a coinciding visit can be made extra special by attending these special events. Here's our selection of some of the best.

Duruthu Poya

Taking place on the day of a full moon, Duruthu Poya celebrates Buddha's very first visit to Sri Lanka some 25 centuries ago. It was at this time that Buddhism began to take a hold in Sri Lanka and today Buddhists celebrate with a parade at the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo. It's also a public holiday and marks the beginning of Adam's Peak pilgrimage season.

Navam Poya

Another Buddhist event held on the day of a full moon, Navam Poya marks the day Buddha appointed two chief disciples, proclaimed a code of fundamental ethical precepts for the monks and announced his impending death. It's celebrated with a major perahera at the Gangaramaya temple in Colombo featuring over elephants, dancers and musicians.

Sinhalese and Tamil New Year

For the Sinhalese and Tamils the new year starts with the beginning of the astrological cycle as well as the the start of the southwest monsoon and the end of the harvest season. Celebrated by both Buddhists and Hindus, it's a colourful event with large family dinners held at home and parties and fireworks out on the streets.

Vesak Poya

This is the most important of Sri Lanka's Buddhist poyas to celebrate Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. The country comes alive with lamps outside homes, streamers attached to cars and buses and decorated platforms erected in towns and cities. While devout Buddhist mediate and fast, free food is handed out from roadside stalls. For six days the sale of alcohol, meat and fish is prohibited. Vesak Poya also marks the end of Adam's Peak pilgrimage season.

Esala Poya

Marking the arrival of Buddha's Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka, Esala Poya is best experienced in the hill town of Kandy where an extravagant procession takes place each year with highly decorated elephants and performers. Celebrations have occurred in various forms for centuries to honour this event though today's traditions date back as far as 1775 and the Esala Perahera Festival season usually kicks off a few weeks after the day of Esala Poya.

Hikkaduwa Beach Festival

Held over five days between July and August this festival brings together international DJs, dancers and musicians on the sun-kissed beaches of Hikkaduwa for nights of music and dance. Dates are usually announced within a few months of the event.

Kataragama Festival

The remote holy town of Kataragama is home to one of Sri Lanka's largest Hindu festivals with devotees walking across hot coals and using hooks to pierce their skin in ritualistic self-mutilation. Thousands of Hindus make the pilgrimage to Kataragama each July/August when the festival is held.

2018 Calendar

To help with your planning when to visit Sri Lanka, here's an overview of the 2018 calendar of the festivals and events detailed above:

January 1st - Duruthu Poya (Colombo)
February 4th - National Day (countrywide)
March 1st - Navam Poya (Colombo)
April 14th - Sinhalese and Tamil New Year (countrywide)
April 29th-30th - Vesak Poya (countrywide)
July 27th - Esala Poya (countrywide)
July/August (dates TBC) - Hikkaduwa Beach Festival (Hikkaduwa)
July 13th-27th - Kataragama Festival (Kataragama)
July 18th - 28th - Esala Perahera Festival (Kandy)

There's also a number of national holidays in Sri Lanka and on these dates many businesses and some tourist sites will close for the day so plan your visit accordingly.

Tourist Site Closures

The Yala National Park generally closes for a good month around September to create ponds and small lakes within the park to supply water to the animals after the dry season. The dates for 2018 have not yet been confirmed.

The Colombo Museum is closed on Fridays throughout the year.

See Also

For further help planning your trip to Sri Lanka take a look at our Travel Guide resources:

Best Places to Visit - Sri Lanka's top archaeological sites, beaches and reserves
Tourist Visas - make sure you know what visas you need before you travel
Top Travel Tips - useful information on Sri Lankan food and transport
Traveller Reviews - see what our passengers say about our Sri Lanka tours
The Cultural Triangle - our guide to the best sites, when to visit and handy tips
Wildlife in Sri Lanka - the island's most popular animals and where to find them
Sri Lanka's Best Beaches - top 10 beaches and recommended accommodation
Kandy Festival FAQ - everything you need to know about this Buddhist festival

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