You guessed it… a concentration of cultural landmarks in geographically triangular area. In fact, there are no fewer than seven UNESCO world heritage sites concentrated here, with three main sites it would be shamefully remiss not to visit on your Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle tour: Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Dambulla caves. And thanks to Yonder, you have the finest pick of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle hotels.
Anuradhapura is the site of one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, dating from around the 4th century BC. A mere 2,500 years ago! In fact, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It covers a vast area and, as you might expect given its venerable age, much of it is in ruins.
But these are ruins that will stir the Indiana Jones in your soul. They represent one of South Asia’s most evocative sights. The sprawling complex contains a vast range of archaeological and architectural wonders: enormous bell-shaped masses of masonry called dagobas, lofty brick towers, ancient pools and crumbling temples. Several of the sites are still used as holy places and temples. If you have the time, exploring on a bike is a fun and richly rewarding experience – a temple run that will put Lara Croft in the shade!
Sigiriya (sometimes referred to as Sigiriya Rock Fortress or the Lion Rock) is one of those special places that will always bring a smile to our face. Proudly referred to by locals as the Eighth Wonder of the World, this ancient palace and fortress complex has significant archaeological importance and attracts thousands of tourists every year. And we are more than happy to count ourselves among them. Time and time again.
Sigiriya is a huge, flat-topped rock that protrudes out of the flat landscape, soaring 200 metres above the surrounding jungle. This unassailable eyrie was the stronghold of one of Sri Lanka’s ancient kingdoms and remains a giant testament to the sophistication and beauty of their civilisation.
With, 1,202 steps, climbing Sigiriya is not exactly a stroll in the park (we told you to go easy on those breakfast pastries!) but, boy, is it worth all the effort once you are finally at the top. The spellbinding vista takes in the lily-pad-covered moats, water gardens and quiet shrines below, and the jungle beyond is mist-shrouded (assuming you’re there in the early morning when the climb is coolest).
On the way up, you’ll see the beautiful frescos painted into a cavern and a pair of colossal lion’s paws carved into the bedrock.
And a little-known museum exists in the shadows of Sigiriya which we think it is amongst the best in Sri Lanka.Unlike most other Sri Lankan museums, it is modern, brilliantly curated and immersive. Don’t overlook it!
If you only do three things in the Cultural Triangle…
- Visit Anuradhapura, which has more ancient sites than you can shake a stick at. We adore the twin pools of Kuttam Pokuna. A selfie here makes a for a great screensaver.
- Power up (okay, trudge) the stone and metal steps of the Lion Rock to the top of Sigiriya. The thud of your heartbeat and the sheen of sweat will quickly be banished when you discover what awaits you at the top.
- Dambulla Caves will give you the ultimate Buddha frescos cultural fix with over 2,100 square meters of them.
The Dambulla Cave Temple – or Royal Rock Temple – is the southernmost part of the Cultural Triangle and richly rewards a visit. Built into a granite outcrop that rises 160 metres, the major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues and paintings related to Gautama Buddha and his life. There are 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses, including Vishnu and the Ganesha. A vast number of murals adorn the interiors.
Prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2,700 years old in this area.
Once again, you’ll need to put in the leg work to get to the top of the hill. But Dambulla is 40 metres shorter than Sigiriya, so you should find it a doddle! Oh, and should you need some moral support as you make the climb, think of the monkeys sitting by the path as London Marathon spectators cheering you on your way.
Eating and drinking
All of the sites are remote and Yonder’s hand-picked hotels are in the middle of nowhere. Leaving the hotel to eat or drink isn’t an option. So, just live in the now and enjoy these superb hotels. Why would you want to be anywhere else, anyway?
Out and about
The cultural sites are the main attractions. Here’s a bit more detail:
Anuradhapura is often referred to as the Pompeii of Sri Lanka. We see the similarity but it’s pretty vague to be honest. In essence, Anuradhapura is a combination of functioning religious sites, spectacular stupas (pagodas) and the fascinating ruins of an ancient kingdom. It is home to the still living Bodhi tree, the oldest human planted tree in the world and said to have been planted in 249BC. Be prepared to feel a little overwhelmed as well as overawed. Anuradhapura is so big you could easily spend days exploring it and avidly reading up on the various points of interest.
Sigiriya is a mind-blowing site. At ground level, you’ll see the outlines of former water gardens. On approach to the base of the rock, the lion steps form the entrance to the old fortress. These are the steps that feature in almost every travel brochure and they are even more impressive witnessed at first-hand. The way to the top of the lion rock is a mixture of stone staircases and narrow metal stairs. Half way up you’ll find the rock frescoes, featuring beautiful, bare-breasted maidens. Look out for the figures who have been given anatomical anomalies like an extra thumb (you’ll have to drag your eyes away from those mesmerising breasts however!).
Stairway to heaven
After you’ve collapsed in a pool of sweat at the top and been reunited with your resting heart rate, you’ll be blown away by the view. And by the feat of engineering that created a sprawling palace on this lofty plateau – the foundations are still visible. Don’t miss the museum. It’s one of the best in Sri Lanka and often overlooked.
Dambulla caves are a highlight of any visit to the cultural triangle. The seven caves are all noticeably different in size and in the style of their frescos and statues. Each was created during a different period and as such as its own character. The complex had a verandah added in the mid 18th century which gives it a charming appearance.
Thoughts on a postcard
Standing at the top of Sigiriya, surrounded by the ruins of a palace which symbolised one of the great ancient kingdoms and with the green Sri Lankan countryside beneath us, has to rank as the highlight of our visit.
OUR FAVOURITE PLACESEast Coast / Tangalle / Gal Oya National Park / Yala National Park / Uda Walawe National Park / Tea Country / Jaffna / Cultural Triangle / Kandy / Galle and the southern beaches / Colombo /
Cultural Triangle : The map
Our Escapologists only recommend hand-picked, delectable properties we have sampled and savoured ourselves. We judge all our hotels by their excellence, the sheer hedonistic pleasures they have to offer. And we reject a lot that don’t meet our exacting standards.
Some of our selections are classics, with reputations recognised the world over. Others are discoveries: boutique havens where hospitality, relaxation and fine cuisine have been distilled into a rare art form. You’ll find a few options for the budget conscious too, where Yonder’s principles are still to the fore. And for those who just need an airport stopover on their way to paradise, there’s one or two convenience choices, too.
We provide in-depth descriptions of every property, based upon our own experiences there, along with our unique Yonder rating and icons that will give you further insights into what’s on offer. We even tell you the types of clientele you might soon be rubbing shoulders with!
Now that’s choosing a hotel Yonder style!
Here at Yonder we have devised some exciting itineraries that will illustrate just what amazing journeys you could enjoy through Yonder’s exciting far-away destinations.
Of course every one of Yonder’s clients is a unique individual and we only create personalised itineraries that reflect those personal desires and wishes. So your Yonder journey will be as individual as you are. But to help you envisage just what amazing adventures might be possible, we have devised sample itineraries that we are confident will inspire you. You only have to pick up the phone to explore how any one of these ideas might be adapted to create your own perfect journey Yonder.
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Notes In Our Journal
Out with the old and in with the new. A Yonder Escapologist recasts a familiar phrase.