Anuradhapura is a treasure trove of a large number of ancient monuments and relics in Sri Lanka. There are remains of palaces, temples, monasteries, ceremonial baths and the temple of the holy Bo-tree. King Pandukabhaya, the third King in the Vijaya dynasty founded the Kingdom of Anuradhapura in 377 BC. Various invaders came across the Palk Strait and one of them became supreme holding most of the North and reigned from Anuradhapura. He was Elara . However, Gemunu, the son of King Kavantissa killed Elara in battle and made Sri Lanka a single kingdom under his reign. King Dutugemunu was responsible for the culmination of Buddhism and the Anuradhapura Kingdom lasted 1500 years.
Anuradhapura was the royal capital for 119 successive Sinhalese kings till 1000 AD and it was abandoned in 1073 and the capital moved to Polonnaruwa. From then, the ruin began and the jungle grew over the palaces, stupas, monasteries which began to crumble. It was thought to be a “lost city” by British explorers who visited the ruins in the 19th century.
Among the sights of Anuradhapura, the sacred Bo Tree is one of the most sacred relics in Sri Lanka and is the most revered site for pilgrimages of Buddhists. Some of the ancient sights to visit are Aukana Buddha, Thuparama, Isurumuniya, Ruwanweli Seya, Abhayagiriya and Mihintale, etc.
Sigiriya is a must-see destination because it would be an experience which is unique and awe-inspiring due to the piece of history surrounding it. Sigiriya is known as the “Fortress in the Sky” It is a sheer-sided outcrop of reddish granite standing 200 meters above the surrounding plains. In 1982 UNESCO declared Sigiriya as one of the seven World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka and is Asia’s best preserved city of the first millennium.
Various family disputes led to Kasyapa overthrowing the King and taking over the throne and it is said that Kasyapa eventually had his father murdered and entombed him in a wall. An enraged Moggalan fled to India and vowed to avenge his father’s death. Therefore, King Kassapa chose to build his royal palace in the almost inaccessible summit of the Rock. He had built elegant pavilions with gardens and pools. The Rock itself took the shape of a giant recumbent lion with a head and foreparts built with brick. At present only the paws that were sculpted out of the rock remain.
Some of the special things to watch in sigitiya are The Water Gardens, The Boulder Gardens, The Sigiriya Frescoes, The Mirror Wall and The Summit etc.
Dambulla is situated at a major junction in the Matale District (Central Province of Sri Lanka), 148 km north-east of Colombo and 72 km north of Kandy. Dambulla is famous for the largest number of preserved cave temples of Sri Lanka. Also the largest rose quartz mountain range in South Asia is situated in Dambulla. It has been found that ancient indigenous civilizations had existed in this area as evidence has been unearthed at the latest archaeological site at a place called Ibbankatuwa a prehistoric burial site which is within 3 km of the cave temples. It appears that this area had been inhabited from about the 7th to the 3rd century BC. There are paintings and statues said to be dating back to the 1st century BC.
It is known that king Valagamba who fled from his enemies in Anuradhapura found refuge in the caves at Dambulla. Buddhist monks who were engaged in meditation in these caves at the time had protected the exiled king from his enemies. When the King secured the opportunity to return to the throne at Anurdhapura in the 1st Century BC he arranged for a magnificent temple of rock to be built in Dambulla to express his gratitude to the monks.
The 1st cave is called the “Cave of the Divine King” and contains a 14 m statue of the Buddha. The 2nd is the largest cave in which there are 16 standing and 40 seated statues of the Buddha and the gods Saman and Vishnu. The 3rd cave contains ceiling & wall paintings done during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha (1747 – 1782). There are also 50 Buddha statues and a statue of the King.
