Kandy | Regions of Sri Lanka | Red Dot Tours


The hill-country capital of Kandy lies on a plain amidst towering hills and looped by Sri Lanka's largest river: the Mahaweli.  The town’s pleasant temperate climate, its scenic location and its rich history has made it a favourite haunt for travellers. It is also the natural gateway to the stirring peaks of Sri Lanka’s hill country.  For almost two centuries Kandy provided a safe haven for the proud Kandyan Kingdom, until it finally fell to the British in 1815. Now a tiny but bustling city, Kandy still regards itself as the bastion of Buddhist philosophy.  During the month of August, Kandy dazzles with the sounds and lights of the Kandy Perehara – a magnificent procession where a sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is majestically paraded on elephant back along the streets of Kandy.
Don’t Miss
A pooja at the Temple of the Tooth in honour of Lord Buddha
Kandyan dancing and drumbeats
A stroll around Kandy Lake
The Kandy Perehara, one of the finest cultural festivals in Asia
Roses and orchids in Peradeniya’s Botanical Gardens
Golf or other outdoor activities at Victoria’s scenic Golf & Country Club
Elephants bathing in the river in the Pinnewala elephant orphanage
Trekking in the magnificent Knuckles mountain range
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Getting There
Kandy is a central destination from which other regions of the island can all be accessed.  It is also the halfway point from Colombo to the hill-country town of Nuwara Eliya. Kandy can be accessed by train or car along the main Colombo – Kandy road. Useful drive times:  Colombo to Kandy (3.5 hours); Kandy to Nuwara Eliya (3 hours); Kandy town to Victoria Golf & Country Club (45 minutes); Kandy town to Knuckles Range (1 hour); Kandy to Habarana (3 hours); Kandy to Galle (6-6.5 hours).

Historical Background
For two centuries Kandy’s monarchs, protected by Kandy’s natural forces of rivers, mountains and jungle, proudly withstood the onslaught of three European forces: the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. To this day it remains proud of its cultural heritage. The sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is enshrined here within the Dalanda Maligawa, also known as the Temple of the Tooth, that dates back to the 16th century.  Kandy is also home to the Buddhist chapters of Mallwatte and Asgiriya. The Kandyan culture is distinctly different from the island’s coastal areas.  An individual originally from this area is referred to as a `Kandyan’.  Distinct differences can be seen in the family names, traditional rituals, cuisine, and even the way in which the traditional sari is draped.  Kandy was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

The ascend to Kandy past Kadugannawa is quite dramatic, past a ring of mountains including the Bible Rock, several hairpin bends lined with wayside fruit stalls and a hint of the spectacular scenery to come deeper into the hills. Once across the bridge over the Mahaweli River, the Botanical gardens with over 60 hectares of immaculately designed lawns and tropical foliage, and the Peradeniya campus of the University of Sri Lanka come into view. Beyond this is Kandy’s traffic-crammed main town, a contrast to Kandy’s quieter suburbs. The main attraction in the city is the magnificent Dalada Maligawa, also known as the Temple of the Tooth, where a tooth relic of Lord Buddha is enshrined. The best time to visit is when a pooja (religious service) is being held at dawn, midday, or in the evening. The services are accompanied with traditional music and drumming. Golfers will love the Victoria Golf and Country Resort, situated 45 minutes drive to the east of the town. The 18-hole challenging course is one of the most picturesque in Asia, ringed by the picturesque Victoria reservoir and impressive peaks. The Knuckles Mountain Range which spreads across the districts of Kandy and Matale, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Knuckles camping and trekking is a rewarding experience.

Kandy town has several respected hotels overlooking the picturesque Mahaweli River including the Cinnamon Citadel, Mahaweli Reach, and Villa Rosa. Amaya Hills and Theva Residency are perched on hillocks overlooking Kandy town. The most luxurious option is arguably The Kandy House, a renovated manor house away from the main town which is widely praised. Just beyond Kandy town en route to Digana is the Earl’s Regency offering four-star comfort overlooking the Mahaweli River.

For those intent upon a sense of old colonial, the lakeside Suisse Hotel, housed in a colonial mansion which was at one time the residence of a British Governor, or the Queens Hotel located right opposite the Temple of the Tooth, might appeal.  Helga’s Folly – an individualistic slice of art nouveau overlooking Kandy Lake -- will appeal to those seeking an imaginative alternative to routine hotel life.

Thirty minutes from here is the picturesque Victoria Golf & Country Resort, one of the finest golf courses in Asia. Surrounded by the Knuckles Mountain Range and overlooking the Victoria reservoir, this is a self-contained holiday resort spread over 500 acres with recreational facilities and several villas and boutique hotels including the Tamarind Lodge, Bamboo, Sanctuary, Bougainvillea Retreat, Victoria Golf Chalets and the Cligendael.

