Since the end of the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers in 2009, Sri Lanka has been ascending the must-go-now lists. The island – often nicknamed the Teardrop of India or Pearl of the Indian Ocean – lures travelers with miles of tropical coastline and a jungle-clad interior. Home to remarkable ancient ruins, attractive tea estates, wildlife-rich national parks, and world-class hotels, it’s the ideal place to combine a cultural tour with an exciting safari and a bit of downtime at the beach. So, whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a family looking to entertain the kids or a solo traveller seeking peace and quiet, Sri Lanka has something for everyone. A holiday in Sri Lanka can be easily combined with a stay at the Maldives as there are numerous direct flights – most of them operated by SriLankan Airlines – between Sri Lanka and the Maldives (with a flight time of around one hour).
Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Sri Lanka with my travel guide. Find out more about:
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
- Travel requirements
- Getting around
- Inspiration, highlights & travel tips
- Suggested itineraries
- Recommended luxury hotels (+ reviews)
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Its equatorial position means that temperatures in Sri Lanka are fairly constant year round, with coastal regions enjoying average temperatures of 25-30°C (77 -86°F) and the highlands around 15-18°C (59-65°F). The tropical climate in Sri Lanka is complex as it is dictated by two monsoon seasons:
- The south-western monsoon brings rain to the Sri Lanka southern and western regions between May and September, while the dry season in this region runs from December to March. These regions are Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist areas (e.g. Colombo, resort towns, and Yala National Park).
- The north-eastern monsoon brings wind and rain to Sri Lanka’s north and eastern coastal regions between mid-November and January, and drier weather between May and September.
- There’s also an inter-monsoonal season in October and the first half of November, which sees fine weather for most of the island interspersed with sudden thunderstorms.
All in all, the drier transition months of April and September are the best to see the whole country. As with many South-East Asian destinations, the period from December to mid-April is considered the peak season for overall weather and therefore overall visitor numbers.
HOW TO GET THERE
Sri Lanka receives numerous international flights via its main airport, Bandaranaike International Airport. It is named after former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike and is located in a suburb of Negombo, 20 miles (32.5 km) north of the commercial capital Colombo. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Colombo.
Before you buy a plane ticket, consider reading my tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket.
Requirements for entry into Sri Lanka differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Sri Lankan embassy or consulate what documents you need for travel to Sri Lanka.
- You need an international passport with at least six months validity to enter Sri Lanka.
- Most nationalities need a tourist or business visa to enter Sri Lanka. You can apply for one online here. Tourist visas are normally issued for a maximum period of 30 days.
- You need a yellow fever certificate. Although there is no risk of yellow fever in Sri Lanka, immigration officials may ask to see yellow fever vaccination certificates or exemption certificates when you are arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travellers having transited for more than 12 hours through an airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.
Make sure you read my 10 tips to plan a worry-free trip.
Although Sri Lanka is relatively small in size, traveling around the island can be frustrating and time-consuming. With the exception of the highway between Colombo and Galle, the country’s narrow roads and dangerous traffic, congested with pedestrians, cyclists and tuktuks make traveling difficult.
- Chauffeur-driven cars are the recommended way to get around Sri Lanka and these can be arranged via most hotels & tour operators.
- Car hire is available from several international agencies. Motorised rickshaws are also readily available for hire in towns and villages. Most roads are tarred, with a 56 kph (35 mph) speed limit in built-up areas and 75 kph (45 mph) outside towns. The minimum age for driving a car is 18.
- Charter flights can be arranged to any destination in Sri Lanka. One company offering this service is Deccan Aviation Lanka, which is authorized to operate both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft across the country.
- Trains connect Colombo with all tourist towns, but first-class carriages, air conditioning and dining cars are only available on a few. New fast services operate on the principal routes, including an intercity express service between Colombo and Kandy, otherwise journeys are fairly leisurely. The Viceroy Express is the only passenger steam train still in operation in Sri Lanka, hauled by a vintage British locomotive at least 50 years old.
- An extensive bus network exists throughout the island. Most buses are not very comfortable though and make many stops along the way. Private bus drivers are paid according to the number of passengers and can often drive rather dangerously. Two long haul distance bus services operate from Colombo, one managed by the Sri Lanka Transport Board and the other managed by private bus companies. The bus station is located close to the Central Depot.
- Taxis have yellow tops and red and white plates. In Colombo, taxis are metered but it is advisable to agree a rate before setting off. Drivers expect a 10% tip.
- Trishaws (tuktuks) are ideal for short journeys within towns and cities, and for short excursions, the country’s many trishaws would be happy to offer you a ride. The vehicles are mainly Indian-made Bajaj rickshaws. Most trishaws are not metered. Always agree on a fare beforehand.
INSPIRATION, HIGHLIGHTS & TRAVEL TIPS
There are several good reasons why you should put Sri Lanka on your bucket list:
- Exploring historic towns, such as Fort Galle
- Whale watching
- Going on a safari (e.g. observing elephants and leopards in the wild)
- Relaxing on the island’s magnificent beaches
- Tea tourism
- Indulging in Ayurveda
The following, in-depth articles may also inspire you and help you plan your holiday to Sri Lanka:
- Top 10 best things to do in Sr Lanka
- Top 10 most fabulous luxury hotels & lodges in Sri Lanka
- Tips & tricks for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel
- Tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket
It’s impossible to suggest one itinerary for Sri Lanka, but I hereby share with you a schedule based on my own holidays in Sri Lanka, which is great if you want to see archipelago in a compact time frame of just one week:
- Day 1: arrival & explore Colombo (suggested hotel: Shangri-La Colombo)
- Day 2: visit Fort Galle (recommended hotel: Amangalla)
- Day 4 & 5: go on safari In Yala National Park (suggested hotel: Wild Coast Tented Lodge)
- Day 6, 7 and 8: relax on one of the country’s amazing beaches (suggested hotel: Amanwella)
If you have more time, I suggest you also explore the country’s Central Highlands.
RECOMMENDED LUXURY HOTELS (+ REVIEWS)
Please visit my top 10 lists of the best hotels in Sri Lanka if you are eager to know how I rank the country’s top properties, according to my own experience at each one of them.
Below, you find my reviews of luxury hotels in Sri Lanka (with pros, cons, and tips to save money):
- Review of PHENOMENAL Amanwella (Tangalle, Sri Lanka)
- Review of Amangalla (Fort Galle, Sri Lanka)
- Review: Wild Coast Tented Lodge (Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)
- Review of Shangri-La Hotel Colombo (Sri Lanka)