During our earlier trip around the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, we were amused by an over 150 statues and art murals inside an actual cave in Dambulla. We also took a hike up into the ancient rock fortress in Sigiriya. We then walk through the remnants of the ancient capital cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
On the final leg of our Sri Lankan cultural triangle trip, we headed to, and stayed in the city of Kandy. In this trip, we’ll discover how the last fallen ancient kingdom turns out today to be one of the most beautiful and thriving cities in Sri Lanka.
In the southern part of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle is where the valley of the Kandy is located. It is surrounded by green mountains where you can hike and find easily find a good viewpoint. Find out more about Kandy by reading below.
What to do in Kandy
Take a tour in any Kandyan tea factory
Take a Ceylon tea factory tour in Kandy, in the actual the actual birthplace of tea leaf industry in Sri Lanka.
You can take a tour around the tea estate of James Taylor, one of the Pioneers of tea leaf industry in Sri Lanka. The tea estate of James Taylor is located in the Loolecondera Estate along the Deltota-Rikillagaskada Road, Rikillagaskada Village.
Through the Janatha Estates Development Board, the tea estate of James Taylor was converted into a living history museum. Here, you can find James Taylor’s granite seat which is a good viewpoint of the eastern valley.
Other things you can find here are remnants of his log cabin, tea pickers working on the tea plantations, still in use original weighing stations, and the Loolecondera Tea Factory.
Entrance fee to the James Taylor’s tea estate plays around 300 to 100 Rs depending on the tour vehicle. It will only take an hour or more or less to reach this as it sits in the south of Kandy city proper
Closer to the Kandy city proper is the tea factory of Embilmeegama, approximately 30 minutes away. The Embilmeegama Tea Factory is easier to reach since this is just along the Colombo road.
The over 70 years old tea factory of Embilmeegama offers free-of-charge tour around. Then, visitors get to have a free taste of their tea products.
Another recommended tea factory in the district of Kandy is that of Geragama Tea Estate (Sometimes spelled as Giragama). It is roughly 30 minutes away from the city proper of Kandy. They also offer a free tour and tea tasting.
2.Go for a food trip
For a food trip, visit the Café Divine Street which serves western and local comfort food. Meanwhile, set on the rooftop is a café and shisha lounge of the Licensed to Grill in Kotugodella Street. It similarly serves comfort food from burgers to different wraps. Both within a walking distance from the Kandy Lake.
3.Check out their shopping malls
Beside the Kandy Lake is the largest mall in the city. It is 10 stories high and features modern design and brands we are all familiar with. You may want to check out their food court loft. Aside from having a huge food selection, it also has a good viewpoint of the city.
Where to Stay: Jacks Tree Lodge
Here are the reasons why I loved staying in the Jack Tree Lodge:
Isolated from the busy city streets of Kandy
Kandy is a too busy city. It can be overwhelming to most! Too busy a lot of people would like just space.
The Jack Tree Lodge is located on a hilltop, specifically in the Primrose Gardens. It is near enough to the city proper and tourist attractions of Kandy.
To get here, it’s 150 rupees by tuk-tuk registered in Pick Me App and around 300 Rs if for a regular tuk-tuk.
I loved Pick Me App, it was very cheap and well, it saves the trouble of forever haggling with tuktuk drivers.
Spacious rooms and affordable
Rooms were big and spacious and affordable. I love the glass windows and the balconies with awesome views!
Most of the rooms of the Jack Tree Lodge features have their own balcony. In the balcony, you can see the valley and city of Kandy. The rooms are very simple and have a clean ambiance. Same goes for the en-suite bathrooms which are equipped with showers.
The family room was super big it was more than enough. It was really nice. The family room is the biggest room and features huge picture windows with curtains for privacy. This is apart from its own balcony. Bathtub and shower are available in the en suite bathroom of the family room.
Breakfast with a view
You can choose western or Sri Lankan. But, look at this place, they set up breakfast in the terrace.
Food is delicious!
