The best time to visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a relatively small country, however, it can be confusing to understand how the weather affects the different regions.
There are areas of the country that may experience heavy rains. Meanwhile, at the same time, others have hot sunny weather. It all depends on the monsoons.
So what is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?
It all depends on which region and coastline you want to visit, what activity you plan to do, and ultimately if you have in mind any festival to experience, as the famous Kandy Esala Perahera.
In this guide, you will find the best time to visit Sri Lanka for best experience overall, including the best months for the local events.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
- 1 When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka – in a nutshell
- 1.1 The best time of the year to visit Sri Lanka
- 1.2 Cheapest time to go to Sri Lanka
- 1.3 Best time to visit tea plantations in Sri Lanka
- 1.4 Best time of the year to visit Sri Lanka and Maldives
- 1.5 Best season for surfing in Sri Lanka
- 1.6 Best time to visit Colombo
- 1.7 Best time to visit Galle
- 1.8 Best time to visit the central area of Sri Lanka
- 2 Best season to visit Sri Lanka
- 3 Best month to visit Sri Lanka
- 4 Best time to visit Sri Lanka for the events
You can read also
- The 9 best areas to visit in Sri Lanka
- 21 Ultimate Things To Do in Sri Lanka
- 10 great itineraries of Sri Lanka
- Travel photography in Sri Lanka – best images and a full guide
- Essential travel guide to Jaffna in the north of the country
- Where to go and how to experience a tea plantation in Sri Lanka
- What to see and where to stay in Sigiriya
When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka – in a nutshell
|Best time of year to visit Sri Lanka||November to March (West and South Coast), May to September (East and North Coast)|
|Cheapest time to go to Sri Lanka||May, October and November|
|Best time to visit Sri Lanka beaches
(South & West Coast)
|Late December to March|
|Best time to visit Sri Lanka beaches
|April to September|
|Best time for a honeymoon||January to April and mid-July to September (depending on the exact location)|
|Best time for surfing||Mid-November to March (south coast) and May to September (East Coast)|
|Best time for wildlife and safari||January to April (Sigiriya) as well as August and September (Dambulla)|
|Best time for whale watching||December to April (Mirissa) and May to September (Trincomalee)|
|Best time for tea plantations||January to March|
|Best time for temples||April to September (Anuradhapura)|
|Best time of the year to visit Sri Lanka and Maldives||December to March|
The best time of the year to visit Sri Lanka
In general terms, the best time of the year is during the dry season.
This is very dependent on the two monsoons affecting the island called “Yala” and “Maha”.
If you want to visit the south and west coast ranges, including some excursions in the central regions, then try to book your flights in the months between November to March.
Also, tourism increases during this time of the year and there is a wider range of activities visitors can experience.
Vice versa, if you plan to stay in the east and north coast ranges, then the best time to visit is from late April to September when it’s off-season in the south and west.
Cheapest time to go to Sri Lanka
May, October and November are the least popular months on the island, so there are usually more deals and discounts during these months.
You will also experience Sri Lanka with fewer people around and finding transportation through the island will not be an issue.
The drawback is that the weather in these months can be unpredictable and related to the monsoons that may arrive or leave earlier/later than expected.
Best time to visit tea plantations in Sri Lanka
March is the perfect month to experience the harvesting season in Sri Lanka.
This is a long-standing tradition since the British started the plantations back in the days, identifying the central hills as one of the best areas in the world to grow tea.
During this month, you can experience the best tea quality.
Moreover, you can visit the farms during the harvesting process, still all handmade, a really unique experience.
I personally had such an outstanding time during my first visit that I repeated the experience in a different tea area on a second visit to the country.
Best time of the year to visit Sri Lanka and Maldives
You will be very likely to have sunny days in both countries between December and March, with the highest probability in January and February.
This is the dry season, perfect to experience the Maldives and the southern and western area of Sri Lanka.
During the day you will be very likely to experience temperatures around 27-30C degrees (80-85F) dropping a few degrees during the night.
