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Sigiriya

There are few more iconic, let alone impressive, sights in Sri Lanka than the 370-metre-high rock citadel of Sigiriya, a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.

Also known as “Lion Rock”, it rises out of the dense jungle in all its red splendour, dominating the surrounding plains. Built by King Kasyapa in the 5th century, the cliff-top fortress took seven years to construct and was abandoned after ten years of occupation when the King, defeated by his brother, committed suicide. During its creation, beautiful frescoes were painted on the sandstone – the perfect time to see them is in low light, in the morning or late afternoon – most notably the ‘celestial maidens’ in a cave halfway up, with their expressive faces and exquisite headdresses. As well as these alfresco designs, make sure to admire the giant stone claws at Lion’s Gate as you journey up the fairly challenging climb – along steep but secure staircases – and, upon reaching the summit, soak in the phenomenal views.

Not only will you be greeted by the architectural remains of the ancient palace up here, you will also find yourself surrounded by striking panoramas over the verdant terrain, which stretch as far as the eye can see. With the help of your knowledgeable guide, learn about the various parts of the once-elaborate kingdom and look out for the ancient throne, reflective pools and relics of the landscaped gardens.

This historical landmark is a must-see for cultural travellers; after all the renowned British explorer and writer, Arthur C. Clarke, named Sigiriya his '8th Wonder of the World'! For a spectacular view of the rock itself, climb up Pidurangala rock nearby to see Sigiriya standing proud in all its jungle-shrouded glory.

While here, we recommend digging a little deeper into Sri Lanka’s cultural history and venturing on to its other significant sites; from the well-preserved Dambulla Cave Temple close by to the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Along with Kandy, these cities form the country’s renowned Cultural Triangle and are well-worth a visit. The beautiful Ulagalla is our favourite place to stay within the area  – this property is arguably the best hotel near Sigiriya – or, if you would prefer to stay closer to the site, we recommend staying at Water Garden.

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I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.
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