What makes Sri Lanka the ultimate tropical paradise
What happens when an island-country comes out of thirty years of civil war, remembers that its countless temples and monasteries are UNESCO enlisted and its natural wonders are still shining against the tropical sun of the Indian Ocean?
Sri Lanka happens.
Traveling around the island of Sri Lanka, previously known as Ceylon, creates a mix of feelings that it is difficult to define. People are waking up to a western world eager to conquer the ultimate island paradise and locals are not shy to grab opportunities as they come around.
After all, Sri Lanka was discovered and brought up by a series of European dominations. Portuguese merchants followed by fellow Dutch seamen and their British counterparts all fell for the raw beauty of this island and made their home here until 1948 when Ceylon gained full independence.
With so much history to tell, the best way for me to start the exploration of Sri Lanka was from the north-central area known as the Cultural Triangle. The UNESCO-protected rock of Sigiriya and the ancient capital of Polonnaruwa, as well as the caves of Dambulla with the Giant Buddha, were on top of my list.
Sigiriya is a mix between a stroll in the park, better known as the King’s Pleasure Gardens and an arduous hike to the top of the rock, where you can still see the ruins of an ancient royal palace. Rumor has it that the king at that time ordered the construction of this fortress after having killed his father and seized the throne by force. He locked himself here and consumed his last days in sorrow and fear.
The fortress, to date, is still quite a spectacular site with incredible views from the top.
The downside is that the general maintenance is very poor and there is almost no security to protect the ruins from herds of ruthless Asian tourists.
Small lodges of which you should all beware of surround Sigiriya. The concept of hygiene is not entirely understood around here and small guesthouses might easily turn out to be dirty or infested due to the lake proximity. Trust only bigger hotels and resorts in the area.
Not far from Sigiriya is the ancient capital of Sri Lanka, yet another stunning UNESCO protected site known as Polonnaruwa.
Here you have to allow yourself at least 4 hours to visit the entire site, see the ruins of the palace and the ancient statues of the many Buddhas all around.
What surprised me during my visit is that everything can be photographed here, even with the use of flash. The only discretion that the local authorities implemented is the ugly selfie-stick ban.
The Cultural Triangle is not complete without a visit to the Caves of Dambulla and the Giant Buddha. 5 caves and countless statues in various shapes and sizes made this site my favorite among the ones I visited in Sri Lanka.
Of course, each site has an entry ticket expertly divided in two categories: foreigners and locals. And it is not cheap.
Sigiriya Rock : 30USD/foreigners – 30cents/locals
Polonnaruwa: 25USD/foreigners – undisclosed for locals
Dambulla Caves: 10USD/foreigners – 2USD/locals
There is still a lot to come for Sri Lanka, and the local population is undeniably getting ready for that. They will offer an almost unexplored tropical paradise; we will find a cheaper alternative to the neighboring Maldives, but with more to explore.