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Discover Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle

Explore the historic Cultural Triangle during your solo adventures in Sri Lanka! Situated at the centre of the island, the Cultural Triangle, don’t worry, it’s not like the Bermuda Triangle! While you may get lost in the beauty and ancient charms as you explore the most stunning cities, it’ll be easy to find your way around. Visiting Sri Lanka’s famed Cultural Triangle is a fun experience for a first-time traveller to Sri Lanka! It is made up of a collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, from the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy to the Cave Temple of Dambulla.

1. Kandy

Known as the last monarchial capital of the island, Kandy‘s significance is primarily due to the Sri Dalada Maligawa. Located within the royal palace complex, the immaculately white temple is an important religious site for Buddhists around the world as the sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha is believed to be housed here. Leave your footwear at the entrance and experience the quiet, serene hallways of the temple as the sound of prayers echo through the air.

What to do – Visit the temple, stroll around the Kandy Lake or explore the quiet charms of the forest above the city; the Udawatte Kele Sanctuary.

When to visit – You can visit Kandy at any time during the year. However, don’t miss the regal Kandy Esala Perahera, that occurs in June. This grand procession is a spectacle of colours and sounds complete with traditional Kandyan dancers, drummers, fire dancers, adorned elephants and more cultural acts. The sacred tooth relic is paraded through the streets, on a golden casket that sits on an elephant’s back.

2. Dambulla

The Dambulla Cave Temple in Dambulla, dates back to the 1st century BC, making it one of the oldest functioning temples in Sri Lanka. It is also the largest cave temple complex on the island, made up of five caves filled with about 150 statues of the Buddha and numerous rock paintings. Sitting on top of a rock overlooking the plains of the central province, this site is great for solo travellers because the climb itself is very easy- taking only about 10 – 15 minutes to reach the top.

What to do – Climb up the stone staircase, past monkeys and thick shrubs until you get to the entrance. Once there, remove your footwear and explore the cave temple and the stunning surroundings.

When to visit – The best time to visit the temple is in the early hours of the morning or late evening. Time your climb accordingly to watch the sunset from the summit.

3. Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals, and it is where Buddhism was first introduced to the country. The city has some of the best-preserved ruins; with around 10 dagobas (brick stupas), ancient pools, and temples some of which are still functional today. Two temples which we highly recommend are Ruwanwelisaya, built by King Dutugemunu c. 140, and Sri Maha Bodhi. The latter is more of a shrine rather than a traditional temple, it is dedicated to the Jaya Sri Bodhi which is one of the oldest Bodhi trees in the world. This is an incredibly sacred place as it is believed that this tree is from a sapling of the Bodhi tree in India, under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.

What to do – Rent a bicycle and explore the ancient ruins. Remember to dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees before you enter the temple.

When to visit – At any time during the day. The temples can get quite crowded during ‘poya days’ and weekends, so plan your visits accordingly.

4. Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is another one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. It has well-preserved ruins of temples and a palace complex, with most of the attractions found within the Sacred Quadrangle. In the middle of the Quadrangle, you will find the Vatadage which is a circular relic house of 18m in diameter, it has four entrances leading to four Buddha statues in its centre. Also, another unique attraction in Polonnaruwa is the Gal Vihara, which consists of four large Buddha statues carved into one large granite slab.

What to do – Like at Anuradhapura, rent a bicycle to explore the charming ancient ruins at your own pace.

When to visit – The early hours of the morning or late afternoon will be ideal, as the weather will be much cooler!

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