Polonnaruwa was established as the Capital of Sri Lanka in the 11th Century. King Vijayabahu the 1st was the first king and he ruled that Polonnaruwa be made the Capital in the year 1073, after he defeated the Chola invaders from South India in1070 and he united the country. However, records show that it was King Parakramabahu I that developed trade and agriculture. He declared that not a single drop of water from the heavens should be wasted without being used for the land. This is why the irrigation systems in Polonnaruwa are extremely superior to those of other cities and are still being used for paddy cultivation during the dry seasons of the East. The principal project in this system was the huge lake called “Parakrama Samudraya” meaning, Parakrama Ocean. King Parakramabahu ruled from 1153 to 1186 and this period was called the golden age of Polonnaruwa and was completely self-sufficient at this time.Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s capital until the late 13th century. Polonnaruwa has been declared a World Heritage Site.
The Documentary “Monkey Kingdom” produced by a Disney team highlighting the lives of the macaque monkeys raised Polonnaruwa into the limelight when this film was shown in over 12000 cinemas around the US in April 2015. Some interesting sites to see in polonnaruwa are Gal Viharaya, Archaeological Museum, Royal Palace, Lankathilaka and Thuparama Gedige etc.
The Kingdom of Kandy is said to have been founded around the 14th century during the reign of King Vickramabahu III of Gampola (1357 – 1374). It was then known as ‘Senkadagalapura’. Kandy gradually developed into an independent kingdom during the 16th and 7th centuries.
After the coastal regions of Sri Lanka had been conquered by the invading Portuguese, Kandy became the last remaining independent kingdom in Sri Lanka. There were invasions by the Portuguese and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries and later by the British probably in 1803, but these were repelled. The last of the rulers were of the ‘Nayaks’ dynasty. Though they were able to preserve the independence of Kandy, it finally was conquered by the British in 1815. The King at the time, King Sri Wikrama Rajasingha and all claimants to the throne were deposed by the British in 1815. Thus ended the traditional monarchy of Kandy.
Kandy is most famous for the Tooth relic of the Buddha and the Temple of the Tooth. The most colorful and oldest traditional Buddhist festival of Sri Lanka is the annual grand procession called ‘The Esala Perahera’ (The Sinhalese term “perahera” means a parade). The parade is resplendent with lavishly decorated elephants, traditional dancers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers, acrobats and various other performers. The sacred Tooth Relic enshrined in a golden casket is carried on the back of a special tusker colorfully caparisoned and paraded around the streets of Kandy during this festival. It lasts for ten days and takes place in July or August every year.
The name ‘Nuwara Eliya’ translates to “City of Light”. It is situated in the central hills of the country at an elevation of 1,868m above sea level and enjoys the coolest climate in Sri Lanka. It was Samuel Baker the explorer of the Nile who discovered Lake Albert that founded this City in 1846. It was called “Little England” as driven by the climate, it became the sanctuary of British civil servants and planters of the vast tea estates with Ceylon tea being famous the world over. Consequently, many of the buildings reflect the architecture of the colonial period, such as the Queen’s Cottage, General’s House, Grand Hotel, Hill Club, St. Andrew’s Hotel and the Town Post Office. You can see many old English-style lawns and gardens around private homes which rouse nostalgic memories of bygone years.
The town bursts into life in April coinciding with the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year as Sri Lankans in their droves travel to Nuwara Eliya to enjoy their holidays during this period. Festivities begin around 1st April each year which is done ceremonially. There is a carnival-like atmosphere with various musical shows by popular entertainers and vocalists. Food stalls, coffee shops and eateries spring up on the way sides. Horse racing and motor racing events too add to the excitement.
Ella is a very popular hill-country village. A main attraction in Ella is the views through the Ella Gap which can be described as stunning because on clear nights you can view the glow of the Great Basses lighthouse deep down in the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Ella is blessed with a rich bio-diversity surrounded by hills covered with forests and tea plantations.
Ella’s main tourist attraction is Little Adam’s Peak which has been named as such as it bears a similar shape to Adam’s Peak. You will enjoy the views of the Ella Rock, Ravana Falls and the vast valley below giving you also a view of the south coast of Sri Lanka on a clear sunny day which itself is breathtaking.