From Colombo, you can now fly directly to the capital Male and to the Gan International Airport, in the south of the Maldives.
Best season for surfing in Sri Lanka
There are two great locations for surfing in Sri Lanka.
The first one is Hikkaduwa and the South Coast.
In this case, the best season is from mid-November to March.
That’s where you get the best waves and weather too.
April is a bit of a transition month.
Starting in May, you will have the east coast to go surfing, till September.
Arugam Bay is probably the most famous spot, however, there are other locations worth scouting.
You should check out my itinerary guides for a surfing holiday of 10 days in Sri Lanka, or even more if you have time.
Best time to visit Colombo
The capital city of Colombo is located right in the centre of the western coast.
This means that the best chance to experience dry weather is between December and March.
In saying that, the temperature does not change that much during the year, always in the range 25-30C (77-86F), however the rainfalls and the humidity increase a fair bit. May, October and November are on average the months with the highest precipitations.
Best time to visit Galle
The best time to experience Galle ranges from December to March, usually with sunny and dry days.
This is when you should book also your whale-watching tour, an incredible experience.
You will leave at sunrise and after a couple of hours of navigation off the coast, you will be very likely to spot plenty of dolphins and a few whales playing around.
Check out my 7-day itinerary of the Sri Lankan south coast.
Best time to visit the central area of Sri Lanka
This is where you will find Kandy, Sigiriya, the National Parks for the elephant safaris and of course the many tea plantations regions.
Visiting the central area from December to March will give you the highest probability of sunny dry days.
I was personally there in February and I did the scenic hiking to the Pidurangala peak in the early morning and it was nice and fresh, obviously turning to warm in the middle of the day.
I had a trip to the same area in August and I did not experience any rain (although somehow expected).
It was, however, much more humid.
Best season to visit Sri Lanka
Maha Season in Sri Lanka (November to March)
Maha is the name of the northeast monsoon that usually hits the island between November and March.
The regions that will be most affected by rain and humidity are the north and east coast.
On the contrary, the rest of the island has usually sunny and dry days with rare rain, sometimes in the central regions and late in the evening.
This is the high-season of Sri Lanka for tourism.
You should book well in advance, especially between Christmas and mid/end of January (school holidays in many countries).
It tends to be also more expensive overall.
This is the season when you will be able to explore most of the country in good weather condition.
March is the best month also to visit the harvesting in the tea plantations.
Yala Season in Sri Lanka (mid-May to August)
Yala is the name of the monsoon that hits the island between May and August, bringing rain to the central regions of the island, the west and the south coasts.
You will experience sunny days when visiting the East Coast and the North area.
Keep in mind that the Northern regions have opened to tourism only in the last 10 years and although it’s not famous for the beaches, it does offer some great genuine experiences, as in Jaffna.
In the North, you will find also Anuradhapura, one of the best temples areas in the world that you can easily cycle around in 2-3 days.
The East Coast was hit hard by the tsunami in 2004, however, today it has all been reconstructed and it is one of the most secret spots to stay in Sri Lanka, especially in the North-East in places like Pasikuda and Trincomalee.
In this season, the east coast is more popular with tourism and you will notice that also in the highest prices of the accommodations.
You will be quite likely to experience daily rain on the west coast, especially in May and June.
The South Coast tends to have less rain though and you may get some real hotel deals.
Shoulder seasons in Sri Lanka (April to mid-May and September to October)
These are the seasons with the most unpredictable weather which will be based on the monsoon timing.
You may be lucky and experience sunny days wherever you go, or, on the contrary, mostly rain.
This is also the season when you will get the best hotel deals.
It will be cheaper overall. Nowadays the weather is so unpredictable.
I personally visited Jaffna in the north in the worst time of the year weather-wise, January, and I had only sunny and dry days.
You can check out one of my recommended itineraries of Sri Lanka, based on when you visit the country.
Best month to visit Sri Lanka
Rainfalls and temperatures below are based on average values. Keep always in mind that the monsoons may arrive or leave later or earlier.
