At present, the only way of getting to Sri Lanka is to fly; flights to Sri Lanka land at the island’s international airport at Katunayake, just north of Colombo.
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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 from London Heathrow; flying time to Colombo is around eleven hours. Emirates, Qatar Airways, Kuwait Airlines, Etihad and Oman Air all offer one-stop flights from Heathrow via their home cities in the Gulf, while Jet Airways operates one-stop flights via Mumbai and Delhi). There are also more circuitous routings via various points in Southeast Asia, including Singapore with Singapore Airlines, Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines, and Bangkok with Thai Airways.
Travelling from Ireland, you can either make your way to Heathrow and pick up an onward connection there, or fly from Dublin via one of the three Gulf cities that have direct connections with Colombo, currently Dubai (Emirates), Abu Dhabi (Etihad) and Doha (Qatar Airways). Scheduled fares from London to Colombo start at around £500 return year-round.
Flights from the US and Canada
It’s a long journey from North America to Sri Lanka. The flight from North America to Sri Lanka takes around 20 hours minimum, necessitating at least one change of plane. From the east coast, the most straightforward option is to fly to London and then pick up one of the onward connections described above. There are also numerous one-stop routes via the Gulf from New York (Emirates; Etihad; Qatar), Boston (Emirates, Qatar), and Washington and Toronto (both Emirates and Etihad).
Travelling from the west coast, the most direct routes go via east or Southeast Asia, stopping in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai or Guangzhou, all of which have nonstop connections on to Colombo. There are also one-stop services to Colombo via the Gulf from Los Angeles (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar), San Francisco (Emirates) and Seattle (Emirates). Other USA cities with one-stop connections to Sri Lanka via the Gulf include Chicago (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar), Atlanta (Qatar), Dallas (Emirates, Etihad), and Orlando and Fort Lauderdale (both Emirates).
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
The only nonstop flight between Australia and Sri Lanka is the service from Melbourne with SriLankan Airlines. Otherwise, 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 Melbourne, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The most regular services are with Qantas and their budget subsidiary Jetstar, who operate flights to Singapore (from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane) and to Bangkok (from Sydney and Melbourne), from where there are direct connections to Colombo.
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), Kochi and Tiruchirappali; to Malé (Maldives) and the Seychelles with SriLankan; Bangkok with SriLankan and Thai Airways; Kuala Lumpur with SriLankan Airlines and Malaysia Airlines; Singapore with SriLankan and Singapore Airlines; Tokyo with SriLankan; Hong Kong with SriLankan and Cathay Pacific; and Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou with SriLankan. There are also direct connections to many places in the Gulf, including frequent services to Dubai (Emirates), Abu Dhabi (Etihad), Qatar (Qatar Airways) and Muscat (Oman Air).
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. The downside is that they tend to be much of a muchness and you might also end up in a large group.
Almost all the leading international 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, although they may well not work out any cheaper than their overseas rivals.