My week-long tour of Sri Lanka was an exciting taste of what Sri Lanka has to offer. My journey to this (relatively) small island nation left me with memories of its delicious food, enchanting natural beauty, and rich cultural history.
This post is focused on my trip to the ancient city of Sigiriya. I had chosen to stay in Dambulla the night before as it makes a great basecamp for anyone looking to explore the Cultural Triangle.
Getting There – Dambulla to Sigiriya
There are no trains going from Dambulla to Sigiriya and thankfully catching the right bus was a breeze. English is widely spoken and the locals around the bus stations will be happy to help you out. The bus ride took 20 minutes and was fairly painless as there were still plenty of empty seats. Bussing around Sri Lanka is without a doubt the most economical choice – and at a cost of $0.30 the Dambulla-Sigiriya route is no exception!
Climb One – Pidurangala
Pidurangala is the lesser known of the two towering rocks at Sigiriya and the one I chose to climb first. It is actually a few meters taller than the more famous Lion’s Rock, and budget travelers will appreciate the low entrance price. At a mere $3 there is no reason for anyone to pass on the climb. The hike up Pidurangala is not overly difficult but, with the number of stairs involved, you will need some degree of fitness to conquer both this and Lion’s Rock in the same day.
About three-quarters of the way up the rock, you will come to an ancient temple. There isn’t a lot to see here except for a large reclining Buddha settled in a shallow recess in the cliff wall. The skill of the ancient craftsmen can still be seen as the Buddha has been protected from the elements for centuries.
Correction – Pidurangala is an easy climb up until the last few meters. You will need to scramble and slide through a series of boulders, no more stairs here, in order to reach the top. Once you arrive at the top it’s all worth it though.
A huge plus here is the view, postcard images of the ruins at Lion’s Rock and the surrounding forest. Sure, Lion’s Rock has the ruins and history, but in my opinion, Pidurangala has a more serene feel and more inspiring views. Perhaps it’s just the touristy, over-commercialized feel of Lion’s Rock, or maybe it’s due to the fact that I climbed it first. Either way, I came away with better memories (and better pictures) while at the top of Pidurangala rock.
Something to note: there is a temple straddling the rock’s entrance. Be prepared to cover your legs if you are wearing shorts as the temples in Sri Lanka seem to be quite strict in this regard. Although the temple does offer saree rentals, the best choice would be to bring your own covering (because who knows how many sweaty hikers wore it before you). The saree only needs to be worn on the temple grounds, so you are free to wear what you like once you actually start the hike.
Climb Two – Lion’s Rock
Lion’s Rock, it’s the reason we’re all here right?
Although I did prefer climbing Pidurangala, Lion’s rock is still a must see. The view from the gardens as you approach Lion’s Rock is truly amazing. This is now my all-time favorite travel photo!
To get into the ancient city of Sigiriya you will need to cough up $30 for admission, which is steep by Sri Lankan Standards. The price is a bit better ($15) if you are a resident of South East Asia. The ticket booth accepts either LKR or USD so you won’t need to stress out if you don’t have enough rupiahs with you.
There are a few things to do when you enter Sigiriya besides just climbing the rock.
- Enjoy the water gardens. The first thing you will notice when entering the city is the network of intricate pools laid out along the paths. These pools make up the water garden that was constructed roughly 1500 years ago.
- Photo spots. There are a number of great photo opportunities around Sigiriya. The approach to Lion’s Rock will give you postcard pictures so be sure you don’t miss this one.
- Take in the remaining architecture. Most of the buildings at Sigiriya have been leveled to the foundation but there is enough left to give you an idea of the cities former greatness.
- Head to the Museum. Be sure to check out the Sigiriya Museum after climbing Lion’s Rock. Admission to the museum is included with your ticket to Lion’s Rock so be sure to keep your ticket stubs!
After checking out the sights at the base of the rock I was ready to start my second climb of the day. It is similar to Pidurangala except the stairs are a bit neater and more well-kept.
The first things to see as you head up Lion’s Rock are the ancient Aspara Fresco Paintings. A large section of the fresco is still well preserved and can be seen in a recess in the rock wall, although this is just a small part of a fresco that once covered a large section of the rock.
Near the painting is Mirror Wall, a section of rock that was polished to give it a mirror-like finish. The wall contains numerous poems that were etched into the surface of the wall. They date back centuries and provide a historical look into the culture, but are a faded and bit hard to make out today.
Near the height of the climb, you will see why it’s called ‘Lion’s Rock’ or ‘Lion’s Fortress’. A giant set of stone-carved paws guards the final stairway to the rock-top fortress. Be prepared to overcome your fear of height because the last set of stairs will seem frightening as they zig-zag up the sheer side of the cliff. At the top, you will see the ruins of a large palace complex that served as the home and capital of the 5th-century king. The buildings here are in ruins like the city and gardens below but show the skill that was put into designing and planning the palace.
There are a number of photo opportunities to be had here so take the time to wander around and enjoy the spectacular views. Once finished, you can head to the museum or grab something to eat. There is a restaurant near the museum at the entrance to Sigiriya. The food is decent and will work if you’re hungry. Remember, Lion’s Rock closes at 5:30 pm so be sure you give yourself enough time to enjoy everything here.
Once you finish sightseeing around Sigiriya you will need to find your way back, assuming you aren’t staying in Sigiriya. Taking the bus is always an option but I chose to catch a tuk-tuk and avoid the crowded buses. From what I hear a tuk-tuk from Sigiriya – Dambulla, or vice versa, typically costs around 1,000 LKR well worth it after the long day.
The tuk-tuk driver I found quoted me 500 LKR for the journey, a surprisingly low price in my opinion. It turns out that the driver works a different job during the week and just picks up tourists on the weekend in order to chat with foreigners. After 30 minutes or so of conversation I was back at my hotel in Dambulla and ready to plan the next stop on my tour around Sri Lanka.
A day at Sigiriya is a day well spent as that will give you enough time to leisurely climb both rocks and possibly catch the sunrise and/or sunset. If you are strapped for time you might consider spending a half day at Sigiriya and then continue to Polonnaruwa for the latter part of the day.
Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle is dotted with UNESCO World Heritage sites. You may not have time to see them all in one trip, but I highly recommend a stop at Sigiriya.