The Sri Lanka Travel Specialists
The Classic Sri Lanka Cultural Tour takes you deep back into history. You will gain a better understanding of the island’s remarkably rich cultural and religious history. The itinerary is designed also to uncover lesser-known, but still entrancing remains of Sri Lanka’s cultural past. Of course, we are able to tinker with this itinerary and add an extra night here and there or even add a different hotel in order to suit your needs.
Upon arriving in Sri Lanka, transfer to a convenient hotel close to the international airport. Relax and unwind after your flight, preparing yourself for the adventure ahead.
Journey to the Cultural Triangle in the North Central region. Your first stop this morning is Yapahuwa, described by the Insight Guide to Sri Lanka as "one of the great architectural wonders of the island.” Climb an impressive staircase, decorated by murals and guarded by lions, to what remains of the palace. If time permits visit Sasseruwa, an ancient cave monastery possessing a striking Buddha statue. Then onward to Aukana, where the Buddha stands 42 feet high. It is the best preserved statue in Sri Lanka. As night falls, proceed to Anuradhapura. Early next morning, if you wish, you can climb 1,840 steps, high above the palm trees, with the pilgrims to the summit of Mihantale rock. Mihintale is the cradle of Buddhism. The pagodas and monastic cave dwellings are more easily experienced. Thereafter, visit the fabulous 'Mahakanadarawa' stone bridge, which dates back to the 7th century and is situated in the midst of the forest.
Discover the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura: the royal capital of 113 ancient kings and once the greatest monastic city of the world. It served as Sri Lanka's capital for around 1,400 years until Polonnaruwa took over in 1073. Archaeologists in the 18th century felt they were discovering a lost city, and you will understand why as you gaze upon the remains of the palaces, statues and pleasure gardens. A second night in Anaradhapura.
Head further into the cultural triangle and discover the fascinating ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the Dambulla Cave Temple. Polonnaruwa became Sri Lanka’s royal medieval capital in 1073 and remained Sri Lanka’s capital until the late 13C. Today, the ancient city’s ruins remain in remarkably good order. The most impressive are the ancient sculptures of Lord Buddha at the Gal Vihara cut into Granite stone dating back to the middle of the 12C. The entire sculpture consists of four colossal statues of Buddha - a Samadhi image in meditation posture, a seated Buddha image inside a cave, a standing Buddha image which is 23ft in height, and recumbent Buddha measuring 46ft, depicting the passing away. The Archaeological Museum short drive away gives an insight into the kingdom.
Rise early and climb the magnificent Sigiriya Rock, another of Sri Lanka's fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites. No matter how often you climb to the summit of this one-time fortress of the murderous, maverick, yet brilliant Sinhalese king, Kassapa, the pleasure barely diminishes. Many scholars believe that Kassapa sought to rule as a God-king. About two hours can happily be spent walking through its water gardens, and then up the steep steps - either hewn out of the rock or on circular iron staircases - past the frescoes. In the afternoon, take in Dambulla Cave Temple. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, the Golden Temple, as it is also known, has five sanctuaries and is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings are of particular interest, as are the 157 statues.
After breakfast, head to Sri Lanka's hill capital - the small lakeside city of Kandy. On the way, visit ancient Aluvihara rock temple, located in Matale. Aluvihara is of great significance in the history of Buddhism. It was here that the oral teachings of the Buddha were committed to writing – the Tripitaka - for the first time in 3rd century AD. Visit the Temple of the Tooth where a sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha is enshrined since 4th Century A.D. The temple has decorative walls, a golden roof and fine woodwork. Religious services with traditional music and drumming are held daily at dawn, midday and in the evening where guests can participate. Learn of Kandy's rich ancient arts and crafts including drum making, Dumbara mat waving, and traditional Kandyan dance and drumming. Kandy's age-old botanical gardens, with its orchid collection and formally laid-out trees, is also a delight. Visit the British cemetery, where the tombs include that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and look in at the Archaeological Museum.
This morning you hop on aboard a train and head to Ella in the tea-growing Southern Highlands – a land of lush tea plantations, majestic peaks and rushing waterfalls. Sir Thomas Lipton launched his tea empire in the Hill Country’s Haputale Mountains. To see where it all began, visit Lipton’s Seat, his favourite vantage point to gaze upon his enormous estate. Adisham - a Benedictine Monastery with a century old stone buildings is also another interesting site to visit in Haputale. The Nine Arches Bridge is one of the iconic bridges in Sri Lanka and can be found between Ella and Demodara railway stations.
