Sri Lanka is a beautiful island nation in the Indian Ocean, with a rich and diverse culture, stunning natural scenery, and friendly people. Whether you are looking for ancient ruins, wildlife safaris, beach resorts, or hill country adventures, Sri Lanka has something for everyone. In this guide, we will show you how to plan your perfect trip to Sri Lanka, with tips on the best time to visit, the best places to see, and the best things to do.
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Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate, with two distinct monsoon seasons that affect different parts of the island. The southwest monsoon brings rain to the south and west coasts from May to September, while the northeast monsoon brings rain to the north and east coasts from October to January. Therefore, the best time to visit Sri Lanka depends on which region you want to explore.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit the south and west coasts, including Colombo, Galle, and Yala National Park, is from December to March, when the weather is dry and sunny. The best time to visit the north and east coasts, including Jaffna, Trincomalee, and Arugam Bay, is from April to September, when the weather is also dry and sunny. The best time to visit the hill country, including Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Ella, is from December to April, when the weather is cool and pleasant.
However, Sri Lanka is a year-round destination, as there are always some parts of the island that are unaffected by the monsoons. Moreover, Sri Lanka has many festivals and events throughout the year that are worth experiencing. For example, you can witness the colourful Vesak festival in May, which celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha; or the spectacular Kandy Esala Perahera in July or August, which features a grand procession of elephants, dancers, and drummers.
Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a small country, but it has a lot of diversity and variety in its attractions. Here are some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka:
- Colombo: The capital and largest city of Sri Lanka, Colombo is a vibrant and cosmopolitan metropolis that offers a mix of colonial architecture, modern skyscrapers, shopping malls, museums, temples, and parks. Some of the highlights include the National Museum, which displays a collection of historical and cultural artifacts; the Dutch Hospital, which is a restored heritage building that houses trendy shops and restaurants; and the Gangaramaya Temple, which is a Buddhist temple that showcases a rich array of religious art and relics.
- Galle: A charming coastal town in the south of Sri Lanka, Galle is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Galle Fort, which is a 16th-century fortification built by the Portuguese and later expanded by the Dutch. The fort is a living museum that contains many historical buildings, such as churches, mosques, museums, lighthouses, and mansions. You can also enjoy the scenic views of the ocean from the ramparts or stroll along the narrow streets lined with cafes and boutiques.
- Yala National Park: The most popular national park in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park is home to a variety of wildlife species, such as leopards, elephants, buffaloes, crocodiles, monkeys, and birds. You can take a jeep safari through the park and spot these animals in their natural habitats. You can also visit some of the ancient ruins and rock paintings that are scattered around the park.
- Kandy: The cultural capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy is a picturesque city surrounded by hills and forests. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic, which is one of the most sacred Buddhist shrines in the world, as it houses a tooth of Buddha. You can witness the daily rituals and ceremonies that take place in the temple, or join the crowds during the annual festival of Esala Perahera. You can also explore the other attractions in Kandy, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are known for their orchids and spices; or the Udawattakele Forest Reserve, which is a haven for nature lovers and birdwatchers.
- Nuwara Eliya: A hill station in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya is often called the Little England of Sri Lanka, as it retains a colonial charm with its Tudor-style hotels, English gardens, and golf courses. It is also the heart of the tea country, as it produces some of the finest tea in the world. You can visit the tea plantations and factories, and learn about the history and process of tea making. You can also enjoy the scenic views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and waterfalls.
- Ella: A small town in the hill country, Ella is a popular destination for backpackers and hikers, as it offers many trails and attractions that showcase the natural beauty of Sri Lanka. Some of the highlights include the Nine Arch Bridge, which is a stunning railway bridge that spans over a valley; the Little Adam’s Peak, which is a easy hike that rewards you with panoramic views; and the Ravana Falls, which is a cascading waterfall that is linked to a legend from the Ramayana epic.
- Arugam Bay: A beach resort on the east coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay is renowned for its surfing scene, as it has some of the best waves in the country. You can surf at the main point, or explore the other breaks nearby, such as Whiskey Point, Peanut Farm, and Crocodile Rock. You can also relax on the sandy beach, or enjoy the nightlife at the bars and restaurants. Arugam Bay is also a gateway to Kumana National Park, which is another wildlife sanctuary that hosts a variety of animals and birds.
Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is not only a place to see but also a place to do. Here are some of the best things to do in Sri Lanka:
- Take a train ride: One of the most memorable and enjoyable ways to travel around Sri Lanka is by train, as it allows you to experience the scenic landscapes, the rural villages, and the local culture. Some of the most popular train routes are from Colombo to Kandy, from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, and from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. You can book your tickets online or at the station, and choose between different classes of service. You can also hop on and off at different stations along the way, and explore the attractions nearby.
- Visit a tea plantation: Sri Lanka is famous for its tea production, and visiting a tea plantation is a must-do activity for any tea lover. You can learn about the history and culture of tea in Sri Lanka, see how the tea leaves are plucked, processed, and packed, and taste different varieties of tea. You can also buy some tea as souvenirs or gifts for your friends and family. Some of the best places to visit a tea plantation are Nuwara Eliya, Ella, and Haputale.
- Go on a wildlife safari: Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of wildlife, and going on a wildlife safari is one of the best ways to witness these amazing creatures in their natural habitats. You can choose from different national parks and reserves, such as Yala, Udawalawe, Kumana, Wilpattu, Minneriya, and Kaudulla. You can book a jeep safari with a guide or driver, who will take you through the park and help you spot the animals. You can also opt for a camping safari, which will let you stay overnight in the park and experience the wilderness more intimately.
- Experience the local cuisine: Sri Lanka has a rich and diverse cuisine, influenced by its history, geography, and culture. The staple food is rice and curry, which consists of rice served with various dishes of meat, fish, vegetables, lentils, and spices. Some of the other dishes you should try are hoppers (a thin pancake made from rice flour and coconut milk), kottu (a street food made from chopped roti bread mixed with vegetables, eggs, meat, and spices), string hoppers (a steamed noodle dish served with curry or coconut sambol), lamprais (a Dutch-inspired dish of rice cooked with meat and spices wrapped in a banana leaf), and pol sambol (a spicy coconut relish). You should also try some of the local desserts, such as wattalappam (a custard made from coconut milk, eggs, jaggery, and spices), kiribath (a cake made from rice cooked in coconut milk), and kavum (a deep-fried dough ball coated with treacle). You can find these dishes at restaurants, cafes, hotels, or street stalls.
Text by Harender Singh