Normally, I would have checked the list of UNESCO World heritage sites in Sri Lanka before heading out to the country. Our trip was so sudden and we had no time to plan it out which turned out to be a good thing. That being said, we did not realize that we had covered most of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka till we got back. It was only then that I realized that it is easy enough for a tourist to visit them all when in the country. Most of them are along the same trail and are fairly easy to do. One downside is that since they are UNESCO sites, the entrance fees can get quite pricey. There is a way to get a cheaper ticket though and we were lucky enough to meet the criteria.
DISCOUNTED ENTRANCE FEES TO THE UNESCO SITES IN SRI LANKA
It was only after we made the long journey to Polonnaruwa by bike that we realized that discounted fares to some of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka was the real deal. If you have been to any of the sites you will probably know that the entrance fees range from 10 to 30 USD. So, when we realized that the discount cut the fees in half for each location we were ecstatic.
Now don’t get too excited. The discount applies to people who belong to the SAARC countries which include India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan. All you have to do is produce your passport to get a 50 percent discount on the entrance fee. We found that this discount applies to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. The Dambulla cave temple doesn’t apply. You would have to check it out with the other UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka as I don’t have much information on them.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN SRI LANKA
All in all, Sri Lanka has just eight UNESCO world heritage sites. Two of these are forested lands and the remaining six are old structures. While we did not visit the forests, we did manage to tick off five of the UNESCO sites on the list. One thing that I can attest to is that each and every site that we visited was beautiful, fascinating and well maintained.
The Old Town Of Galle And Its Fortifications
Galle is one of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka.
GETTING THERE: Galle is a short bus journey away from Colombo.
WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at a delightful place called Hansa Villa in Unawatuna which is a short drive away. Alternatively you could choose to stay in Galle and explore the fort from there.
The old town of Galle is fascinating. I still remember as we drove up to the wall of the ancient fortification. The giant arches welcome you into a totally different world. It feels as if you leave the chaos of the city behind as you walk through the magic portal, namely the gate. The streets of the city are quiet and peaceful. Most of the people tend to walk around rather than drive. It allows you to soak in the atmosphere. What atmosphere you may ask. It is the narrow lanes lined with old European like houses and streets paved with cobbled stones.
As you wander you will catch a glimpse of the famous sights in the area. The lighthouse, the religious sites, the old dutch hospital and the fort wall. If you climb up on to the wall you will be greeted by the sound of the water lashing against the rocks below. The view is spectacular and certainly worth sitting down and watching. I could go on and on about how much I loved Galle but I already have a post up which has all the details about it. You can check it out if you haven’t read it before. You’ll find the link in the related article section below.
Central Highlands Of Sri Lanka
Central Highlands are one of the popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
LOCATION: Three locations in the middle of the country near Kandy and Nuwara Eliya
GETTING THERE: None of the three locations are really accessible by public transport. The best way to get there is by car or with local tour agents.
WHERE TO STAY: For the Knuckles Range, you can stay in Kandy or there are guesthouses closer to the park. For the Horton Plains National Park and the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, you can stay in Nuwara Eliya.
The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka World Heritage Site is made up of three natural reserves, each with similar landscapes but with their own unique features. The northernmost, near Kandy, is the Knuckles Conservation Forest. It’s popular for its hiking trails that take you over mountains, past waterfalls, and amongst lush flora filled with wildlife. It’s a great day trip from Kandy and a good way to see some of Sri Lanka’s best highlands nature.
Further south, close to Nuwara Eliya, is the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, which is famous for Adams Peak. It may not be the highest mountain in Sri Lanka but it’s probably the most famous. Adams Peak is spiritually significant and is a pilgrimage destination for several faiths. For the adventurous, the best way to see the peak is from the top and most people start the climb at about 2 am to reach the summit for sunrise.
Horton Plains National Park is also near Nuwara Eliya and makes a great day trip from the tea town. It has great hiking trails but the most famous one leads you to a spot called The World’s End that offers an incredible view across the highlands and out to the ocean from the top of a 1200 metre high cliff. Clouds tend to roll in and obscure the view by mid-morning so most people get up early to do the walk
(Information on Central highlands of Sri Lanka was provided by Michael Turtle from Time Travel Turtle)
Sigiriiya and its lion rock is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka.
LOCATION: Northern Matale District near Dambulla
GETTING THERE: The easiest way to get to Sigiriya is to take a bus or a tuk-tuk from Dambulla. We rented a motorbike and rive around. If you do the same, make sure that you have a temporary driving permit from Colombo. You aren’t allowed to drive as a tourist without one.
WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at Richwin Villa in Dambulla
Sigiriya is one of the most famous UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka which makes it one of the most visited ones too. The Sigiriya fortress is situated at the top of an enormous rock and the history of the site can be traced back for centuries. While the lion rock is the star attraction, it isn’t the only thing that one can see when they visit. Ancient paintings, sprawling lawns, moats and gorgeous views are all part of the package.
Climbing to the top of the fortress is fairly easy and there well marked paths, steps and even railings to hold on to. I must warn you that it is a climb so you may get tired if you aren’t in the best shape. Climb slowly and make your way up to the top. The view from there is certainly worth the effort. I won’t go into the details of it since I already have a post that talks about the tickets, landmarks, discounts etc. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest checking out the link in the related articles section below.
Polonnaruwa is one of the most gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.
LOCATION: Polonnaruwa district, North Central Province.
GETTING THERE: You can take a tuk-tuk, cab or bus from Dambulla.
