Sri Lanka, the ancient isle of Serendip, is steeped in a long and mysterious history, a place where you can still stroll down four hundred year old Dutch colonial streets, climb to the top of a 1500 year old rock citadel and enjoy the perfect cup of tea freshly picked at a hill country plantation. Boasting no fewer than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Sri Lanka is one of those rare destinations where you can truly have it all – powder white Indian Ocean beaches in the morning, exhilarating leopard safaris in the afternoon, ancient ruined cities one day and breath-taking scenery the next, all in a handily compact tear-drop shaped island easily reached and yet gloriously unspoiled.
Colombo & NegomboColombo & Negombo
Colombo’s landmark colonial architecture is slowly being restored, with excellent museums and pleasant boulevards to stroll down. North of the city, the long beaches of Negombo by the airport make an ideal stopover if short on time.
Cultural TriangleCultural Triangle
The northern plains hold the ruins of the golden age of Sinhalese civilization; monumental ancient cities, some over 2,000 years old. From Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the remains tell Sri Lanka’s story.
Galle was a busy port back in 125 AD when it was mentioned by Ptolemy. Nowhere lives and breathes history like the narrow cobbled streets of the town’s imposing fort, with colonial gems from Portuguese, Dutch and British days.
Jaffna & the NorthJaffna & the North
Only accessible since 2010, Jaffna and Sri Lanka’s far north contrast with the rest of the island, with Tamil culture, colonial architecture, and no crowds. Off the west coast, a scattering of small, idyllic islands offer the ultimate escape.
A city of myth and legend, Kandy is a sacred place of pilgrimage, and the last Sinhalese Kingdom to fall to the British. Steeped in tradition, its colourful houses and temples are set around a great lake, surrounded by forest.
South Coast BeachesSouth Coast Beaches
Running from Yala National Park to Galle, Sri Lanka’s south coast offers bay after bay of fine white sand beaches, plus a chance to see breeding turtles at Tangalle and gigantic blue whales as they pass Mirissa on their migration.
South West Coast BeachesSouth West Coast Beaches
Known as the ‘Sri Lankan Riviera’ the swathe of golden beaches from Colombo to Galle offers some boutique gems. Tucked away in unspoiled local beach towns like Wadduwa and Bentota, relax here before flying home.
Sri Lanka's National ParksSri Lanka's National Parks
Boasting 14 national parks, Sri Lanka is blessed with some of Asia’s finest wildlife. Yala is the most famous for its leopards but the sloth bears of Wilpattu, elephants of Uda Walawe and birdlife of Sinharaja Rainforest are stiff competition.
Tea CountryTea Country
Rolling emerald peaks of the hill country contrast with the tropical lowlands. Amidst the mist-shrouded forests, a patchwork of tea plantations stretches into the horizon. A hiker’s delight, this is Sri Lanka at its most scenic.
Trincomalee & East CoastTrincomalee & East Coast
Sri Lanka’s glorious east coast beaches have only recently become accessible and are tipped to be the country’s next success story. Ideal between April and September, there is much to see in Trincomalee and glorious seclusion at Passekudah.
Browse through our suggested itineraries for inspiration. These are just a starting point for your plans – remember that all our itineraries are tailor-made to your specifications.
Bawa’s Sri LankaGeoffrey Bawa was the leading light of Sri Lankan architecture, creating visionary spaces which interacted with their natural surroundings. This two-week itinerary takes in Sri Lanka’s main highlights and includes stays in three of Bawa’s beloved creations to add an extra dimension to the experience. Set at a relaxing pace, the accommodation will delight as much as the island’s scenery, food and history.
Quick country facts
Planning your trip
- Recommended airline:
Sri Lankan Airlines direct, or Emirates via Dubai
- Flight time:
10.5 hours with a direct flight
- Time zone:
- Visa requirements:
Electronic visa (ETA) necessary in advance of travel
How to get there
All flights to Sri Lanka land into Bandaranaike International Airport, near the beach resort of Negombo 40 minutes north of Colombo. It’s served by major international airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar and there’s also a direct service from London Heathrow with the flag-carrier Sri Lankan Airlines.
