Luxury holidays in The Cultural Triangle
Verdant green hills adjoin flat plains, overgrown jungles and sudden mountainous outcrops in Sri Lanka’s interior. Dubbed the ‘Cultural Triangle’, this ancient region of Sri Lanka takes its name from the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites peppered throughout the region. In the north are the historic ruins of Anuradhapura and Mihintale – the birthplace of Buddhism. In the centre of the triangle you’ll discover the spectacular rock frescoes and fortress of Sigiriya and to the south, the royal city of Kandy.
When to go
Between June and November is monsoon season in the south-west and north-east, but if you don’t mind the odd downpour you’ll likely enjoy the respite the rain brings from the heat. However, on such a small island you won’t have to travel far to find a secluded spot without a cloud in the sky. Pop on over in July or August for the wild Perahera festivities in Kandy, or Unduvap Poya in Anuradhapura in November when the sacred bodhi tree arrives from India.
PlanesIf travelling from an international location, you’ll likely arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport just outside of Colombo. Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com), Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) and Emirates (www.emirates.com) all operate flights into Colombo, too. Direct flights from Colombo Airport (CMB) to Sigiriya (GIU) depart daily from Bandaranaike International Airport with Sri Lankan Airlines (http://www.srilankan.com/en). The flight takes around 30-minutes and will land you right in the centre of the cultural triangle. Flights to other regional locations in Sri Lanka can be found on the Sri Lankan Airlines website, too.
TrainsUnfortunately, you are unable to book online for regular Sri Lanka Railways trains, but train timetables to various locations in the cultural triangle are available online at Sri Lanka Railways (http://www.railway.gov.lk) so you can buy your tickets in advance on arrival. Special services for tourists are run by private operators and feature air-conditioned coaches with wifi and catering. There’s also a designated tourist window in the 1st and 2nd class booking office at Colombo Fort station. Anuradhapura has two train stations; the main Anuradhapura station and the smaller Anuradhapura New Town further to the south. Trains to Colombo depart at 7am, 8.40am, 2.30pm and 11.40pm with first-class seats available on the 7am intercity express and the 2.30pm and 11.40pm trains. It takes four to five hours to reach Colombo, depending on stops and delays. For a seat in the privately-run carriages to Kandy from Colombo, you can book online with ExpoRail (www.exporail.lk) or Rajadhani (www.rajadhani.lk). Tickets can be bought and reserved up to 10 days in advance at Kandy’s train station from counter one, which is open from 5.30am to 5.30pm.
AutomobilesIf renting your own vehicle, it will likely be a faster journey of around four hours from Colombo, the nation’s capital. If journeying from Kandy in the south, the A9 highway will take you directly to Anuradhapura. If road rules weren’t really your thing anyway, try Mal Key rent-a-car (+91 (0)11 236 5251; www.malkey.lk) and self-drive your way through Sri Lanka. In Kandy, long-distance buses leave from the Goods Shed and local buses leave from near the clock tower. There are private city express buses that have a travel time of around three hours to the Bandaranaike International Airport or Colombo city from between the Goods Shed and the clock tower on Station Rd at stand No. 1. Buses to Colombo start at 5.15am and only leave when full and private intercity express buses to Bandaranaike International Airport start from 6.30am with the last at 5.30pm.