A BIKE RIDE ROUND SACRED SIGHTS
After yesterday’s early start, you’ll all probably fancy some downtime this morning, taking dips in your hotel pool or, if you’re staying at Jetwing Vil Uyana, exploring its wetland and forest habitats in search of giant squirrels and fishing cats, or scanning the skies for brahminy kites on the hotel’s bird trail.
In the early afternoon, head east to the former Sinhalese capital of POLONNARUWA [open daily until 5.30pm | $25, under-18s $12.50, under-6s free], a UNESCO World Heritage site and part of Sri Lanka’s fabled Cultural Triangle; it’s around 55km from Sigiriya, 70km from Dambulla. Colonised by macaques, the ancient ruins here are generally well preserved, despite dating back to the twelfth century, and you can spend an absorbing afternoon cycling between its towering brick buildings, milky white dagobas and Buddhist and Hindu shrines. Start your visit at the POLONNARUWA ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM, right off the main road, down towards the lake (you need to buy your tickets to the actual site itself here anyway), for an idea of how the city would have looked in its prime. The ruins themselves cover a fairly sizeable area, so it’s a good idea to rent a bike to get around (they’re available at the main entrance for around Rs.200 for a half day). From the entrance, turn right and follow the road down to the ROYAL PALACE and the huge stepped ROYAL BATHS, where the gracious King Parakramabahu I once allowed his 300 wives take it in turns to wash him. Then peddle back up past the entrance to the QUADRANGLE, an assortment of sacred buildings that includes the beautiful VATADAGE and the THUPARAMA, whose cool interior provides a pleasant respite and is home to half a dozen sparkling Buddha statues. There are dozens of other sights to explore, but make sure you don’t miss the GAL VIHARA, 2km further north, past the massive dagoba of Rankot Vihara. This series of serene statues, widely regarded as the pinnacle of Sri Lankan rock carving, show Buddha in all three of his positions (seated, standing and reclining) and were, remarkably, hewn from a single piece of granite.
TOP TIP If you’re visiting Sri Lanka in the summer, it’s definitely worth adding MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK to your itinerary. In the northern dry season, huge herds of elephants congregate around the diminishing waters of Minneriya Tank in an extraordinary spectacle known as THE GATHERING. Their numbers peak in August, when it’s not uncommon to see two hundred or more in what is the largest single get-together of Asian elephants in the world. Jetwing Vil Uyana and Back of Beyond Pidurangala can organise game drives here, or you can book a trip with Kalum Jeep Safaris. Afternoons are the best time to see the larger herds, so it makes sense to tour Polonnaruwa in the early morning and then visit Minneriya on your way back from the ruins – the road between Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa actually passes through the park and you may even see elephants en route.
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From safari camps to beachfront villas – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in Sri Lanka
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of Sri Lanka’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety and how to get around
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