The Ella Rock too provides a challenge to the fitness seekers as there is no clear path and no signs and you can do the walk up in 1 ½ to 2 hours without a guide. There is a facility to hire a guide if you wish to take the quicker route up to the rock.
The Tour of Ella is not complete without visiting the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge which is 2 km away from the Ella Town. This Bridge was built by the British at Gotuwala between the Ella and Demodara Stations and commissioned in 1921. It is 3100 feet above sea level and is 300 feet long and 25 ft wide. The Bridge was built with solid rock, bricks and cement with absolutely no steel. It is an engineering marvel of railway architecture.
Horton Plains have been named after Robert Wilmot Horton who had been the British Governor of Ceylon from 1831 to 1837. However, though his name is carried by this picturesque Park of natural glory, he is remembered as a selfish and blood-minded enemy of Nature as he was singularly responsible for slaying all the elephants that inhabited these plains during that period of time and thereafter elephants never returned to the Plains.
The main attraction of the Park is the sheer precipice called the World’s End and Baker’s Falls that draw tourists in large number to the Plains. One kilometer away from the main cliff is a small cliff with a 300m drop. This is known as the Small World’s End. You can also see the Indian Ocean to the south which is 81 km away. There are Nature Trails that will take you to the places you wish to see. The Main Circuit Nature Trail will take you to Small World’s End, Big World’s End, Baker’s Falls and Chimney Falls. There are also trails to Thotupolakanda and Kirigalpoththa.
There are 24 species of mammals, 87 species of birds, nine species of reptile and 8 species of amphibians in the Plains. The most common mammal at present is the sambar deer and it is believed the population of this deer to be around 1500 to 2000. Others are Kelaart’s long-clawed shrews, toque macaques, purple-faced langurs, rusty-spotted cat, Sri Lankan leopards, wild boars, stripe-necked mongooses. Indian Muntjacs, grizzled giant squirrels, fishing cats. Also European otters have been seen to visit the wetlands to hunt for prey. The Red Slender Loris which is one of the world’s most endangered primates is found in the Plains and was photographed for the first time in July 2010 by a group of researchers from the Zoological Society of London.
In combination with Ohiya, Pattipola and Ambewela, Horton Plains becomes a very important Bird Area in Sri Lanka. There are 21bird species of these four species which are the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye and the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon occur only in the Horton Plains. Other endemics are the Sri Lanka Spur Fowl, Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Orange-billed Babbler, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler and the Sri Lanka Swift. There are also many birds that migrate here in the winter such as swiftlets and the alpine swift. The Crested Serpent Eagle, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Black-winged Kite and Peregrine Falcon are the birds of prey of the Horton Plains and among the migratory birds of prey are the Harriers. Being a key wildlife area, all six highland endemic birds inhabit the Plains including the dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka white-eye, wood pigeon, bush warbler. The yellow-eared bulbul and black-throated munia can be found in abundance throughout the Plains.
The Yala National Park is located about 300 km from Colombo in the southeastern region of the country and covers an area of 979 sq.km. There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala of which Lunugamvehera National park is the largest and is situated in the dry region receiving rains mainly during the northeast monsoon. There are also two pilgrim sites within the park in Block 3 called Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara
The Yala National Park is special because it has a variety of ecosystems that include monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, thorn forests, grasslands, fresh water and marine wetlands and also sandy beaches. Being one of the 70 most important bird areas in Sri Lanka Yala is home to some 215 bird species of which seven are endemic to Sri Lanka.
There are 44 species of mammals in the Park including the Sri Lankan elephant and also one of the highest leopard densities in the world. The herds of elephants comprise 300 – 350 individuals that varies seasonally. There are 45 species of reptiles and six of them are endemic. The Yala West (Ruhunu National Park) is one of the best parks in the world to observe and photograph leopards. It is believed that the Sri Lankan leopards are a distinct sub-species from the Indian species and are the largest leopards in Asia. The leopards in the Park have grown rather accustomed to visitors and jeeps and therefore, provide excellent opportunities for photography.
