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The Ancient Cities region is Sri Lanka’s historic, cultural and geographic epicenter. Kings have called the region home for more than 1500 years and their subsequent dynasties have left the area littered with ruined palaces, forts, temples and artwork. Significant irrigation systems are another remnant and today there are large reservoirs (or tanks, as they are called locally) that support human and wildlife populations. Aficionados of Buddhist art are particularly interested in the area for its wealth of Buddhist sculptures and paintings; the statue-work inside the cave temples in Dambulla are some of the finest anywhere on the ...

The Ancient Cities region is Sri Lanka’s historic, cultural and geographic epicenter. Kings have called the region home for more than 1500 years and their subsequent dynasties have left the area littered with ruined palaces, forts, temples and artwork. Significant irrigation systems are another remnant and today there are large reservoirs (or tanks, as they are called locally) that support human and wildlife populations. Aficionados of Buddhist art are particularly interested in the area for its wealth of Buddhist sculptures and paintings; the statue-work inside the cave temples in Dambulla are some of the finest anywhere on the sub-continent. Holy sites likewise abound, such as the Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred Bodhi tree in the heart of Anuradhapura’s cultural complex. The most visually inspiring sight is at Sigiriya, where a ruined fortress sits atop an enormous magma plug jutting hundreds of feet out of the jungle floor. Walkers can hike to the peak for spectacular views and a glimpse of royal life long since extinguished. East of Sigiriya is Polonnaruwa, a one-time royal capital and repository of some of the best architectural relics in the region, including bulging dagobas (stupas) and serenely reclining Buddhas. Accommodations throughout the region are excellent and plentiful, offering everything from quaint guesthouses to safari-style lodges set on the edge of elephant-filled game parks.

Michael Kohn
About the Expert

Michael Kohn is the author of Lonely Planet guides to Israel & the Palestinian Territories, South Africa, Tibet, Central Asia, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka.

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Michael Kohn for Triporati

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Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    April to September