The Cultural Triangle - also known in Sri Lanka as ‘Rajarata’ or ‘land of the kings’ - is a huge area extending from Kandy in the south to the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. These largely arid plains were home to some of the wonders of the ancient world, including historic Sinhalese citadels, great cities, temples and monasteries. It’s safe to say that no visit to Sri Lanka is complete without some time exploring a selection of the area’s priceless sights. It can be scholarly, immersive, adventurous, and active, with the emphasis placed wherever you want it to be.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
The understated town of Dambulla belies the wonders hidden within the rocks. The cave temple is one of those places that is so much more atmospheric, beautiful, serene (and, frankly, amazing) than any impressive photos can set you up for. It fully deserves all the superlatives! Chattering monkeys patrol the approaches, while the locals milling through in quiet contemplation give a real sense of the reverence the caves still hold. Five temples, founded almost 2,000 years ago, have been added to over the centuries and are now filled with solid stone carvings, statues, and intricate, colourful murals. The darkness means the details can be easy to miss, so make sure you look up and all around whilst inside.
If you’ve arrived in the Cultural Triangle then you’ve probably already caught a glimpse of Sigiriya. It’s difficult to miss this dramatic tower of rock jutting up from the surrounding plains, undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most iconic image. On your way to the base, keep an eye out for elaborate water features and imposing boulders. You may want to keep your gaze firmly fixed to the front as you start to climb, first navigating a short section of metal steps attached to the rock face. Soon though you’ll be on your way past polished stone walls, murals and ancient graffiti, until you reach the pair of giant stone lion’s paws marking the beautifully carved steps to the summit and the ruins of King Kassapa’s palace. Any former hesitancy is sure to be forgotten as you take in breathtaking views for miles around, perhaps even glimpsing the equally enormous rock of Pidurangala on the horizon.
Many visitors to Sri Lanka are eager to see the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, with their extensive treasure troves of architectural and religious sites, and for very good reason - they are extraordinary. Like the Angkor Temples in Cambodia, however, some sites in this part of Sri Lanka have become uncomfortably inundated with travellers, so we encourage you to check out some lesser-visited landmarks, too. The woodland ruins of Ritigala are a fantastic example: with a distinct edge of ‘Indiana Jones’, the atmospheric forest closes in on an ancient courtyard surrounded by walkways and bridges that make up this mysterious monastery. Only rediscovered in 1872, researchers are still unclear on its exact history, but its visual impact has buckets of wow factor.
Combine the island’s top wildlife crowd pleasers with some magnificent hidden gems and cultural highlights before spending some time on the beach.