Sri Lanka is one of the most interesting and exciting places I’ve ever been. It’s a beautiful, chaotic and mind-blowing melting pot of culture and history. It’s intoxicating. Exotic. You can almost inhale the diversity. Breathe the spirituality. Oh, and gorge yourself on curry. Lots of curry.
It’s a little off the typical backpacker trail, and an amazing place to explore a world of cool culture on a short trip.
1. Yala National Park
Yala National Park is one of the best places for sightings of wild Elephants. The park is home to many animals including Buffaloes, Leopards, Monkeys, Circles, Crocodiles, Wild boars and Bears.
The cats chuff can be heard from a distance and is so soporific. They love to bask in the sun at the top of 30ft rocks and it’s breathtaking, so take a zoom/telephoto lens.
Feb-Jun/Jul is the optimum time to visit when water tables are low. Leopard, elephant and many smaller animals are competing for the same drinking supply. You are likely also to see sloth bears, deer, wild boar, buffaloes, crocodiles and monkeys. Birds are in profusion – up to 130 species. The park also contains a monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa and other important centres of pilgrimage. Be aware Yala is usually closed in September.
2. Dambulla Cave Temple
The beautiful Royal Rock Temple complex sits about 160m above the road in the southern part of Dambulla. Five separate caves contain about 150 absolutely stunning Buddha statues and paintings, some of Sri Lanka’s most important and evocative religious art. Buddha images were first created here over 2000 years ago, and over the centuries subsequent kings added to and embellished the cave art.
From the caves there are superb views over the surrounding countryside; Sigiriya is clearly visible some 20km distant.
Dambulla is thought to have been a place of worship since the 1st century BC, when King Valagamba (also known as Vattagamani Abhaya), driven out of Anuradhapura, took refuge here. When he regained his throne, he had the interior of the caves carved into magnificent rock temples. Further paintings were made by later kings, including King Nissanka Malla, who had the caves’ interiors gilded, earning the place the name Ran Giri (Golden Rock).
3. Sigiriya Rock Fortress
The ruins of the capital built by the parricidal King Kassapa I (477–95) lie on the steep slopes and at the summit of a granite peak standing some 180m high (the ‘Lion’s Rock’, which dominates the jungle from all sides). A series of galleries and staircases emerging from the mouth of a gigantic lion constructed of bricks and plaster provide access to the site.
4. Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. It comprises, besides the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas, the monumental ruins of the fabulous garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century.
5. Bentota Turtle Sanctuary
Turtle Islands is part of the Sulu Archipelago which is composed of approximately 400 islands of varying shapes and sizes. It is located at the southwestern tip of the Philippines, about 1,000 km southwest of Manila. It is used to preserve sea turtles for the next generation.