At the time I was a little uneducated about the history of Sri Lanka. This can be defended as both a good or bad thing. Good because you can visit and observe (or experience it) with fresh eyes and no filters. And bad because you lack the information necessary to fully comprehend the historical and cultural significance of what you're visiting.
On my first ever holiday to Sri Lanka and also in my first year of living in Sri Lanka, I hadn't read a great deal on Sri Lanka, its history and culture. So when I visited many places in my early travels, I literally experienced both the good and bad. I was uneducated and relied heavily on the kindness of friends and fellow travellers to inform me. In hindsight, I wished I had "read up" or acquired knowledge to appreciate the history and culture as I visited those places. That said, I still enjoyed my travels.
Back to this particular visit to Yapahuwa... it is said to be one of the best preserved ancient sites in Sri Lanka. It often makes a wonderful addition to any tour of Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle, though many visitors or travellers tend to skip it, either due to lack of time or they don't know about this hidden treasure.
What is interesting about Yapahuwa is that King Bhuvenakabahu built his palace and rock fortress on the 90 meter high rock boulder.
It is no surprise Yapahuwa is often compared to Sigiriya, but on a much smaller scale. The palace, unlike Sigiriya, is not built on the summit of the rock, but rather on a slightly lower level.
The most notable showpiece is the impressive ancient stone staircase leading up to the temple and caves. It is a fairly steep climb. Also of note are the well-preserved stone sculptures of the Yapahuwa Lions midway up the staircase.
After climbing the ancient stone staircase you are rewarded with spectacular views and vistas from the higher vantage point, as well as a wonderful view of the Yapahuwa rock.
At the top of the staircase is an ornate doorway that once led to the Temple of Tooth, which would have housed the Sacred Tooth Relic in ancient times. Unfortunately, only the foundations of the temple are all that remains.
From what I can remember there is a rough path that enables you to climb higher to reach the ancient caves. These caves apparently pre-date Yapahuwa becoming the capital of the ancient kingdom and may have been inhabited by Buddhist monks for meditation and seclusion. There are also remains of a Stupa, Bodhi tree and a small pond.
Although I didn't visit on this particular occasion, there is a small museum that houses ancient artifacts excavated from the ruins, including a rock window from the palace, ceramics and more. This is located near the entrance and car park.
If you'd like to visit Yapahuwa, it is approximately 140kms or three hours by car from Colombo. Alternatively, you can catch a train from Fort Railway Station in Colombo to Maho Junction station, then catch a tuk-tuk or private bus to Yapahuwa.