Visiting Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka
Sigiriya Rock is the most important landmark of Sri Lanka and it has to be in your Sri Lanka travel itinerary. The ancient rock fortress, also called Lion Rock, is located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka near to Dambulla.
History of Sigiriya Rock
In the 5th century Kasyapa,
the second king of Sri Lanka 73rd king of Sri Lanka (as one of my readers corrected me, in 5th century, Sri Lankan Kingdom was already ~1000 years old), after killing his father to become the king, moved the capital of Sri Lanka from Anuradhapura to this site to protect his reign from his brother, Mugalan, who actually was the rightful heir.
Kasyapa built his palace on top of this massive rock and a giant lion as gateway to his palace which gives the name to this site, the Lion Rock. However his reign didn’t last long. In less than 20 years, his brother Mugalan defeated Kasyapa and moved the capital back to Anuradhapura. The buddhist monks started using this site and the palace as a monetary until 14th century.
Today, Sigiriya Rock is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and probably the most touristic place in Sri Lanka.
What to see in Sigiriya Rock
The Sigiriya Site can be separated into 3 levels. In the first level you walk along the Royal Gardens. In the second level you’ll see the frescoes, the mirror wall and the Lion Gate. The highest level is the top of the rock, where you can see the ruins of the King’s Palace.
The Royal Gardens
When you enter the site, after buying the tickets, you’ll walk along the symmetrical gardens which consists of pools and fountains. Parts of the underground watering system seem to work even today, after 15 centuries. No wonder, Sigirya counts as one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning of the first millenium.
The Colourful Frescos
The first thing you’ll see in the second level are the colourful frescos dating back from 5th century. The frescos are paintings of women who were most probably the lovers of the king. The fascinating thing of all this is that the colours are as lively as if they were painted yesterday.
You are not allowed to take pictures of the frescos, not even without flash.
The Mirror Wall
Imagine a 2-3 meters high wall which was polished continuously so that the king could see himself when he walks by. After the king died and the capital moved back to Anuradhapura, the wall became a place where the visitors expressed themselves with their verses. Today the wall has an orange colour and is protected so that the new visitors can not overwrite the old verses (in total 685) written between 8th and 10th centuries.
You need a bit of imagination to see the Lion Gate of Sigiriya. The mouth of the lion was supposed to be the entrance to King’s palace, however the lion’s head collapsed years ago and the only remaining body parts of the lion are the giant paws. The Rock Fortress is named after this lion sculpture. Through the staircase between the paws (imagine now going inside of a lion’s mouth) it goes up the metal stairs which lead to the top of the massive rock.
I didn’t realise how similar it is to Peru’s Machu Picchu till a friend mentioned it. When you managed to climb the last stairs and reach the top of the rock you’ll understand why it is called the “8th Wonder of the World”. Walking along the ruins I was just wondering why people would build their “home” or “temples” in such an isolated place on top of a 200 meters high rock. Well, instead of wondering I should be just thankful for the breathtaking panoramic views.
Good to know before yo visit Sigiriya Rock
Is it hard to climb up Sigiriya Rock?
Well, yes… It felt like thousands of stairs. My iPhone’s Health App showed 48 floors at the end. It is not only the countless stairs you need to climb, it is also the heat and humidity which is tiring. My tip is, don’t rush, take your time. If the others behind you get annoyed, just make space for them and let them go ahead. The pauses between the levels are life savers. Remember it is high and the stairs are steep. So if you’re afraid of heights, even slightly, think twice before paying the expensive entry fee.
How long does it take to visit Sigiriya?
I spent there almost 3 hours, but I spent very little time in the Royal Gardens and didn’t visit the museum. But I heard of others who were there only for 2 hours. I guess it depends how fast you climb, how much time you spend on each level and especially at the top of the rock.
How to avoid crowds in Sigiriya?
Difficult. I thought if I go early in the morning there won’t be many people. Wrong! Everyone goes to Sigiriya as early as possible to avoid the heat. The site opens at 8:30 and most of the people wait already to get their entry tickets. So without knowing how it really is, I’d recommend you to visit Sigiriya in the afternoon after 2:30-3pm or so, so that you still have enough time till the site closes at 5:30pm.
Where to stay near to Sigiriya?
I stayed in Dambulla which fits perfectly as base to visit the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. With tuk tuk it is only 30 minutes away. I stayed at Sevonrich Holiday Resort. The owner is super friendly and helps with organising the day trips.
How to get to Sigiriya Rock?
From Dambulla the most convenient way is to hire a Tuk Tuk (auto rickshaw) which waits for you there and takes you back to your hotel (30 minutes – 1500 LKR return). The driver waits for you in the car park. Another option is to take the bus to Sigiriya and walk till the entrance.
Entry fee & Opening hours
Expensive! Just like other ancient cities in Sri Lanka. The entrance fee costs 4200 LKR (30$) per person. This high price is the reason why many tourist chose the climb the neighbouring rock Pidurangala which is for free. The opening hours: 8:30 – 5:30
Don’t forget to bring!
- Plenty of water
- Light clothes
- Sunglasses & hat
- Steady shoes but Birkenstock will also do
- A good camera which is not too heavy or a GoPro
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For more insights from real pros I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Sri Lanka. For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
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I didn’t know anything about Sigiriya Rock before, it looks like an amazing place to visit. Lots of useful information, too!
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I’m happy I could inspire you. Let me know if you decide to visit it one day.
Just a correction. Kashyapa was about the 73rd king of Sri Lanka, give or take one or two places. By the time of Sigiriya in the 5th century, the Sri lankan kingdom was already close to 1000 years old.
Great blog btw. Keep travelling!
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Thanks for the correction, I’ll update it. Very happy to hear you like my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙏