1. Dambulla Cave Temple
Situated in the central part of Sri Lanka, The Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla is an outstanding example of the religious art and expression of South and South-East Asia. The magnificent excavated shrine-caves, their statuary and painted surfaces are unsurpassed in degree and scale of preservation. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991, the Dambulla Cave Temple is actually the best-preserved and largest cave temple complex in the country. In the surrounding area are documented more than 80 caves, but major attraction are these 5 caves, which contain some authentic paintings and statues. All of these spectacular pieces of art are dedicated to Lord Buddha and his life. The total number of the masterpieces is as follows: 153 Buddha statues, 4 statues of gods and goddesses (including the god Vishnu and the god Ganesh and two statues of Hindu gods) and 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings. The incredible depictions on the walls of the caves include Buddha’s first sermon and the temptation by the demon Mara.
2. Sigiriya Rock
Standing majestically and overlooking proudly the luscious green jungle surroundings, the Sigiriya rock (or the “Lion rock”) is a large palace ruin and ancient fortress in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka. According to the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, called Mahavamsa, the Sigiriya rock was built by King Kasyapa, as son of King Dhatusena. In 473 AD the young king dethroned and killed his father, then usurped the throne which rightfully belonged to his elder brother Mogallana, who escaped to India. Kasyapa built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya Rock as a fortress, knowing that his elder brother someday will return to seek for revenge. The invasion finally came in 491 and Kasyapa rode out to battle in his war elephant, but his elephant got stuck in the mud and his soldiers abandoned him. Kasyapa committed suicide, rather than being captured. Some of the most outstanding features of the Sigiriya rock are the gardens: terraced gardens, cave and boulder gardens and water gardens, which are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. Of particular interest is the gallery of frescoes, which were painted on the sheer rock face. Only 22 out of estimated 500 pictures have remained now, but some of them are really in remarkably good condition. The Mirror Wall with Graffiti and the Lion Platform are also among the main merits of this fascinating site.
This mountain peak near Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka is believed to be the site of a meeting between the King Devanampiyatissa and the Buddhist monk Mahinda, which, according to the Sri Lankans, inaugurated the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Soon after the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the Mihintale Mountain started to serve as a residential area for the venerable monks, who were led by Arahath Mahinda Mahathera. Later with the royal patronage, this amazing sanctuary housed the multitude of with monastic buildings-stupas, bodhigharas and uposathgharas. Today Mihintale is a site of abandoned structures and several religious monuments, but also a pilgrimage site. At the foot of the mountain there are ruins of medical bath, a hospital, urns and a stone inscription and urns belonging to the ancient period. The site museum is located north of the ruins of the hospital and the most interesting exhibit, which could be seen there is the model of a relic chamber from a stupa. Ruins of large monastery could be found the steps leading to the summit of the rock and the monastery. The Kantaka Cetiya, the Ambasthala Dagaba and the Cave of Arahant Mahinda are among the other most distinguished attractions of the site.
4. Temple of the Tooth
Scenically located right in the heart of the town of Kandy, the Temple of the Tooth is the prime monument and the most sacred shrine of Buddhism. The temple is a centre of attraction not only for the Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist people but also for the Buddhists all over the world, as it is believed that it houses the left upper canine tooth of the Lord Buddha himself. The temple buildings cluster around the magnificent Kandy Lake. On the outside they are white with red and white roofs and are not lavishly decorated. In striking contrast to the plain exterior, the interiors are elaborately decorated with lacquer, ivory and inlaid woods. In a two-storey inner shrine fronted by two elephant tusks is kept the relic of the Buddha’s tooth. It is placed on a solid lotus flower made of gold, encased in jewelled casket, which sit on a large throne. The entire complex is surrounded by white stone wall. There are openings that give a filigree effect of the wall. During celebrations and special occasions, traditionally candles are placed in the openings and light up the entire front part. This is a really spectacular view, beautiful expression of spirituality and faith.
5. Dondra Head Lighthouse
Designed by Sir James Nicholas Douglass and constructed by William Douglass, the Dondra Head Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Sri Lanka and in Asia, located on Dondra Head the southernmost point in the country. It contains 14 two-panel yellow-coloured windows, seven floors and 196 steps to the top. All the building materials, including steel and bricks were imported from England. It is said that over 250 ships pass this area daily and, as the lighthouse is still active and helps guide ships and boats, most of them prefer using its beamed signals than the GPS. In case you intend to climb to the top of the Dondra Head Lighthouse, you should keep in mind it is strictly prohibited unless you possess a special permission. If you are lucky enough to get one, on your way to the top you may marvel fabulous views, including the old light house. There are 40 lights on top of the Lighthouse and one is with capacity of 1000 W, so that the lights are powerful enough to flash up to 30 nautical mile radius. Local people claim that the lighthouse is really spectacular, especially at night.
6. Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage
The most exciting place to visit in Sri Lanka, particularly if you are with children, is the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. This incredible 24-acres-large elephant orphanage was established 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife department and is the largest herd of elephants in captivity in the world. Today the number of animals that the Orphanage hosts is approximately 3000. About 110 people are employed to take care for the herd. About 14,000 kg of food are needed per day. After meals the elephants are driven for a leisurely bath across the road to Maha Oya River. From the terraces of Hotel Elephant Park or the Pinnalanda Restaurant tourists are able to watch that spectacle and enjoy their antics. Rest assured this is an experience that you can’t go through anywhere else in the world and will definitely touch your heart.
7. Peradeniya Gardens
Boasting proud and long history, Peradeniya Gardens of Sri Lanka have gone through colonialism and industrial change and today continue to flourish, representing significant national asset for the country. Initially managed by Alexander Moon, the Peradeniya Gardens started as a small cinnamon and coffee plantation. Today it is home to more than 4000 species from all the corners of the world and boasts more than 300 varieties of orchids, palm trees, medical plants and spices. The most entertaining segment located in this captivating botanical wonderland is the commemorative garden. This is the place where royalty and other international dignitaries have planted various trees and this way marked their visits to the astonishing island. It is noteworthy that during the rough and tumble years of World War II, the Peradeniya Gardens served as an operational headquarters of Lord Mountbatton. With the abundant wealth of flowers, trees, fruits and shrubs to explore, it is definitely of value to ramble around this extraordinary place or to spend the entire day relaxing inside the faunal treasure of Sri Lanka.
8. Ancient city of Anuradhapura
The oldest capital of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura, was established in 4th century BC and continued up to the beginning of the 11th century AD. What is really special about the city is that the sacred Bo Tree, which grown from a branch of the legendary Bodhi tree that Buddha attained enlightenment, while standing under, is situated in Anuradhapura. In the vicinity of the city are situated the remains of the towering Ruwanweliseya Dagaba, of The Kuttam Pokuna, of Brazen Palace, of The Seated Buddha, and many different Temples, Parks and Palaces – all of which carry the testimony to imaginative and proud people. Among the extended ruins that cover the ancient city of Anuradhapura are also bathing ponds, monasteries, alms halls, temples, Buddha images and majestic irrigation tanks and stone carvings. In the ancient city is located the oldest Stupa in Sri Lanka, called Thuparama Dagaba. Other large stupas in the area which are worth visiting are: the Ruvanvelisaya Stupa, the Abhayagiri Stupa and the Jetavana Stupa. The monuments of the ancient city of Anuradhapura are hiding some of the secrets of the remarkable history of Sri Lanka and have survived, surrounded by the solemn umbrage of the imposing trees, scions of splendid ancient parkland.
The ultimate place to enjoy beautiful beach and tranquillity is the Unawatuna resort, located five km south of Galle. The secluded beach community offers the tourists golden sand beaches, protected by coral reefs, wreck and reef diving and safe swimming. The village of Unawatuna gives great opportunities for accommodation for all budgets, including up-market hotels and private guest-houses. There you may also find the unusual mix of Internet cafes, handicraft shops and small supermarkets. Unawatuna is very rich in biodiversity; more than sixty species of endemic birds have been registered by the ornithologist in the locality. The Rumassala coral reefs, on the other hand, attract numerous divers annually. Eco trek in the shrub jungles of Rumassala is another thrill that you may experience there. So, in case you are searching for the perfect occasion to escape to some peaceful and exotic tropical paradise, Unawatuna is the place you should head to.
10. Yala National Park
One of the premier eco-tourism destinations in Sri Lanka is the Yala National Park – the second largest national park and the most visited in the country. Covering vast area of vast 97,878 hectares, the park boasts fairly dense secondary forest, fine coastline, small patches of mangrove vegetation and rich variety of wildlife. 215 bird species, 44 species of mammals and 46 reptile species are residents of the Yala National Park. What is also characteristic about the park is that it boasts huge number of cultural ruins with great significance. They bear testimony to previous civilizations, being important indication that much of the area used to be well-developed and populated.