The food are delicious. Don’t forget to advise them in advance of your schedule and food type preferences.
Personalized and equal treatment to all guests
With only 7 bedrooms, the Jack Tree Lodge assures guests get courteously greeted, get personalized customer service available 24 hours a day. The hotel also treats the guests well regardless of the suite type you’re staying in.
Other things you may request are room service, delivery of groceries, and packed lunches.
Free ride to the town proper
The super kind owner offers us a free ride in the morning whenever he was on his way to the town proper.
Assist in train bookings and such
The Jack Tree Lodge helps guests with train bookings and what not. The owner is so kind.
They can also arrange day tours around neighboring areas like to Sigiriya and Minnerriya. Tour will be hassle-free as the package tour will include entrance fee, tour guide, and transportation service.
Kandy Tourist Places: Places to visit in Kandy
Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa)
The Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic is open from 5 AM until 8 in the evening. Usually every 5:30 AM, 9:30 AM and 6:30 PM, the puja or worship time starts. Arrived earlier before the crowd gets thick and get in line to the second floor of the shrine.
During puja, the chamber, where the sacred tooth is kept, will be opened to the public. Drums will then be played; devotees will say their prayers and make offerings, typically flowers, in the shrine of the tooth relic.
The tooth relic is supposedly belonging to their Lord Buddha. Thus, the shrine is regarded as one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the region.
The shrine of the Sacred Tooth Relic is actually nestled inside a sacred complex. So, aside from the shrine, you can get to see the Temples of Gods “Natha” and “Visnu”, and of Goddess “Pathini”, the Museum of World Buddhism, National Museum, and Audience Hall.
Except for the King’s Palace, you can access all of this for a fee of 1,500 Rs. Depositing your shoes to the counter may cost at least 100 Rs.
Before the birth of tea plantations, Sri Lanka has been cultivating and trading their indigenous spices to foreign merchants and seafarers since more than 2000 years ago. And, like its neighbor India, Sri Lanka is undeniably a producer of spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, curry leaves, turmeric and black peppers.
So, a spice garden is a must visit place in Kandy. There are spice gardens in Kandy that offer free-of-charge tour around their field. There, you can also get to know more about the spices like places of origin of each as well as how to use each as an ingredient and as a medicine.
Per trip advisor, the New Ranweli Spice Garden in Kandy is a not tourist trap. Here, you can get to a free tour around their garden. You’ll definitely learn a lot. And, there’ll be no hard sell speeches.
Helga’s Folly Hotel
The Helga’s Folly Hotel is not a typical accommodation you’d find in the tour guides. But, if it does, it is because it is a really cool place.
In terms of its decoration, there are too much going on from its front door to the corridors, bedrooms up to the dining rooms. It is fully adorned with art murals of different themes, framed black and white photos, and unusual ornaments.
Everything inside the Helga’s Folly hotel is a family’s private collection. This makes the hotel really awesome and very Instagrammable. Looking around the hotel is somewhat like an Alice in Wonderland experience.
For writers and artists, the Helga’s Folly gives a 50% discount on overnight accommodation provided that the stay will not be in less than six nights.
I think if you are a non-hotel guest and only want to have a look around, they charge an entry fee of $3. And, if you are a professional photographer, you need to ask for their permission first.
In my case, I ordered ginger tea with ginger biscuits. It was lovely and I paid $4 USD. It was worth the price as I got to look around the hotel and have a nice cup of tea at the same time.
Though located in a mountain forest area, the Helga’s Folly hotel is accessible through the road of Rajapihilla Mawatha. This is the same road you’ll traverse to reach the Kandy Viewpoint.
Kandy Market Hall
The Kandy Market Hall is a two-story old colonial building with courtyard garden. It is a nice place to visit in Kandy since the market hall is well-organized, a good place to walk around to, and lets you see how abundant their fresh produce and spices are.
Apart from trying out their local fresh products, the Kandy Market Hall is the best place to buy pasalubong (take home) or Sri Lankan travel memorabilia. You’ll likely find cheaper trinkets, sari, and other souvenirs than in stores you’ll find scattered along the road.
