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A practical guide to Sri Lanka

National holidays and celebrations

Our travel advisers can give you tips on when to travel if you're interested in catching a Sri Lankan cultural event, or if you have questions about when not to go.

A country with a clear Buddhist majority but with significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian populations too, Sri Lanka's calendar is bursting with religious events and holidays which can enrich your trip by giving you a chance to join the locals, admire decorated temples and see the country in full celebratory flair.

Poya days in the Hindu Calendar fall on full moon days and mark a public holiday each month. Exact dates vary each year, so speak to our Sri Lanka specialists about the best time to visit.

  • Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day: January. Lord Gautama Buddha's first visit to Sri Lanka.
  • Tamil Thai Pongal Day: January. Hindu harvest festival, marking the winter solstice.
  • Nawam Full Moon Poya Day: February. Marks the day Buddha proclaimed the code of fundamental ethical precepts for the monks.
  • National Day: 4th February 1948.
  • Maha Sivarathri Day: March. Celebrates the day Lord Shiva called for a night of devoted worship to the Hindu deity.
  • Milad-Un-Nabi: Between January and February. The Birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • Medin Full Moon Poya Day: March. Marks Buddha's visit to his home to preach to his father.
  • Good Friday: Christian holiday celebrated between late March and mid-April.
  • Day Prior to Sinhala and Tamil New Year Day: New Year for Sinhalese Sri Lankans.
  • Bak Full Moon Poya Day: April. The second visit of Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka.
  • May Day: 1st May.
  • Vesak Full Moon Poya Day: May. Two days marking the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha.
  • Poson Full Moon Poya Day: June. Introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, BC.
  • Esala Full Moon Poya Day: July. Deliverance of Buddha's first sermon to the five ascetics and setting in motion of the Wheel of Dhamma.
  • Nikini Full Moon Poya Day: August. Conduction of Buddha's first Dhamma Sangayana.
  • Id-UI-Fitr (Ramazan Festival Day): Muslim celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.
  • Binara Full Moon Poya Day: September. Buddha's first visit to heaven to preach to his mother.
  • Vap Full Moon Poya Day: October. Commemorates the request to establish the Bhikkhuni Sasana.
  • Deepavali Festival Day: Between mid-October and mid-December. Hindu Festival of Lights.
  • Id-UI-Alha (Haji Festival Day): Dates change each year. Commemorates the pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims.
  • Il Full Moon Poya Day: November. Buddhist celebration of the obtaining of Vivarana.
  • Unduwap Full Moon Poya Day: December. The last full moon Poya day.
  • Christmas Day: 25th December.

Money

The national currency in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee or (Rs).

  • For the best rates, bring British pounds to exchange at the airport, banks or exchange bureaus.
  • ATM machines can be found in major cities and accept all major debit and credit cards.
  • Credit and debit cards are accepted in some shops, restaurants and at most hotels - Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted.
  • Tipping in Sri Lanka is customary and 10 per cent is an acceptable amount.
  • We advise changing rupees back into pounds before you leave the country, for the best rates.

Eating Out

Sri Lankan cuisine is diverse and unique, showing clear influences from India and former colonial rulers, with a unique tropical twist. Famous for its blend of spices and tasty curries, food in Sri Lanka is similar to cuisine from the Kerala region in India. Expect to taste several variations of dishes and creations revolving around rice and, with most cooks spicing their dishes liberally, every curry tastes unique.

Some of our favourite foods in Sri Lanka include "hoppers with lunu miris" for breakfast (savoury pancakes served with spices), a "lamprais" for lunch (a Dutch inspired dish) and some "Koola'ya" (curried rice) for dinner with a side dish of Roti. For a sweet taste after meals go for a Bibikkan cake, a Wattapalan pudding or a Dodol (coconut pudding).

Of course all hotels and resorts cater for international palates so if exotic Sri Lankan cuisine and spicy flavours take you out of your comfort zone you can still select from an ample selection of international dishes that will feel closer to home. However, if you have an adventurous palate, Sri Lanka certainly won't disappoint your taste buds.

Climate

Sri Lanka remains pleasantly warm and sunny throughout most of the year in coastal areas, where most of the hotels and all inclusive resorts are situated.

  • Sri Lanka is a tropical country with distinct wet and dry seasons which vary according to different regions.
  • The Yala monsoon brings rainfall to the southern and western regions from May to September while the area sees the driest weather from December through March.
  • The Maha monsoon affects eastern and northern Sri Lanka with wet weather from October to January, while the dry season in this region runs from May to September.
  • The highlands are cooler than the rest of the country with average temperatures between 16 and 20°C.
  • Coastal regions are warmer and more humid with year-round temperatures averaging 27°C.
  • The best time to visit is between December and March for the west and south, or April to September for the east and the north.

Meterological information

J F M A M J J A S O N D
Average °C 272728292929292828282728
Minimum °C 232223242526262626252424
Maximum °C 313233333232313030313031
Sunshine (hours) 789986777877
Rain (cm) 735617191076113024

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