There is a network of small airstrips around the country, serviced by Cinnamon Air using small Cessna seaplanes, but 95% of all itineraries in Sri Lanka use road travel to get around rather than flying, with one or two scenic sections also possible by rail. Self-drive in Sri Lanka is not recommended but hiring a car and driver/guide is inexpensive and offers an easy way to get around without the hassle of navigating Sri Lanka’s challenging roads yourself.
A fairly compact island, distances between major sights are not great, but as the average speed on many of the roads is around 30 mph it can take a lot longer than you expect to get around. All the more time to enjoy the wonderful scenery, though! A major highway has now been built connecting Galle and Colombo, cutting the journey time from three hours to just over one, and more highways are underway, just rather slow in the execution.
Accommodation varies hugely from simple lodges to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Sri Lanka tends not to have the mega-resorts of Thailand but instead offers a range of architecturally interesting properties with plenty of boutique options. Prices are very reasonable, so a luxurious holiday is possible without breaking the bank, especially if you travel outside of the peak months of December and January.
How long to go for
Whilst many people can and do fly to Sri Lanka for single-centre beach stay, we would recommend at least two to three stops to make the most of the wonderful cultural, wildlife or scenic gems on offer. It’s possible to see quite a lot even if you only have 7 days to spare, but two weeks gives visitors the chance to travel at a relaxed pace and see all of the main highlights of that season. Because different parts of Sri Lanka are at their best at different times, the country is ideally explored on two separate trips, one in winter and one in summer, but those who don’t mind changeable weather could mix and match regions over three to four weeks, with just about everything fitting into a five week itinerary.
Sri Lanka makes an excellent combination with South India or the Maldives, or why not stop off in Dubai/Abu Dhabi if flying that way anyway.
When and where to go
Sri Lanka is that rare find – a destination which is just as fantastic whether you visit in summer or winter. That’s not to say that you will experience perfect weather in all places all of the time, but no matter when you are travelling, Sri Lanka has a sunny beach for you on one side of the island or the other.
Despite being a relatively small island, Sri Lanka has two different weather systems. The hill country (Kandy and Nuwara Eliya), west and southwest coasts (Galle, Yala and Southern Beaches), are broadly best visited between December and March, when skies should be clear most days. This area experiences rainfall from April or May to September, with the wettest months being April, May and June.
By contrast, the northern city of Jaffna and the east coast resorts such as Trincomalee are driest from April/May to September, as are West coast beaches north of Colombo, including Negombo. These regions experience rain from November to April.
The UNESCO sites of the country’s cultural triangle are dry almost year round, with the only exceptions being November to December when the monsoon rains make a brief stop. Summer months are dry but very hot.
The transition months of October and November are Sri Lanka’s only real ‘dud’ months, when one monsoon is on its way out and the other is on its way in, rendering most parts of the country changeable, with rain expected at times almost everywhere except the cultural triangle, which remains the driest part of the country. August can sometimes offer a break from both monsoons at the same time, making this the best month if combining the cultural triangle and east coast with the south coast, Yala or Galle.
For wildlife, Yala, Wilpattu, Sinharaja and Bundala National Parks are all at their peak in February, and Blue and Sperm whales can be seen along the southern coast near Mirissa. The same whales can be spotted off the east coast from May to October. August and September are also good months for Yala, Minneriya and Wilpattu.
Prices rise and availability becomes tight in peak season (December – Feb), especially during holidays such as Christmas. Travel during the UK summer is a great option to get good deals combined with good weather. We recommend booking flights and accommodation at least 6 months in advance if travelling over peak season, to ensure you get the best there is to offer.
- NOT ADVISED