Sigiriya is not only physically central to Sri Lanka, but also central to its history and cultural symbolism. Sigiriya features heavily in tourist brochures and on websites, and for good reason. It is one of the most stunning sites in a country that is packed to the brim with them.

Sigiriya is basically a huge rock with the ruins of a fortress on top of them. The walls of the rock are almost completely sheer in parts and to get to the top requires climbing staircases attached to the cliff faces. Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often billed by the Sri Lankan government as the ‘eighth wonder of the world.’

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

History of Sigiriya

Sigiriya was used continuously as a Buddhist monastery from about the third century BCE until the fourteenth century CE, with one notable exception. During the reign of King Kashyapa (roughly (477 to 495 CE) the site was converted into a fortress palace and the capital of the king’s empire. Most of the elaborate fortifications and buildings date from this time, including the huge lion gate.

The museum

Beside the ticket office is a museum about Sigiriya. I would recommend having a quick look in the museum before ascending the rock, mainly to understand a little more of the history and context before your visit.

Approaching Sigiriya

Sigiriya stands out over the surrounding landscape and looks amazing from almost anywhere near it. It is easy to see why a king would have chosen it from a defensive point of view but also because of its imposing position in the surrounding landscape.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Murals and mirror wall

The ‘mirror wall’ was once polished so well as to act like a mirror, but has now reverted almost completely to the state of ‘wall’. It sounded impressive but there really wasn’t anything to see. The spiral staircase rising above it leads to the remaining murals on the rock face. Although there are only a few murals now, the murals previously covered most of the western face of the rock. Unfortunately I can’t show any photos of the murals as it is strictly forbidden to take any.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Beware of the wasps!

These alarming signs are displayed around Sigiriya, although technically the creatures that are referred to are not wasps. They are giant honey bees which, according to Wikipedia, are “known for their aggressive defence strategies and vicious behaviour when disturbed.” In 2015, the ones at Sigiriya hospitalised 20 people in one day!

Wasp attack area, Sigiriya

Thankfully, these didn’t have to be used the day that I was there. They are netted areas for people to shelter in if there is a bee attack.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Lion Gate

These days, only the paws of the once no-doubt impressive lion statue which covered and guarded one of the entrances to Sigiriya remain. Looking at the huge paws, it is incredible to think of the size of the entire statue when it was in place.

Lion's paws, Sigiriya Lion's paw, Sigiriya

The top of Sigiriya

Continuing up the increasingly minimal steps clinging to the rock face, you will eventually get to the top. The top has a huge amount of stone ruins on multiple levels and some absolutely stunning views. It takes a bit of effort to get there but the views are a worthwhile reward.

Sigiriya, Sri LankaSigiriya, Sri Lanka

How to get to Sigiriya

Sigiriya is located about 25 kilometres away from the nearest city, Dambulla. There is a regular bus service between the two at 30-minute intervals. The journey also takes about 30 minutes. The buses start at 6:30am and the last bus leaves Sigiriya at about 6pm. It is possible to stay near Sigiriya but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have your own transport as there isn’t much nearby.

Day trip from Kandy

With an early start it is also definitely possible to do a day trip to Sigiriya from Kandy. The bus from Kandy to Dambulla takes about 2 and a half hours. Some of the buses from Kandy continue directly to Sigiriya, but changing in Dambulla is quite easy anyway. The bus station is quite small and you will most likely be quickly directed to (or hear) someone shouting ‘Sigiriya’. On the way back, it is worth noting that the bus to Kandy stops on the main road in Dambulla and not in the station.


I decided to stay in Dambulla for one night because I wanted to continue north to Anuradhapura after visiting Sigiriya. I stayed at the clean and adequate, if slightly unfriendly, Dambulla City Hostel.

The best of the limited eating option in Dambulla was Benthota Bake House. The portions were big, the food tasty and the prices very low.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Apart from its proximity to Sigiriya, the main reason to visit Dambulla is the Dambulla Cave Temple. Despite its name, the ‘cave temple’ actually consists of 5 caves. They are heavily decorated with painted patterns and buddhist motifs. They also contain buddhist statues. The caves are worth a look if you are in Dambulla, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t blown away by them.

Dambulla Cave Temple

There are also a lot of monkeys on the walk up to the cave temple. It’s cool to see them up close, but best to keep your distance too. Avoid bringing any food with you, even in a bag and definitely don’t try to feed them as they can become aggressive.

Monkeys in Dambulla

Finding the path up to the cave temple is quite easy. Look out for the giant golden Buddha statue. It is located on the main road in the direction of Kandy from the centre of Dambulla.

Golden Buddha, Dambulla


Sri Lanka in general is very cheap, but an exception to this is the country’s many tourist attractions, including Sigiriya. There are separate prices for foreigners and locals, with locals paying much cheaper prices. This makes sense to me, considering the low wages in the country, but it does draw the ire of a lot of visitors.

The entrance fee for Sigiriya for foreigners is 4,260 Sri Lankan Rupees (~A$37). For locals, the fee is just 60 SLR (~A$0.50). Despite the high price compared to most things in Sri Lanka, it is worth it. The history of it is cool and the views from the top are awesome.

For those whose tight budgets can’t stretch to covering the Sigiriya entrance fee, it is still worth visiting. The huge rock looks spectacular from the ground anyway, and another cheaper option is to climb the Pidurangala Rock, a couple of kilometres away. Pidurangala provides excellent views of Sigiriya for about a tenth of the price. Here is a view of Pidurangala from Sigiriya:

Pidurangala Rock

Things to bring to Sigiriya

Make sure to bring some water and good shoes (avoid flip-flops) as there is a lot of climbing. On the top of the rock (and part of the way up) there isn’t much shade so it is worth bringing sunscreen, a hat and whatever you might need in the often intense sunlight. There is an occasional tree at the top of Sigiriya and the limited shade provided can be very popular:

Tree on top of Sigiriya