The Cultural Triangle is a large area north of Colombo which encompasses several ancient cities and monuments. The most famous are Sigiriya (an enormous rock with the ruins of an ancient kingdom on top), Dambulla (5 cave temples devoted to Buddhism dating back to 1st Century BC), Polonnaruwa (ruins of an imperial city from the 12th Century AD), and Anuradhapura (ruins of a city whose prominence in Sri Lanka lasted for a millennium.) Note: we ended up not going to Anuradhapura as it was a long drive from our resort and we wanted to include some chill time as well.
We interspersed the itinerary of antiquities and ruins with some easy but rewarding hikes, pool time, and spa treatments.
We chose to stay near Sigiriya as it was a good location to reach all the sights PLUS the landscape here with the rock rising from the valley is spectacular.
HOTEL: Sigiriya Water Garden Resort
Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage
Unesco World Heritage sight only 30 minutes from Sigiriya. We enjoyed visiting this set of 5 caves which house paintings and buddhist statues dating back to 1st century BC. It is definitely worth hiring one of the guides to explain the significance of each cave — I think we paid less than $5 for this.
To access the caves, one must walk up many natural stone steps — approximately a 10-15 minute climb. There are monkeys along the way to keep you entertained. Shoes are not allowed inside the temple — there is a shoe check outside. We exited a different way (which was probably the way most arrive and depart) — our driver had us do this. This was a longer but less steep walk with different attractions along the way, such as a snake charmer. He did not ask for money when we took photos but was quite appreciative when we did — even encouraging us to take selfies with the snakes. That’s ok, sir… we are all good from a distance!
TWO places we did NOT visit: Anuradhapura — another ancient city and considered the capital of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was a long drive from Sigiriya, and after reading about it, we realized we had little interest. But don’t let that stop you from exploring if enjoy historical sights. The 2nd place we nixed was Minneriya National Park which is home to many elephants. We did consider it but already had a safari planned in Yala later in trip. Plus the pool and book were calling.