A 6-Day Itinerary for exploring Northern Sri Lanka: Kandy, Dambulla, Sigiriya and more.

A 6-Day Itinerary for exploring Northern Sri Lanka: Kandy, Dambulla, Sigiriya and more.

What's in Northern Sri Lanka? Discover a road trip filled with rich history, unadulterated wildlife experiences and delicious food.

“You’re going to India? Sri Lanka is part of India right?”

It is unbelievable that people still think that the “Teardrop of India” is part of the bigger continent. Sri Lanka is a country of its own, with its own economic structure and even flag. With remnants of the civil war littered across the north, I packed my bags in preparation to explore this unchartered territory and maybe even bring home some Roti.

Day One: Kandy

Just a mere 4 hours drive away from the commercialised capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy is a major city located in the Central Province. The city, which is surrounded by a plateau of mountains and tea plantations, is the last ancient capital of the King’s era. It’s filled with gorgeous colonial architecture from its former British rule, making you feel like you stepped back into time.

Tooth Relic Temple

Image credit: MaHoSha

Kandy is home to the famous Temple of the Tooth, said to house a tooth from Buddha himself. As the most significant place of worship in the country, one has to be respectful when visiting.

Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha

Image credit: Steve Vallis

Just 2 km from the sacred Tooth Temple is the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue – the biggest statue in the country. Climb the steps for a closer view of Buddha himself and enjoy an eagle’s view of the city. You have to remove your shoes, so do wear socks to avoid burning your feet.

Kandy Lake

Image credit: Lindsey Renton

Take a long stroll around the Kandy Lake situated in the middle of the city. Surrounded by great colonial buildings, it’s a picture perfect sight to behold.

 

Day Two: Dambulla

Heading north from Kandy, you’ll reach Dambulla within a mere 2 hours journey by car. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to the famous Golden Buddha Temple, a sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists for the past 22 centuries.

Golden Buddha Temple

Image credit: Marc

Not only is the Golden Buddha Temple a sacred pilgrimage site, it makes for a beautiful hike for tourists. Remove your shoes as you step into the cave filled with pristine Buddha statues and religious decor.

Cricket Game

Image credit: Karachi Golf

Never seen a live cricket game before? Sit in for a match at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium! You might not know which team is playing but the crowd will be electric.

 

Day Three: Sigiriya

Known as the ancient capital, Sigiriya was built by King Kassapa and was once the centre of commercial and religion. The site dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World is possibly the most visited place in Sri Lanka. Take a walk through the ruined fortress complex, filled with archaeological significance. Then, make your way up the Lion Rock and get ready to be enthralled by the landscape’s beauty.

Sigiriya

Image credit: Phudd

Stroll down Fortress Complex as it leads towards the Lion Rock.

Lion Rock Base

Image credit: Derwin Kitch

The base of the Rock leads upwards to the entrance, where a lion head once covered the steps.

Hornets

Image credit: Richard Collier

Be warned! There are hornet nests surrounding the area, so guides will typically advise visitors to cover up and lower their noise level.

Surrounded by green lush landscapes from the top of the Lion Rock, this is the best time to take that new profile pic!

 

Day Four: Wasgamuwa National Park

Known to be a country filled with diverse wildlife, Sri Lanka has numerous National Parks that offer tourists a safari experience. About an hour and a half from the city of Dambulla, Wasgamuwa National Park is the place to visit if you want to catch wild elephants roaming in the jungle. Unlike the famous Yala National Park, Wasgamuwa National Park has fewer visitors – making your chances of spotting elephants.

The peacock is a native bird of Sri Lanka – and apparently, they can fly!

Elephants in the Safari

Image credit: Samantha McFarlane

 

Day Five: Jaffna

Drive to the northern tip of the country, five hours away from Dambulla, and experience a different cultural scene from Sri Lanka’s south. As the closest point to India, Jaffna sees a heavy influence of Indian culture. For one, the locals in Jaffna are majority Hindu, unlike those in the South who are predominantly Buddhists. You’ll notice that the city consists of more Hindu temples than Buddhist temples.

Take a walk through the local markets in the city, and enjoy the sights and smells of the diverse ingredients that make up your favourite Sri Lankan dishes. Make friends with the locals and they might even give you a discount on your next basket of eggplant.

Jaffna Public Library

Image credit: Arthur Wamanan

Burned horrifically on the night of June 1, 1981, the Jaffna Public Library was a historical site from the country’s civil war. It used to house 97,000 books and manuscripts prior to the burning, making it one of the biggest libraries in Asia at that time.

Keerimalai Spring

Image credit: Tommaso Meli

Half an hour away by car from the city centre, Keerimalai Spring is a natural freshwater spring situated right next to the beach. Water from this natural spring flows into a bathing pool, providing the locals with a unique swimming area believed to have healing properties.

 

Day Six: Trincomalee

Ending the trip with a rejuvenating time by the beach would be the perfect end to a long journey. Head southeast from Jaffna and you’ll end up in the port town of Trincomalee, only 4 hours away by car. This city once suffered heavily during the civil war and is filled with historical monuments and buildings that attest to that.

A well-known spot for whale watching, this city is packed with tourists from May to October. Some might say that Trincomalee would be better off for whale watching than Mirissa.

Koneswaram Temple

Image credit: Cat Collector

A must visit, the Koneswaram Temple is a major Hindu pilgrimage site dedicated to the main deity of Hinduism. Besides being a sacred site, the temple itself is beautifully decorated and sits facing the ocean.

Image credit: Stefaan van Eric

Don’t forget your sunglasses and beach towel as you lay on the golden sands that go on for miles. Head to Uppuveli or Nilaveli (a little further up from the city) for a day of fun in the sun, sand and sea. Pigeon Island is also a gorgeous destination to head to, brimming with marine life!

Not as physically demanding as my Southern adventure, this itinerary took me through a journey filled with ancient ruins and unique colonial remnants of the British Empire. As I lay on the sands of Nilaveli, with a cocktail in my hand, I wondered what the future holds for tourism in this treasure of a country.

Read my journey through Southern Sri Lanka here; A 6D5N Itinerary of Southern Sri Lanka from Colombo to Yala National Park

About Author

Farhan Isa
Farhan Isa

Farhan sees himself to be the next Indiana Jones, either discovering lost cities or forgotten civilisations. If he’s not travelling to distant places, he can be found sitting in a café with a cup of tea watching the world go by. Farhan is an advocate for trying new things, especially exotic foods. His favourites include fried crickets and cow lips.

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