Nature lovers might like to venture about half-an-hour beyond the Victoria Golf Club towards the Knuckles conservation range where the Rangala House, Corbet’s Rest, and Sir John’s bungalow offers comfortable accommodation. Camping in the Knuckles is offered by the reputed Leopard Safaris mobile camping company. There are several recommended holiday retreats located about 45 minutes south and north of Kandy town including Mas Villa, the Weir House and Ashburnham Estate. Ellerton is a popular choice en route to Nuware Eliya. Jim’s Farm set within a fruit and vegetable plantation between Kandy and Dambulla in the Cultural Triangle is a relaxing holiday setting.

Food & Drink
Kandyan cuisine has a distinct flavor. Ambul Thiyal, for example, is a popular sour fish curry. Traditionally in the villages, lunch is taken to the fields, or for a special occasion, in a Kuruni basket with rice and curries wrapped in banana leaf. Most of the hotels and guest houses in Kandy offer Asian and western dishes. Cinnamon Citadel is popular for their lunch time buffet and The Kandy House serves delicious fusion cuisine.

Kandy is not renowned for shopping or for independent bars and restaurants, but it has the usual selection of small shops selling gems & jewellery, clothing and souvenirs. For traditional arts & crafts, we recommend buying direct from the villages, which therefore derive maximum benefit from the income. For cane and reed wear, try Wevaldeniya before you get to Kandy; for handmade brass wear including oil lamps and wall hangings, visit Gadaladeniya.


Kandy Perehara:   In August each year, the spectacular Esala Perehara winds its way through the streets of Kandy.  This is a time when tradition, religion, and the arts all come together in honour of Lord Buddha.  For ten nights under the moonlit sky, Kandy dazzles. Musicians, dancers, Kandyan chieftains and hundreds of elephants dressed in glittering royal finery move to the rhythm of the Kandyan drums.  Reels of white carpet are laid on the roads for one special elephant, the temple tusker that bears the tooth relic of Lord Buddha encased in a golden casket.  This historic ritual is one of the finest festivals in Asia.

Donald Steel Golf Tournament:  The annual Donald Steel Trophy takes place at the Victoria Golf & Country Resort in February.  An anticipated event in the Sri Lanka Golf Calendar, this amateur golf tournament attracts more than 100 players from about 15 countries including golfers from the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

