This full-day tour takes us to the ancient cities of Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa.
Sigiriya is Sri Lanka’s most short-lived medieval capital. It sits atop a huge flat-topped outcrop that soars 180m high, dominating the jungle on every side. On closer inspection what you’ll find are pleasure gardens, a series of ancient frescos, as well as staircases leading to the remains of a palace. The 5th century AD saw this monastery transformed into a unique combination of urban planning as well as natural and imaginatively landscaped gardens, with ingenious ancient hydro engineering. Otherwise known as the ‘Lion’s Rock’, Sigiriya was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 and it remains one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic attractions. It’s not only a unique archaeological site but also an incredible geological formation that offers outstanding views of the scenery below.
The walk up to the rock is fascinating, passing through the ruins of water gardens that still activate fountains on a rainy day. You’ll also pass the boulder gardens before beginning the climb through the terraced gardens. An extraordinary 1202 steps takes you to the top of Sigiriya, the climb seems difficult, however the continuous climb is broken up by short terraces at regular intervals to make it less strenuous. At the half way mark a short flight of stairs will take you to the paintings of the Sigiriya maidens, which is a real highlight. There were 500 frescos originally, only about 50 remain today. You will also see the mirror wall with its ancient and barely decipherable graffiti. The climb from the lions paw to the top of the rock is along a narrow metal stairway with railings. For some the climb is difficult and requires a certain degree of energy but it’s worth it as the views from the summit of the rock are spectacular. We recommend visiting early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the temperature is cooler.
Afterwards the tour heads to Polonnaruwa, the second great capital of Sri Lanka, after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. Polonnaruwa is arguably better preserved than Anuradhapura and is certainly more accessible. It’s made up of both Bramanic monuments built by the Cholas, as well as the ruins of a fantastic garden city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s described as a ‘shrine to Buddhism and Singhalese history’, apparent in its enormous rock carvings. The tour includes the King’s Council Chambers, the royal baths and ruins of Buddhist shrines such as the Vatadage, which is a circular relic house. It also takes in the ‘Hatadage’, where it’s believed the Sacred Tooth was placed for some time. The tour also includes a myriad of other monuments, including the gigantic rock sculpture of the Lord Buddha. Polonnaruwa is one of Sri Lanka undisputed highlights and an integral park of Sri Lanka’s ancient history.