TikaWeeks #19/2023: Sri Lanka update

Posted by John on 11th May 2023

Golden sand, swaying palms and the clear blue waters of a typical sun-drenched beach in Sri Lanka

When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka? Since the end of the civil war in 2009, there is no ‘best time’ to travel as the entire country is open so you may visit when it is best for you. However, different areas are better than others at particular times of the year depending on the prevailing monsoon season. The Maha monsoon affects the north and east of the island between October and February, while the Yala monsoon arrives in May and lasts until October in the southern and western regions.

The rains during the monsoons are not uniform through the seasons, however. During the Maha monsoon, the heaviest rain falls in November and December; and during the Yala monsoon at the beginning and end (May/June and September/October). Despite the rain, the temperatures are relatively stable throughout the year and vary according to elevation rather than season.

And the rains do not always last that long. Mostly the rain will fall for a short period before the clouds clear and the sun comes out again. High humidity can make it feel uncomfortable just before the rains but this soon clears as the showers pass through. Humidity is mostly felt along the west and southwest coasts during the monsoon season.

How about travelling in the European summer?

Definitely the better beaches from May to September are along the north and east coasts of Sri Lanka, with most visitors heading for the sun, sand and shallow warm waters around Trincomalee (Nilaveli, Uppuveli, Kuchchaveli), Passikudah (Kalkudah) and Arugam Bay (Potuvil).

Other highlights at this time of year include the Cultural Triangle (Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya), the Jaffna peninsula at the northern tip of the island, the Knuckles Mountain Range east and north of Kandy, and the wildlife reserves of Gal Oya, Minneriya, Wilpattu and Yala (which is closed in September and October). The more eastern-facing areas of the Hill Country, such as Bandarawela, Ella and Haputale, are also possible at this time of year, and, for adrenaline-seekers, Kitulgala is the ideal place to experience white-water rafting and kayaking, canyoning, hiking, and mountain biking between April and December.

Please take a look at our Northern Sri Lanka holiday for inspiration.

Where would it be best to visit during the European winter?

Obviously a lot of travellers want to escape the winter cold and the short days of the Northern Hemisphere from November to March. Where better to go than the tropical and mystical land of Serendib, promising hot days, warm evenings and bright sunshine?

The Hill Country of Sri Lanka comes into its own from November to April, with the lush tea plantations seemingly covering every slope of the ‘up-country’ around Nuwara Eliya, vegetable stalls overflowing with produce at the roadside, flowers blossoming in the wilderness, and walking trails snaking along mountain ridges and dropping down into picturesque valleys throughout the region. There is also a wonderful train journey, or sections of it, to experience from Kandy to Badulla – a ‘must do’ for many of our customers.

The better beaches at this time of year are on the west and south coasts, from the Robinson Crusoe-like Kalpitiya peninsula north of Colombo all the way round the coast to the Chinese-financed and built port area of Hambantota bordering Bundala and Yala National Parks in the southeast. Our favourites are the quieter coves and sandy strands around Tangalle, Rekawa and Mawella on the south coast, but there are beaches for all tastes and budgets, including Wadduwa, Bentota, Balapitiya and Hikkaduwa in the southwest, and Thalpe, Ahangama, Koggala and Mirissa between Galle and Tangalle along the southern coastline.

The Cultural Triangle is also a sought-after destination in our winter, despite the mixed weather patterns from October to January. Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka’s main elephant reserve in the central south of the island, may be visited at this time of year as well, and Sinharaja, Bundala and Mannar Island are a must for keen birders from November to March (January to March is optimal for Sinharaja). The multi-faith pilgrimage season for Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) begins around Christmas and continues to Sinhalese and Tamil New Year (14 April).

For an idea of where to go and what to do in our winter, please take a look at our Sri Lanka Discovery holiday.

There is more inspiration for your special trip to Sri Lanka and Maldives in our Tika Tasters, which are sample itineraries and carefully curated introductions to the islands for various budgets.

The Pekoe Trail – Stage 6: Watagoda to Kotagala

Another quieter section of The Pekoe Trail without too many other hikers, this moderately challenging stage of 14.8 km should take up to 4.5 hours to complete.

Starting at Watagoda railway station, the route turns left across the railway line and continues along an urban street before following a dyke between two lakes to a Hindu kovil on the right. At 1.3 km, the trail zig-zags down a slope, turning back on itself, where an old banyan tree overhangs a narrow stream. After a few hundred metres the trail returns to the railway line before turning left and following the tracks for 75 metres where the trail forks to the right.

The next 1.7 km is a delight, navigating a classic tea trail on mostly flat terrain of the Holyrood Estate, coming upon the main estate bungalow at 3.7 km; the façade of the nearby warehouse reads “Did you hug a tree today”! Dropping 100 metres or so in elevation, the trail descends from the bungalow to the factory, exiting through a wide-open gate, before turning left and continuing along a tarmac road for 200 metres.

After 5.25 km, take a sharp left up the street leaving the main road behind before following a small village street back onto a tea trail. At 5.6 km, the trail again crosses the railway line before heading along the main road and over a bridge into Talawakelle, the centre of the Dimbula tea planting district, which is the largest tea growing area on the island. At an elevation of 1198 metres and a mean temperature of 18C, the climate is spring-like most of the year and ideal growing conditions for Sri Lanka’s best known export. Talawakelle is also a major transport hub and a busy commercial town.

On crossing the bridge, turn right over the railway line (yet again!) and onto the platform, walking its entire length, before climbing a short staircase onto the main Hatton-Talawakelle road. Follow the road for a few hundred metres and take a left up into the Talawakelle Estate and back onto a tea trail. The elevation changes of the trail are perfectly manageable as it weaves its way up, down and across small valleys connecting little hamlets. This fairy tale-like area, reminiscent of “The Shire” in Lord of the Rings, apparently appears from nowhere as you leave a hive of activity in Talawakelle a mere kilometre away.

The initial 1.5 km stretch is a mild ascent to St Clair tea factory, which boasts its very own railway station. You might like to stop here to visit the tea factory and enjoy a cup of freshly-made, high-grown tea. The trail then follows a village track with a few houses on either side and, to the right, you will see St Clair’s Falls below – one of the most impressive waterfalls in Sri Lanka. St Clair's Falls is one of the widest on the island and is commonly known as the "Little Niagara of Sri Lanka".

Shortly after the falls the trail begins to zig-zag up the verdant slopes of manicured tea and at the top, facing west, you are rewarded with magnificent views of the Kotmale Valley below as well as the contours of the Nanu Oya river the trail crossed back in Talawakelle. Along tea trails and through tea villages, up and down and around, after 12 km the trail reaches the first village of the Derryclaire Estate – only one more hill and a stretch of shady forest to go.

At 14.3 km, the trail reconnects with the main Hatton-Talawakelle road for approximately 100 metres and enters Kotagala, where there is a brightly painted Hindu kovil marking the end of this stage. There is also a railway station and plenty of tuk tuks around if you want to start or end your day here. There are a few shops as well if need to replenish anything.

Categories: Culture, Sightseeing, Sri Lanka, Travel tips, Weather, Wildlife

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