If delving into the island’s rich culture and history is what appeals to you the most, then you simply must plan your Sri Lanka holiday around the Cultural Triangle!
What & Where is Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle?
Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle refers to a region at the heart of the island which is home to a high concentration of the island’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If you look at a map of the island, hone in towards the central region; picture a triangle of which the corners are the cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy; within the triangle, you’ll spot the cities of Sigiriya and Dambulla. This, essentially, is the Cultural Triangle.
Together, these cities weave a tale, several thousands of years old, of the island’s rich past.
The best part? The cities are situated within a 30-minute to 3.5-hour drive of each other, making the Cultural Triangle an ideal place to choose as a base for excursions to the numerous historical and cultural attractions in the region.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Cultural Triangle
The island has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in total, which is quite a bit for a relatively small island nation! It speaks towards the richness of the country’s natural bounty as well as its journey through the millennia and the evolution of its traditions.
Out of these eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, two celebrate the country’s natural heritage: the Central Highlands (which includes destinations like the Horton Plains National Park) and the Sinharaja Forest Reserve or Rainforest. The remaining six, celebrate places of historical and cultural importance to the island.
A whopping five of those UNESCO World Heritage Sites lie within the region referred to as Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, which makes centering your holiday around this region a no-brainer!
Without further ado, here are those five sites:
1. Sacred City of Anuradhapura
The first of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals, this city was established in the 3rd century BCE around the sacred cutting of Buddha’s ‘tree of enlightenment’ which was planted there. It was a thriving centre of religious and cultural prosperity in ancient Sri Lanka for well over a millennium. Some of the main highlights include stupas, monasteries and temples.
2. Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
Awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the ruins here include the remnants of an ancient palace and a royal swimming pool and bath. This ancient city dates back well over a thousand years, to a time when Chola Kings from southern India invaded the land. This was the island’s second capital, after the Ancient City of Anuradhapura.
3. Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Built by King Kasyapa in the 5th century CE, the Lion Rock or Fortress in the Sky is one of the island’s most iconic and popular historical attractions. At around 200 metres high, this rock fortress dominates the landscape and offers stunning views from the summit. Highlights include the frescoes painted on the rock walls as well as the remnants of ancient water gardens.
4. Dambulla Cave Temple
For over two millennia, this ancient cave temple has been revered as a pilgrimage site. Since the 3rd century CE, the Dambulla Cave Temple has been inhabited and run by Buddhist monks. When you enter the caves, you will encounter hundreds of statues as well as numerous murals and paintings of Buddhist and Hindu origin.
5. Sacred City of Kandy
While Anuradhapura was the first ancient capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy was its last; after a 2,500-year run, it fell to colonial British invaders in the early 19th century. The main attraction in the Sacred City of Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth or Sri Dalada Maligawa, where the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha is kept. This temple also plays an important role in the country’s most well-known perahera (Buddhist festival and procession) called the Kandy Esala Perahera, a tradition that is believed to have originated in the 3rd century BCE.
Following on from an earlier point, if you choose to stay at a hotel within the Cultural Triangle, such as, for instance, Uga Ulagalla (one of the best luxury resorts in Sri Lanka near Anuradhapura), you’ll find that day excursions to all the above attractions are very feasible, if you don’t wish to stop over for a night or two in each of the respective cities.
From the hotel, you can reach Anuradhapura by car in approximately 30 minutes, Dambulla in under 1 hour, Sigiriya in 1 hour, Polonnaruwa in 1.5 hours and Kandy in about 3 hours.
The Best Time to Visit
When you’re drawing up your Sri Lanka travel itinerary, keep in mind that the recommended time of year to visit the attractions of the Cultural Triangle is between December and April. These times of year are relatively dry, with the months of January, February and March generally experiencing the lowest amount of rainfall.
Eager to uncover thousands of years of Sri Lankan history? Lock in your travel plans for the Cultural Triangle.