FROM AN ANCIENT CITADEL TO THE CULTURAL CAPITAL
An enormous weathered outcrop rising from the surrounding plains, SIGIRIYA (“Lion Rock”) is the most dramatic sight in Sri Lanka. A spectacular royal citadel was somehow constructed on its summit over 1500 years ago, and although only the layout of the walls remains, the climb up here will no doubt be one of the most memorable experiences of your trip. There are over 1200 steps up to the palace ruins, but most children will be able to tackle the ascent – it’s not as intimidating as it seems from the ground, and the sense of achievement your kids will get from reaching the top will be more than worth it. Some of the walkways are rather narrow, though, and a head for heights is needed for the zigzagging metal staircase that marks the final push to the summit.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, your third in three days, Sigiriya [open daily from 7am | $30, under-18s $15, under-6s free] forms part of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, along with Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura (75km to the northwest but not covered in your itinerary). Like Polonnaruwa, the site can get hot, so go early – though most of the climb is in the shade. The walk leads first through tranquil WATER GARDENS before heading up past boulders and caves (and monkeys) to the base of the rock; here, a metal staircase spirals up to the SIGIRIYA DAMSELS, a famous set of fifth-century frescoes painted on a rocky overhang and a favourite of postcard sellers across the island. More gravity-defying walkways lead along the rock face and up to the LION PLATFORM, where only the enormous paws remain from the lion statue that once marked the entrance to the palace proper; the expansive summit, and its fabulous far-reaching views, is tantalisingly close now, reached by a metal staircase that clings to the side of the rock.
Going down is much easier than going up, but after all those steps, you’ll be ready to settle in for the 90km drive (around 2 hours 30 minutes) south to KANDY, the journey marking a shift from the parched dry zone of the Cultural Triangle to the cooler climes of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country; you’ll pass the Dambulla Cave Temples again before heading due south through Matale and up into Kandy.
Once the seat of its own kingdom, Kandy is now the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, so after a few hours relaxing at your hotel, head out into the city to catch a KANDYAN DRUMMING AND DANCING SHOW. Clad in elaborate silver headgear, troupes of dancers feverishly whizz through a number of acrobatic routines, accompanied throughout by the incessant pounding of their backing drummers, before devotees prove their worth by swallowing fire and walking on hot coals. Several venues run hour-long nightly shows, including the Kandy Lake Club [daily 5.30pm | Rs.1000].
WHERE TO STAY
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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