Holy Moly, There Are Heaps Of Sacred Sites In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is teeming with incredible sacred sites to walk around, venture up and admire the heck out of. It pays to carry your camera, because seeing is believing in these parts.
It’s also wise to pack a scarf: it has multiple applications as a sarong or pants, a shoulder cover, or way to protect your face and body from the elements if need be.
Here’s five beautiful and iconic sacred sites to visit from all around the stunning island.
#1 Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Central Sri Lanka
Also known as Lion Rock, Sigiriya Rock Fortress is truly the king of the jungle. The central column of the rock is around 180m high, and if you can endure the vertigo-inducing walk up more than 1200 steps and narrow ladders, you’ll reach the ancient city at the top.
Amazement is all-but guaranteed as you wander through the UNESCO World Heritage Site (there are eight of them in Sri Lanka), seeing the ruins of the former capital city, which was built for King Kashyapa in the 4th century.
It’s open between 7am and 7pm year-round, but it’s best to go in the morning to avoid the heat. Entry costs $38 (USD$30) per person. There are no clothing requirements, but long light pants and a t-shirt are recommended.
#2 Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada, Nallathanniya
It’s believed that Buddha’s footprint lies on Adam’s Peak. In Sri Lanka, 70 per cent of citizens are Buddhists, so it’s a popular pilgrimage and devotees are required to climb the mountain at least once a year. Christians, on the other hand, believe this is where Adam first touched the earth after being exiled from the Garden of Eden, hence the site’s name.
The walk up the 5500 steps takes four to five hours. You can expect the same on the way down, but with legs made of jelly. A magnificent sunrise is the reward for making it to the top early.
December to May is pilgrimage season and the best time to climb. The path is well lit and the weather is optimal for a clear sunrise, and climbs are best done late evening into early morning so you make it to the peak by sunrise.
Adam’s Peak is free to enter, but it’s respectful to donate to the monks who bless you on your journey. Wear suitable walking shoes and modest, comfortable pants, and bring a light but warm jacket for the top, which can be cool in the dawn hours.
#3 Holy City Of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest capital cities, and there are many sites to visit in this small northern town. It’s another of the island’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Here, you can wander through the Mahamewna Gardens and see Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree and the oldest living human-planted tree in the world. You can also visit the ruins of Anuradhapura, numerous ancient dagobas (brick stupas or mounds) or Mihintale, the mountain at which the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka was officiated.
Opening times, dates and entry fees vary (it can cost you anywhere between zero and about $12), so be sure to check before you set off. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to clothing, but covering your shoulders and legs is always advisable (this is where your scarf comes in).
#4 The Dambulla Cave Temple With Golden Buddha, Dambulla
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dambulla Cave Temples have been a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. Here, there are five impressive caves lined with paintings and, as the name suggests, the entrance is marked by an enormous glimmering golden Buddha.
From the top of the site, you get a brilliant view of the surrounding countryside and can even spot Sigiriya looming some 20kms away. Prepare to see many Toque Macaques (a type of monkey native to Sri Lanka) lounging in and around the temples.
It’s open between 7am and 7pm year-round, and costs around $12 (USD$10) per person to enter. It’s worth noting that shoes aren’t permitted in the temple, so kick them off and cover your shoulders to be sure.
#5 Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic Of Lord Buddha, Kandy
The gold-roofed temple holds one of Sri Lanka’s most sacred Buddhist relics—one of Buddha’s teeth. While you can’t actually see the tooth (it’s locked in a gold box), being in the space is incredibly humbling.
All year, Buddhists can be seen making pilgrimages to the relic, laying down flowers and gifts, and praying throughout the site.
There are also numerous temples, shrines and museums to explore, and you’ll spy a beautiful view of Kandy Lake from the temple.
It’s open between 5:30am-8pm, and entry costs $12 (LKR1500) per person. You’ll also need to leave your shoes at the door here.
(Lead image: gwen / Flickr)