Sigirya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla and are all remnants of powerful ancient cities established thousands of years ago by Sri Lanka’s many kings. Together these evocative ruins form Sri Lanka’s famed ‘Cultural Triangle’, tucked away in the country’s north-central area where weather conditions remain dry (and hot) for most of the year. Unveiled gradually over the past century by archaeologists, these magnificent national treasures are now protected UNESCO world heritage sites.
The giant rock fortress of Sigiriya is perhaps the most impressive site of all. Those who make the steep climb to the top of this stunning rocky outcrop will be rewarded with staggering views of the surrounding jungle, and the lily-padded moats and gardens below are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s original ancient capital, has evolved over the centuries into a small, welcoming town with a good provision of budget accommodation, bike hire, and an unhurried pace of life. In its midst are a large number of sacred Buddhist sites, some of which remain in use today. In contrast, the more compact set of ruined tombs, temples, statues and stupas at Polonnaruwa date back almost 1,000 years and remain as if frozen in time. This once thriving religious and commercial centre now rises majestically out of the dense jungle and houses an informative archaeological museum. While modern-day Dambulla may have a somewhat commercial feel, and is best visited on a half day or day trip, its mesmerising and colourfully decorated ancient cave temples depict Buddhist mythology dating back some 2,000 years, and remain important holy places to this day.
Although the famed lost cities will inevitably dominate traveller itineraries, the neighbouring Minneriya and Wasgamuwa National Parks, known for their fabulous birdlife and large herds of elephant, are well worth a visit. Here, nature lovers can enjoy game drive safaris, cycling excursions, and nature walks. Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle combines a rich cultural heritage with some beautiful wilderness and wildlife, and is one of the country’s most enchanting destinations.