It’s amazing how time flies, it feels like just yesterday I was exploring the Cultural Triangle Sri Lanka. It’s been nine months since I visited one of my favourite and most eye-opening countries to date. I’m still dreaming of this beautiful country, the amazing people and the delicious food. Some places truly stay with you a long time after you have visited. This post was sitting in my drafts for a long time because there was just so much information I wanted to include, to help you guys plan your own trip to the Cultural Triangle.

For those who don’t know, it is a centre for culture, history and heritage in the country and some pretty awe-inspiring sights lie waiting for those travellers who venture into its midst. The spiritual heart of the country encompasses ancient cities, and a treasure trove of incredible natural sights, ruins and wildlife. It is definitely somewhere not to be missed when planning your stay.

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Getting to the Cultural Triangle Sri Lanka:

Where is it?

Just north of Kandy, the Cultural Triangle stretches between Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla. It covers everything from ancient cities and both historical and religious sites. To cave temples, elephant safaris and the iconic Sigiriya Rock.

How do you get there?

  • It’s easily accessible by bus/taxi/train from Colombo (where the airport is) or even by internal flight depending on your budget/timescale.
  • It will take 2-3 hours to reach Kandy by public transport and then depending where you are staying, a further hour+.
  • Direct transfers from the airport will take around 3.5 hours to Habarana, 4.5 hours to Anuradhapura, and 2.5 hours to Kandy.

Planning your itinerary

It can easily be planned into various itineraries whether you would prefer to visit the beaches of the East Coast, head south to Kandy, Ella and Yala National Park. Or you could head to the south-western beaches such as Bentota and Mirissa. You have the option of travelling independently, as I did, which is very easy to organise due to the fantastic public transport system. Or you can book a tour if you prefer to have everything organised for you.

Habarana Hideaway

Where to stay?

Dambulla

We started our time in the Cultural Triangle Sri Lanka by staying in Dambulla which was nestled in the bottom left corner of the Triangle, nearest Kandy. It was a great location to start by exploring Sirigya Rock and some local temples, plus we also got to experience a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the jungle. We stayed at Diyabubula Hideaway which was a gorgeous artists’ retreat and boutique accommodation. It offered a taste of luxury and creativity on the corner of the Cultural Triangle.

Habarana

For the second half of our stay in the Cultural Triangle Sri Lanka, we stayed in Habarana which proved a much better location for exploring. There were regular buses to nearby Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to explore the temples and historical sites, it was easy to do everything independently.

For a more budget-friendly and authentic local experience, Habarana Hideaway was one of my favourite places we stayed in Sri Lanka. A family-run guest house, we stayed in a brand new apartment overlooking the family’s own organic garden and rice paddy. The family would collect fresh fruits and vegetables for our morning juices and for our dinners. We were given a warm welcome and were invited to eat with the family each night. Our wonderful host took it upon himself to show us the town and the Cultural Triangle. He organised safaris, drivers, visits to the attractions and UNESCO sites, and even took us to the markets. If you want true Sri Lankan hospitality at its finest, this is where you should stay.

Other areas to stay

What is there to see?

Anuradhapura

One of Sri Lanka’s ancient cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Anuradhapura is a former capital city, from the 4th century BC, set on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya. Surrounded by Buddhist monasteries and one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world. It makes for a breathtaking sight as you wander through the well-preserved ruins of this ancient civilisation. Make sure you give yourself a full day to explore as you’ll find endless ruins, carvings and statues waiting to be discovered.

Polonnaruwa

One of my favourite parts of the Cultural Triangle. This ancient city is a must-see while in Sri Lanka with the spectacular Buddha statues and beautiful ruins that have survived for hundreds of years. With the Royal Palace and several of the huge Buddha statues still intact, this one makes for great exploring and you’ll need most of a day here. It’s worth renting a bike from the bike stall near the bus stop as there is a lot of ground to cover and it’s a great place to cycle around. Check out the lakes and museum first for a bit of background knowledge about the ruins.

Dambulla

Dambulla is a great base for exploring the Cultural Triangle. As well as everything I’ve already mentioned, there is also the Golden Temple, Dambulla Cave Temples, the rose quartz mountain range and ironwood forest nearby. World Heritage Site – The Golden Temple of Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave system in the whole country. It has 80 caves, with five filled with paintings and statues, including a 14m statue of Buddha. Each of these take a few hours to walk around and prepare to be wowed by the sights that await you.

Sigirya Rock

See natural and man-made Sri Lanka combine at it’s finest at the spectacular Sigirya Rock. This ancient rock fortress holds the ruins of a 5th century city which are another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Arrive early to beat the crowds and tour groups (trust me it gets so busy!)
  • Make sure you have plenty of water because the steep stairs are directly in the hot sun
  • It only really takes around 30-60 minutes but if you get stuck in a slow procession, it could take hours

During the climb, spot the famed Mirror Wall which was said to be polished to such a shine for King Kashyapa to see his reflection. Plus countless frescoes and the spectacular Lion Gate. Take the time to check out the views from the top and bring your camera. For a more unique view, why not hike nearby Pidurangula Rock, which offers a great view from the top of Sigirya Rock?

Habarana

Habarana is a great place to be based in the Cultural Triangle with great access to all these attractions and the shortest travelling time. It is also a gateway to safaris in Minneriya National Park which is home to hundreds of Sri Lankan elephants, leopards, loris and sloth bears. If you’re a nature-lover, you will be in your element and will definitely want to go on safari here. But do be careful who you book to do a tour with, first read my experience of seeing 100 elephants on safari here.

When to go?

It’s important to plan your stay and to look at the changing seasons during your stay as Sri Lanka changes dramatically from dry to wet season. This could really affect your activities and even the access to national parks and certain ruins due to monsoon season.

When I visited (In November) it was definitely heading into the rainy season. We found certain times quite stormy and unpredictable, especially on the East Coast. Luckily we were blessed with fantastic weather when we visited the Cultural Triangle Sri Lanka. But I would really recommend avoiding the northeast monsoon season between November and March. We were lucky to avoid it but could see how the rain had left some parts inaccessible.

Dry season hits different areas at different times, so plan your visit accordingly. But April to September is the best time to visit, with temperatures sticking around 26-32°C all year round.

How to dress?

Don’t forget that some of these are Buddhist monasteries and religious sites. Dress appropriately, ladies take a shawl or something for your shoulders and try to wear trousers or a long skirt. Be respectful.

Have you visited the Cultural Triangle – what was your favourite part? Have you visited any other UNESCO World Heritage Sites? What do you prefer – history and culture, or beaches and partying when you travel?