Cultural Triangle Sri Lanka
The Cultural Triangle has a wealth of attractions, including five UNESCO World Heritage sites. The ruins of Anuradhapura and Polannaruwa, along with the town of Kandy form the triumvirate of unmissable sights that lend the region its name. Beyond these cultural hotspots lie other fascinating ruins and some superb national parks.
Located in Sri Lanka’s northern plains, Anuradhapura and Polannaruwa are bastions of Sinhalese traditions as well as architectural marvels. All that remains of these great cities today are captivating ruins that provide an insight into Sinhalese culture and inform visitors about the history of Buddhism. In fact, Mihintale, not far from Anuradhapura, is said to be where Mahinda introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
The Cultural Triangle has, however, much more to offer visitors who venture beyond these sights. The nymph frescoes at the spectacular Sigiriya Rock, and the murals in the Dambulla Cave Temples are excellent examples of Sri Lankan art, while tourists gape at the sheer size of the standing Buddha sculptures at Aukana and Sasseruwa. There are also the tranquil, abandoned monastery ruins of Ritigala and Arankele for those who want to escape the crowds.
Aside from the cultural sights, this diverse region also boasts a wealth of natural attractions. Visitors can intersperse their sightseeing with trips to Minneriya and Kaudulla national parks, where “the Gathering” the elephants takes place each year during the dry season. The parks also have a wide variety of birdlife.
The Cultural Triangle is well established on the tourist trail and visitors are catered for with comfortable and atmospheric hotels, a host of transport options and tour operators offering a variety of interesting outdoor activities such as hot-air ballooning and cycling.
Exploring the Cultural Triangle
The Cultural Triangle sees more visitors than most areas of Sri Lanka as it is home to numerous sights of historical interest, ranging from staggering ruins of great Sinhalese capitols and Buddhist monasteries to remarkable cave temples carved out of granite outcrops. Centrally located Habarana and Sigiriya are excellent tourist destinations in their own right, along with being good bases for day trips to Polannaruwa and Anuradhapura. Smaller and less-visited attractions towards the south of the region, such as the temple at Aluvihare or the Nalanda Gedige, can also be comfortably accessed but trips will need to be planned in advance. The region’s national parks are ideally positioned to break up an itinerary of historical sights.
Visitors to the Cultural Triangle often hire a car and driver, which makes getting around easier and less time consuming. Trains run from Colombo to both Anuradhrapura and Polannaruwa and bus services in the region are regular and reliable. Habarana is a key point for changing buses. Bear in mind, however, that some of the north-bound buses can be extremely crowded and travelling in them can be difficult. Dambulla, Habarana and Sigiriya are ideal bases for day trips to surroundings areas. To visit and sights located further afield, tourists without a car often choose to arrange tours through guesthouses or hotels, or hire a three-wheeler. The ruins at Anuradhapura and Polannaruwa are best explored on bicycle and these can be hired from nearby guesthouses. A jeep and driver are needed for park safaris, which can be arranged through hotels or at the entrance to the parks.