Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle: Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country that I feel very grateful to have visited. Although the country looks relatively small, it is packed full of cultural sites, lovely people, and reminders of the country’s (often tragic) history.

You need to be aware that the roads in Sri Lanka are an absolute nightmare and its not even worth attempting to hire a car yourself. It’s best to hire a driver and you need to multiply any time you think a journey might take by about 3 or 4!

We were based in the south of the country during our stay, in the beautiful area of Kalutara. It wasn’t feasible to stay in the South and do day trips to the cultural ‘golden triangle’ area as it takes roughly 8 hours by car, one way, to get there from Kalutara. Therefore we decided to stay near to Dambulla for a couple of nights in the Heritance Kandalama, an absolutely stunning hotel. This allowed us to see a few of the major sites in Sri Lanka’s ‘cultural triangle’.

Heritance Kandalama

I must just mention this hotel before I discuss the local sites because it’s truly breathtaking. Heritance Kandalama was designed to blend in with its surrounding environment and it’s barely distinguishable from the green landscape as you approach it by car. The design of the building is really remarkable and even the local wildlife seem to accept it as part of the jungle; monkeys regularly run through the open-plan corridors and on to the guest balconies.

My favourite area of the hotel was the infinity pool. I was able to watch wild elephant wander into the Kandalama lake whilst perched on the edge.

The dining and rooftop areas also boast incredible views of the lake and surrounding tropical greenery.

Sigiriya Lion Rock

Against the advice of our driver, we spent as long as possible in the amazing Heritance Kandalama and didn’t head over to Sigiriya Rock until midday. This was a huge mistake as it was absolutely baking at midday and there’s hardly any shade available at the site. You must also dress respectfully in Sri Lanka so I had on a long sleeved linen shirt and long hareem pants – I thought I was going to pass out.

I was so hot that I really could not bring myself to climb to the top of the rock so I decided to stay behind. I waved off the rest of my group who made it the top and back in roughly an hour and a half. An elderly lady with crutches made her way past me to start climbing the steps, at which point I started to feel a bit melodramatic!

Sorry to disappoint anyone who was looking for an insight into whether the views were worth the climb, everyone who made it said they were though. A friend of mine, on her own trip to Sri Lanka, made it to the top of Sigiriya Rock only to be stranded up there for five hours! This was because there are hornet nests on the rock and when the wasps swarm, it’s not safe to be on the steps. Make sure you get to the rock as early as you can and with plenty of water!

Home Visit

After (not) climbing Sigiriya Rock our tour guide arranged for us to have lunch with a local Sri Lankan family. Our car pulled up on the side of the main road and we took a tuk tuk for roughly 10-15 minutes through farmland until we reached some huts. Our hosts lived in one of the main huts during the day and this is where we ate the local dishes they had prepared for us.

There was a hut on stilts next to the main hut which we were slightly confused about. When we asked our tour guide what the hut was for, he explained that wild elephants sometimes wander through the family’s farmland and trample everything in their path – the hut on stilts is where the family sleep at night for safety reasons!

Our hosts made us a few different curries as well as rice and roti. We ate all of the food on leaves with our hands, it was all delicious and full of flavour. Sri Lankan people are lovely and generally more than happy to talk to you about their country and their experiences.

Golden Temple, or Dambulla Cave Temple

In the afternoon of our Dambulla trip we visited The Golden Temple. We had been to the ‘Temple of the Tooth’ in Kandy a few days earlier, but it didn’t feel appropriate to take photos there. Temple of the Tooth is a sacred Buddhist temple and Sri Lankans are visibly humbled to be there, I really recommend going if you’re in Kandy.

The Golden Temple in Dambulla is very visually striking with its bright colours and huge statue of Buddha. Confusingly, this building is not the actual temple itself. There are steps to the left of The Golden Temple that lead to the caves and it’s a very hot and sweaty walk to the top!

The 160 metre ascent to the top of the rock was one I was actually able to make (unlike Sigiriya Rock!) and the views at the top didn’t disappoint.

At the top we took off our shoes and a guide took us around the caves. Dambulla cave temple is a World Heritage Site and the best-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka. The temple is roughly 2000 years old and consists of five main caves with 153 Buddha statues spread across them. It was a real privilege to see these caves and definitely worth the long car trip to Kalutara afterwards.

The couple of days we had in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle weren’t enough to do the area justice but they were a good start. I’d love to return to Sri Lanka to visit more of the historical sites and speak to more local people.

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Let me know in the comments!

xxx