May to August is the dry season and the Park would be closed for a short time during September and October.
The Udawalawe National Park is situated 165 km from Colombo and was established on 30th June 1972. The primary purpose of its creation was to afford sanctuary for wild animals that were displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. The Udawalawe National Park is home for many species of water birds and also is an important habitat for elephants which makes it a very popular tourist destination. The principal residents of the Park are the elephants as they are drawn to the park because of the reservoir and it is estimated that the herd is about 500 strong.
Besides the elephants there is a variety of other mammals that inhabit the Park such as the fishing cat, rusty spotted cat, leopard, Sambar deer, sloth bear, wild boar, water buffalo, golden jackal, torque macaque, etc. Bird-watchers would have a wide field to indulge in their favorite pastime as there is a large mixture of bird species such as the Sri Lankan grey hornbill, spurfowl, red-faced malkoha (cuckoo bird), jungle fowl which breed and thrive in the Park.
You can also visit the Elephant Transit Home and watch the elephants being fed. However, you are not allowed to touch or interact with them because it is important to minimize contact between elephants and humans to make it easier for them to survive when they get back to their natural habitat without human attention or care.
The Minneriya National Park is situated 182 km from Colombo in the North Central plains of Sri Lanka between Habarana and Polonnaruwa. Minneriya National Park is singularly famous for its elephant population and the opportunity to observe these behemoths feeding, bathing, and indulging in frolics is not available anywhere else. It is reported that the elephant population is around 700 and this is one reason for tourists to visit Minneriya in large numbers. The area around the Minneriya lake is the largest known meeting place of Asian elephants in the world.
The Park is home to some 24 species of mammals, 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish and 75 species of butterflies. It is also one of the 70 bird areas in Sri Lanka.Over a 170 species of birds have been recorded in the Minneriya National park. There are also the leopards, wild buffalo, wild pig, three species of mongoose, porcupine and Indian Pangolin.
As for amphibians and there are eight species of endemic reptiles. These are noted as threatened species such as the painted-lip lizard, saltwater crocodile, Indian python, Asian water monitor and the Bengal monitor.
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988. The name “Sinharajah” means Lion King relating to Lion Kingdom. It has a high concentration of endemic species, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals and even insects. The vegetation is very dense which has saved this forest from commercialized logging.
As for birds you can see them moving in flocks. 20 of the rainforest species of endemic birds out of Sri Lanka’s 26 species are found here. As for the flora there is a very dense growth of trees reaching heights of up to 45 m. There are about 217 types of trees endemic to Sri Lanka’s rainforests and more than 65% of these are found in the Sinharajah Forest Reserve.
As for the fauna, there is a large variety of wildlife found in the Forest the largest carnivore found here is the leopard. There are also various species of cats such as rusty spotted cats and fishing cats which are rather rare. The fairly common varieties are the barking deer, sambar, wild boar and groups of purple-faced langurs. There are also pangolins and porcupines that forage around the forest floor. There are several kinds of squirrels: the jungle squirrel, dusky-striped jungle squirrel, flame-striped jungle squirrel and the western giant squirrel. There are also civets and mongooses that are of course nocturnal and about six species of bats have been found here. There are also venomous snakes including the green pit viper usually found on trees, the hump-nosed viper and the krait which lives on the forest floor.
Galle is a ‘must-see’ destination when you visit the south of Sri Lanka specifically to experience a tour of the Galle Fort which is the largest remaining fortress built by European occupiers in Asia. Galle was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.
