The best time to visit Sri Lanka

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

Seasons and Weather

For such a small country, Sri Lanka has an extremely varied climate whether you are exploring the southern coast, are travelling up north or wandering around the Cultural Triangle in the centre of the country. While Sri Lanka does have two monsoon seasons affecting different sides of the country, generally speaking it is very much a year-round destination thanks to its proximity to the equator guaranteeing warm temperatures throughout the year – you simply have to know where is best to go when.

The easiest way of explaining the way the weather works in Sri Lanka is by dividing the country into several regions – the southwest, northeast, central and hill country. From April to September the southwest of the island is affected by monsoon weather, however this does not mean constant rainfall but rather bursts of intermittent showers at intervals throughout the day, which quickly clear away to blue skies. The northeast likewise experiences monsoon weather, but from November to March instead – so if you get your timing right you are bound to find beach weather and sunshine on one side of the island. There is also an inter-monsoonal period between October and November when rain and thunderstorms can be seen across the country.

Home to the most popular landmarks in Sri Lanka – including no less than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, The Cultural Triangle in the centre of the country is where most travellers are keen to visit on holiday so being clued up on the weather there is of upmost importance. While November and December welcome high rainfall here, the rest of the year is reasonable dry with June and July being the hottest times of the year. Sitting at a higher altitude than the coastal regions and Cultural Triangle, Kandy and the hill country enjoy much cooler temperatures and occasional rainfall in the southwest monsoon season keeping the landscape lush and green - best time to visit here is December through March .

Climate | Colombo

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

Climate | Galle

Sri Lanka's South-West coast
Temp Min °C222324252626262625242423
Temp Max °C323333323231303031303131
Rainfall (mm)345269174195102756711330324877

Climate | Trincomalee

Sri Lanka's North-East coast
Temp Min °C202021201919202019181920
Temp Max °C262829323332313231292727
Rainfall (mm)66573354211854429066144168

Climate | Sigiriya

Sri Lanka's northern plains
Temp Min °C141515141414151715161716
Temp Max °C293133343331303231323029
Rainfall (mm)10866631299012332775159192132

Climate | Male

Temp Min °C232425272625242525242323
Temp Max °C292930313130292929292929
Rainfall (mm)4618235817829522616018518514086

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.

2017 Calendar

To help with your planning when to visit Sri Lanka, here's an overview of the 2017 calendar of the festivals and events detailed above:

January 12th - Duruthu Poya (Colombo)
February 4th - National Day (countrywide)
February 10th - Navam Poya (Colombo)
April 13th - Sinhalese and Tamil New Year (countrywide)
May 10th-12th - Vesak Poya (countrywide)
July 8th - Esala Poya (countrywide)
July/August (dates TBC) - Hikkaduwa Beach Festival (Hikkaduwa)
July/August (dates TBC) - Kataragama Festival (Kataragama)
July 29th - August 7th - 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 2017 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 handy 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 to visit, when to visit and tips for planning your itinerary

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