The Cultural Triangle and Historic Heart

Sigiriya rock, Sri Lanka’s most recognisable landmark and one of its greatest archaeological legacies, looms 200 metres above the plains. Providing the perfect position for a fortress, the rock is home to 5th century palace ruins featuring the massive lion’s paws and radiant frescoes that give visitors a glimpse of its former splendour. One feature that has remained unchanged over the centuries is the magnificent view from the top. Take in sweeping vistas over jungle and rolling hills as far as the eye can see, either on foot or bird’s-eye during a helicopter excursion, or take the opportunity to experience an elephant back safari in nearby Habarana.

Hidden away in dense jungle for many years but accessible once again, the ancient capital Anuradhapura, with its palaces, monasteries and monuments, has seen several periods of development over the past century. Witness the sacred Bodhi Tree, believed to have grown out of a cutting from the fig tree of Buddha, ascend to Mihintale where Buddhism in Sri Lanka first originated, take a bicycle tour of local villages and temples or head off on a Jeep safari in Wilpattu National Park.

The former royal capital town of Polonnaruwa is famous for its well-preserved historical sites, with palace buildings and clusters of dozens of dagobas, temples and various other religious buildings built within a rectangle of city walls. Visit Parakrama Samudra, the largest ancient and man-made rainwater reservoir in Sri Lanka or explore Gal Vihara, a group of colossal Buddha statues carved out of a granite boulder. The fact that Polonnaruwa is conveniently close to several national parks also attracts many visitors.

Whether as a day trip or en route to Kandy and Sigiriya, a visit to Dambulla is a must for most travellers. Here famous rock temples are among the most extensive, ancient and well-preserved in the country. The beautiful Royal Rock Temple sits up to 150 metres above road level and is reached by a hike along a vast, sloping rock face. Once at the top visitors can explore the five separate caves containing vast numbers of Buddha images.