The Kandy Market Hall is located just beside the city train station.
A fun fact about the Kandy Lake is that the over 200-year-old lake was once an expanse of paddy fields. It was then converted into a mere decorative feature of the Temple Complex dedicated to the Sacred Tooth. In fact, the concrete fence around it was never finished due to the arrival of the British forces. But, they believed that its center island has a secret passage which leads to the King’s Palace.
Today, the Kandy Lake is a great place to walk or jog around especially in early mornings. There’s a boat service that you can ride to take you around the lake. It may cost around 2,500 Rs for a 15-minute boat ride.
The Kandy Lake is well-situated in the middle of the Kandy city proper. Your walk around it can include a walk towards the Temple of Sacred Tooth, Royal Palace Park, and the Udawattakelle sanctuary.
Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden
A tour around the Royal Botanical Garden will be through spice gardens, bamboo forests, a collection of orchids, a memorial garden of dignitaries and other variety of plants and flowers. Fruit bats, monkeys, and birds are also can also be spotted. The Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya is pretty huge.
The once exclusive garden is now accessible by anyone. Entrance fee to this garden is 1,100 Rs. To go around, a Golf cart rental can cost around 1500 Rs. In my opinion, this was expensive, I mean I’ve seen better gardens like Keukenhoff, Portland, and Canada botanical garden.
From the city proper, you may ride the Bus 644 which you can find in the bus stop near the city Clock Tower. Bus fare for this route costs 15 Rs and the ride may only take about 30 minutes.
University of Peradeniya
Took a drive around the University of Peradeniya, one of the oldest universities in Sri Lanka. The place is quite cool. Its main building is built with stone pillars and is guarded by two lion statues in the front entrance. It also features the oldest and largest academic library in whole Sri Lanka.
The most memorable feature of the University of Peradeniya is its Greek-inspired open-air amphitheater in Arts Faculty premises. Nothing extravagant though.
Over a slope, it has partly cemented steps which serve as audience seats. Then, of course, the stage is on its center. In this structure, everyone can hear the performances from the stage up to the very back seat area despite being an open-air theatre.
The University of Peradeniya is only less than 15 minutes away from Kandy town proper. Bus from Kandy to the University of Peradeniya may charge at least 15 to 20 Rs and drop you right at the left entrance of the campus.
Giant Tree sprawling on the ground (also inside the University of Peradeniya)
The University of Peradeniya is located right at the foot of the Hanthana Mountain Range, dubbed as one of Sri Lanka’s paradise. No wonder enormous trees are spread around the campus.
Particularly noticeable is the giant Java fig tree. The branches are unbelievably huge and seem to be from an enchanted forest. It was nice.
Kandyan Cultural Dance
Witness the different cultural dances of Kandy. The Kandy dance is believed to have been adopted from the exorcism ritual performed by Indian shamans visiting the region.
In the huge hall, the performers danced along with the beat of percussion instruments only. And, they did some stunts with fire. For me, the most amazing part was when they walked on fire.
Ticket to watch the Kandyan Cultural Dance costs around 1,000-1,500 Rs (5 to 10 USD).
To be honest, after seeing a lot of this in India, I could have skipped this. It must have been better if we can watch it while we can nibble some food and have drinks (Or, a beer perhaps). There are just some parts that I don’t really understand. But yeah, it’s also for culture. But, for those who haven’t seen cultural dances similar to India’s or who are really into dances and all, you might as well check it out.
Big Buddha (Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue)
Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue requires an entrance fee of 250 Rs. Before you step unto its ground, you’ll need to remove your hat and shoes. For the shoes, there is a place where you can leave them. There’ll be no fee but they ask for a donation. Just give any amount as any will do.
When we were in Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue, a priest blessed me and put this around my hand that was a quite cool experience. For the devotees, it is a place of worship where they can offer flowers and light oil lamps before the 86 feet tall statue of their Lord Buddha.