I am using in this guide Celsius degrees. If you are used to Fahrenheit degrees, this is a quick conversion reference scale: 20C=68F, 25C=77F, 30C=86F and 35C=90F.
- Sri Lanka weather in January: In January, the weather is ideal on the southern and western coasts. The country experiences temperatures up to 26-30C degrees but the levels of rainfall in the eastern and northern coasts are way higher (up to 132 mm/month). The central hills, on the other hand, are the coldest of the year (10 to 20C degrees). You will need a jumper and a jacket for the evening/night, especially on altitude.
- Sri Lanka weather in February: February is another great month for the coasts located in the south and west of the country. The temperature is very similar, ranging from 24 to 31C degrees and you may experience some rare rain. The eastern and northern coasts start to lower their levels of rainfall to 100 mm of rainfall, while the central hills have cool weather, very similar to the previous month.
- Sri Lanka weather in March: This is when the rainfall starts to take off in the southern and western coasts, going from 69 to 130 mm/month in less than 30 days, and it starts to fade away in the others areas. However, the temperature remains very similar throughout the whole country, except in the mountains where it is slightly higher (15 to 22C degrees). This is the best time to visit the tea plantations, during the harvesting.
- Sri Lanka weather in April: During April, the northern and eastern coasts start having better weather, expecting mostly sunny days with some rain in the late evening. The southern coast has still acceptable weather meanwhile the western coast is affected more and more by rainfalls, hovering 250 mm/month on average. The temperature is pretty much the same in the south and west, but it increases well over 30C in the north of the country. The central hills tend to be also much warmer, up to 23-24 degrees, but they do experience also more rain.
- Sri Lanka weather in May: By this time, the western and southern coasts are going through the peak of the first monsoon of the year. Rainfall averages 380 mm and the temperature starts to go slightly down. The central hills also have some rain, reaching 151 mm, while the north and east gets warmer (up to 35C degrees) and drier (50 mm of rainfall).
- Sri Lanka weather in June: In June, the monsoon has less of an impact on the south and west coast (186 mm of rainfall). The central hills have still some rain with 178 mm of precipitation, while the north and east regions go through the driest and hottest time of the year, with almost no rain and up to 35C degrees.
- Sri Lanka weather in July: Temperature start slightly going down in the whole country with a peak average of 30C degree (a bit more in the north). Rainfalls go down in the west and south (125 mm) and lightly increase in the north (70 mm monthly average).
- Sri Lanka weather in August: In August, the temperature keeps dropping in the south and west (peak of 26-27C degrees) and the rainfall levels also go down to 114 mm. The central hills get chillier, with evening/night temperatures well below 20C and still experiencing some rainfalls (159 mm on average). The weather in the north and east remain pretty similar to the previous month.
- Sri Lanka weather in September: September is the beginning of the second monsoon season. Although the temperature does not change much in the south and west, the rainfall levels rise again to 236 mm. The central hills and northeastern coasts are also affected, reaching 228 and 217 mm of rainfall respectively.
- Sri Lanka weather in October: The peak of the monsoon season in the south, west and central hills usually take place in October with 369 mm and 228 mm of rainfall respectively. The temperature remains the same. In the north and east coasts, you will start experiencing frequent evening rainfalls.
- Sri Lanka weather in November: This is the month with probably the most rain overall, in all regions of Sri Lanka. Temperatures during the day are in the 25-30C range everywhere and there are on average over 300mm of rainfalls. The exception is central hills, where you will experience less rain (215mm) and cooler temperatures (15-20C, sometimes more during the day)
- Sri Lanka weather in December: In December the monsoon season starts to fade away in the south and west, as well as in the central hills. However, it is sustained during the entire month in the north and east. Temperature goes a little down across the entire country, usually by one degree.
Best time to visit Sri Lanka for the events
Sri Lanka is one of the Asian countries with the most celebrations and festivals throughout the year.
