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Exploring the UNESCO sites of Sri Lanka

The small but mighty island of Sri Lanka is home to eight remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Travel specialist Brandon Clements has visited seven and is currently planning his trip to see the eighth – the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

Sacred City of Anuradhapura

UNESCO site Anuradhapura is famous for its well-preserved remains. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Langur monkeys are everywhere at this site. They scamper around the walls of the temples, eating the flower offerings laid by the Buddhist devotees and generally are extremely cheeky. 

Golden Temple of Dambulla

A few hours away, though still within the rainclouds, are the Dambulla Caves. This is the largest cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, where 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan Kings and four of gods and goddesses watched us exploring the five caves. The carvings and murals on the walls were beautifully ornate.

Ancient City of Sigiriya

Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is an ancient rock fortress selected by King Kasyapa (477–495 AD) for his new capital. On our visit, we climbed a tall spiral staircase, walked along a ledge and passed between two large lion feet carved into the face of the rock. At the top, it’s easy to build up a picture of ancient life here. Areas were set aside for living and ceremonies. There was even a swimming pool for the royals. This was a highlight of the whole trip, and the far-reaching views from the summit were the cherry on the cake. 

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The final sight of the cultural triangle was the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. The second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I. Although less well preserved as some other sights, the ruins only add to the historic charm. It was fascinating to walk around the ruins, seeing the gigantic stone Buddhas.

Sacred City of Kandy

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth is a Buddhist temple said to house one of Buddha’s teeth. It’s believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. At evening ceremonies, Buddhists from all nations offer flowers to the sound of horns, drums and murmured prayers. In Kandy there is also a botanical gardens by the Mahaweli River. With more than 4,000 species of plants, including spices, medicinal plants and a renowned collection of orchids, there was plenty to see. 

Central Highlands

Apart from the walks by lush green hills and huge waterfalls, one thing that must be done in the Central Highlands is visit one of the tea factories. Mackwoods is one of the most famous. This whole region is a feast for the eyes. 

Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

Picturesque Galle is located on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka. Built by Portuguese colonists, it displays an interaction between Portuguese and Sri Lankan architectural styles. The city was extensively fortified during the 17th century, and today Galle Fort is the largest European-built fortress in Asia. Many of the fort buildings have been converted into boutiques, luxury accommodation, restaurants and hip Sri Lankan bars.