The local people here lead a largely agrarian life often centring round rice cultivation. Today’s landscape on these flat, dry, red earth plains is dotted with vast tracts of water - fields of rice paddies and water lilies and the ancient reservoirs known as ‘tanks’ - interspersed with forests and smallholdings, solitary rock mountains, temples and villages. Wild elephants are often sighted inside (and sometimes outside) the national parks, whilst monkeys, swamp hens, cormorants and mynah birds are commonly seen. This area is considered to be the cradle of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist civilisation as we know it today. It is also the epicentre of Sri Lankan Ayurveda, the science centrifugal to a healthy life – if you want to find a really authentic, traditional Ayurvedic doctor, this is the place to be.
Four of Sri Lanka's eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in what is popularly known as the Cultural Triangle. Between them they tell a fascinating story of Sri Lanka’s civilisation.
The 5th century Sigiriya Rock Fortress is one of Sri Lanka’s most awe-inspiring archaeological sites and its prime tourist attraction, well worth climbing to see the majestic views from the summit. Nearby are the Dambulla Cave Temples, each cave filled with murals and gilded statues depicting the life of the Buddha.
The well-preserved ruins of Polonnaruwa, the 12th century capital, tell a story of Buddhism, royalty, kinship, war and power. Highlights are the Royal Palace, Council Chamber and four graceful Buddha statues of Gal Vihara.
The ancient city of Anuradhapura is a vast archaeological site of palaces, monasteries, temples and dagobas, mostly in ruins, although some have been resorted. This was one of the grandest monastic cities that the world has ever seen.
Other sights worth seeing are Mihintale Sanctuary, known as the ‘cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka’; Ritigala, ruins of a 9th century monastery hidden amongst dense forest; and Minneriya National Park, a park filled with wildlife including elephants, buffalo, wild boar and crocodiles.
Festivals and Events
The Buddhist festivals – monthly on Poya (full moon) days, especially Vesak (May) and Poson (June). Poson marks the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by Arahat Maha Mahinda, son of Asoka of India at Mihintale in 3rd century BC.
July to October – the Elephant Gathering: during this season in the evenings, hundreds of wild elephants gather along the banks of the Minneriya Tank.
Climate: As the climate is very hot with an average temperature of 30C, it is best to do sightseeing and activities in the early mornings and late afternoons, with time to relax at the hotel, eat or travel in air-conditioning at the height of the day. Average humidity is 60%, with very little rainfall most of the year - most of the rain falls between November and February when the North-east monsoon prevails.
The Cultural Triangle has a wealth of highlights: Sigiriya Rock Fortress; Dambulla Cave Temples; Polonnaruwa – ruins of the ancient capital; Anuradhapura – sacred city; Wildlife safari in Minneriya National Park (or Kaudulla National Park); Elephant rides/treks; Birdwatching on the ‘tanks’; Hot air balloon ride; Cycle ride – local village life; Ayurveda health treatments, massages, herbal steam beds and aromatic baths; Ritigala monastery ruins (walking required); Aukana Buddha; Mihintale; The story of Buddhism; The story of Ayurveda. Day trip or continue to Kandy, visiting spice gardens, batik workshops, Temple of the Tooth, Kandy market, city centre, view from hills, workshops for woodcarving, brass and musical instruments.
Driving Distances: Colombo to Sigiriya – (170 km) 4 hours, International Airport to Sigiriya – (153 km) 4 hours, Dambulla to Sigiriya – (24 km) 30 minutes, Dambulla to Polonnaruwa (70 km) 2 hours
Polonnaruwa to Anuradhapura – (100 km) 2.5 hours, Sigiriya to Anuradhapura – (82 km) 2 hours, International Airport to Anuradhapura – (170 km) 4.5 hours, Sigiriya to Kandy – (92 km) 2.5 hours.
Heritage and Nature in Depth Itinerary: For those who love heritage and nature, it is worth spending more than a couple of days in this remarkable region of Sri Lanka. Here is a suggested 7-night holiday devoted to the Cultural Triangle:
Stay 3 nights in the Sigiriya area, visiting Dambulla Temple and Sigiriya rock fortress. Go on a cycle ride and/or nature walk. Observe local life and the market in Dambulla. Relax with a soothing Ayurveda treatment and laze by the pool at the hotel. Then move on to the Deer Park Hotel for 2 nights, dedicating one day to visiting Polonnaruwa by car and/or bike and spending a morning and/or afternoon on a wildlife safari in Minneriya National Park. Finally, stay 2 or 3 nights at Ulagalla Resort perhaps stopping at a sacred Buddhist temple or site on the way such as Ritigala or Aukana. Visit Anuradhapura and Mihintale, observe paddy cultivation and enjoy the activities available at the resort hotel (horse-riding, canoeing on the lake, archery). Continue to Kandy to visit the Temple of the Lord Buddha Tooth Relic and the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.
We are open Mon 8.30-17.30, Tue-Fri 9-17.30 Sat 9.30-16.00.
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Find out more about Sri Lanka
CapitalSri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, with Colombo the commercial capital AirportBandaranaike International Airport is 1 hour from downtown Colombo CurrencySri Lankan Rupee (£1 = 208 Sri Lankan Rupees) Size268 miles long and 139 miles wide Population21 million Average temperatureThe climate varies dramatically between coast and interior year-round, and between the south-west and north-east according to time of year. Average coastal temperatures in areas we feature is 30 degrees whereas the temperature is much cooler in the hills, with hot water bottles needed (and provided) at most hotels. Rainy season in the south-west is September to October, and April to May in the north-east.
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