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When’s the best time to visit Sri Lanka?

A brief rundown on the climate of Sri Lanka and when is the best time to visit

Not for nothing did early foreign visitors name Sri Lanka ‘the Island of Serendipity’ and conveniently, the geography and weather patterns of Sri Lanka mean that our reply to when’s the best time to visit Sri Lanka is…pretty much any time of the year.

The pear, or more aptly mango-shaped, island has a broad southern coastline with mountainous areas covering its southern half above which lies the ‘Dry Zone’ – corresponding to the ‘Cultural Triangle’ – north of which the island comes to a narrow point on the Jaffna Peninsula. The broad weather patterns consist of a northeastern monsoon from September to March and a southwestern monsoon from May to August. Consequently, the northwestern and southeastern parts of the island are rain shadow areas and remain dry for most of the year. The highest rainfall is in the southwest – on the western slopes of the highlands – an area still largely covered by lush forests.

When's the best time to visit Sri Lanka
Tangalle sunset

Generally speaking then, in terms of beach stays, from May to August, Nilaveli and the northeast coast are your best bet, while west coast destinations such as Negombo, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Kogala, Mirissa et al are ideal from October to March. Tangalle and the south coast is a safe option for most months of the year.

Heading into the interior, and the Central Highlands, rainfall is rather more evenly distributed throughout the year while temperatures remain moderate at all periods. Kandy spends most of the year in the 20s while Nuwara Eliya averages between 15 and 20 degrees.

Continuing north from the highlands you’ll enter the rain shadow area known as the Dry Zone, which fortuitously corresponds to the area known as the Cultural Triangle and contains the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sigiriya, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Consequently, temperatures rise significantly and frankly, the occasional shower is usually welcome.

Sri Lanka beaches, Nilaveli
Nilaveli, near Trincomalee on the northeast coast

If you’re looking at, for example, a 2-week tour or holiday to Sri Lanka then your itinerary will likely include the aforementioned Cultural Triangle sites along with Galle, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, perhaps Ella and a brief look at Colombo at the beginning or end of your trip. (The capital is interesting and worth a peek but definitely lacks the charm of other Sri Lankan towns.) You’ll also undoubtedly include a national park safari and a few days at the beach. Our suggested safaris are in Wilpattu and Minneriya National Parks – both of which fall into the northwestern dry zone – so no worries there, while your beach stay alternates between the northeast and southwest as outlined above. (Some beach towns can get very busy during high season so our choices are the more low-key Tangalle and Nilaveli.)

High season traditionally translates as the European winter months – November through to March – while the summer holiday period of July and August is also popular. Consequently, April, May and June are great times to visit weather-wise and there are far less other visitors around. Ditto September and October although the latter potentially has the highest chance of showers.

World Heritage Dambulla
World Heritage Dambulla – go any time – it’s in a cave!

So, if your itinerary is planned and you’re now weighing up when’s the best time to visit Sri Lanka – once again, we’d say pretty much any time of the year is good.

Note that this is a brief and very broad outline, (plenty of destination-by-destination statistics can be checked on the Met Office site), and, once again, it needs to be pointed out that climate patterns are increasingly less predictable.