Kandy is one corner of the famous Sri Lankan Cultural Triangle, a large area in the south plains where pilgrims go to visit ancient temples, sacred trees and a rock fortress looming over the land below. The ancient city of Anuradhapura is home to large temples with impressive dagobas, water retaining tanks, palaces and the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi Tree. Dambulla is home to the famous Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya is the rock fortress waiting at the top of a steep climb. If you’re looking for some pampering, stay at the Serendib Leisure Sigiriya or if you’re on a budget, check out the Palitha Homestay close to Sigiriya.
The best way to see the Cultural Triangle is to climb Sigiriya in the early morning. Hikers might enjoy also climbing Pidurangala Rock which offers a great view of the fortress. Then visit Dambulla caves during the day. Leave Anurhadapura for the next day so that it can be enjoyed with plenty of time to spare. It’s best to hire a tuk-tuk, or if the car that drove from Kandy is still available, use that to get from one temple to the other in the ancient city.
The small mountain town of Ella is a little gem in the making. Still in the growing stage, it is a favorite among backpackers, hikers and mountain adventurers. The two famous hikes in Ella are Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock. Experienced hikers can do both on the same day, while some prefer to do one on each morning of their time in Ella. For a great lunch with cool ambience, head to Cafe Chill where everything is good (and when the sun comes down it turns into the hot night spot). Stay at 98 Acres if you’re looking for a fancy mountain escape or head over to the Waterfalls Homestay for an authentic Ella experience.
It’s best to take the train to Ella from Kandy. Another option is to take the train to Ella on Friday afternoon, spend the night in Ella and then take the train again on Saturday afternoon to Nuwara Eliya (the train station is called Nanu Oya). It really depends on how many weekends you have free for getaways!
The not-so-sleepy mountain town of Nuwara Eliya is peppered with quaint British architecture built during the colonial period. Being the favorite getaway of the British settlers, Nuwara Eliya has all the creature comforts: nice hotels, a great golf course, gorgeous parks and a huge lake. A great way to enjoy Nuwara Eliya is to stay at a Planter’s Bungalow hotel – there are fancy, boutique ones and comfortable, low-cost ones. There are plenty to choose from. Explore the tea plantations, hike through the fields and find hidden waterfalls. Learn to pick tea leaves from the pickers you will find along the way.
For a treat, go to Adma Agro for some fresh strawberries grown and harvested in Nuwara Eliya. Make sure to take some warm clothes as Nuwara Eliya is cold in the mornings and evenings.
No stay in Sri Lanka is complete without a hike up Adam’s Peak, also called Sri Pada Mountain. This pointy mountain is a center of pilgrimage for adherents of all four religions in Sri Lanka. The top of the mountain is where the Buddhists worship a footprint of Buddha, the same that Muslims believe was made by Adam, Hindus believe was made by Lord Siva, and Christians believe it was made by Jesus. All religious pilgrims climb the mountain together without judgement (usually).
There is a ‘season’ for climbing Adam’s Peak (when the rains are not battering the mountain). From the full moon in December to the full moon in April, pilgrims climb in the middle of the night in order to reach the peak by sunrise. It can take around five or six hours to reach the top, where it is windy and chilly. There are resting points along the way and also first aid areas next to praying spots and hot tea vendors and souvenir sellers. The peak is at 2,243 meters above sea level and gives a birds eye view of pretty much the entire island.
Hire a car to get to the area on Saturday morning, take it easy and then hike up during the night to reach the peak by sunrise. Then, take the day to rest before heading back to Kandy.