Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city and often considered the most beautiful and romantic on the island. Popular because of it’s setting in the foothills of Sri Lanka’s mountainous ‘hill country’ and also because it is home to “Sri Dalada Maligawa” – ‘The Temple of the Tooth Relic’. Kandy was declared a World Heritage Site by UNSECO in 1988 and is one of the most scared places of worship in the Buddhist world. The land was ruled by Sri Lankan kings for over 2300 years until 1815 when it was colonised by Britain. Kandy was the last standing kingdom on the island and the last place of residence of the Sri Lankan Royal family.
Located 115km east of the capital, Colombo, at an altitude of 500 meters, Kandy offers a cooler, more relaxed climate and is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding areas. The city is colourful and vibrant all year round, particularly during the month of ‘Esala’ which falls towards the end of July/August. Visit during this time and you will get to experience “Esala Perahara”, a 10-day long festival that pays respect to Buddha and leads up to the full moon ‘Nikini Poya’. Locals in beautiful costumes and colourfully decorated elephants parade through the city.
Trains and busses run daily between Colombo and Kandy. The 3-hour train journey is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. The scenery gets particularly beautiful the closer you get to Kandy. Tickets for a seat sell out quickly so booking ahead is recommended, particularly at weekends.
If advance tickets are unavailable you can head to the train station on the day you want to travel, or the day before, to buy a third class ticket. You won’t be guaranteed a seat but you’ll get to experience the journey as a local – standing up!
If you are keen to secure a seat for the ride one option is to board the train at the stop before Colombo, since the majority of people board at Colombo. If you do board at Colombo do your best to be the first person to board the train and then run to the first available seat. There is no need to be civilised since everyone does this and if you don’t you’ll most likely end up standing for the entire journey! A train ticket will cost between 220 – 750 rupees depending on what class you are in.
Buses take 3-4 hours to reach Kandy and cost 150 rupees. Take a tuktuk for the final part of your journey but be aware that, unlike Colombo, tuktuks here are not metered and so you’ll have to bargain.
Where to stay
It is advisable to stay close to the lake so that you are within walking distance of the major attractions. I stayed at the Suiss View Residence where rooms are $40 per night including breakfast. The family-run hotel is located on top of a steep hill and rooms offer great views of the city. The family that run the hotel live on the ground floor and speak excellent English. Kandy also offers larger, high-end hotels, as well as more budget places.
Places you must visit
When planning your trip to Sri Lanka, three nights in Kandy should be sufficient to enjoy everything that the city and surrounding areas have to offer.
The Lake – ‘Kiri Muhuda’
The first stop once you have checked in should be ‘Kiri Muhuda’. The entire city was built up around this artificial lake constructed in 1807 by the last Sri Lankan king to rule the island. The beautiful lake has a gruesome history, locals who objected to working on the construction of the lake were ruthlessly put to death on stakes in the lake bed. In the middle of the lake is a small island which was once used by the Emperor as his personal harem. Years later the British built a fortress style parapet around the island and used it to store ammunition. You can enjoy a relaxing boat ride on the lake or stroll around the perimeter to take in the local life since schools, markets and shops are all clustered around this area.
‘Sri Dalada Maligawa’ ‘The Temple of the Tooth’ is arguably the most popular attraction for visitors. It is home to a tooth that was thought to have once belonged to Buddha. The temple is open daily from dawn until dusk but the tooth is only displayed for 5 hours a day, once every 5 years, the next viewing will be in 2020. Entry to the temple costs 1,000 rupees for foreigners.
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
Located on top of a mountain about 1km from the centre of Kandy, Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue offers breathtaking views of the city and it’s surroundings. The route up to the statue is step and hilly so it is advisable to take a tuktuk for around 300 rupees. You can negotiate a round trip or walk down back down to Kandy after visiting the statue.
Pennewala Elephant Orphanage
There is possibly nowhere in the world where you will see so many elephants up close. The government opened the elephant sanctuary in 1975; a year of drought during which more babies than usual had become separated from their herds. The sanctuary is open daily from 8.30am – 5.45pm. You can watch the baby elephants being bottle fed by their human carers and then bathed in the river.
Sunsets are by far one of my favourite things to experience while travelling and I plan my day so that I never miss them. The sun sets around 6.30 pm in Sri Lanka so I plan to have my day wrapped up by this time and then settle somewhere with front row seats from which to enjoy the sunset. There are some excellent rooftop bars in the city where you can relax after long day of exploring. Arrive at least 30 minutes before sunset as the most popular bars get crowded. Pick a good table and lounge until nightfall. Some recommendations are;
Bommu Rooftop Bar and Lounge at OZO – located just off the lake OZO doesn’t look much from outside yet inside this newish hotel is laid back yet classy. Drinks at the rooftop bar start at 500 rupees.
Slightly Chilled Lounge – more of a backpacker place, with a rooftop terrace that overlooks the lake, in the direction of the sun. Happy hour is between 5-6pm drinks when drinks are ‘Buy 2 get 1 free’.
Pics by Nathalie Mulot