A guide to the best times to visit Sri Lanka
Whether you’re an adventurous traveler looking to explore the rich, foreign landscape or a sun-seeking family searching for a family-friendly destination, Sri Lanka has so much to offer.
A common query we hear is “when is the best time to visit Sri Lanka”? As you can imagine, the answer to this depends greatly on what you wish to experience when visiting Sri Lanka.
To help we have put together the following guide which illustrates what’s happening at the various times of the year so you can decide when is the best time for you to visit the beautiful island of Sri Lanka!
January - March
January through to March is a great time to visit Sri Lanka with the island typically enjoying lots of sunshine and little in the way of rain. The temperature usually rises from January to March and the time is perfect for enjoying treks, sightseeing and lounging on the southern coast beaches.
Prime whale watching season
Sri Lanka is the best place in the world to see Blue Whales.
The whale watching season runs from December to the start of April in Mirissa where there is a very high chance of seeing Blue Whales as they migrate between the Bay of Bengal and the Horn of Africa.
As well as Blue Whales you are likely to see Sperm Whales, Spinner and Bottlenose Dolphins. False Killer Whales are also sighted, which are in fact not whales but the fourth largest dolphin the world. Bryde’s Whales (also known as Bryde's whale complex - so called because there hasn’t been much research into this species and it would appear there may be up to 3 sub-species) can also be seen in the area too.
The warm waters of the Indian Ocean is a magnet for marine life and we’d highly recommend taking the opportunity to go out spotting if you’re visiting Sri Lanka during these months.
Learn more about whale watching in Sri Lanka.
Independence Day celebrations
Sri Lanka gained its independence from the British on the 4th February 1948 and marks the occasion each year with a national holiday.
While the day is celebrated all across the island, the city of Colombo often becomes the main focus of proceedings as the President of the country raises the national flag and delivers a televised speech.
If you visit Sri Lanka during the celebrations you’ll no doubt get a real sense of the passionate patriotism the Sri Lankan people have and enjoy watching the magnificent pageantry that is customary.
April - June
As the temperatures continue to climb throughout April to June it is advisable to avoid being out sightseeing in the middle of the day when temperatures reach their peak. The countless beautiful beaches across the island are popular during this time of the year when the skies are usually cloud free.
The south west corner of the island can experience some short, intense rainfall during this period but typically quickly pass.
New Year Festival
A festival not to be missed if you’re visiting Sri Lanka in April is the Sinhala and Tamil New Year which is a national holiday across the island.
Usually taking place on the 14th of April, the New Year celebrates the moving of the sun from the House of Pisces to the House of Aries and is known as Aluth Avurudu in Sinhala and Puthandu in Tamil.
There is a joyous atmosphere during the New Year and once the customary rituals have been completed the people move out onto the streets for fun activities and games with their family and friends.
Commencing on the Full Moon day of May, Vesak Poya is an important festival for Buddhists across Sri Lanka and the world. The day celebrates three important events that took place on the day; the birth of Siddhartha Gautama (Lord Buddha) in Nepal, Siddharta Gautam’s attainment, and Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana (death).
Observing Vesak Poya first hand is an enlightening experience for those interested in Sri Lankan culture and Buddhism.
July - September
If you enjoy basking in the sunshine then the inter-monsoon season is a good time to visit, with high temperatures and fairly low levels of rainfall typical. Again, beaches are a popular destination for sun worshippers during this time of the year.
Kandy Esala Perahera
Held in July or August each year, the Esala Perahera is a festival held in Kandy that is a sight to behold.
One of the most ancient and largest Buddhist celebrations on the island, the festival includes music, fire-breathers, performers and the iconic, beautifully decorated elephants. The celebrations last for ten days and are set to coincide with the date when Buddhist gave his first teachings after his enlightenment.
"The Gathering" at Minneriya National Park
Between June and September "The Gathering" occurs at Minneriya National Park, where hundreds of Sri Lankan elephants all converge together on the grass plains.
A must see for any wildlife enthusiast, it is the most spectacular sight seeing up to three hundred elephants together in the park.
There is plenty of other wildlife to see during a trip to the Minneriya National Park, especially for birdwatchers with the likes of the painted storks, grey white pelican and Sri Lankan jungle fowl. If you visit Minneriya at other times of the year, don’t worry – there is usually still a large number of elephants to be spotted.
Learn more about Minneriya National Park.
October - December
Through October and November Sri Lankan usually (but not always) experiences wetter weather, especially to the North East of the island. As we move into December the monsoon has usually faded and the island enjoys warm, dry weather.
Festival of Lights
Celebrated by Hindu’s, The Festival of Lights – or ‘Deepavali’ festival - is a public holiday in Sri Lanka which goes on over five days with the main celebrations taking place on the fifth day.
While the festival takes place during the first month of the Hindu calendar, for us it usually falls between October and November. While the majority of the people in Sri Lanka are Buddhists, there are a large number of Hindus on the island so the festival definitely doesn’t pass unnoticed!
As the name suggests, if you visit during this time you’ll notice homes and buildings lit up with the traditional clay lamps which repel the evil darkness. The setting off of fireworks and firecrackers is also common during the five day celebrations.
Adam’s Peak pilgrimage
Perfect for anyone up for a personal challenge, the Adams Peak Pilgrimage season begins on the Full Moon (or ‘Poya’) day of December and runs until the Full Moon day of May.
The climb itself begins early in the morning (around 2am) and the climb to the top typically takes three to four hours. The path to the top is lit during the season and you’ll arrive at the top of the mountain ready for the stunning sunrise at around 6:30am.
The bell at the top is rung as the sun rises over the horizon and the priest scatters rice offerings on the rock.
The descent is quicker than the climb up, but you will need to have a fairly high level of stamina to complete the climb.
If you’re looking to add some adventure to your next Sri Lankan tour then the Adams Peak Climb is a great experience.
Learn more about the Adams Peak Pilgrimage climb.