Kandy, one of Sri Lanka's most iconic cities, offers an enriching blend of tradition and modernity. Located in the central region of the island nation, it presents a unique opportunity to experience Sri Lanka's rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, and vibrant local life. This travel guide aims to give you all the information you need to explore this fascinating city.
Overview of Kandy
Located in the Central Province, Kandy is the country’s second-largest city. It serves as both a religious and cultural center, and it has also become an increasingly popular destination for tourists. The city's landscape is distinguished by its mountainous terrain, which provides a cooler climate compared to other regions of Sri Lanka. The Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka's longest river, meanders through parts of Kandy, adding another natural element to the city's scenic backdrop.
Kandy is situated on a plateau surrounded by mountains, which not only creates a natural barrier but also provides a range of outdoor activities. Nature reserves, lakes, and botanical gardens in the area offer a respite from urban life, making it an attractive destination for nature enthusiasts.
Kandy has a tropical rainforest climate, but it's cooler and wetter than most of Sri Lanka's coastal regions. This is due in part to its higher elevation, which is approximately 500 meters above sea level. The city enjoys a drier period from January to April. Monsoon seasons occur from May to July and October to December. Average temperatures are consistently above 18°C.
Kandy has seen significant growth and development in recent years. While tourism is a leading industry, the city is also known for its tea plantations and spice gardens. Additionally, it serves as a commercial hub for the Central Province, featuring a range of modern amenities like shopping malls, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
History and Significance
Kandy holds a distinguished place in Sri Lanka's history as the last royal capital of the island. Before the establishment of colonial rule, the city was the center of Sri Lankan kingship for nearly three centuries. Founded in the late 15th century, Kandy became a stronghold against foreign invasions, notably resisting Portuguese and Dutch colonial powers.
The Kingdom of Kandy
The Kingdom of Kandy was one of the most formidable and enduring native states. Established around the late 15th century, it existed independently until the late 18th century. The kingdom was a symbol of native resistance against colonial rule, managing to repel Portuguese and Dutch forces for centuries. Its strategic location in the mountainous terrain made it a difficult target for foreign invasion.
The British Era
The British succeeded in capturing Kandy in 1815, marking the end of Sri Lanka's last native kingdom. The subsequent British rule had a transformative impact on the city, including the introduction of tea plantations in the surrounding regions. However, the British also preserved the Temple of the Tooth and respected its religious significance.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
In 1988, Kandy was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a recognition of its cultural and historical importance. This not only brought the city into international focus but also increased its attractiveness as a tourism destination.
Today, Kandy serves as a significant religious, cultural, and commercial center. The city continues to attract scholars, pilgrims, and tourists alike, making it a multidimensional city with a rich past and a vibrant present.
Understanding Kandy's history provides a deeper insight into its current landscape, whether it's the architecture, the festivals, or the warm local hospitality. The city’s past is crucial in appreciating its significance in both Sri Lankan history and contemporary society.
Kandy's culture is deeply influenced by its historical role as the last royal capital of Sri Lanka and its religious significance as a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. The Temple of the Tooth Relic makes Kandy a key spiritual center. While Buddhism plays a dominant role in shaping the city's culture, Kandy is not just limited to one religious tradition. The city is a microcosm of Sri Lanka's religious diversity, with Hindu temples, mosques, and Christian churches all finding their place here.
Another remarkable feature of Kandy's culture is its traditional arts and crafts. Dance forms like the Kandyan dance, characterized by its elegant movements and vibrant costumes, are an important aspect of local culture. Drumming accompanies these dances, and the rhythms are often specific to different types of ceremonies and festivities. Craftsmanship also thrives in Kandy, evident in the local markets where wood carving, batik fabrics, and intricately designed jewelry are sold.
The cultural richness of Kandy is perhaps best displayed during its festivals. The most notable is the Esala Perahera, a grand procession held annually to honor the tooth relic.
In daily life, one can see the interplay of modernity and tradition. While the city has seen significant development and offers modern amenities, it retains a strong sense of community and tradition. All these elements together make Kandy a compelling destination for those interested in experiencing a rich, multifaceted culture.
Attractions and Things to Do
Kandy offers an array of attractions to suit a wide range of interests. Among its most noteworthy sites is the Temple of the Tooth Relic, a significant Buddhist site that houses a tooth relic of Lord Buddha. It is an architectural marvel with stunning carvings, golden canopies, and numerous shrines, making it a focal point for tourists interested in spirituality and Sri Lankan history.
For nature lovers, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya provide an idyllic escape from the urban environment. Spanning over 147 acres, the gardens showcase a broad variety of plant species, including rare orchids and towering palm trees. Themed sections, such as the Orchid House and the Fernery, offer specialized collections for those with a keen interest in botany.