Going to the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue means a 20-minute hike up. But, you can also hire a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the top. It is a good viewpoint of the valley and Lake of Kandy.
Udawattekele Sanctuary (Udawattakele Forest Reserve)
The Udawattekele Sanctuary (Udawattakele Forest Reserve) is my favorite part in Kandy. I honestly preferred this compared to the botanical garden. I absolutely loved this and it was less touristy. I walked 40 minutes to get to this place from the Big Buddha. I feel like it was nice ‘cause I saw a lot different vantage points of the town.
I loved that the forest area is quiet. It is good to listen to the chirping of the birds and such. I guess, once people reach the temple inside the sanctuary, they’d be in a meditative state already.
The quietness is also scary in a way. For a time, I was walking all alone in the foresty areas, I was a bit nervous. I worried that no one will know if something happens to me. I then saw a few people walking behind me and taking their tour. But, we had space in between. It was a really good morning stroll.
In the Udawattekele Sanctuary, you’ll be walking along a dense forest which is a home to birds of different species, colorful butterflies, and playful monkeys. The flora and fauna seem like they came from an enchanted forest depicted in the fantasy or horror movies.
From the main entrance, you’ll find a road on the left. This road is believed to have been named and built in memory of the 1834 Governor’s wife, Lady Horton. Also, it is the first road constructed inside the sanctuary. This then leads to the “Senanayaka Aramaya” and the German Temple, both hermitages or meditation sites of the Buddhist monks.
Along the Lady Horton’s Road, you’ll pass by the canopy of Ironwood forest and exotic creeping trees of Pus Wela (sometimes spelled as Puss-Wel) or giant lianas.
Typical animals you’ll see here are toque-monkey, barking deer, wild boar, and endemic birds like a local hanging parrot and Yellow-fronted Barbet.
You can still find the Royal Pond inside the Udawattekele Sanctuary. It is a bit muddy but a home to turtles and fishes. According to legends, aside from being a relaxation place of the Royalties, the Royal Pond was a hiding place of a golden pot of treasures.
The only thing I’m confused about is how they charge their guests. The girl at the ticket counter asked me about my nationality and then charged me 663 Rs. The two white people who followed shortly were charged 1000+ rupees each. No rate is posted on board really so you can’t check. But, all else, it was worth the walk.
Kandy View Point
The viewpoint to see the whole city of Kandy is sometimes referred to as Arthur’s Seat. Arthur is believed to be a British tea planter who used to have a bungalow in the area and had a habit of standing in a stone slab under a tree to enjoy the view.
Once you reach it, you’ll not find a trace of the bungalow but you’ll understand why he formed his habit. The place is a good vantage point and captures everything you love about the city proper of Kandy, from the Temple of Sacred Tooth, the Lake, and its walls, up to the green valley.
Nice to see during sunset. This is also a good stopover on your way to Helga Folly Hotel as well.
You may hire a tuk-tuk to take you to the viewpoint. It may cost at least 100 to 200 Rs.
Cool Corner Fried Ice cream Parlour
The Cool Corner Fried Ice Cream is just the perfect treat for a hot day in Kandy. The Cool Corner Ice Cream Parlour has an enormous selection of ice cream flavors you can choose from.
I had chocolate and peanut butter. This is super good! It comes in generous serving and an affordable price of around 300 to 450 Rs.
I saw a lot of kids come in to order. It’s definitely a must do while In Kandy! I highly recommend it.
Elephant Freedom Project
The Elephant Freedom Project serves as a safe haven for captive elephants like Nilame. So, here, the project does not use the elephants as an amusement ride or load-carrying equipment. Rather, the project lets the guests accompany the elephants to its leisure walk, to river bathing, and to eat.
Basically, the said activities are the highlights of a day tour. Other interesting activities you may want to include in your tour are to take a Sri Lankan cooking lesson or to visit the elephant dung factory where they manufacture papers.
