The southern coast and the North West coast are ideal for Whale and Dolphin spotting during the season from January to April. Large pods of Dolphins can be spotted few miles offshore. Those who are lucky might also experience the sighting of a gigantic Blue Whale swimming in the deep seas. January is also a celebration of the creative arts and traditional Buddhist rituals. At the end of January, local artists gather in Colombo to exhibit their creative talents at the Annual Kala Pola – art fair. Meanwhile, during full-moon in January, the ancient Kelaniya Buddhist temple just minutes away from the island’s capital, will hold their annual perehara – a dazzling cultural procession with scores of elephants all dressed in their finery, traditional dancers, drummers, flag bearers, and Buddhist monks, all walk in procession in honour of Lord Buddha.
In the Kandyan capital, the much awaited Donald Steele Golf Tournament is held in February in the picturesque Victoria Golf and Country Resort. More excitement is unveiled on the streets of Colombo in February with the Navam Perehara that takes place on full-moon day. A treat for children and adults alike, this perehara show cases all the traditional dance forms including mask dancers, Kandyan and Kavadi dancers, drummers and glittering elephants. A number of elephants from various parts of the country make the long journey to Colombo along with their mahouts for this event.
School cricket in Sri Lanka is very popular and many of the annual `big’ matches are held in March of these the annual Royal Thomian cricket match is much anticipated and is good fun for both players and spectators. The annual hot air balloon festival also takes place in Colombo during March. Participants from around the world attend this festival.
April is a holiday month in Sri Lanka where the Sinhalese and Tamil communities celebrate the dawning of the New Year. It’s a time when families get together to conduct traditional rituals, religious ceremonies, offer thanks for a good rice harvest, an wish peace and prosperity to all for the coming new year. Celebrations and traditional rituals are best seen in the rural areas. Colombo empties out during this time when most escape to the cooler hills or the sandy beaches. In anticipation of the holiday rush, Nuwara Eliya – the upcountry hill station, spruces itself up and various activities ranging from golf tournaments, motor cross races, and flower shows are all held.
On Vesak full-moon Poya day in May, Buddhists all over the world venerate the life of Lord Buddha – his birth, enlightenment and passing away. Homes, villages and cities in Sri Lanka are lit up in serene splendor with oil lamps, intricate hand made lanterns, and colourful Pandals depicting the life story of Lord Buddha are erected across the island. May is also the beginning of the surfing period in Arugam Bay in the southeast. Listed as one of ten top surf spots in the world, Arugam Bay is a popular youthful haunt for surfers and holiday makers. The turquoise seas of the coast off Trincomalee in the East are also perfect at this time for snorkelling as well as whale and dolphin spotting excursions.
During the full-moon poya day of June, Buddhists celebrate Poson when the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by Mahinda, is remembered. Thousands of pilgrims and devotees flock to Buddhist shrines across the country to pay homage to the Buddha, Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist monks). Mihintale where Buddhism originated on the island in 247 BC is takes on a serene air during this period with thousands of pilgrims lighting incense and oil lamps in honour of Buddha. June is also the height of the surfing period in Arugam Bay when international surfing championships are held.
July which is the month of Esala poya is when several Pereheras (cultural processions) are conducted in several parts of the island. During Esala poya Kandy dazzles for two weeks with the sounds and lights of the Kandy Perehara – a magnificent procession where the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is majestically paraded on elephant back along the streets of Kandy. This ritual, which has been taking place for hundreds of years, is an experience of a lifetime. The sacred jungle shrine of Kataragama also comes alive during the month of July when the Esala Perehara is held for two weeks in honour of God Skandha – the warrior god of Kataragama. The perehara depicts Hindu folklore, music and dance forms, as well as fire walking in sacrifice and devotion to God Kataragama.
During the month of August, Kandy dazzles for two weeks with the sounds and lights of the Kandy Perehara – a magnificent procession where the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is majestically paraded on elephant back along the streets of Kandy. This ritual, which has been taking place for hundreds of years, is an experience of a lifetime. Colombo’s Bellanwila temple also holds its annual perehera which is also a colourful procession.
Those who are fortunate enough to visit the Minneriya National Park during the dry season in September will witness an intriguing site when hundreds of elephants make their way from the surrounding north central province jungle areas to the Minneriya lake in search of food and water. Huge heard of elephants converge together within a few square kilometres of the Lake – an amazing sight to see.
Annaiwilundawa, meaning ‘seven wetlands or tanks’ in the local Tamil language, refers to a cluster of freshwater tanks within the sanctuary. This is a very important wetland for many resident and migratory birds. The best time to visit Annaiwilundawa is during the months from October to April when numerous species of birds can be spotted. These wetlands are also important nesting sites for water birds such as the Asian Open-bills, Painted Storks, all specie of Egrets, Little Indian & the endangered Great Cormorants, Spot-billed Pelican and Black-headed Ibis. This wetland sanctuary is also excellent for butterfly and dragonfly watching.
With the beginning of the season, the North West coastal town of Kalpitiya is a must for Whale and Dolphin spotting. Sightings of huge pods of upto two thousand Spinner Dolphins have been reported during the season. These Dolphins often swim along side the boats and frolic in the seas – a thrilling site for children and adults alike. Alankuda Beach, a popular eco-resort, is well equipped with safety vests and boats to take guests out to sea.
The more secluded southern coast and the North West coast are ideal for Whale and Dolphin spotting during the season in December to April. Large pods of Dolphins can be spotted few miles offshore. Those who are lucky might also experience the sighting of a gigantic Blue Whale swimming in the deep seas. December also marks the beginning of the pilgrimage season when devotees climb the sacred Adam’s Peak.