Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is an island nation located south of India in the Indian Ocean. According to internetsailors, the country has about 20.8 million inhabitants and the capital is Colombo. The Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group on the island, while the Tamils are the largest minority. Most of the Sinhalese belong to Buddhism while the Tamils follow the Hindu faith. The climate in Sri Lanka is tropical and characterized by the monsoons. The island is characterized by a rich flora and fauna, so there are also many endemic animal and plant species on the island. Important crops are coconut, rice, sugar cane, tea bushes, indigo, tobacco, coffee and cinchona bark. When enjoying Sinhalese cuisine, one should keep in mind that it is one of the hottest in the world. The island state thus offers on a relatively small, easily accessible space a variety of travel destinations. Dense rainforest, white beaches, an exotic culture and profound spirituality as well as a breathtaking underwater world are just a few of the country’s highlights. Sri Lanka is not called the “Pearl of the Orient” or “Tear of India” for nothing. Hardly any other country has so many cultural heritage sites to offer in such a small area.
Kandy is a small town in the central mountains of Sri Lanka. The city is surrounded by hills in the Kandy Valley and lies on the banks of the Mahaweli River. Kandy was the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom and therefore has some attractions to offer. The most important sanctuary, the Temple of the Tooth with the Buddha’s sacred tooth relic, is located in the city. This temple complex has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. The shores of Kandy Lake are particularly suitable for a walk, where you can also rent boats for short trips on the lake. On the main street, the Dalada Vidiya, you can look at the many colonial buildings and stroll through the narrow streets between the Temple of the Tooth and the clock tower. The red and white mosque and St. Paul’s Church are also worth seeing. Kandy is part of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle for a reason. The National Museum is also worth a visit. The evening highlight are the Kandy Dancers, a traditional dance group that puts on their impressive show in various locations around the city.
On the Bahirawakanda Mountain there is a colossal Buddha statue, the artistic value of which is rather low, but from the hill you can look over the city. The Udawattakele nature reserve is located in the middle of Kandy. The Forest Hermitage meditation center is located on this hill.
A little outside of the city you should visit the Botanical Garden of Peradeniya, there you can see the largest banyan tree which covers an area of 2000m². As part of a day trip you can visit the elephant orphanage in Pinnawela.
From Kandy it is best to continue to Dambulla to visit the rock temple with over a hundred larger-than-life Buddha statues. There are 80 cave temples in Dambulla. At the foot of the granite rock is the Golden Temple, on which a 30m high golden Buddha is enthroned. The temples with the impressive paintings on the history of Sri Lanka are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The region is also known for the largest occurrence of rose quartz in South Asia. The largest rose quartz rock and ironwood forest is located in the Jathika Namal Uyana nature reserve.
Another royal city and part of the cultural triangle is Sigiriya. The name means something like “lion rock” and refers to the impressive monolith on the ruins of a rock fortress. In 1982 the rock was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Steps lead up through the terrace garden. First you cross the pleasure garden and the rock garden before you pass the mirror wall. A spiral staircase leads to the most famous wall paintings in Sri Lanka, the cloud girls. Then you reach the Lion Terrace, with the lion gate and its lion paws, which open the entrance to the Royal Palace and thus the last steep stairs to the top. Once at the top, there is a spectacular view of the surrounding area. On the descent you pass the cobra hood cave which is called because a rock above the grotto looks like an erect cobra. Only 1 km north of Sigiriya is the 200 m high rocky ridge Pidurangala. The so-called “golden rock” can also be climbed. There is a monastery at the foot, as the mountain was once a retreat for Buddhist monks. Below the Pidurangala rock is a 13m long reclining Buddha statue.
A short drive takes you to the charming little town of Polonnaruwa. This was a formerly very important royal city that has been uninhabited since the 13th century and remained undiscovered for over 600 years and overgrown in the deep jungle. Today the facility is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must on every trip to Sri Lanka. The Gal Vihara Temple, the 55m high Ruvanveli Dagoba and the Thuparama Dagoba are particularly worth seeing.
The city was the center of various Sinhalese royal dynasties for over a thousand years. Which is why the ancient old town has many sights to offer to this day and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The modern districts are an interesting contrast. The most important pilgrimage site is the Sri Mahabodhi, a sacred Bodhi tree. It is said to be an offshoot of the tree of Bodh Gaya in India, under which Siddharta Gautama became Buddha and is said to have achieved his enlightenment.
There are also some interesting stupas such as the Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba and the Jetavanarama Dagoba that are worth visiting. Since the sights are quite far apart, it is best to go to them with a tuk-tuk or a bicycle. In addition, a visit to a tea plantation should not be missed on a tour of the country. The Sinharaja Forest nature reserve and the old town of Galle with its fortress also belong to the world cultural sites of Sri Lanka.
Yala National Park
But Sri Lanka not only has cultural highlights to offer, it is also an absolute paradise in terms of landscape. The Yala National Park is located in the southeast of Sri Lanka and is particularly known for its leopards, bears, crocodiles and elephants. It is the oldest nature reserve in the country. At the entrance to the national park you can choose between different safari offers. The rock formation of the elephant rock that rises from the African-looking thorn bush savannah is well known. On the edges of the park there are monsoon forests and a swamp area. There are also ruins of temples such as Situlpahuwa, Magulmahavihara and Akashachetiya to see.
Of course, the island also has wonderful beaches to offer. For example, on the south coast in Tangalle. The sleepy fishing village has white palm-fringed beaches and the Turtle Conservation Project, a sea turtle sanctuary, is a great place to watch the animals. A day trip to Dikwella is worthwhile. Here a 50 meter high Buddha statue, the tallest in Sri Lanka, dominates the cityscape. You can also see a blow hole here, a unique natural phenomenon.
The beaches of Mirissa, a tiny town that has so far remained almost undiscovered by tourism, are among the most beautiful on the island. From here you can also go whale watching boat trips. A popular photo opportunity are the famous stilt fishermen of Koggala, who fish in Unawatuna from their stilts anchored in the seabed. Unawatuna is Sri Lanka’s backpacker paradise. From here you can also go on day trips to the city of Galle.
The largest and only international airport is in Colombo. From there there are flight connections to most tourist destinations. The roads are in more or less good condition, there is left-hand traffic, but traveling without a local driver is not recommended. This is recommended because a rental car trip with a driver is often cheaper than a car without a driver. The very well developed long-distance bus network with which you can reach all places is also suitable for individual travelers. The larger cities are also connected by rail. There are a few express trains there, but the other trains are quite slow. It is also advisable to book travel tickets in advance. You can also join an organized small group tour and discover a large part of the island.