Long before Western invasions, Galle had been a busy seaport with Arabs, Chinese, Greeks, Indians, Greeks, and Malays trading through this port until a small Portuguese fleet led by Lorenzo de Almeida happened to come upon Arab merchants loading cinnamon & elephants at this Port in 1505. They built a rather slip-shod stockade in 1594. However, with the Dutch invasion, there was a siege and bloody battle and the Dutch captured Galle in 1640. The present Fort was built by the Dutch in 1663 with a fortified wall of solid granite. They also built three bastions which were called “Sun”, “Moon” and “Star”. From 1649 onwards (17th century), the Dutch greatly reinforced the city. 300 year old Dutch atmosphere is still very much alive around the fort and amidst its many historical buildings. There are some important churches within the fort. Among these is the Groote Kerk, considered to be the oldest Protestant church in Sri Lanka. The beautiful beach of Unawatuna is just 6km south east of the city centre.
In 1796, the British invaded the Island and took over the country from the Dutch. They used the Galle Fort as the administrative centre and preserved the Fort in its original form. The Tsunamy that occurred off the coast of Indonesia on 26th December 2004 devastated the city killing thousands of inhabitants and causing utter destruction to property.
Unawatuna is a coastal town in Galle district of Sri Lanka. Unawatuna is a major tourist attraction in Sri Lanka and famous for its beautiful beach and corals. Unawatuna is rich in its biodiversity. Its greatest potential attraction for eco-tourism was the marsh land or mangrove. Off the coast of Unawatuna, beneath the Indian Ocean lies a number of coral reefs, shipwrecks, and a great variety of fish and turtles.
Unawatuna was once claimed to be one of the twelve best beaches in the world. It is still considered to be one of the best 100 beaches of the world. With palm-lined beaches, turquoise waters and a good selection of guesthouses and restaurants, Unawatuna is very popular with travellers. Unawatuna is full of restaurants, hotels, small kiosks selling plenty of goodies from seafood to clothing.
You can reach Unawatuna by the Southern Expressway from Colombo.
Beruwala is a town in kalutara district, western wrovince, Sri Lanka. Beruwala is the very first main beach resort in the south western coastal belt that tourists visit when they travel past the beaches of Kalutara and Wadduwa located south of Colombo. 15km south of Kalutara is Beruwala. Immediately to the south of Beruwala is the fishing village of Aluthgama. Next to the village of Aluthgama, over the Bentota bridge is Sri Lanka‘s most famous beach resort: Bentota Beach.
Beruwala has excellent water sport facilities such as water scooter rides, wind surfing, parasailing, water skiing etc. While the bay beach is safe for swimming in any month throughout the year, it also affords opportunity for Deep-sea Fishing and Wreck & Coral Reef Diving.
Trincomalee is a port city on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. Set on a peninsula, Fort Frederick was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century. Trincomalee (Trinco) sits on one the world’s finest natural harbours.
Trincomalee offers beautiful white sand and is one of the best beaches of Sri Lanka. The east coast is upcoming and way more quiet than south, which is a perfect reason to plan a visit. Trincomalee is surrounded by wildlife, hilltops and rock formations.
Trincomalee is home to the fine beaches of Nilaveli, Uppuveli and the off-shore Pigeon Island. Recently Trincomalee has become popular as a Whale Watching destination as well. The Dive centres at Nilaveli and Uppuveli offer touriststhe opportunity to enjoy their holidays in diving, snorkeling and swimming.
Some other must see attractions of trincomalee are old Fort Frederick and the famous Hindu temple Tirukoneswaram. Also, the view of the rock gorge of the Lovers Leap, where the legend after unhappy lovers rushed into the sea awaits you.
Pinnawala is a village in Kegalle District of Sri Lanka and is around 90 km from the capital, Colombo. It is well known for its elephant orphanage. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala village, 13km northeast of Kegalle town in Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world.
The orphanage was established to feed, nurse and house young elephants found abandoned by their mothers. You will get to see baby jumbos wondering around their cramped foster home or bottle fed and bathed by their human foster fathers at Pinnawala.
Dambana is a remote jungle village of indigenous people renowned for its eco tourism prospects, situated about 300km from Colombo , Sri Lanka . It is a village within the Badulla District in Sri Lanka. It is closest to the town of Mahiyangana. It is known as the refuge of the indigenous Vedda people as well as their moribund Vedda language.
