Traveling during the rainy season can be a bit of a gamble. High winds, incessant rains or stormy conditions can all but put a literal damper on a perfectly planned holiday. But in the tiny country of Sri Lanka, finding the best time to visit can be challenging, as competing weather patterns often mean that sunshine on one side of the island coincides with heavy rainfall on the other.
For Emma and I, planning a visit to Sri Lanka in July, meant promises of clear skies and sunshine in the Cultural Triangle, but potential monsoon-like conditions along the southern coast near Galle. Due to the gloomy forecast, we spent a fair amount of time debating whether the gold-sand beaches in the south would even be worth visiting. After all, neither of us was particularly keen on beach-lounging during a storm.
In the end, however, we decided to take our chances. After a whirlwind week of exploring the cultural sites, the mountainous hillsides and the wildlife-studded parks of the tear-shaped island, we were ready to plop down on the beach for two days–even if it meant taking a giant weather-dependent risk.
Lucky for us, we were greeted with calm winds and blue, cloudless skies.
While in Southern Sri Lanka, Emma and I stayed at the White Cabanas outside of Galle. For $6 a night, the small rustic huts were our little paradise. We woke up each morning to a cup of tea and Sri Lankan string hoppers, explored Galle and its surrounding beaches by day and retired to bed each night to the sound of crashing waves.
Galle is Sri Lanka’s fourth most populous city and the heart of the island’s southern coast. The town is worth exploring for its colonial buildings, its ancient fort, its proximity to world-class beaches and its eclectic mix of cultures.
Galle is a historic city, with twisting alleyways and crumbling mansions and seaside views. In Galle, fortified walls encircle colonial villas and car-free streets. The town’s time-warped alleyways overflow with character. Its Dutch-style villas–many of which are adorned with street-facing verandas and red-tiled roofs–burst with color and charm.
At first glance, I thought I might be in one of Central America’s beautifully-preserved colonial towns–San Juan in Puerto Rico, Granada in Nicaragua or Antigua in Guatemala, for example.
But the tuktuks weaving down cobbled streets and the smattering of mosques and Buddhist temples interspersed between shops, quickly reminded me that I was thousands of miles away.
Galle beautifully marries European architectural styles and South Asian traditions. It remains the largest fortress in Asia built by European colonists and is one of UNESCO’s coveted World Heritage Sites.
Yet, while Galle’s attractive streets and colorful facades are a wonderland for lovers of pretty buildings, most tourists head to the area in order to relax on one of Southern Sri Lanka’s idyllic golden beaches.
Unawatuna Beach lies just 6km away from the historic fort of Galle and is perhaps one of Sri Lanka’s most beloved stretches of sand. Deemed the best beach in the world by both the Discovery Channel and the founder of Rough Guides, Unawatuna can get crowded. I was worried that throngs of people would mar our experience.
But I was surprised to see, when we reached the beach, that the infinite golden sands were virtually deserted. With fine-grained sand and turquoise water, the beach at Unawatuna was a little slice of heaven.
Despite visiting Galle during the rainy season and being promised constant torrential rains, the weather was nearly perfect throughout our stay. Save for a half-hour downpour one late afternoon, blue skies hung overhead, interrupted only by a few puffy clouds.
As I learned during a trip to the Monteverde Cloudforest a few years prior, traveling during the rainy season can be a bit risky. But when it works out, the lower prices and lack of crowds can be more than worth the gamble.