To get here, take the train and alight to Rambukkana. Fare of a train ride to Rambukkana cost around 70 Rs. Then, ride the tuk tuk to take you to the town proper. It won’t take longer than 15 minutes. A Tuk tuk may charge 700 – 800 Rs but the maximum should only be just 400 Rs.
Aside from the Kandy Town Hall (Now headquarters of Municipal Council) and old Post Office, another noticeable British colonial establishment in Kandy is the Queen’s Hotel. This hotel is already over 170 years old and was once used as a residential place of the then Governor under the British rule.
So, here, you can enjoy meals on a classic British style set up where they’ve put up high ceilings and exposed beams.
Dambulla Cave and or Sigiriya
Kandy can be an ideal jump-off point to Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya, both in Dambulla. Travel time from Kandy to Dambulla usually takes not more than 2 and a half hour.
The Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the Dambulla Cave Temple are both listed UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Dambulla Cave Temple is a sacred ground for Buddhist. Inside the cave temple are statues and murals which speak of historical accounts and spiritual teachings. The Sigiriya Rock Fortress, on the other hand, plainly speaks of a fallen kingdom which lasted only for 18 years.
How to get there
From Colombo, the quickest and most convenient way to reach Kandy is by taking a train. Travel time for this route via Intercity trains or Express trains may take two and a half hours. Tickets to 3rd class and 2nd class seats may only cost at least around 150 to 220 Rs while the 1st class seat cost at least 360 Rs.
Usually, Intercity trains bound to Kandy from Colombo are available from 7 in the morning until 3:330 in the afternoon. This one’s the link to the official website of the Sri Lankan Railways:
The first class seat can only be bought through advance reservations. But, the 1st class seats though are located in the last coach of the train. These will be comfortable seats unless you don’t want to sit facing backward since the 1st class seats will be facing the observatory window in the back of the coach.
The 2nd class seats are often recommended spots. When buying 2nd class tickets, commuters can make advance reservations and can get fairly decent seats.
To make reservations, especially for foreign nationals, it is best to coordinate with a private travel agency or your hotel. You may also check this link to find the available train, seat classes, frequency and other things you’ll need to know:
In Colombo bus terminal, you can find a bus heading to Kandy. Traveling via bus for this route may take longer or at least 3 hours. Bus fare from Colombo to Kandy may cost around 155 Rs.
Here’s the link of bus routes as posted by the Municipal Council of Colombo:
The corresponding bus route nos. can be found in front of the bus, or in its windshield. Timetable of the buses are not posted but, for sure, buses can easily be seen as they frequently travel to and fro Colombo and Kandy. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to kindly ask a local which bus to take.
Via taxi, fare from Colombo to Kandy may cost at least 6,000 Rs.
How to get around?
The Kandy city proper is easy to navigate and walkable. Just find the Kandy Lake and the Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic. Then, other tourist attractions and must-visit places will be easier to find. When going uphill or to neighboring areas, that’s when you’ll need to hail a taxi, bus or tuk tuk.
The only issue I really encountered here was that some tuk tuk drivers overcharge the foreigners. You’ll need to ask locals or hotel host about the actual fare before hopping in on a tuk tuk.
Best thing in Kandy is that they have Pick Me App. Pick Me App is the local competitor of Uber.
Compared to the ordinary tuk tuk, the Pick Me App is way cheaper and good way to get around the city. In fact, I made it from Helga Folly Hotel to Jacks Tree Lodge, 6km away, for 250 Rs. It is cheaper compared to other places where pick me app is not available but charges 400 to 500 Rs for the same distance unless you can haggle well the fare into 350 or 400 Rs. I wish the Pick Me App will be available across Sri Lanka so that we’ll be able to travel a little bit better and easier.
With the Pick Me App, you’ll less likely to be ripped off. The price will immediately appear on the screen. Oh, and, there are other available transport vehicles in the Pick Me App especially if you’re a bigger group.
The only problem though is I have no local contact number so the driver couldn’t contact me for my exact location. What I did was to ask help from a local store to make the phone call. After that, everything then went perfectly well. I loved it so much!