One of our busiest months for holidays in Sri Lanka is January. Sri Lanka is ‘in season’ in January – calm seas and clear skies are generally the order of the day and who wants to be in the UK in January?
January is a memorable time for Sri Lankan Hindus, as the colorful Pongal festival is celebrated mid-month. Spanning two days and nearly every Sri Lankan location, the Thai Pongal festival (also known as the Harvest Festival) pays honor to the Hindu Sun God. The first day is celebrated with the traditional Pongal meal, featuring a sweetened rice dish that is first offered to the Sun God. It is customary for the meal to be shared between Hindus and non-Hindus alike, so tourists may find themselves experiencing some genuine Hindu hospitality. The second day of the festival honors the oxen and is known as Mattu (“Cattle”) Ponga. Decorative wreaths are placed around the necks of the oxen and the animals are groomed and washed. Koloms, festive decorations, are also drawn in the yards and floors of houses with flour paste. The Harvest Festival is a celebration of kindness and hope, and as such should offer enjoyment to any Sri Lankan tourist.
A smaller, but equally festive holiday is the Duruthu Perahera, which is held in January to comemorate the Buddha’s visit to Kelaniya. Processions are popular during Duruthu Perahera, and feature loud music, dancing, drumming, and elephants. The Duruthu Perahera is popularly celebrated at the Kelaniya temple outside of Colombo.
January is an optimal season to travel in Sri Lanka, especially on the west coast. Sri Lanka in January is dry and cool, making it very agreeable to travel. In fact, any time from December to March is the most tourist-heavy season of the Sri Lankan calendar year, since Europeans prefer the cool climate to our own bitter winters. Regions with higher elevations, however, like Nuwara Eliya, may be so chilly at night that inhabitants sleep with extra blankets. It should be said though, that Sri Lanka is really a year round destination and it is very difficult to be unequivocal about the weather in Sri Lanka. The dry/wet season are not as clearly defined as in India for example and different parts of the country have very different weather patterns. The good thing is that one part of the country is generally experiencing good weather at any one time!
Holiday-makers favor the cool, dry weather of January and, as a result, accommodations may be hard to find. Hotels and hostels book up quickly, and the rates for transportation and lodging soar. Galle is a popular destination for tourists, as the location features lush plants, ocean views, and tropical scenery. Located 110 kilometers from Colombo, it is particularly pleasant to visit in January, as visitors can enjoy the markets and beaches without the smoldering heat. Other popular destinations include the national parks of Yala National Park, Bundala, and Wilattu to name but three!