What comes to your mind, when you hear “Sri Lanka” ? If your answer is beach, I would like for you to know that there is more to Sri Lanka than just beach. After the wars and Tsunami effects have settled a bit, Sri Lanka is on the path to becoming a great backpacker destination. Yet, the country is still under explored, especially the country sides. The southern beaches are crowded with resorts and tourists.
If you ever make it to the southern tip of the sub-continent, be sure to check out some of the best kept UNESCO Heritage sites.
Tooth Relic Temple
It is believed that when Lord Buddha died in BC 543, after cremation his tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre and protected for years to follow. According to the legends, the tooth was originally housed in India and then was moved to the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka, where the tooth relic is kept and religiously revered at the Royal palace.
Go to the temple at night time if you can. There is a ceremony held every night at 7PM-ish and the entire temple is lit up.
Wear very moderate clothing. Full slacks and sleeved shirts are good enough. You will see most of the locals wearing white clothes to symbolize peace.
This cave temple is very easy to access by public transportation from Kandy. And it is located on the way to Sigiriya. It is entirely possible to cover Kandy and Sigiriya on the same day. This temple contains over 80 room-like caves and some of them have been used by monks as meditation locations.
Major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain hundreds of Buddha statues and the paintings. Dambulla is a unique and important historical site, because of the amalgamation of the material from many eras. Even though the temple/cave system was originally built in First century, there have been many changes and additions to the deities and paintings that reflect both Hinduism and Buddism.
It was a Royal capital city that lasted for one thousand and five hundred years from 380BC.This city is home to many of the earliest monuments of Sri Lanka. It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) Buddhists due to ancient Buddhist monuments. We are taking thousands of years old monuments and surprisingly the remains are still in great shape.
Anuradhapura can be reached by bus from both Colombo and Kandy. There are cheap hotels in Anuradhapura for overnight stay.
After Anuradhapura, the capital moved to this city in medieval times. It is part of the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka. If you have to pick one of the three cities for your visit, I would suggest Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura.
Also, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa can be covered on the same day if you don’t rely on public transportation. The ruins are really beautiful and well preserved. The sites are spread out in a huge area. It is totally possible to hire a bicycle and ride to the sites of Polonnaruwa, provided you have time.
Although there are places to stay near Polonnaruwa site, I chose to drive to Sigiriya for overnight stay.
This UNESCO heritage site is one of the most visited places by tourists, certainly for the right reason. The site is just spectacular with ancient cave paintings and 200meter high rock.
Give yourself a couple of hours to hike up and down. It’s not at all a hard hike but it does get steep.
And take a plenty of water with you if you are going on a hot day. Even in December it can get very hot.
Planning Tips for Sri Lanka
Starting Point: Kandy
Cultural Triangle: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya
Add on: Dambulla
- Bus – It is entirely possible to do it by bus. And that’s the cheapest way to do it. But, road system is still primitive so expect slower pace and delays. If this is your choice of transportation, then plan to stay a night each city, except for Dambulla. As Dambulla can very well be a stop over from or to Kandy.
- Rental car or tour agencies are also options. I rented a car with driver and shared the cost with 4-other people at the hostel. I planned everything after I reached Kandy.
Fee: There is an entrance fee for every site. If you are from a SAARC country then your entrance fee is half the price of others. Make sure to carry your passport with you to get the SAARC discount.
For more info on Sri Lanka itinerary, visit here.
Have you been to Sri Lanka? What were your thoughts?