Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle has enthralled millions of travellers. It covers the north central towns of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla where extensive archeological ruins, protected as World Heritage Sites, provide a glimpse into the island’s history. It is here that Sri Lanka’s kings developed remarkably advanced civilisations. The central plains have low rainfall and several hotels are sumptuous enough to provide a holiday in their own right.
Gaze with wonder upon the ruins of Anuradhapura & Polonnaruwa
Clamber up the giant rock fortress of Sigirya
Discover Dambulla’s cave paintings and Buddha statues
Watch the elephants in Minneriya
Take a wooded walk through the ruins of Ritigala
Cycle on peaceful minor roads by lakes and paddyfields
The cultural triangle can be reached directly from Colombo, although from the airport it may be advisable to head via back roads to Kurunegala, avoiding the main Kandy road at busiest times. The quickest way to Anuradhapura is beyond Negombo up the north-west coast. The route from Kandy takes you via Matale.
The Cultural Triangle is found on Sri Lanka’s central plains and encompasses Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, and Dambulla. It is here that the country’s kings gave rise to a great civilization based on agriculture and Buddhism. These kings also treasured the ancient healing wisdom of Ayurveda, which remains a preferred health care in rural areas. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first capital, was the greatest monastic city of the ancient world and was ruled from the 4C BC to 11C AD by more than 100 Sri Lankan kings. Polonnaruwa became Sri Lanka’s royal medieval capital in 1073 where the Sinhalese king Vijayabahu I followed by Parakramabahu I, ruled. It remained Sri Lanka’s capital until the late 13C. Another significant event in Sri Lanka’s history is the introduction of Buddhism to this island in 247 BC: Mihintale is especially inspiring on a full-moon day.
The cultural triangle is largely situated within a dry zone. Apart from a high rainfall in November and December when the less-severe Maha monsoon hits the east coast, conditions remain fairly arid, although visitors during June and July may experience the hot, strong winds that help keep the south-western monsoon in the south and west at bay. Sri Lanka is affected by two separate monsoons which generally means that there is usually good weather somewhere on the island. Traditionally, the best time to visit the west and south coasts and hill country is from December to April, while the best weather on the east coast is from April/May to September.
Sri Lankan rice and curries and western cuisine is served in all the hotels within the Cultural Triangle. Heritance Kandalama is highly regarded for its award-winning cuisine ranging from lunch time buffets to fine dining. Vil Uyana’s Apsara restaurant with views of the Sigiriya rock, offers a la carte menu as well as a vegetarian menu. Mid-range hotels tend to rely largely on buffets; Chaaya Village’s wide choice and good quality gets excellent feedback. More details are in our hotel profiles. There are several wayside eateries and stalls on the way to the Cultural Triangle where a cup of tea or a Thambili (king coconut) – a great thirst quencher, or a cool drink can be purchased.
The cultural triangle is not the area to plan a shopping expedition. Watermelon, pumpkin and other dry zone vegetables grown in village gardens as are found in wayside stalls. Groceries, pharmacies, and banks are available in the main towns. Buddha statues are available for purchase in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla.
Vesak in Mihintale: takes place on full moon day in May with remembrance of Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and Prinivanpama (his passing). In June, the festival of Poson is celebrated in remembrance of the introduction of Buddhism Sri Lanka by Mahinda.
Elephant Gathering: The Cultural Triangle consists of extensive light forest cover that is home to large herds of wild elephants, deer, wild buffalo, and numerous species of dry zone birds. During the dry season in August and September, elephant herds migrate freely from one park to another in search of water. This awesome sight is known as the ‘elephant gathering’.
Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle – as the name suggests – is home to a large proportion of historical cultural sites, including some of the island’s most famous and well-preserved ruins such as the medieval city of Polonnaruwa and the 5th century Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Read through our ‘Activities’ section to discover more about the ancient cultural sites in this region.
Sri Lanka’s medieval capital from 1073 until the late 1200s, the ruins of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa are incredibly well-preserved and include magnificant granite sculptures of Lord Buddha.
Dambulla Cave Temple
The most famous cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, the ancient Dambulla Cave Temple boasts the largest number of Buddha statues to be housed in one place, as well as stunning ceiling paintings.
Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most majestic, awe-inspiring and stunning historical locations in the world, built in the 5th century AD by ‘mad’ King Kasyapa.
Mihintale was recorded as being the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in 3rd century BC. The peak is home to magnificent pieces of ancient Sri Lankan architecture and a majestic 40ft dagoba.
Yapahuwa, an enormous yet little-visited rock fortress built in the 13th century around a vast grantic rock which rises 100m above the surrounding plains.
Ritigala is nestled deep inside a jungle-covered nature reserve, the ruins of an extensive Buddhist monasty which was abandoned during the invasions of the 10th and 11th centuries.
Minneriya National Park is a small but popular wildlife park home to a wide range of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. It is also the site of the world-renowned wildlife event ‘The Elephant Gathering’.
Discover the majestic remains of Sri Lanka’s first capital, originally built in the 4th century BC and the ruling place for over 100 Sri Lankan kings. You can explore these extensive ruins by bike or on foot.
One of the most spectacular statues in Sri Lanka, the Aukana Buddha has stood 12m high since it was made in the 5th century. It is free-standing, carved from a single rock.
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