If you are in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle then I wholeheartedly recommend the fascinating Polonnaruwa’s UNESCO listed ancient city which I enjoyed as much as my trip to Sigiriya Rock.
If you don’t already know, the foreign tourist price for Polonnaruwa is $25 and while it is an impressive sight, it is a lot of money and more expensive than any sight in neighbouring countries of India or Nepal.
The Anuradhapura ruins are also $25 for a ticket, but there is a lot less to see than Polonnaruwa so I personally recommend going to Polonnaruwa but certainly do your research beforehand. One of the things I loved about the Polonnaruwa, was the jungle setting and the wildlife I saw there, which I will tell you more about in this article!
If you’re coming to Polonnaruwa from Anuradhapura, it takes about 2 hours on the bus (cost: 90 rupees) and the bus from Dambulla to Polonnaruwa takes 2 hours as well (cost: 80-90 rupees).
There is some decent budget accommodation in Polonnaruwa, we stayed at Priyanna Guest House which was a lovely guesthouse but be sure to check hotel reviews before you book by clicking on the Tripadvisor link below:
When you first arrive at Polonnaruwa, you’ll be dropped off at the main street and you can walk to or get a tuk-tuk to your accommodation from there. Unfortunately, the $25 ticket to Polonnaruwa only lasts for one day so I recommend giving yourself a full day and hiring a bike to get around.
The site isn’t massive, but it is too big to see all of it by foot, it costs 400 rupees for bike rental and you can get one from your guesthouse or from the bike park outside the main entrance to the ruins. You can also hire a tuk-tuk for the day with a driver.
Due to the fact that people can sneak in (and because the ticket price is so expensive), foreigners get stopped frequently for ticket checks so keep it on you! When you’re on your bike then they will expect you to stop at various checkpoints. You will also need to remove shoes at the Buddhist temple sites.
Once you’ve got your transport, head towards the lake, which is opposite the canal road and turn right, where you’ll find the archaeological museum to buy your ticket. There are three main parts of the Polonnaruwa site, the museum and the Palace Complex of King Nishshanka Malla, the statue of King Parakramabahu I near the lake and the main collection next to the main road.
If you want to see all the monuments, head left at the lake along the Bund Road after you’ve seen the archaeological museum and its about 2km to see the collection of statues including King Parakramabahu I.
Then head back to the main road and go left and you’ll see the ruins coming up on your right. You can buy snacks and souvenirs inside the complex, but they are more expensive. If you do need to leave and want to return, get them to sign your ticket at the entrance and they’ll get you back in.
The first ruins you’ll see when you go in are on your right and they are the Royal Palace, the Audience Hall and the Kumara Pond. Watch out for the gangs of toque macaques that roam around the entrance!
When you continue along the main boulevard, the next major group of ruins will be the Sacred Quadrangle which is a quite a concentrated group of interesting monuments. It includes the Nisshankalatha Mandapa, Atadageya, Hetadage, Gal Potha and the most impressive which is the Vatadage circular hall.
As you continue, look out for the Pabalu Vehera (Temple of Marbles) on your right and then the Manik Vehera on your left. Once you see a big stupa on your left – the Rankoth Vehera then you can stop as there are lots of interesting sights around. Look out for the Ancient Bhikku Hospital foundations, Gopala Pabbatharock cave, the Alahana Pirivena foundations and the most impressive standing Buddha ruin in the Lankatilaka.
If you abandon your bike and wander through the ruins, you will be amazed at the wildlife that you’ll see and I saw more animals here than in any other historical places in Sri Lanka or India.
I loved watching the toque macaques playing amongst the ruins, Ialso saw a small herd spotted deer and a variety of beautiful birds.
One of my favourite Sri Lankan animals is the monitor lizard and I saw a few of them here, if you cycle along the canal then you can often see them swimming along it. At my accomodation at Priyanna Guest House I saw a giant squirrel in the trees while I was eating breakfast. Unfortunately, a macaque used this as an opportunity to eat my pancake!
When you’re passing the white dagaba Kiri Vihara stupa (translates as milk-white), look out for grey langurs in the trees and once you turn the corner you’ll see one of my favourite parts of the complex.
After the bend in the road, there is a pond where I found this gorgeous turtle making itself a nest on the pathway. This was the highlight of my time here so look out for the turtles and waterbirds in the pond when you come here.
Next to the pond is the last major sight in the complex is the Gal Vihara which are 4 Buddha statues which are carved from one piece of granite and they’re beautiful.
After the Gal Vihara you continue out of the complex at the other end and then you cycle/drive past the outside of the ruins on the main road (look out for even more on your right of course!).
There isn’t a great food scene in Polonnaruwa, but there are a few local restaurants or you can eat at your hotel or guesthouse. In town, there is a Food City supermarket if you’re on a budget and you can use your bike to cycle there.
Polonnaruwa was one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka, with a gorgeous setting, a wealth of intriguing ruins and incredible wildlife. The only downsides are the price and the lack of food options but I forgot about all that when I watched a huge monitor lizard swimming along the canal when we went for a cycle around.
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Have you been to any of Sri Lanka’s cultural attractions like Mihintale or Anuradhapura, Sigiriya Rock or Polonnaruwa? Did you see any wildlife at the ruins? What do you think about foreigner prices in Sri Lanka and beyond? Let me know in the comments below and let’s have a chat about it!
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