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When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?

| Words by Zoe Crane | ,

Your definitive map and guide on the best time to visit Sri Lanka and its key highlights.

Overview: Best time to visit Sri Lanka

The climate of Sri Lanka is surprisingly complex. Its equatorial position means that temperatures are fairly constant throughout the year, an average of around 26-30°C (78 -86°F) and is often much higher than this around midday. It is generally hot and humid by the coast, getting cooler as the altitude increases. Sri Lanka has a tropical climate, with distinct wet and dry seasons, but it has two different monsoon seasons, as well as an ‘inter-monsoon’ season, affecting different parts of the island at different times. This means it’s dry somewhere on the island at any time of year, so regardless of when you choose to travel, you’re likely to enjoy some good weather depending on where you go.

In general the best time to visit is December to April, as this is dry season in the popular west and south coastal areas and Hill Country. The Christmas and New Year period is particularly popular and is the most expensive time to go. April and September are the best to see the whole country, while the inter-monsoonal season in October and November sees fine weather for most of the island interspersed with sudden thunderstorms. If you’re prepared for sudden bursts of rain, it’s still a good time of year to travel and to enjoy the beaches. Low season is May to August when the Yala Monsoon hits, but it’s still a reasonable time to visit the North and East.

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Here is your guide on what to expect, where and when.

Map: When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?

The tropical capital of Sri Lanka is warm most of the year, but has the fewest rainy days from December to March. Temperatures are fairly constant with a year-round average high of around 30°C (86°F) and an average low around 22°C (72°F). Humidity ranges from 70% to 80% throughout the year.

Located in the North of Sri Lanka, the “cultural triangle” consisting of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla is warm and humid year-round. Temperatures are stable throughout the year with average lows around 23°C (74°F) and highs around 31°C (88°F). The region is affected by the Maha monsoon season and is wettest from October to December with over 200mm (8 inches) each month. There is also a more moderate amount of rain in April. The North and East Dry Season from May to September is much drier. This is a good time to visit ruined temples in the Ancient Cities.

Kandy is cooler than many places in Sri Lanka due to its elevation at 500m (1700 feet), with overnight temperatures dropping to around 9°C (48°F) in January and February, although even during the coldest time of year, the daytime temperatures usually reach around 19°C (66°F). Despite being a few degrees cooler than the summer months, January to April is the best time to visit as it is the driest, although rain is only moderate the rest of the year, with around 150mm (6 inches) each month. Tourists flock to Kandy in July or August for Esala Perahera, a colourful 10-day festival in honour of the sacred tooth, when locals dress up and dance through the streets with decorated elephants.

Located in Sri Lanka’s hill country, Nuwara Eliya has a more moderate climate than the tropical coast. Though it gets quite cool at night during the winter months (December to February) the daytime temperatures remain pleasant year-round with the average high temperature around 20°C (68°F). The lush tea plantations are kept verdant by rains from April to December, with the heaviest downpours in October and November.

May to August is the Yala monsoon season in Sri Lanka, so expect a lot of rain, often in torrential downpours. However, it doesn’t rain the entire time, and temperatures and humidity remain high. The best time for wildlife spotting at Yala National Park is from February to June, when water levels are lower and animals are forced to compete for the same drinking supply. Nearby Kataragama is a revered religious site, worth visiting in July or August for the Kataragama Festival. If you travel to this remote southern town during festival season, expect to see pilgrims inflicting pain upon themselves in expression of their devotion.

The best time to visit the beaches on the south and west coast (Negombo, Bentota, Galle, Koggala, and Unawatuna) is from December to March when there is the least rain. The North and East Dry Season from April to September is a great time to explore the beaches of the southeast (Tangalle). October to January is the North and East (Maha) monsoon. As with the other monsoon season, you can expect plenty of torrential downpours, but it’s unlikely to be raining constantly. The south and west coasts are the best part of the island to visit during the Maha monsoon. In the north, Trincomalee beaches are also affected by the Maha monsoon and are best visited from February to September.

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