The Udawattekele Forest Reserve serves as another haven for nature enthusiasts. This protected reserve covers approximately 104 hectares. It provides well-marked hiking trails amid a serene forest atmosphere, and it's an excellent spot for bird-watching, housing a variety of endemic bird species.
Kandy Lake, a man-made marvel built in 1807, sits at the heart of the city. This scenic spot is ideal for leisurely walks or boat rides, offering a calm contrast to the city's more bustling areas. The lake also has a few small islands and is surrounded by trees, making it a peaceful setting for relaxation.
Last but not least, Kandy hosts the renowned Esala Perahera, one of Sri Lanka's most celebrated festivals. This annual event, usually taking place in July or August, is conducted to pay homage to the sacred tooth relic housed in the Temple of the Tooth. The procession is an elaborate affair that features dozens of decorated elephants, traditional dancers, and drummers marching through the streets of Kandy. The festival attracts a large number of spectators, both local and international, and is a highlight in the city's cultural calendar.
For more in-depth information, be sure to check out our article on the 'Top 10 Things to Do in Kandy.' Regardless of your interests, Kandy provides a diverse selection of attractions that promise enriching experiences.
Kandy offers a diverse shopping experience for both tourists and locals. Kandy City Centre is a key spot for a wide range of retail goods, from clothing to electronics. It also houses dining and entertainment options, serving as a complete destination for a day out.
For traditional items, the Kandy Market is the place to go. Here, you'll find local produce, spices, and crafts like wooden carvings and batik textiles. It provides an authentic local shopping experience and is ideal for picking up souvenirs.
Gem shopping is also popular in Kandy, with various stores specializing in high-quality sapphires, rubies, and other precious stones. These shops usually offer certificates of authenticity for your peace of mind.
Tea is another must-buy item in Kandy. The city has several shops that offer a wide variety of teas, from green and black to flavored blends. Sampling is often available to help you choose your preferred tea.
Lastly, art and handicraft stores are plentiful, selling traditional crafts such as masks, pottery, and woven goods, which make excellent gifts or souvenirs.
Food and Dining
Kandy offers a range of dining options. You can find traditional Sri Lankan meals in local eateries. For international cuisine, the city also has various restaurants offering Western, Chinese, and Indian food. Street food options like roti and hoppers are popular and readily available.
Kandy offers a variety of lodging choices to fit different budgets and tastes, ranging from luxury hotels with extensive amenities to mid-range options conveniently located near attractions. Budget travelers can also find hostels and affordable hotels offering basic but clean rooms. Additionally, for those interested in an authentic local experience, homestays with local families are available. Regardless of what you're looking for, Kandy provides ample accommodations near its key attractions to suit any travel need.
If you are visiting during the Esala Perahera, be sure to book accommodation well in advance.
Location and How to Get There
Kandy is situated in the central region of Sri Lanka, approximately 115 kilometers from Colombo, the country's capital. The most straightforward way to reach Kandy is by taking a train or bus from Colombo, which usually takes around three to four hours. You can also opt for a quicker but more expensive journey by hiring a private car or taking a domestic flight. These options make Kandy easily accessible for both local and international travelers.
Best Time to Visit
The ideal time to visit Kandy depends on what you want to experience. If you wish to witness the Esala Perahera, plan your visit for July or August, when the event typically occurs. However, these months also attract large crowds. For those looking to explore the city's natural and historical sites with fewer crowds, the drier months from January to April are recommended. During this period, the weather is generally pleasant and conducive for outdoor activities.
Tips and Advice
- Local Customs: Respect local traditions and religious practices, especially when visiting temples. Dress modestly and remove footwear before entering sacred spaces.
- Transport: Public transport is readily available but can be crowded. Consider hiring a tuk-tuk or private car for more comfort and flexibility.
- Safety: While Kandy is generally safe, exercise usual precautions like safeguarding belongings. Avoid poorly lit areas at night.
- Weather Prep: Carry both sunscreen and an umbrella, as the weather can be unpredictable. Lightweight clothing is recommended, but keep a jacket for cooler evenings.
- Timings: Many attractions have specific opening hours and may be closed on certain days. Check in advance to make the most of your visit.
- Local Cuisine: Be cautious with street food if you have a sensitive stomach. However, don't miss out on trying traditional Sri Lankan dishes at reputable restaurants.
- Esala Perahera: If visiting during this festival, book accommodations and tickets well in advance due to high demand.
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi is widely available in hotels and some cafes.
Kandy stands as an attractive destination in Sri Lanka, offering a balanced mix of cultural richness, historical depth, and scenic beauty. Ideal for all types of travelers, the city provides various experiences, from engaging festivals to captivating landmarks and natural wonders. Visiting Kandy promises a memorable and rewarding journey that will leave a lasting impression on your travels.