Top Five Cultural Destinations in Sri Lanka

Photos by Dave Stamboulis

A country steeped in faith and spiritual history, Sri Lanka is home to a host of edifying locations and places of transcendental inspiration.

the stilt fishermen of southern Sri Lanka perched on their poles

Magnificent structures, some used, some abandoned, are scattered about the cities and mountains like great deities surveying their worshippers. Whether religious or not, visiting these culturally significant sites makes for an incredible experience and regularly provokes a feeling of peace and a sense of enlightenment even in the most hardened of cynics.

Take a look below at five of the most inspiring destinations that should not be missed during your holidays to Sri Lanka.

Mihintale
A mountain peak near Anuradhapura that is reportedly the place where Mahinda, the monk attributed with bringing Buddhism to Sri Lanka, preached Buddhist doctrine to the king and his people. Pilgrimages are made to the mountain every year, and the site is known as one of the most significant spiritual places in the country. The hills that make up Mihintale are also home to a ruined hospital and the beautiful Kantaka Cetiya stupa – a structure beautifully decorated with sculptures and carvings.

Dalada Maligawa
The stunning shrine within this temple, adorned with turrets and a golden roof, holds what is claimed to be a tooth of the great Buddha. Located in Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka and the final capital of the era of the kings, shrine plays host to regular Buddhist worship and weekly ceremonies where water scented with flowers is passed among those gathered there, in order to heal them.

Sigiriya
An ancient palace surrounded by gardens once sat atop this gigantic rock formation, built by King Kasyapa between 477 and 495 AD. It was abandoned after his death, then used as a monastery for some years, but the incredible structure still remains, and provides a stunning sight against the landscape of the Matale District. It is also called The Lion Rock after a huge sculpture of a lion that Kasyapa built at a gateway to his palace, which stands guard to this day.

Gal Vihara
Some of the most famous images of Buddha can be found carved into this cliff face near Polonnaruwa. Once part of a monastery, these three huge and beautiful figures were created in the 12th century, and each is purported to depict a different stage in Buddha’s life.

Sri Lanka by Dave Stamboulis

Dambulla Cave Temple
Places of worship in Sri Lanka are often strikingly beautiful, but this temple is one of the most stunning of its kind. Made up of a network of five different caves within a towering rock around 47 miles north of Kandy, the inner walls are emblazoned with intricate carvings depicting famous stories from the life of Buddha, and the temple itself is filled with sculptures of kings, gods and goddesses.

Wild Niagara: The Best Outdoor Activities in Niagara

Niagara Falls is such a beautiful place. The river and the Falls themselves are so impressive, but some potential visitors might wonder what there is to do after they’ve seen them. Niagara has an impressive roster of sights and activities that don’t necessarily involve the Falls, many of which are exciting and invigorating outdoor pursuits that are fun for people of all ages and ability levels.

Niagara Falls

Niagara is located in what is known as the Niagara Escarpment, a unique geologic formation that is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area is unlike any other, which makes it a treasure for those who love the outdoors.

Take a look at some of the outdoor activities that are available. No matter the season, there are several great ways to experience the beauty of this part of the world.

Hiking

One of the easiest and most accessible ways to experience the scenic beauty of Niagara is to simply walk around in it. In and around the area of the Falls are over 15 kilometers of hiking and mixed use trails that are available to everyone. Various trails are accessible to hikers of all abilities and range in duration from easy hikes of less than an hour, to moderately difficult hikes of 6 or more hours.

Some of the more popular areas to hike are the Niagara Gorge Trail, Niagara Glen, Dufferin Island or the Botanical Gardens. For the truly adventurous, the Niagara River Parkway’s 56 kilometer trail is open for full or partial attempts.

As with any hiking pursuit, it is wise to be prepared. Check in with a ranger or official at the park, if possible. If not, advise a friend or a member of your hotel staff where you plan to hike. Carry water, snacks, a hat, rain gear and extra clothing.

Cycling

Niagara is simply one of the best places in the country for cyclists. With kilometers of trails dedicated to cyclists, this area is a haven for riders of all abilities. Additionally, with the advent of the bike train from Toronto to Niagara, cyclists have more access to Niagara than ever.

For cyclists who prefer leisurely rides along relatively flat land, the Welland Canals Trail offers views of the ships going through the locks, or the Niagara River recreation Trail, which shows off the Falls in all of their glory. The Friendship Trail is perfect for those who like their cycling punctuated with stops at cafes along the way. All of these trails are perfect for beginners, or those groups who have riders of mixed abilities.

For the more adventurous cyclists, the Twenty Valley and Pelham areas contain steep hills and grades, but you’re rewarded with stunning views. Mountain bikers can check out Short Hills Provincial Park, but be advised that equestrians use these trails as well.

Golf
It seems there is always someone in every group who loves to golf. Niagara is the perfect place for a golf vacation, or simply a golf diversion.

There are several top notch courses to choose from in the Niagara area, including North America’s oldest golf course, Niagara on the Lake Golf Club, established in 1875. Rockway Glen Golf Club has the distinction of having its own winery, which is the perfect place to unwind at the end of a game. The Niagara area also boasts several golf instructors and golf schools to help you improve your game or to brush up on rusty skills.

Camping
For many people, a vacation just isn’t a vacation without camping. The Niagara area offers a host of campgrounds and RV parks, many of which are just a few kilometers from the Falls and other activities. In fact, access to the famed Niagara River Parkway Trail is a source of pride for many of the area’s campgrounds.

For those who prefer the convenience of cottages, many rental agencies specialize in providing exceptionally cozy accommodations to families and groups.

As you plan your Niagara Falls vacation, make sure to budget time to take in the beautiful scenery and abundant outdoor activities. A trip here just wouldn’t be the same otherwise.

About the Author: Camille Van Buren is a hiking and cycling enthusiast who authors a blog about her pursuits.

Exploring Maui, the Garden Isle

It’s a rough life. I don’t understand it sometimes, but I am sure appreciating the hell out of it. The rough part isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that I haven’t had a chance to post anything in the past few days ’cause Mink Hippie abducted me and took me to a remote upcountry villa on Maui. Like I said, it’s a rough life. Anyway, Maui was beautiful. Strange how a bunch of people from California moved to Hawaii and have done one hell of a job turning it into what California used to be. Beautiful, rustic, and cool. Our first day we watched the Paniolos strut their stuff at the Makawao Rodeo. Day two we ascended dormant Haleakala (10,000 feet +)

and watched the sunrise then drove the remote road to Hana where we had lunch in a classic 1940’s resort. I had a kobe hamburger. The most expensive burger I’ve ever bought. On the way there we drove through Hawaii’s only drive through Botanical Garden, The Garden of Eden.

Eden

The rest of our time there was blur as we visited Lahaina, went shopping, just blissed out. We are absolutely loving these $19 fares on Go Airlines. Last weekend it was Kauai, this week was Maui, the week before that was Bambi’s wedding in California…and coming soon will be our first trips to Molokai and Lanai. It’s promising to be a great summer for us. Hopefully for you too as we may not be posting as much as when we are tied to our computers.

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