These people live in the forest and follow their own traditions. In the village and during a walk in the forest you will learn more about the last indigenous people of the island.
Also called “Sri Pada” and “butterfly mountain” Adam’s Peak is located in the southern part of the Central Highlands, about 40 km northeast of Ratnapura. The mountain is situated in the Rathnapura district at an elevation of 7,360 feet (2,243 meters) above sea level. Adam’s Peak is a major pilgrim destination for the Buddhists as they believe it holds the foot print of the Buddha on a 1.8 m rock formation near the summit. The Hindu’s believe it’s the footprint of Shiva. The Tamil name of the rock is Civan-oli-patas meaning ‘mountain path of Shiva’s light’ and in Islamic and Christian tradition it is believed to be the foot print of Adam or that of St. Thomas a disciple of Jesus. Buddhists believe that this mysterious footprint had been made by the Buddha long before (as far as the 1st century BC) before any other religion was introduced to the country.
The Sri Pada season starts from full moon of December and ends on full moon of April. Generally it takes about five to six hours to climb to the top. Plenty of shops are put up along the way during the season selling all kinds of food and refreshments for the weary climbers.
Sri Pada can be accessed in two ways. The difficult path is through Ratnapura commencing the climb at a place called Erathna. The path is full of leaches and you will meet the “Seetagangula” meaning the icy water river half way up. More experienced trekkers take the difficult path to avoid crowds and fuel the spirit of adventurism. The other route is called the ‘Hatton Path’ beginning from “Nallatanniya” or ‘the King’s Lane’ as it is believed that many kings used this path to reach the mountain top. This route is used by most pilgrims. You can travel to Hatton by train or bus from Colombo. From Hatton there are numerous buses to the foot of the mountain which is about 33 km away.
Mirissa is a small town on the south coast of Sri Lanka, located in the Matara District of the Southern Province. It is approximately 150 kilometres (93 mi) south of Colombo and is situated at an elevation of 4 metres (13 ft) above sea level. Mirissa's beach and nightlife make it a popular tourist destination.
It is also a fishing port. Mirissa is the largest fishing port on the south coast and is known for its tuna, mullet, snapper and butterfish.
Mirissa is one of the island's main whale and dolphin watching locations.
Compared with beaches this is a place for relaxing and savoring the sights and salty breezes. It is more for doing your idling in peace than to get into strenuous activity, but if you wish to indulge in a waterborne safari looking for those elusive behemoths of the sea, the whales, you can have your fill here with a boat ride to the ‘playground’ of the whales and watch them cavorting and flipping their tales in gay abandon.
The city of the sky-rising buildings, the federation of street sellers – the one-of-a-kind semi culture of trading, the city with the bustling business and places you could roam around all the way. Watch the sun drift down to the ocean while eating an authentic isso-wade (a prawn food item) at the beaches and you can name it ‘The City’ of Lanka.
In colombo Galle Face Green considered the ‘lungs of the city’ located south of the Colombo Fort town. It is a green that draws large crowds of locals and foreigners who engage in kite-flying, fishing, exercising, jogging, playing football, volleyball, etc. Then there are the food and snack catering kiosks that line the walkway where you can taste spicy preparations as per recipes of their own.
Bentota is a resort town on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast. Its long Bentota Beach stretches north, where it becomes a sandy strip known as Paradise Island, parallel to Bentota Lagoon. Coral-rich dive sites include Canoe Rock. On Bentota River, centuries-old Galapota Temple has a large Buddha statue.
Of all the beaches, Bentota Beach could be said to be a paradise catering to all your beach and sea activities. Deep sea fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, water skiing, wind surfing, kayaking or canoeing is available to give you a great time. The sea is calm and makes it quite comfortable to those who are not great swimmers. Accommodation is also easy to find from budget to luxury rates. The season is usually November through April.