WHERE TO STAY: While you can stay in Polonnaruwa, we chose to use Dambulla as our base. We stayed in Richwin Villa.
Polonnaruwa is a lesser known UNESCO world heritage site in Sri Lanka but in my opinion I think it is much better that Sigiriya and Anuradhapura. The gorgeous gated ancient city covers a vast expanse of land and is extremely well maintained. The Polonnaruwa complex comprises of a number of ruins from that of a palace to religious structures and baths. The map that is provided when you enter gives you a fairly accurate idea of where to go.
People choose to walk or cycle through the complex. Since we had rented a motorbike and it was allowed inside we rode. The gorgeous structures have inscriptions so you can read and understand the structures when you reach them. One thing that I liked about the place was that it had plenty of public facilities. I won’t go on about the complex as I already have a detailed guide. You can check it out in the related articles below.
RELATED ARTICLES: Polonnaruwa: Exploring The Ruins Of An Ancient City
The Sacred City Of Kandy
Kandy is another popular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka.
GETTING THERE: Train from Ella or Columbo
Kandy is the original capital of Sri Lanka situated in the central hills province surrounded by rolling hills of tea plantations. It remains the spiritual capital of the nation and UNESCO World Heritage site. This is mostly due to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which houses the tooth of Buddha. It’s believed that whoever holds this relic holds the governance of the country.
Kandy is still a busy commercial centre despite the Colombo taking the lead role in commerce since 1815. The city and temple sit at the northern end of the large man-made Kandy lake. Accommodation options surround the lake and buildings edge up into the surrounding forested hills where monkeys scuttle overhead in hurried, inquisitive packs.
Local sights include the Ceylon tea museum which does a great job of explaining how tea is made using processes almost unchanged since British rule. The bohemian Helga’s Folley is an eccentric, eclectic and extravagant hotel and restaurant sat amid the forest. The perfect setting for a Halloween or murder mystery night!
Kandy also acts as a gateway to the central hills including one of the most scenic, slow and iconic train rides in the world, the Kandy to Ella railway.
(Information on Kandy was provided by Warren from Sling Adventures)
Anuradhapura is one of the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.
LOCATION: North Central Province
GETTING THERE: Anuradhapura is well connected and you can catch a bus from Kandy, Colombo, Polonnaruwa or Dambulla to reach the city.
WHERE TO STAY: We did Anuradhapura as a day trip from Dambulla and stayed at Richwin Villa. Staying in Anuradhapura is also a worthwhile alternative.
Anuradhapura is the capital of the Northern Province but is more popularly known because it is a famous UNESCO World Heritage site in Sri Lanka. The city is a mix of modern infrastructure which has developed around the ruins of an ancient city. In a way you can see how the city evolved over time. Anuradhapura was also one of the ancient capitals of the country and this beautiful city continues to attract tourist to it from all over.
The gorgeous stupas will quickly catch your attention as you move through the city. The government has been working on restoring and maintaining all the iconic structures and they are doing quite a good job of it. One thing that will become clear the moment you open your maps is that Anuradhapura covers a cast area. Some people choose to ride a bike and explore it. Others prefer to have a tour. I won’t go into the details since I’ve already covered it in a post before. You’ll find the link in the related articles section below.
RELATED ARTICLES: Anuradhapura: Wandering Around The Ancient City
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja is another popular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka.
LOCATION: Sinharaja Forest Reserve
GETTING THERE: The forest reserve is situated about 120 km southeast of Colombo and can be easily reached by road. You can easily hire a cab or get a car rental and drive to the reserve.
WHERE TO STAY: The Rainforest Eco Lodge
Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a lowland evergreen rainforest in the heart of Sri Lanka. Mostly untouched, the forest is believed to have been the abode of the Lion King who is said to be the ancestor of the Sinhalese people. The forest was declared by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site in 1988 due to the biosphere reserves and its importance in Sri Lanka’s ecosystem. Different to the drier vegetation as found in other national parks like Yala and Udawalawe, the forest in Sinharaja reserve is dense and green and makes wildlife spotting difficult. However, it is a paradise for bird enthusiasts and has quite a few endemic species too.
Once inside the forest, you will feel as if transformed into Amazon’s rainforests will tall dense trees surrounding you and hardly anyone around. Popular for trekking, we recommend getting a guide to explore the forest as getting lost is quite easy. There aren’t too many hotels near the forest however, there are a couple of eco-resorts situated about 15-20 km away from the reserve.
(Information on Sinharaja Forest Reserve was provided by Purajini from My Soul Travels)
The Dambulla Cave Temple
Another gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka is the Dambulla Cave Temple.
GETTING THERE: Dambulla is well connected by road and you can catch a bus to Dambulla from Kandy, Colombo, Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa or Anuradhapura.
WHERE TO STAY: Richwin Villa
We did not realize that the Dambulla Cave temple was one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka until after we visited it. From the outside, a large seated Buddha is the first thing that you will notice. The Golden colour used to paint it is what gives it the name ‘Golden temple’. The Dambulla cave temple however is a good climb up and is situated on to of the rocky hill behind the golden Buddha.
It is a nice walk up and it is only difficult because it is a bit long. The UNESCO site comprises of a number of caves that were used and are still used as places of worship by the Buddhists in the area. The inside of these caves have gorgeous paintings and beautiful sculptures. Despite the crowds, the cave temples remain peaceful and calm.
RELATED ARTICLES: Dambulla Travel Guide: All You Need To Know About The City
We tried to cover as many of the UNESCO Heritages sites in Sri Lanka as we could. I think the next time we visit the country we should be able to tick all of the remaining sites of our list.