Visit the Cultural Triangle – Sri Lanka’s Most Important Sites
The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka has many incredible places to visit, including 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Located in Sri Lanka’s northern part, this region hosts fascinating ruins, cities rich of history and traditions, as well as a wealth of natural attractions. It’s the first stop on your 3 weeks Sri Lanka itinerary. Here is a list of the one you should definitely not skip.
Sigiriya – the Lion Rock
The ancient citadel of Sigiriya sits on top of a giant rock rising 200 m high above the surrounding jungle. With the beautiful frescos dating back to 5th century and a 2 hectares summit composed of walls, stairs and water ponds, this natural wonder is one of the most visited sites and an absolute must on you trip around Sri Lanka.
Boulder up Pidurangala Rock at Sunset
Pidurangala Rock is a giant rock in the middle of an otherwise flat land just like its famous brother: the Sigiriya Lion Rock. It’s located just on the opposite side, facing it. Hiking this rock during sunset is a must do while visiting the Cultural Triangle. The astonishing 360 degrees views over the surrounding jungle and on the Lion Rock are a truly memorable experience.
↬ Read : Hike Pidurangala Rock at Sunset
Dambulla Cave Temples
Those beautifully white painted cave-temples were built on the side of a mountain and date back to the 1st century BC. The temple complex is made up of 5 caves that are filled with statues of Buddha in various sizes. The walls and celling of the caves are covered with religious and secular themed paintings. This is definitely one of the sites of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka you shouldn’t miss.
The site is open every day from 7.30AM to 6PM and the entrance ticket costs 1500 LRK (7.5 EUR)
↬ TIP : If you happen to arrive from the back entrance gate, make sure to walk down to the main gate where you can see the giant Buddha gold statue on top of The Golden Temple.
This well preserved ancient city was a centrepiece of the Sinhalese kingdom established in the 11th century. The city consists of monasteries, temples, shrines, houses and dagobas.
The ruins are gathered together is various groups spread over a large area. You can explore them by bikes (you can rent them by the entrance). Otherwise if you arrive by a scooter as we did- you can use it to go from one temple complex to another.
↬ TIP : Wear easily removable footwear as you can enter the temples only barefoot. However wear socks- the sand gets extremely hot during the day. You must also wear clothing covering your knees and shoulders.
Founded in the 4th century BC, once the capital of Sri Lanka, this ancient city was for centuries the centre of political and religious power. There are many temples, palaces, water ponds and dagobas to visit. Start at the Royal Palace complex, then head further north to see the ruins of the Abhayagiri monastery. Make sure to pass by to see the Ratna Prasada statue and Samadhi Buddha. Theses Cultural Triangle sites are the equivalent in Sri Lanka of what is Angkor Wat is in Cambodia.. although what’s left its not as impressive.
The site is open daily from 7AM to 10PM.
Entrance fee is 3250 LRK (16 EUR)
Kaudulla National Park and Minneriya National Park
Those National Parks form a corridor connecting the land located within the Cultural Triangle. This protected area allows the migration of elephants in the region. Both parks can be visited year round on a half day safari. Your chances to spot wild elephants here are almost guaranteed.
Getting to The Cultural Triangle
Habarana is the biggest city of the region and it’s easily reachable from Colombo by bus. From the airport take a taxi or a tuk-tuk to Colombo Fort Bus Station and ask for buses going to Habarana. The ticket would cost around 1 EUR. Travelling by bus was our original idea, but as we were arriving early after a long flight, we thought it would be too tiring (and took a taxi instead). Later during this trip we discovered that traveling by bus in Sri Lanka is fast and easy (even if not so comfortable at times).
There is a train departing daily at 6.05AM from the Fort Railway Station directed to Batticaloa. It arrives in Habarana at 11.16AM. We do not advise taking the night train.
You can hire a taxi that will pick you up at the airport on the day of your arrival and drive you directly to your hotel in The Cultural Triangle area. The taxi cost from Colombo to Habarana should be around 8000 LRK (40 EUR) depending on the type of the car.
The best way to contact taxi drivers in Sri Lanka is via facebook groups. Drop your question regarding a taxi ride and soon after you will receive replies from drivers with competitive prices. Choose the driver and the car that best suits your needs. Inform the driver about your arrival details and he will pick you up at the airport. You don’t need to pay in advance. However, make sure to agree on the price BEFORE you confirm the trip.
We highly recommend our driver Kosala, as he was really kind and the friendliest man we met in Sri Lanka. His Toyota was very comfortable and we got a great deal with him.
You can also find facebook pages with taxi shares. How does it work? Somebody already booked a car and is looking for tourists traveling to the same destination on the same day and similar time. Like this you are able to split the costs of the trip.
Getting around The Cultural Triangle
Once there the easiest way to get around is either by tuk-tuk or by a rented scooter.
We always rent a scooter if we have that possibility and find it the easiest and most comfortable way. We rented out scooter at the hotel we stayed at and payed 10 EUR per day.
Otherwise tuk-tuks can be found all around the area.
Where to stay
The best way to visit the Cultural Triangle is to base yourself in one of the cities and do day trips from there. You can choose either Habarana or Sigiriya to find a hotel to spend a few days.