The New York Times recently said Sri Lanka is the number one place to go this year. I fully agree. Biased, obviously, but Sri Lanka really is a small miracle. You can get anywhere in this country within a day, and there are a million places that are awesome and different. The Times recommends Nilaveli (Trinco), Galle and Unawatuna. I’d make a few other recommendations, as well as the times of year it’s best to visit.
Now – South Coast
The swimmability of the ocean changes seasonally. Luckily, this is an island so it’s always season somewhere. Right now is great for the south-western coast. Tangalle is quite a bit deeper in my experience, but still OK. There are shallow, clear rock pools which are good for families. Mirissa is supposed to lovely, I sadly haven’t been. I think it’s season for whales and dolphins there too. As you go around the coast you then get to Unawatuna. Una is well developed commercially, there are tons of guest house and food and stuff. The beach is also great right now, and it’s a bay, so you can wade out a long ways safely. I recommend Kingfisher for food.
Galle is cool whenever, but it would be the most fun for tourists this 28th Jan through 1st Feb, for the Galle Literary Festival. There’ll be a bunch of international authors down and cosmopolitan people around, plus the place is a short hop from Una and even Hikkaduwa (basically Colombo’s beach suburb now, on the west coast).
Inland, Yala National Park is awesome. You can stay at the Yala Village and literally be on your balcony looking at wild boar and elephants. But do be careful.
Also, on January 15th there is a solar eclipse visible from very few places on earth. Jaffna is one of them. I’m heading up there on the 13th. It should be sweet.
Around July, August I always try to make it out to Arugam Bay. This is a surf spot which has evolved a bit of a tourism industry around. Personally, I try to stay away from the main stretch and swim around Pottuvil Point. This is a bit annoying to find, you basically turn left in Pottuvil town and wind in past the school and lagoon and stuff. Once there, however, it is unbelievable. There are these giant rocks stacked next to the beach. We slept on them and went swimming as the sun warmed the sea in the morning. The waves are strong but safe, so it’s just fun. Surfers get good 100 meter runs, but you can also do quite happily with a bodyboard. Get out and have avocado and mayonnaise sandwiches, french fries.
August is also the season for the Perahera in Kandy. This is a parade with elephants dressed up and lots of fire. It is basically the coolest thing ever. I think this is also the Nallur Festival in Jaffna, which should be more accessible this year.
Then I think hill country, like Ella or Haputale, is awesome anytime. The beach is great, but the sublime views from way up in the hills are some of my favorite moments in Sri Lanka.