Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle: Visit the Archaeological Sites

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Alejandra Rangel

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If you want to immerse yourself in the ancient history of Sri Lanka and discover its cultural heritage, you cannot get lost the Cultural Triangle.

By cultural triangle we mean the area located inside the island, where the main archaeological sites of Sri Lanka are concentrated: Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa e Anuradhapura.

Dambulla: Golden Cave Temple

Dambulla is known for Golden Temple, one of the most evocative places in Sri Lanka. It is located at the beginning of the city (coming from Kandy) and is clearly visible due to the imposing statue of the Golden Buddha located in the forecourt of the entrance.

The main attraction is the 5 caves, with numerous statues representing the Buddha inside and frescoes painted on the walls of the caves.

To reach the caves yes along a short staircase (next to the Golden Buddha) full of thieving monkeys and sellers of souvenirs and drinks. The climb is easy and not too tiring, but avoid the hottest hours.

The caves have a unique charm and the view at the top of the staircase is stunning, not to be missed!

When we visited them in August, admission was free.


Dress your Sigirya da Pidurangala Rock

Sigiriya it is what remains of an ancient kingdom built on a huge rock, about 200 meters high.

Here the climb is quite tiring, a climb of about 1.000 steps under the sun, once you get to the top you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view.

I recommend going to Sigiriya early in the morning or in the afternoon, avoid the hottest hours and bring water.

Ticket cost: $ 30 per person.

Alternative in Sigiriya

Those who do not want to pay the $ 30 Sigiriya and prefer to avoid the effort of 3 hours in single file under the sun, can opt for the climb to the lesser known younger sister Pidurangala Rock, situata 2 km a nord in Sigirya.

Here the cost is negligible, about € 3, the climb in the middle of the jungle is fascinating and simple, only the final part is slightly more complicated, you have to climb on some rocks, but I'm sure you will succeed, I have seen children do it and ladies no longer very young.

Once you reach the top, what will appear in front of your eyes will be a unique show, the view on the imposing rock of Sigiriya and a beautiful surrounding landscape.

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Quadrilatero – Vatadage Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is one of the ancient capitals of Sri lanka, an immense city with its ruins to be visited possibly by bicycle. Here, too, it is preferable to start the visit early in the morning. The ruins of polorannuwa can be turned in about 4/5 hours.

Do not miss the Gal Vihara, a group of Buddha statues, entirely carved in the rock, including the standing Buddha, 7 meters high and the standing Buddha 14 meters long.

Gal Vihara

Among the most evocative buildings of Polonnaruwa there is certainly the Lankatilaka, with walls 17 meters high, now without a roof and with a large standing Buddha statue.

Other wonders not to be missed are: the Royal Palace, Rankot Vihara's dagoba and the Quadrilateral.

Ticket cost: $ 25 per person


Royal Palace

Rankot Vihara


Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

Anuradhapura is the other great ancient capital of Sri Lanka, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it includes a number of archaeological wonders, towering dagobas, ancient ponds and temples.

Its ruins are among the most fascinating in all of Asia. Keep in mind that a full day may not be enough to visit it all.

The ticket office is located in the beautiful colonial building which houses the archaeological museum, the first obligatory stop. From here with a map in hand and riding your bicycle, start your visit to the ancient city, concentrate on the main ruins and get ready to get lost in a wonderful context, immersed in the Sinhalese jungle.

Among the attractions not to be missed are: the sacred tree Sri Maha Bodhi, the white dagoba Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba e Abhayagiri Dagoba, one of the tallest monuments in the world.

Tickets cost: $ 25

Jatavanarama Dagoba

Interno Jatavanarama Dagoba

Visit the Buddhist Temples

Remember that to enter the temples and sacred sites of Sri Lanka, you will need to take off your shoes and have adequate clothing, with knees and shoulders covered. I recommend that you bring socks, to protect your feet from the hot ground.

Important: never turn your back on the Buddha statues when you pose for your souvenir photos.


Both in Anuradhampura that Polonnaruwa, tuk tuk drivers and even some hotels, offer you a complete package to visit the ruins, at an advantageous price, including the entrance ticket. In reality, they do not buy the ticket and they will make you visit the ancient cities through secondary roads.

In this way, however, you will not contribute to the maintenance and protection of the ruins.

Where to Stay to Visit the Cultural Triangle

The best locations as a base for visiting the cultural triangle are Dambulla e Sigirya.

Our choice fell on Dambulla, as it is better served by buses. However, Dambulla City is not the best, so we preferred to stay slightly outside, in one of the most beautiful hotels of our trip to Sri Lanka: Arika Villa, with its beautiful swimming pool, perfect for recovering after a busy day of cultural visits under the scorching sun.

Da Dambulla we went to Sigiriya in Tuk Tuk (1 hour) and from Sigiriya to Polannaruwa by bus (approximately 1 hour).

From Dambulla to Anuradhapura we went by air-conditioned bus which in 1 hour and 20 minutes, at a price of 180 rupees (about € 1), took us to our destination.

In Anuradhapura we stayed at the City Resort, convenient for visiting the ruins. The hotel rents bicycles and in 20 minutes by bike you arrive at the ancient city. I recommend a single night in Anuradhapura.

How many days it takes to visit the Cultural Triangle.

To visit the entire cultural triangle, allow at least 4 days. Sigirya and Polorannuwa could both be visited in one day, but she's a killer.

If you have a few days you will have to cut something and usually the doubt is between Anuradhapura and Polorannuwa.

It's not easy to choose, I personally preferred Anuradhapura, also for the landscape surrounding the ruins. But perhaps for those who have a few days Polorannuwa is more comfortable, given the proximity to Sigiriya and Dambulla.

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