A week-long exploration of the multicultural history of Sri Lanka, visiting more than half of the country's UNESCO Heritage sites.
Arguably the most popular sights off the beach in Sri Lanka can all be found between Kandy and Anuradhapura in what's called the ‘Cultural Triangle’. The arid plains of the region are not much to look at now, but thousands of years ago they were the lands that spawned the first, and most significant, Sinhalese civilization. With over 2,000 years of recorded history, Sri Lanka is one of the world's best destinations for getting lost in the local culture and history as you cycle through thousand year old ruined cities, and encounter some of the oldest Buddhist teachings in the world. The once great capital of Anuradhapura is filled with ruined monasteries, dagobas, temples, markets, and everything else one would expect an ancient capital to contain and is best explored by bike. Just outside Anuradhapura is the village of Mihintale where the Mahinda first introduced Buddhism to the king of Anuradhapura Devanampiya Tissa in 247 BC. The ruins aren’t as elaborate as others in Sri Lanka, but during the celebration of Poson Poya in June, thousands of white robed pilgrims descend on the beautiful landscape to honour the introduction of Buddhism to the country.
The ruins at Polonnaruwa are more compact and smaller in scale than the ones in Anuradhapura, but have survived the years in astonishingly good condition, giving them an atmosphere that takes you back to the crucible of Sinhalese culture. Just outside of Dambulla lies the enchanting rock citadel of Sigiriya, one of Sri Lanka’s most visited sites and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dambulla itself is nothing too memorable, but it holds five stunning cave temples that are worth the trip.
Kandy is a must visit for most as the Temple of the Tooth is one of Sri Lanka’s most cherished sites. The surrounding hills are adorned with beautiful tea plantations amongst other attractions like the Horton Plains, and World’s End, and Adam's Peak, where you can see an imprint of the Buddha’s footprint. The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka packs the best bang for the buck when it comes to the quality of sites and the relatively short distances between them.