The small island country of Sri Lanka has to be one of the most exotic, mysterious, and enchanting places in the world, with an interesting history that leaves the dreamy jungle-covered nation peppered with ancient ruins and artistic relics. There are majestic elephants everywhere, and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else. Towering statues, temples, 3000 years of documented history and anything you might imagine in a video game is just waiting to be found in Sri Lanka. So with so much travel enjoyment waiting to be explored, where does one start? Start with the following five destinations and you’ll be on the right track:
This little known gem on the east side of the island is as old as one of the area’s religions, with a Shiva temple that is known as the site of Trikuta Hill discussed in the famous Hindu text Vayu Purana. Located between two nearby beach cities, Nilaveli and Uppuveli, the town is home to some of the best Sri Lanka hotels you’ll find, especially if your goal is seclusion yet close proximity to the city. Trincomalee has one of the world’s best natural harbors, giving it a ridiculously rich history that makes for a more memorable visit every time.
The rock fortress of Sigiriya has to be one of the most epic places you’ll ever see. It is literally like something out of a video game. Imagine this: a massive 200-metre rock column that 5th century King Kasyapa had carved and renovated into a Lion-shaped fortress that served as the capital of Sri Lanka. The powerful ruler had the entire volcanic mass shaped into a polished black stone Lion (that contained a fortress), but only the lion’s incredibly large feet at the base of the entrance still remain. You really have got to see this place to even believe it exists.
3. Yala National Park
There are tons of National Parks in Sri Lanka, but Yala might just be the best. If you’re looking for elephants, crocodiles, leopards, deer, warthogs, more than 215 species exotic birds, and other interesting wildlife, go to Yala. Visitors here have compared the park to a Kenyan safari due to its ability to showcase the diversity of the island’s natural beauty. You’ll probably want to book a tour with one of the knowledgeable guide services in the area to ensure you’re properly introduced to the park and all of its features.
Dambulla is home to a magnificent cave temple consisting of five separate caves, each furnished by intricate statues that have been carved into the natural setting. The first statue was crafted about 2,000 years ago, and the largest of the 5 caves contains about 60 statues. The cave roofs are adorned with ancient paintings and the entire atmosphere is highly spiritual; there’s a strikingly noticeable difference between the environment outside of the cave (usually hot and busy) versus the cool and peaceful vibes in the cave.
Sri Lanka has changed its capital numerous times to avoid invaders from Europe and India. In 993 the town of Polonnaruwa became the second capital after the first capital, Anuradhapura, was destroyed by the Cholas. Needless to say, there’s a lot of interesting history just waiting to be explored here, which has led to this place being labeled a UNESCO World Heritage site. Aside from the abundance of ancient temples, stone structures, statues, and all the interesting architectural and archaeological features, this small ancient kingdom is home to three massive manmade reservoirs that surround the city. The Parakrama Samudra (meaning Sea of King Parakrama) was built by order of King Parakrama back in 393. Amazingly, the same irrigation system and reservoirs are still used to supply water for paddy cultivation on the east side of the island during the dry season.
The Tear Drop of India
The wildlife and scenery in Sri Lanka leads many to call the place the “pearl of the Indian ocean” and the locals are intelligent and kind, with the highest literacy rate in Southern Asia. There’s an amazing mountain called Adam’s Peak that people climb to the top of by candlelight to see a monument that is believed to be Buddha’s footsteps. There are jungles, mountains, beaches, safaris, and ancient ruins galore. If that doesn’t sound like an adventure, I don’t know what does. This unique and powerful destination is also called “the tear drop of India” for its shape in relation to the Indian mainland, but aside from that, the entire country is a very emotional and special place so it is appropriately named in more than ways than one.