If you’re looking for a country offering everything you could wish for in a winter sun destination – then Sri Lanka really does have it all.
We’ll take a look at what makes Sri Lanka so unique and special – across different areas of life, culture, geography and sheer fun here.
In a nutshell though; just think of beautiful beaches, friendly people, food that is out of this world, lush countryside and fascinating culture – and put that together with some winter sunshine and you can soon see why Sri Lanka is so popular with tourists from the northern hemisphere at this time of year.
When to visit Sri Lanka
First things first, then; when’s the best time to visit Sri Lanka?
Well there’s good and bad news here – and it’s not a simple picture. Because Sri Lanka is affected by two different monsoons, it’s important to choose the right side of the island to go to – at the right times.
The “yala” monsoon in the south-western area brings rain to this area, in the main, between late April and September on the whole – with the peak wet months occurring from late April until June.
The milder “maha” monsoon, meanwhile, arrives on the north-eastern side of the island during the November – March period, and this is also at its wettest during the first period (November and December). But there can also be quite a bit of wet and windy weather with thunderstorms in the run-up to the “maha” monsoon, during October and early November.
Simply put then, the optimal time to visit the eastern side of Sri Lanka from any time between April and September – whilst winter sun seekers coming here any time between December and March tend to head for the western and southern coasts – and the hill country.
Sri Lanka is pretty hot all year round whatever the precipitation and winds are doing. Lowland and coastal parts of the island generally average around 26–30°C during the day, though be careful as the temperatures can climb well above this at times – particularly when you’re in direct sunlight obviously. The higher you go, the cooler the weather. So the average will be more like 18–22°C in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second largest city in the Central Province, and more like 14–17°C in higher areas such as Nuwara Eliya located in the hills of the Central Province.
Humidity, meanwhile, is always high and can get very high – as high as 90% during peak times in the southwest of the island – and averaging between 60% and 80% in most areas, most of the time.
This is why most tourists in the northern hemisphere’s winter tend to head for the beaches of the south west.
And this is where the capital city and main airport are – in Colombo; a bustling metropolis which is home to four and a half million people. If you’re a cricket fan, you may well be heading to Colombo for the first one day international of the Sri Lanka versus England cricket series starting on 26th November 2014.
If so, this is an ideal time to come and a perfect jumping off point to explore the beaches of the south west. Remember, though, that if you enjoy betting on cricket as so many people do, to put your bets on before you come.
Gambling in Sri Lanka is strictly limited in comparison with the UK, but is still quite widespread. But to stay on the safe side, put your wagers on before you come or “phone a friend” you can trust 100%.
Sri Lanka’s best beaches in the south and west
If it’s a little unashamed winter sun luxury you’re looking for then Sri Lanka almost certainly will not let you down. This is the single main reason millions of tourists visit the island at this time of year from the northern hemisphere – and most of them fly directly into Colombo at a time of year when the weather is ideal. Have a look at the official tourist guide to Sri Lanka before you come here – as well as a few online Sri Lanka beach guides. These are helpful always – but try to seek out sources which are objective.
There are two main areas of beaches in this area that can be sub-divided into the west coast and deep south beaches:
The beach at Mirissa is beautiful bay and suits travellers perhaps a little more than package holidaymakers as it just has more of a backpacker’s type of feel about it.
Further along the coastline, the golden sandy beach at Tallala is always popular with tourists and not without justification – whilst the Tangalle area has many beautiful beaches – of which Mawella is generally regarded as the best. This whole area is quiet and seems a long way from the more crowded beaches of the west coast. There are some wonderful hotels in this area but do bear in mind that the sea may not always be safe for bathing in here.
Along the west coast, things are generally a lot busier. There are beautiful and famous beaches all along the stretch of coastline from Colombo to Galle. These are generally the classic “paradise” beaches with swaying palms and fine soft sand. Bentota is probably the best-known of all these beaches. This is the place to be if you enjoy water-sports along with busy hotels, bustling restaurants and organised trips etc. To the south of Bentota, the beaches are generally quieter, though Hikkaduwa has a reputation as a bit of a party resort. Ahungama, Balapitiya, and Dodanduwa meanwhile – all enjoy excellent hotel facilities, quiet beaches and ready access to Galle and surrounding areas.
To the north of Bentota beaches such as Kaultara, Wadduwa and others include numerous excellent hotels. These are also closer to Colombo which is ideal for those visiting for a shorter time.
Things to do in Sri Lanka
We can only begin to touch upon a few of the great things to see and do in Sri Lanka. So start off with a good travel guide and decide what it is you’re looking for. You’re well-blessed here for beaches, water sports, surfing and so on – but it goes without saying that the island has an incredible wealth of history and culture to explore if that’s what you’re looking for. There are many temples to visit in Sri Lanka. These are expensive usually at around $30 (and far more so for tourists than locals) but worth it if that’s your interest. Just remember to wear respectful clothing.
Similarly, you could spend a year here dining out each night and still not have sampled everything gastronomically that Sri Lanka has to offer. Just remember that in the quitter areas, you’ll have to book a table and make arrangements hours in advance – even to the point of telling the proprietors what you want to eat in some cases – as Sri Lankans tend not to eat out. This won’t be the case in the busier areas more used to dealing with tourists of course.
Remember too that even though your bill will probably include a service charge, this generally goes to the proprietors not the staff so if you feel you’ve had great service – please tip again as you’ll be amazed by the good value and great quality. Sri Lankan cuisine is similar but at the same time subtly different from southern Indian food. Sri Lankans love their spices and sea foods and fish-based curry and spicy dishes are always popular – and delicious of course.
Exploring the countryside, taking wildlife and safari tours, hill walking, whale watching and many other activities are do-able and popular in this part of the world.
One thing well worth doing is watching a local cricket match – often played out on a bit of a dust-pan by northern hemisphere standards. Cricket is close to religion here and probably the most popular sport on the island.
On the whole – when we say Sri Lanka has it all we really mean it. It all depends how long you can come here for and what your aims are. So if it’s a simple week or two in the sun to soak up the atmosphere and rid yourself of the winter blues – then simply head for Colombo and the beaches nearby. This type of holiday is wonderfully catered for in Sri Lanka and a little luxury is what we all need now and again.
If, on the other hand, you’re a back-packer with six months to spare trekking around – you’ll be able to do so on a very small budget in Sri Lanka and it’s an experience you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Just don’t forget to sort out a Sri lanka visa if you need one before entering the country.
Whichever of these two extremes you’re at – or anything in between, Sri Lanka will not disappoint you if you plan your trip carefully – and stay safe.