Sigiriya Sri Lanka – At the heart of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, the city of Sigiriya teems with wonderful attractions waiting to be discovered! It is home to the magnificent Lion Rock, which is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and a cherished national symbol. Can you imagine a huge fortress on top of an enormous 370-meter high rock? It sounds unbelievable and is just as impressive in real life! 🙂
Climbing up the Lion Rock has been a unique experience that I really recommend you try if you’re traveling to Sri Lanka. Before we get to that, here are a few transportation and accommodation tips that could come in handy in Sigiriya.
How To Get There?
I drove a motorbike from the city of Dambulla, which is less than 20 kilometers away from Sigiriya, and the trip lasted about 30 minutes. If you also happen to be in Dambulla, you can grab a tuk-tuk to get to Sigiriya. Make sure to tell the driver to follow the road along Lake Kandalama though. Even if it takes a little longer to get to Sigiriya than the main road, the landscapes you will drive through are amazing and the trip will really be worth the detour. Price-wise, the tuk-tuk should cost about 1500 to 2000 rupees (between $8.5 and $11) and the trip should last about 45 minutes.
The local bus is another cheaper option if you’re interested. Tickets cost only 40 rupees (20 cents) and the first bus leaves the station of Dambulla at 6:45 AM. The ride lasts about an hour and buses are scheduled every hour. Ideally, you need to get to Lion Rock as early as possible to avoid tourist crowds but if you’re choosing the bus option, you’ll be there around 8 AM, which is a tiny bit late. You can always take the bus during the day, spend the night in Sigiriya, and visit Lion Rock the next day.
If you’re coming from Colombo, you can take the train from Colombo Fort Station to Habarana Station which is 15 kilometers north of Sigiriya. The second class trip takes a little more than 5 hours and costs 380 rupees (~ $2). You can check train schedules on this website. You will then have to take a tuk-tuk to get to Sigiriya.
There are also one-day tours from Colombo to Sigiriya. There’s a lot of ground to cover but if you don’t have much time on hand, you can check it out.
The Best Accommodation
As I said, try to go to Lion Rock as early as possible. The site opens at 7 AM so try to be there at that time to avoid tourist crowds. If you spend the night in Sigiriya, you can be right on time to visit Lion Rock without having to wake up too early.
So if you happen to be looking for a nice place to stay in Sigiriya that is not too expensive, I highly recommend the Sigiri Rock Side Home Stay. The staff is very friendly and the setting amazing. 🙂 The atmosphere in Sigiriya is calm and soothing and it felt really good spending the night in this haven of peace.
If you want to treat yourself to a beautiful resort around Lion Rock, there is the Aliya Resort & Spa which is really amazing and not that expensive, to be honest. You can enjoy a view of the Lion Rock from the resort’s pool while quietly sipping on a cocktail. How awesome does this look? 🙂
You can book standard rooms at Aliya Resort but it would be even more awesome if you can book a wooden chalet for a tremendously exciting change of scenery.
Entry Ticket to the Lion Rock
Entry to Lion Rock is $30. You don’t necessarily need to pay in dollars, but you will have to pay the equivalent of $30 in rupees. As a matter of fact, I paid 5430 rupees according to the day’s exchange rate. I’m not of a big fan of setting ticket prices in a foreign currency but hey, it’s not like you can do anything about it.
Remember that you are supposed to collect your tickets at the museum located here and not at the site itself (same thing in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by the way). You will be asked to show your ticket several times on site, it also gives you access to the archaeological museum by the way. Obviously, it’s better to visit the site early in the morning and then visit the museum.
Sigiriya Sri Lanka – The Story of Lion Rock
The origin of the fortress of Sigiriya actually comes from a royal family feud. Back in the 5th century, Kassapa and Moggallana, sons of the king of Anuradhapura, fight for the throne. Kassapa plots to seize power by first killing his father then expelling his brother from the kingdom. Moggallana must flee and is eventually forced into exile in India. But before leaving, he threatens his brother and promises he will be back one day to dethrone him.
The threat resonates in Kassapa’s mind and makes him completely paranoid. He decides to abandon the city of Anuradhapura for Sigiriya in order to build an invincible fortress at the top of Lion Rock. The rock got its name from the huge lion statue Kassapa built at the entrance of his fortress, at the top of the rock. Today, only the lion’s feet are left, the rest of the statue has been destroyed.
