In the good old days when tourism was handled by big companies that provided luxury tours Kandy was the main attraction in Sri Lanka. There were hardly any backpackers or solo travellers back then. Huge luxury buses full of tourists were a common sight in the city of Kandy as well as Peradeniya. You could see those tourist buses parked in line opposite the gate of the Royal Botanical Gardens.
But today the whole landscape of tourism has changed. High-end tourism is no more the main event. The majority of tourists are backpackers and solo travellers who are ready to explore territories beyond the beaten path. New tourist attractions have sprung up and lured every tourist away from the traditional hot-spots. There comes the question “should I visit Kandy?”
If you are too impatient or too busy to read on then the short answer is a big resounding “YES!”
There are a zillion reasons why you should visit Kandy during your 2 weeks in Sri Lanka but the reason I list as number one is this: Kandy shows you a piece of Sri Lanka in its authentic outlook. If you go to Ella then the Ella town is totally built up for tourists, and there is hardly any “Sri Lankanness” there. In the middle of nowhere you find a town which only has cappuccinos and lattes but not the coffee as Sri Lankans taste. You find cafes that sell tea at a cost of 5 USD, not at the simple 8 cents as in other areas. There is pizza and pasta but no rice and curry as traditional Sri Lankans eat. It is a purpose built town for tourists. But Kandy is not so. Kandy is the centre for all locals in the hill country and many other regions. The city caters to the locals, and tourists can experience the same environment. The people you meet in Kandy are not there with a smile for tourists, but people with their genuine face as they move around for their daily work. Of course there are the usual touts who would come to you with a big smile to “help you” which is common in any tourist area, but I am telling you about the common people.
Let us talk about the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, the main attraction in Kandy. The place is a holy site for Buddhists, and thousands of them visit the premises every day. What you experience there, apart from the entrance ticket, is what the locals experience, and the traditional ways of life descending from generations ago. You can take a walk around the lake just like any local would do, and eat some food from somewhere the locals would eat at.
What to see in Kandy
Having sorted out why Kandy is still a number one place you must visit during your 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, let us have a look at what you can see and do during your stay.
1. Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
You already know the essential details about this place. If you don’t want to read it again then you may go down to the next point. The temple today is was the royal palace for the last king of Kandy. The golden roof on its octagon (Paththirippuwa) was built during the 80s. Known as the “Dalada Maligawa” by Buddhists, this is the symbol of Kandy, and arguably of Sri Lanka. During the 30 year war the terrorists destroyed parts of the entrance by carrying out a suicide bombing that killed many people in the 90s but it has since been renovated to the former standards and glory.
2. Royal Botanical Gardens Peradeniya
Started by the British, this is the main botanical garden in the Sri Lanka which see thousands of visitors every week. During weekends the Peradeniya botanical garden would be filled to the brim but still you can enjoy the beauty of nature as it is spread on 80 acres of land bordered by the Mahaweli River.
To reach the Peradeniya botanical garden you can take a bus which would charge you 20 Rupees per way. It is on the Kandy Colombo main road and is very easy to find. Take a bus to Penideniya, Peradeniya, Galaha, Mahakanda, or Pilimathalawa and get off at the Peradeniya botanical garden gate.
If it is your lucky day you might even get a chance to go in the old double decker bus which shuttles from Kandy to Peradeniya.
3. Embekke Devalaya
This is a wood carving marvel that tells you the story of a glorious past of the Sri Lankan arts and crafts as well as the culture of a bygone era. Keep your camera ready as there will be hundreds of artworks you might want to photograph. The best thing about this place is the calm and quiet you can enjoy there. This could be called a must see attraction in Kandy although it takes time to reach there.
4. Lankathilaka Viharaya
This is a temple sanctioned by the king of Kandy himself, and is held in high regards due to its historical significance.
5. Hantana mountain range
This gives you a view of Kandy in all its glory, and takes you closer to the heaven on Earth. But the most important thing is that you should not visit this place alone or without a guide as reports of theft are not unheard of. Get your host to arrange a guide to take you there.
This is a mountain in the city of Kandy on which you would find the majestic Buddha statue which could be seen from anywhere in the city. There are stairs inside the statue for you to climb, but even without that the climb is a great evening workout that ends in happiness and calm.
7. Udawatte Forest Reserve
This was a park for the Kandyan King but now the place is a protected area which boasts of natural beauty and wildlife in abundance. You will enter a forest right in the middle of the city, and forget the world for a few hours. This is a must see place during your stay of 2 weeks in Sri Lanka if you want to escape the noise of the city for a while. The entrance to the Udawatte Forest Reserve is not far from the Temple of the Tooth Relic, and is well within walking distance.
8. Wales Park
This is a tiny patch of a park opposite the temple of tooth relic, on the hillside by the Kandy Lake. This place is ideal for a quiet hour or two if you have some time to kill, and to escape the hustle and bustle of the city yet not walk far away.
9. Ambuluwawa in Gampola
Now this could be one of the sites I would hate to visit personally as it was built by destroying nature. But like any other popular place there are people who would love to climb a mountain, reach the peak, take a 360 view, and climb 7 thrilling storeys more. If that sounds interesting then you can go to Gampola, take a trishaw from there to Ambuluwawa, and spend an evening.
You can take a bus to Gampola but be aware that the Kandy – Gampola private buses take around 2 hours for the journey which would normally take 40 minutes on any other bus at normal speed. The best thing is to take a Kandy – Nawalapitiya bus and get down at Gampola. Or if you can find one, a CTB bus (state owned red colour bus) would take you to Gampola even quicker.
From Gampola to Ambuluwawa a trishaw might take anything from 10 USD to 20 USD depending on whether you want to go to the top of the hill in the trishaw or you would climb it from the foot of the hill. There is also an entrance fee for each visitor, and an extra fee if you decide to go on the taxi to the top of the hill. The last time I went there, there was a gentleman with telescopes you can borrow, and pay him some money as you wish. He accepts (or used to accept) any amount.
If you wish to take a bus to the entrance to Ambuluwawa, then the Hemmathagama bus is what you must take. There are many buses from Gampola to Hemmathagama, and you may get off at the Ambuluwawa entrance which is around 10 mins from the Gampola main bus station. It would cost you around LKR 15 per person which is roughly equivalent to 8 cents USD.