At present, the only way to get to Sri Lanka is to fly into the island’s international airport at Katunayake, just north of Colombo, although the opening of a second international airport in the southern town of Hambantota (scheduled for 2012) and the possible resumption of ferry services between Colombo and India will offer alternative ways of reaching the island in future.
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Air fares remain fairly constant year-round – in general, the further ahead you book your flight, the better chance you have of getting a good deal. Another possibility is to pick up a package deal – even if you don’t use the accommodation provided (or only use it for a few days), packages can work out reasonable value thanks to the cheap flight.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
The only nonstop scheduled flights from the UK to Sri Lanka are with SriLankan Airlines (w srilankan.lk) from London Heathrow; flying time to Colombo is around eleven hours. Emirates (w emirates.com), Qatar Airlines (w qatarairways.com), Kuwait Airlines (w kuwait-airways.com), Etihad (w etihadairways.com) and Oman Air (w omanair.com) all offer one-stop flights from Heathrow via their home cities in the Gulf, while Jet Airways (w jetairways.com) operates one-stop flights via Mumbai and Delhi). There are also more circuitous routings via various points in Southeast Asia, including Singapore (w singaporeair.com), Kuala Lumpur (w malaysia-airlines.com), Bangkok (w thaiair.com), and Hong Kong (w cathaypacific.com).
Travelling from Ireland, you can either make your way to Heathrow and pick up an onward connection there, or fly via one of the various Gulf cities that have direct connections with Colombo – the one-stop route from Dublin to Colombo via Dubai with Emirates is the fastest. Another possibility is to fly via one of the various European cities that have direct connections with Colombo – these currently include Paris, Frankfurt, Rome and Milan (all served by SriLankan Airlines).
Scheduled fares from London to Colombo start at around £500 return year-round. The cheapest tickets are usually offered by Qatar Airways, Jet Airways and SriLankan Airlines.
Flights from the US and Canada
It’s a long journey from North America to Sri Lanka, and chances are you’ll want to break your flight somewhere or include the island as part of a longer visit to the region. The journey from North America to Sri Lanka takes at least 24 hours, and necessitates at least one change of plane, and probably more like two or three. From the east coast, there are various routes via Europe. One possibility is to fly to London and then pick up one of the onward connections described above. Alternatively, you could fly to Paris, Frankfurt, Rome or Milan, all of which have nonstop connections to Colombo with various airlines. There are also various routes via Europe and the Middle East with Gulf Air, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. Travelling from the west coast, the most direct routes go via east and Southeast Asia, flying via Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok or Tokyo, all of which have nonstop connections on to Colombo. Cathay Pacific (w cathaypacific.com), for example, flies from numerous US cities, plus Vancouver and Toronto, to Hong Kong and on to Colombo via Bangkok or Singapore.
Fares to Colombo start from around $1100 from New York and Toronto; from around $1400 from Los Angeles; or about Can$1600 from Vancouver.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
Flying from Australia to Sri Lanka is straightforward, although you’ll have to change planes at least once; the most direct routings to Colombo are via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. There are also a few one-stop options from New Zealand via Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The most regular services are with Qantas (w qantas.com) who operate flights to Singapore (from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane), and to Bangkok and Mumbai (from Sydney), from where there are direct connections to Colombo. Fares from Sydney to Colombo with most carriers generally start at around A$1200, and from Auckland at around NZ$2000, although there are also currently cheaper deals available with low-cost carrier Air Asia (w airasia.com), who fly via Kuala Lumpur.
Flights from the rest of Asia
Sri Lanka isn’t normally considered part of the overland Asian trail, although the island is well connected with other countries in South and Southeast Asia. There are regular nonstop flights with SriLankan Airlines to various places in India, including Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Chennai (Madras), Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) and Tiruchirappali; to Bangkok with SriLankan and Thai Air; Kuala Lumpur with SriLankan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia; Singapore with SriLankan and Singapore Airlines; Tokyo with SriLankan; and Hong Kong with SriLankan and Cathay Pacific. There are also direct connections to many places in the Gulf, including frequent services to Dubai (Emirates), Abu Dhabi (Etihad), Qatar (Qatar Airways), Muscat (Oman Air) and Kuwait (Kuwait Airways).
Organized guided tours of the island – either with your own car and driver, or as part of a larger tour group – can be arranged through numerous companies both in Sri Lanka and abroad. Tours obviously take virtually all the hassle out of travelling, and some can offer good value in terms of transport and accommodation. The downside is that those offered by foreign companies tend to be much of a muchness – if you want something a bit more unusual you might be better off contacting one of the Colombo-based operators we’ve listed.
Tours offered by foreign operators usually feature a mix of wildlife and culture followed by a few days on the beach, although some are oriented more towards a particular interest, while others offer more adventurous possibilities such as trekking, cycling and whitewater rafting. Many of the operators below can also arrange honeymoon, wedding and cricketing packages, and virtually all of them will customize tours on request. Some tours are by private car, with your own personal chauffeur; others are in larger groups of up to sixteen people travelling by minibus. Note that almost all the leading foreign Sri Lankan tour operators are based in the UK; travellers from North America and Australasia shouldn’t have any problems booking tours through these companies, although you might have to organize your own flights.
Setting up a tour with a Colombo-based operator is a very viable alternative to arranging one at home. They probably won’t work out any cheaper than their overseas rivals, but insider knowledge gives several of the following companies a distinct edge over foreign firms.