Today you travel to the southeast of Sri Lanka, a rural corner of the island famous for its huge game reserves, vast sugar cane and paddy fields, as well as a rich cultural heritage. En route, visit Buduruvagala to see Sri Lanka's tallest rock-cut Buddha statue, 51 ft. in height, and other Mahayana Buddhist statues dating back to the 8th-century AD. Travel on to Tissamaharama, the capital of the ancient Ruhunu Kingdom in the 2nd century B.C. Tissa, named after King Kavantissa, is dominated by gigantic semi-circle shaped Buddhist Dagobas (temples), lush green paddy fields and lotus-filled lakes. The sprawling Tissa Wewa was built by King Kavantissa 2,300 years ago. Several ancient Buddhist temples are all located.
Visit the sacred jungle shrine of Kataragama located nearby. This holy shrine was built by the warrior King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century B.C. to pay homage to God Kataragama. This shrine is worshipped by people of many faiths. Each day, the shrines come alive when poojas are presented to the Gods. The baskets filled with fruit and flowers, the aromas from burning incense and oil lamps, the sounds of dashing coconuts, clanging bells and continuous chanting all combine to provide a mesmerizing experience.
Travel along the scenic south coast to the historic city of Galle where you will spend two nights in the Galle Fort Hotel which began life as a 17th Century Dutch villa, now a fully restored boutique hotel offering magnificent accommodation in the heart of the Galle Fort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is an ideal base from which to explore its heritage and see life unfolds each morning within the Fort. This small walled city with about 300 homes and an old-world feel, still remain with its well preserved bastions, public buildings, churches, and lighthouse. Hours can be spent exploring the maze of narrow streets lined with quaint houses, Dutch and British period buildings still in use, the growing collection of art galleries, antique shops and restaurants. There are some fine beaches just outside of the Fort including Wijeya, Unawatuna, Mirissa and Hikkaduwa.
Two days in the beach town of Bentota complete your cultural holiday. Take the chance to learn about the ancient craft of mask making or visit Lunuganga Estate, the country home of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa
Jetwing Blue is a luxurious contemporary beach hotel in Negombo. Barely a trace of the old Blue Oceanic remains after an extensive refurbishment: the hotel is a light and airy hotel with a Mediterranean feel, only 20 minutes from the airport.
Forest Rock Garden Resort is inspired by the designs of ancient Sri Lankan kings. Ornate stone pillars and statues, ancient trees and ponds and waterways traverse a 50-acre wilderness. Those who built the temples of the nearby ruined capital of Anuradhapura would have approved.
Heritance Kandalama is a minimalist contemporary hotel cleverly designed by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s famous architecture guru. Bawa conceived this famous Sri Lankan hotel as 'an austere jungle palace’ located on the bund of an ancient 3rd century reservoir and captures the surrounding magical views from every angle
Cinnamon Citadel offers some of the most luxurious accommodation in Kandy. Now part of the highly-reputable Cinnamon brand, it provides tranquil riverside surroundings a 15-minute drive from the bustle of Kandy centre. Days begin to birdsong and perhaps a warm mist rolling away from the river.
Melheim Resort is a contemporary 14-room hotel on a ridge in Sri Lanka's enchanting southern highlands where morning mists can rise wispily from the valley below to reveal a stirring landscape
Kithala Resort, a three star hotel, lies in the deep south, in the town of Tissa. Wildlife enthusiasts will be particularly taken by its restful location close to the Tissmaharama reservoir. From your private balcony, relax on colonial-style cane chairs and watch an array of birds in the nearby rice fields, as well as the timeless rituals of paddy farming.
Fort Bazaar an 18-room luxury boutique hotel located in the heart of Galle Fort. Inspired by Portuguese heritage and contemporary design, this is a must-visit place in the Fort.
Club Villa is an enchanting holiday retreat on a broad and peaceful stretch of beach on the southern outskirts of Bentota. This much-loved property, originally built by Geoffrey Bawa, is cherished by a loyal clientele for a peaceful atmosphere in a pretty coconut grove, immaculate service and good-quality food.
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