Sri Lanka’s ever increasing popularity is entirely understandable… the country is known for its incredible, varied range of landscapes. From stunning golden beaches to vast rolling hills, dense forests and lush tea plantations. Sri Lanka was formerly known as “Serendib” (‘wondrous surprise’. How apt!) This beautiful island was once referred to as “the fairest isle…” by Marco Polo. A true wonder of Asia!
If you are taking the trip to Sri Lanka there are some ‘must sees’ we have broken down for you:
All of these destinations can be seen on our Glimpses of Sri Lanka Tour >>
The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara or Kelaniya Temple
A Buddhist temple in Kelaniya, seven miles from Colombo.
Buddhists believe the temple to have been hallowed during the third and final visit of the Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka, eight years after gaining enlightenment. Its history would thus go back to before 500 BCE.
The Mahawansa records that the original Stupa at Kelaniya enshrined a gem-studded throne on which the Buddha sat and preached.
The temple flourished during the Kotte era but much of its land was confiscated during the Portuguese empire..not all was lost however, as under the Dutch empire, there were new gifts of land and under the patronage of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha the temple, was rebuilt. It was refurbished in the first half of the 20th century with the help of Helena Wijewardana.
The temple is famous for its image of the reclining Gautama Buddha and paintings by the native artist Solias Mendis which depict important events in the life of the Buddha. iIt is the venue for the Duruthu Maha Perehera procession each January. A phenomenal 18-foot stone statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara has been erected at the temple.
Pettah Market – Colombo
This bright, bustling, busy market is in the commercial city centre area, known as the “Fort” built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Pettah is the most chaotic, visually fascinating bazaar including everything from fresh food to wholesale clothing. The entire bustling area is an observation paradise and a great place to get an initial view into the busy side of Colombo.
The Sacred City of Anuradhapura – The Bodhi Tree
The first capital of Sri Lanka. Already in 380 BC it became the Singhalese capital. One of the most famous (and eldest) monuments at the site is the sacred bodhi fig tree near the centre. Its is said, that this 2200 year old tree, was grown from a cutting from a branch of the tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.
Sigiriya, also called “The Lion Rock”
Both a rock fortress and palace constructed by King Kasyapa at the end of the 5th Century. A visually spectacular gateway is built in the form of an enormous lion, hence the name ‘Lion’s Rock’.
The palace on the flat top of this rock is decorated with colourful frescoes, which are one of Sigiriya’s most popular attractions. Sigiriya is famed for owning some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world and the mirror wall that has verses dating from as early as the 8th century.
NESCO World Heritage site of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms. Its incredible art, impressive medieval architecture and green environment present a completely unique site to visitors.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is considered as one of the best planned archaeological relic sites in Sri Lanka, including the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas and the monumental ruins of garden city constructed by Parakramabahu in the 12th century.
UNESCO World Heritage site, the Rock Cave Temple of Dambulla
Golden Temple of Dambulla, is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. Five caves and 157 statues of the Lord Buddha. The murals cover an area of 2,100 square metres (23,000 sq ft). Depictions on the walls of the caves include the temptation by the demon Mara, and Buddha’s first sermon.
Prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2700 years old in this area, at Ibbankatuwa near the Dambulla cave complexes.
Travellers can appreciate intricate and delicate paintings covering the ceiling and walls in the temple. Its historical, archaeological and artistic implications make this an absolute must-see.
Kandy – Sri Lankas Cultural Capital
Home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, one of Sri Lanka’s holiest shrines. If you visit city in July or August, you can experience Kandy Esala Perehera, an annual ritual of the Sacred Tooth Temple.
In addition, Kandy is a city set in forested hills and surrounded by tea plantations. As one of the most beautiful cities of Sri Lanka, it is famous for its scenic beauty and rich cultural value.
The evening n Kandy is when you will stumble across the vibrant cultural dance shows where there is The Kandyan dancing and drumming of Sri Lanka. Stunning, rich dance traditions and an extraordinary style of drumming, known as some of the loudest and most exuberant in the world!
Spice Gardens at Matale
Visiting a spice garden in Matale is a unforgettable experience. See many of the different types of spices Sri Lanka is famous for. Just 25 km from the hill capital of Kandy, the Matale spice gardens are among the best on the island. You will be introduced to different spices and shown how some of these spices are grown and processed. The incredible smells are entirely unparalleled. The Gardens are open to visitors, a delightful place to stroll in fragrant greenery and learn about some of your household kitchen favourites such as nutmeg, curry, cinnamon and then…the precious cardamom, (a relative of ginger.) It grows in the shade of high jungle trees and can only be harvested by hand.
Visitors can buy spices, traditional remedies and cosmetics, taste unusual herbal teas and in some venues, even enjoy the rich, full flavours of Sri Lankan spices over lunch…or an Ayurveda massage based on natural products from the gardens!
Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya
The Royal Gardens are about 5.5 km to the west of the city of Kandyin the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It attracts over 2 million visitors annually. This was not always the case…These stunning gardens were once reserved exclusively for Kandyan royalty. Today, every one is welcomed
Renowned for its vast collection of orchids, royal palms, The Cannonball fruit tree and enormous 40m high Burma Bamboo. BUT the most popular attraction is the breathtaking giant Javan fig tree, on the great lawn, with its humungous central trunk and striking canopy of branches. The garden includes over 4000 species of plants. Attached to it is the National Herbarium of Sri Lanka. It is managed by the Division of National Botanic Gardens of the Department of Agriculture.
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (PEO), is just as the name suggests. See the elephant babies in a wonderful, free environment, running as they should be, in herds.
Currently home to over 90 elephants, the concept was actualised by the late Hon. Minister Kalugalle in 1975. Pinnawala at the time was a very remote area with lush coconut plantations and most importantly an area where the availability of mahouts was not lacking. Also the immense amount of water required by the elephants is supplemented with the availability of “Ma oya” running close by. Now it is a vast landscape filled with elephants frolicking a playing as they interact. You can feed the calves yourself at specified times.
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