Kandyan Temples
The Temple of the Tooth, Gadaladeniya, Lankatillake, Embekke, and the Galengolla Potugul Viharaya are all ancient Buddhist temples that date back to the Kandyan Kingdom and are adorned with ornate columns, temple paintings and statues.
Kandyan Walawuas
Sprawling ancestral mansions (walawuas) passed down in generations still remain belonging to various Kandyan families. Notable features are the verandas, courtyards, columns and the 'atuwa', or granary, which was used to store paddy. The Kandy House is an example of a magnificent walawua.
Mahaweli River Expedition
Journey along Sri Lanka’s longest river – the mighty Mahaweli, in kayaks and canoes on a 70 km wilderness expedition. Wind your way through the Wasgamuwa National Park where herds of elephants roam free. This is a flat water expedition with a few Grade II rapids for added excitement. No prior paddling experience is necessary but, participants must have a reasonable level of fitness. This is an adventurous journey along a stretch of the Mahaweli River that has only been explored by a few.
The Kandyan Art forms
Historically, the distinct Kandyan art forms and artisans have always been held in high esteem, with patronage of the king. The Kandyan dancer, drummer, musician, artist and the craftsmen – all contributes significantly to the vibrant culture, lifestyle and economy of the area. Daily Kandyan dance performances are held in town by the Temple of the Tooth.
Kandyan Crafts
Kandy’s artisans produce intricate crafts as home-based cottage industries. Different villages in Kandy specialize in specific artistic skills that have been handed down to generations. Drum making is done in Kurugala, mat weaving in Dumbara and brass and silver wear and wood carving in Gadaladeniya. Cane and reed wear is produced in a village hamlet called Wewaldeniya which is enroute to Kandy. The roadside along the way is lined with small shops selling baskets, furniture and other house hold items. Visiting villages where these crafts are produced and purchasing directly from the source contributes towards enhancing their incomes as well as the preservation of these ancient crafts.
Kandy National Museum
Situated behind the Temple of the Tooth, in a building of historical and architectural interest, the Kandy’s National Museum provides a glimpse into the Kandyan period in the 17th-18th Century. Various items donated to the Sri Dalada Maligawa by kings, noblemen, and other devotees have been put on display. The upper levels of the building houses rare Ola m manuscripts, Royal apparel, life size models of the lost King and Queen of Kandy, and a variety of antiquities. The Museum is closed on Fridays & Saturdays.
Temple of the Tooth
A sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka in 4th Century A.D. and was enshrined within the Dalanda Maligawa, or the Temple of the Tooth. This sacred relic has ever since been the symbol of sovereignty for the Sinhalese kings and always enshrined in great splendour. Kandy’s Dalada Maligawa is a magnificent shrine, with decorative walls, golden roof and fine woodwork and its 16th – 19th century ambience still vividly alive. Religious services (pooja) are held daily at dawn, mid-day, and in the evening and can be viewed by visitors. The services are accompanied with traditional music and drumming. Although the tooth relic cannot be seen within the temple as it is securely enshrined within, on the Esala full moon day of July/August each year, the sacred tooth relic, encased in a golden casket, is taken in procession (a perahara), on the back of the temple elephant along the streets of Kandy for all to see.
Victoria Golf & Country Resort
The course’s accolades speak for themselves: ‘Best Course in Asia 2005’ Asian Golf monthly ranked in ‘Top 100 Most Beautiful courses in the World,’ by Golfers Digest. Set in the spectacular Kandyan hill country, about 40 minutes east of Kandy, this Donald Steel designed course is a true test of golfing ability. Victoria, at 6,290m, is much longer than the island’s other two courses and length off the tee is rewarded, particularly on the four par 4s, which measure more than 450m off the back markers. The front nine offers the hilliest section of the course - the narrow 2nd is particularly challenging. The back nine finds some of the most picturesque fairways at Victoria, threading their way through Jak tree forests, majestic Mara trees and pepper vines. Good caddies and cunning ball-finders are always at hand and professional coaching is available.
Trekking in the Knuckles
The Knuckles mountain range (so called because of its appearance resembles a set of knuckles in a closed fist) lies within the district of Kandy and Matale in central Sri Lanka. It consists of five mountain peaks with the highest point about 6,000 ft above sea level and spans about 155 sq kms. A wide variety of rare and endemic flora and fauna makes this wilderness area a storehouse of rich biodiversity. Red Dot can offer either a daily Knuckles trek or hill-country walking holidays for the serious trekker who yearns for get-away-from-it-all camping or for the gentle walker who likes a hot bath and a warm bar at the end of a contented and wearying day. Trek through dense forests, along rivers and waterfalls, past tea plantation and terraced paddy fields, and along the way, visit some of the small rural village communities.
Maximus Elephant Dung Paper project
Named after the Asian elephant, Eliphus Maximus, this is a pioneering project that produces beautiful paper out of recycled elephant dung. Maximus creates awareness and provides much needed employment to the village community. Their workshops are located in Pinnawala just down the road from the Elephant Orphanage. Do your gift shopping at the Maximus sales outlet located in Pinnawala. Maximus Elephant Dung Paper was the winner of a World Challenge conducted by BBC and Newsweek.
Nilambe Meditation Centre
Located in Galaha, approximately 20 kms south of Kandy, the Nilambe Meditation center offers guided meditation retreats for extended periods to males as well as females. There is a daily set schedule of meditation classes and visitors not intending to learn meditation are not encouraged. Vegetarian meals and accommodation is available. It is recommended that you take your own bedding (a sleeping bag), although a blanket is provided, and a flashlight as there is no electricity. A large library of books and a tape library are available. Beautifully positioned with great views, Nilambe Meditation Center is ideal for those who are serious about meditation. To get to the Center from Kandy, you reach the Nilambe Office junction, after which there is a steep 3 km walk through tea plantations.
Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage
Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage near Kandy was set-up to protect the island’s abandoned or orphaned wild elephants. From small, modest origins it has grown into one of Sri Lanka’s most famous attractions. Pinnewala enthralls adults and children alike. Roaming free within the Sanctuary, except when occasionally shepherded by their Mahouts (keepers) the elephants’ highlight is their regular bathing sessions. The sight of herds of elephants splashing and playing in a river has charmed countless tourists.
Kandy Royal Botanical Gardens
Just outside of Kandy in Peradeniya are the magnificent Royal Botanical Gardens. First conceived as a Queen’s pleasure garden in the 14C, a Kandyan Prince’s residence in the 18C, the gardens were formally opened under their current guise in 1821. Over 60 hectares of tranquil, immaculately designed lawns, borders, pavilions and plant houses. Walking around you could easily think you are in Kew or Stourhead such is the English feel, but the heat and extraordinary diversity of the tropical plants give the game away. One of the great things about the Botanical Gardens is that they are as popular with Sri Lankans and tourists alike, and they are large enough to guarantee that there is shady seating available for each visitor. There is also a café. Easy to visit by foot, there is however the option of taking a tour by cattle-drawn carriage.
Udawattekelle Sanctuary
To the north of Kandy Lake lies Udawattakele Sanctuary. Unique because it is effectively a rainforest within a city, Udawattakele is ideal for those who enjoy exploration at an easy pace. Alongside the forest’s paths is a plethora of exotic flora and fauna. By no means developed as an attraction, the most common sight within are amorous young couples out for romantic strolls or hidden liaisons. Aside from this the sanctuary is packed with interesting sights for the keen observer.

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