- Events in January: Throughout the year, it is common to see festivals across the country celebrating each full moon. This tradition has been kept for centuries and these processions are still held. The first one is called Duruthu Perahera and it commemorates the three visits of Buddha to Sri Lanka. Locals also celebrate the Hindu festival of Thai Pongal to honour Surya, the sun god. If you are lucky enough to be in Sri Lanka, try the pongal. This is a sweet dish made with rice, lots of spices and nuts.
- Events in February: The Independence Day takes place every 4th of February (since 1948). During the event, you’ll get to see fireworks, parades, several sports, festivals and much more. Another important event in February is the Navam Perahera, which is the biggest event of the year in Colombo. It is a procession that goes from the Gangaramaya Temple, through the Viharamahadevi Park to finish at Beira Lake. Definitely a must-see during this month.
- Events in March: As Sri Lanka homes different cultures and religions in a single island, they also celebrate the Mahashivratri. This important festivity is made in honour of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. As most of Sri Lanka’s Hindus are Shaivites, this is an important festivity in the country.
- Events in April: this is the month of the Sinhalese New Year (also known as Aluth Avurudda). This is a major event that is not celebrated by only the Sinhalese people but by most of the Sri Lankan people. During this time (mid-April), all commercial and non-commercial activities are quite likely to close, so be prepared.
- Events in May: Vesak Poya is a famous Buddhist celebration to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. After the sun goes down, people light paper lanterns of several colours on every place where there’s a Buddha temple. On these nights, tourists can experience one of the most spectacular views of Colombo at night, in a sea of lanterns.
- Events in June: June is the month that celebrates the arrival of Mahinda -and, therefore, of Buddhism. The Poson Festival, as it is locally called, features festivities in the several temples of Anuradhapura (in the north). Thousands of pilgrims also go to the temple located on the peak of Mihintale, a hill that requires going through almost 2,000 steps.
- Events in July: This is a busy month for Hindus as there are two festivities that take place: Vel and Kataragama. Vel is celebrated in Colombo and Jaffna. A figure of the god of war, Murugan (Kartikeya) is “forcibly” taken from Pettah to Bambalapitiya in Colombo. The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil temple of Jaffna holds a festival for 25 consecutive days, a unique experience. Kataragama is a festival that have their followers going through a series of masochism rituals to commemorate the win of Skanda -a six-faced and 12-armed god- over the demons on Earth. Buddhists have their celebrations as well. The Esala Poya is an event to celebrate the first sermon of Buddha and the arrival of the tooth relic in Sri Lanka. Taking place in late July, this marks the beginning of the ceremonies in Kandy.
- Events in August: After the Esala Poya, the Kandy Esala Perahera is a 10-day-and-night festival that honours the sacred tooth relic of Kandy in the form of a procession. Although it starts in July, most of the event takes place in August and it is one of the most important festivals in the country. I was lucky enough to experience it with a special pass that granted me access before the actual start. Really unique. You can see more photos here. August is also the climax month of Kataragama, which started in Jaffna, back in July. The 25-day festival of the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil features on the last day a parade of big floats and intense shows of sacrifice.
- Events in September: the Binara Full Moon Poya is a public spiritual celebration that is usually celebrated in September during the full moon day. This is an important national holiday that marks the first time that female Buddhist monks were permitted to join the order.
- Events in October: Deepavali is the name of the Hindu light festival that takes place in late October, early November. During this celebration, visitors can see thousands of oil lamps lit in memory of the triumph over evil after Rama came back from exile. It is not only a beautiful view but also a time for reflection.
- Events in November: During the last few years, the European Film Festival has been a success in the island. The new tradition was born as a way to showcase several European movies in Colombo, but it has now reached many other parts of the country and it has become more and more recognized in the industry throughout the years. A must experience if you are in Sri Lanka.
- Events in December: The majority of the people in Sri Lanka are either Buddhist or Hindu; the Christians are in a small percentage, around 7%. In saying that, Christmas is one of the biggest celebrations throughout the year. You will fill it more in the big towns and cities, as Colombo or Galle. This where European influence has played a big role in the last 400 years. The full moon day of December marks also the start of the Adam’s Peak pilgrimage season, a magnificence climb up to 2,250m.
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