The best time for travelling is November to mid April, when it's mainly dry on the south and west coasts (the main beach areas). The central highlands are pleasantly cool and relatively dry from January to April. However, December to March is also the height of the tourist season in Sri Lanka, so many visitors find the island quieter and much cheaper out of season. The best time for diving on the southwest coast is December to February, when the water is generally calm and clear.
On the west and south coasts, the rainy season is from the end of April to October. The heaviest rainfall is usually between May to mid June and October to November, with July, August and September being relatively drier, though still with low season prices. In recent years the seasons have been erratic! Rain varies from light and refreshing to prolonged downpours which can disrupt travel. However, it shouldn't rain all the time and a mix of sunshine, cloud and rain is the norm. Temperatures remain the same throughout the year.
In July/August Kandy hosts the island's most spectacular festival, the 10-day Esala Perahera, which is one of the most important religious festivals in Asia.
Sri Lanka must have more holidays than anywhere else in the world - about 72 including Sundays. All important Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian, as well as national festivals, are celebrated. Every full moon (Poya) day is also a Buddhist holiday. On these days all public places of entertainment are closed and no alcohol is sold. However, hotels make special arrangements for guests.
Some of the key festivals are:
Duruthu poya - a colourful festival in Colombo, held in January
Navam poya - Colombo's grandest parade, held in February
Esala Perahera - Sri Lanka's most spectacular festival, held in Kandy, which climaxes with dancers and drummers in colourful local costumes. It lasts 10 days in July/August, leading up to the full moon day (Esala Poya).
Sri Lanka standard time is 4 1/2 hours ahead of GMT in summer and 5 1/5 hours ahead of GMT in winter.
NB, please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning.
From the UK: carriers include Sri Lankan Airlines and British Airways. Or via the Middle East with Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian.
From Europe: via the Middle East with Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways.
FROM THE AIRPORT: There's a train service and buses run from the airport to the city, but the easiest option is to get a taxi or arrange a transfer through your hotel.
CAR AND DRIVER: If you can afford it and have limited time, we would recommend hiring a car with a driver as the best way to see the country. It's cheaper than hiring a self-drive car and the drivers usually arrange their own accommodation and food. Enquire through Tailormade Tours.
INTERNAL FLIGHTS: with SriLankan Airlines' air taxi service or with Cinnamon Air's air taxi service.
BY BUS: Travelling by bus is a cheap way to get around, but buses can be very overcrowded and uncomfortable.
BY TRAIN: Rail travel is generally slower and more expensive than buses, but is far more comfortable. We'd recommend doing a train journey at some stage as they can be super scenic. See Seat61 for more details.
BY TAXI: A large number of 3-wheelers (tuk-tuks) operate on the roads. Agree to a rate before starting your journey and make sure the driver has a clear idea of your destination.
Visitors from most countries will need to get an Electronic Travel Authoriaation (ETA) prior to travel, which is valid for 30 days. Ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of your departure.
Since malaria is a risk in most rural areas, it's advisable to take a course of anti-malaria drugs and take measures to avoid being bitten. Immunisation against polio, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A is also recommended.
In general, standards of hygiene in Sri Lanka are reasonable and visitors who follow a few basic rules should have a completely healthy stay. Don't drink tap water or ice made from it - bottled water is available at most hotels. Avoid dairy products made with unboiled milk and only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit should be peeled.
Tipping is expected in Sri Lankan hotels, even when the service is included, and staff rely on it.
If you take photographs of Buddha statues never pose alongside them. This would be considered a sign of disrespect. And if you encounter a Buddhist monk (in a yellow robe), please do not expect him to pose for pictures.
Sri Lanka is a great place to travel with children - the Sri Lankan people love kids and they're welcome almost everywhere. Places to stay and eat cater for children as a matter of course.
There are lots of opportunities for seeing animals, in particular elephants - there are several elephant orphanages which you can visit. The turtle hatcheries on the south coast are also fun for children. And if it gets too hot on the coast you can always escape to the cooler hill country.