To the north of Kandy, vertiginous hills finally give way to the hot plains of the dry zone, an expansive region characterised by thorny scrub, dense jungle and isolated mountainous outcrops rising mightily above the surrounding plains. Traditionally referred to as Rajarata or ‘The King’s Land’, the Cultural Triangle – the birthplace of early Sinhalese civilization-is home to the ancient ruined cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, Dambulla’s muralled cave temples, the mighty rock fortress of Sigiriya and the monuments of Mihintale – venerated as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Other less-visited historical sights include the abandoned jungle-fringed cities of Yapahuwa and Panduwasnuwara, the engaging Buddhist temples of Ridi Vihara and Aluvihara, the majestic Aukana Buddha statue and the serene forest monasteries of Ritigala and Arankele.
Although there is plenty to keep you culturally amused in this historic region, there are also a scattering of nature parks and reserves,which provide are freshing diversion. Minneriya National Park, to the north east of the Cultural Triangle, is the most popular. Home to plentiful wildlife, the park is famed for an event known as ‘The Gathering’ where between late August and October, more than 300 elephants congregate on the shrinking banks of the Minneriya Tank. Pachyderms may also be spotted at Habarana reserve and the national parks of Kaudulla and Wasgomuwa, where you can also embark on jeep safaris. Around Matale, to the south of the Cultural Triangle, are numerous spice gardens.