Sri Lanka’s ancient kingdoms espoused Hīnayāna (Lesser Path) Buddhism, not majority Theravada (Greater Path) Buddhism. This choice initiated the country’s unique cultural traditions. Sacred Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first capital, was established around a cutting from the ‘tree of enlightenment’, Buddha’s fig tree. The second royal capital, Polonnaruwa, was established in the 1st century. A third early city is Sigiriya, a spectacular rock fortress with the remains of King Kassapa’s palace (5th c. AD). Most sacred is the shrine city of Kandy, capital of Sri Lanka’s hill country. Its priceless relic is Lord Buddha’s Sacred Tooth. The Golden Dambulla Cave Temple contains magnificent wall paintings and over 150 statues. Many riches from these sites are displayed in the National Museum, Colombo. Its greatest treasure is Rajasinha II’s golden crown.
From more recent times, the 16th-century Dutch town of Galle has ramparts built to protect goods stored by the Dutch East India Company. Sri Lanka also has famous tea plantations, manufacturing facilities and museums. Very distinctive is a wonderful 19th-century British tea-grower gentlemen’s club. A highlight from the 20th century is Geoffrey Bawa’s fine architecture, represented by his beautiful country estate with its magnificent garden and his lovely Colombo house.
Among Sri Lanka’s exceptional national parks is Wilpattu National Park, a series of fascinating lakes (willus). It is best for viewing elusive sloth bears and is known for its leopards. Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks, situated around two ancient man-made reservoirs, are linked by an elephant corridor. The animals use this to migrate seasonally between them. Udawalawe National Park’s extensive grasslands, scrub jungle and riverine forest are excellent for viewing wild elephants. Here, the Elephant Transit Home cares for orphaned, abandoned and displaced elephants. The lowland dry scrub of coastal Yala National Park harbours many leopards, elephants and spotted deer. Bundala National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, comprises a system of coastal lagoons and wetlands with almost 200 species of aquatic birds. The Millennium Elephant Foundation, meanwhile, rescues and cares for captive Asian elephants.
Combining UNESCO World Heritage sites of Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Kandy and Galle with a number of Sri Lanka's best wildlife sanctuaries including Wilpattu & Yala National Park. Read more