That’s the story of Kassapa who built a fortress with beautiful gardens and many walls to protect him from the potential invasion of his brother. One of the most impressive features of the site is the irrigation system that allows the supply of water to the top of the rock, to fill up the king’s pool among other things.
18 years later, Moggallana keeps his word and returns with an entire army to take back the throne from Kassapa. He doesn’t find it in Anuradhapura and his officers learn that Kassapa had moved to Sigiriya. When he finds out about the clearly unreachable fortress, Moggallana decides not to confront his brother and besieges the site by cutting off all supplies to the fortress.
Not having foreseen such a strategy, Kassapa ends up abandoning his rock and surrendering to Moggallana who unwaveringly kills him to avenge his father. The site of Sigiriya is then abandoned.
The moral of the story is that there is no such thing as an invincible fortress. 🙂
Sigiriya Sri Lanka – Climbing Up Lion Rock
Let’s have a closer look at this magnificent historical site! Going up and down Lion Rock will take you about 2 to 3 hours in total. It is quite a demanding hike but you can do it at your own pace and everything will be fine. The visit will start with the site’s gardens where you will see many pools that used to supply the fortress with water.
The climb then begins with about 1200 steps in total. You can take as many breaks as you like and don’t forget to stay hydrated! If you’re doing the climb early in the morning, you’ll be able to avoid most of the heat during the day.
Look back and enjoy the magnificent views. It is absolutely breathtaking!
At some point, you will get to the foot of the last few stairs left to climb. This is where you will see the feet of the lion and a rock that also looks like a lion, don’t you think?
After so much effort, you will finally reach the fortress at the top of the rock. Not all visitors are able to climb all the way up the rock so you won’t find many people at the top. Anyway, the site is gorgeous and makes you wonder how Kassapa managed to get such an unusual fortress to be built in such a setting.
If you look north, you will see the beautiful rock of Pidurangala that we get to climb later!
Take a few minutes to feel the intensity of the monument you’re visiting. There’s so much history around you so make the most out of this magical moment!
Climbing down the rock should be easier but be careful not to slip. Stretch your calves to avoid cramps! 😉 Also, you will meet a lot of monkeys on the way back so close your bags, especially if you have food in them.
I started climbing the rock at 7 AM and went back down at 10:50 AM. I rested for half an hour and grabbed something to eat at the cafe near the museum. Then I went to Pidurangala Rock!
Sigiriya Sri Lanka – Pidurangala Rock
After Lion Rock, I got ready to climb to the top of Pidurangala Rock. Entry costs only 500 rupees (~ $3) which is 10 times cheaper than Lion Rock’s. You will first visit a 5th-century temple where you will need to take off your shoes and cover your shoulders and knees.
You can then put your shoes back on and go uphill for 30 to 40 minutes. At first, there are steps that make it more or less easy but towards the end, you will have to climb some big rocks.
There are creepers to help you and locals will also give you a hand if you get in trouble! You will also come across a Buddha statue on your way up.
Since there are not many people around and everything is surrounded by a beautiful forest, the hike was very enjoyable! 🙂 Not to mention the magnificent view of Lion Rock.
Sigiriya Sri Lanka – Lion Rock or Pidurangala Rock ?
I am often asked the question and I always say both. Those are two completely different experiences and to each its own charm. Obviously, many people visit Lion Rock but it is definitely a must and if you get there early enough, you will avoid tourist crowds. The historical aspect of the site is also a strong argument that should encourage you to visit it.
As for Pidurangala Rock, it is more of an adventure in nature type of experience. The climb is shorter and the view at the top is really breathtaking. And since you will be north of Lion Rock, you won’t have to deal with unwanted backlight and will be able to take great pictures.
Sigiriya Sri Lanka – Another Spot With a View of Lion Rock
If you want to experience the view you see above, go to the Alakamandawa restaurant which is located on the edge of a small lake full of water lilies (exact location here). You will be standing south this time which will give you a great vantage point to admire Lion Rock. I encourage you to grab something to eat there. They make delicious kottu and roti. 😉
Let’s wrap up this tour of Sigiriya with tasty pictures of delicious food! Did you like this blog post? Make sure to let me know in the comments below, it’s always fun to get your feedback. 🙂
And if you are still thinking about which city you should visit in Sri Lanka, check ou my itinerary in Sri Lanka.
See you around friends,