Dambulla Sri Lanka – Today, I’m taking you to the city of Dambulla, in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. I wanted to visit Dambulla because I wanted to see its Golden Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka and one of the main attractions of the city. It would be great to include Dambulla in your sightseeing tour, especially if you’re planning to visit Sigiriya’s Lion Rock for example or the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
Here’s how you can get to Dambulla and where you can stay. We’ll look at the best attractions in the city and its surroundings after that.
How To Get There
Kandy is 72 km away from Dambulla, so you’ll need to take the local bus to get there. Head to Kandy’s bus station which is right next to the train station. Departures are scheduled every half hour or so and the trip to Dambulla lasts between an hour and a half to two hours. It’s a 70 rupee-trip (40 cents) without air conditioning and a 180 rupee-trip ($1) with air conditioning. With prices like these, better get the air conditioning trip while you can!
I made the trip on a motorcycle and it took me about an hour and a half to get to Dambulla. If you’re not using public means of transportation to travel from Kandy, be sure to stop and visit the Ranweli Spice Garden halfway towards Dambulla. I’ll tell you more about it later in this blog post.
No train service in this area of Sri Lanka either so you’ll also need to take the local bus. Anuradhapura is 77 km away from Dambulla and the bus trip lasts about two hours. There’s a bus every 30 minutes and the trip costs 110 rupees (60 cents).
If you are looking for a quiet place to spend the night in Dambulla, I highly recommend the New Peacock Resort. I spent 3 very enjoyable nights there and everything went really well. You will be at a 5 minute walk from the city center so you’ll be staying in a quiet hotel while still being close to the city’s main attractions.
If you want to indulge in luxury and comfort, I recommend the Amaya Lake Kandalama hotel. As the name suggests, it is located on the shores of the beautiful Kandalama Lake so the setting will be idyllic.
You will have access to a swimming pool where you can quietly relax after a long day of sightseeing. The rooms are also fully equipped and you can even book an entire villa for less than $100! You just can’t get a better bang for your buck anywhere else!
Dambulla Sri Lanka – Restaurants
My favorite restaurant in Dambulla is the Benthota which is located here. Even though it says Benthota Bake House, they do sell cooked dishes. Their curry dishes are great but I went especially crazy for their chicken kottu! By the way, it’s a local restaurant so their prices are more than affordable. 😉
If you want to stock up on fruit, there’s a small fruit and vegetable market right here. The local bananas, mangoes, and pineapples are really delicious.
Dambulla Sri Lanka – The Golden Temple
The Golden Temple is actually a cave temple “complex” under a granite rock mountain in south Dambulla. The city has developed around this remarkable Buddhist temple. The caves date back to the 1st century AD and are the largest and best-preserved caves in the whole country.
To visit them, you will first need to purchase a ticket here. It’s 1500 rupees or about $8.5. To reach the mountain top, you’ll have to climb some 800 steps. Don’t take off your shoes until you get to the caves’ entrance. I made the mistake of taking them off at the beginning of the hike and went barefoot all the way up to the caves. It was a really hot day and the ground was just as burning hot so it felt something like this the entire time:
It wasn’t that funny though. Anyway, you will enjoy great views along the way and you should get to your destination in less than an hour.
At the caves, you will be asked to cover your shoulders and knees, just like in most sacred sites in Sri Lanka. If you’re wearing shorts, you can rent a sarong at the entrance for 100 rupees (60 cents).
When Buddhism got to Sri Lanka (in Mihintale, to be precise), many caves like these were built all over the country. They served as shelters and meditation sites for Sri Lankan Buddhist monks. Wonder what they’ve become since? Well, mainly caves for Buddha statues and beautiful murals defying centuries.
As soon as I entered the caves, I felt emotionally overwhelmed. It’s really impressive and truly moving to visit a site that is full of history. The feeling is unique, to say the least. 🙂
After visiting the caves, don’t go back the way you came but continue straight ahead. You will find yourself in front of a museum (exact location) with a rather special architecture. It’s a mix of Buddhist and Hindu styles.
To be honest, the exterior of the museum is much more interesting than what’s inside. But hey, it only costs 200 rupees (about $1) so if you have 10 minutes to spare, go ahead and visit it!
Dambulla Sri Lanka – The Ranweli Spice Garden
The Ranweli Spice Garden is located about 32 km south of Dambulla and north of Kandy (exact location). You will have to travel some distance to get to this garden but if you’re planning to visit Kandy, it’ll be on your way so make sure to visit this very nice place.
Access to the Ranweli Spice Garden is free and a guided tour of the garden is also available for free. Just make sure to agree with the guide on a free tour before you start. Your guide will then show you around the garden and explain to you how each spice is obtained. Below are turmeric roots along with the corresponding plant for example.
You will find many other spices, here is a small selection of them.
I already knew about pepper after I visited the Kampot plantations in Cambodia. The other ones I discovered in the garden. I learned that cinnamon sticks, which actually come from the bark of the cinnamon tree, are originally from Sri Lanka! After the visit, you will be offered a glass of tea and you can buy products derived from these plants. I bought an aloe vera moisturizer to apply to my skin to prevent or treat sunburns and I gave 500 rupees ($3) to my guide who was really nice. 🙂
Dambulla Sri Lanka – Sigiriya and the Lion Rock
Sigiriya and her great Lion Rock don’t need introductions, do they? It is one of Sri Lanka’s best-known attractions and you should absolutely not miss it. You can go there from Dambulla which is only 20 km away.
To visit the Lion Rock, it’s better to go there as early as possible to avoid tourist crowds. If you can travel around on your own or if you want to take a tuk-tuk, you can leave Dambulla at sunrise to get there before the site’s opening hour (7 AM).
If you want to take the local bus, the first scheduled bus will get you there after 8 AM which is already a little late. So I recommend you take the bus the day before your visit and spend the night in Sigiriya to be on the site first thing in the morning the next day. More info here: Sigiriya Sri Lanka.
Dambulla Sri Lanka – The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
Don’t forget to take a tour of the beautiful historic site of Polonnaruwa. It was the capital of Sri Lanka for nearly 200 years and is home to beautiful ruins that date back to the 11th century.
Polonnaruwa is about 70 km east of Dambulla. If you’re traveling on a motorcycle, you can easily make the round trip from Dambulla. It’s about an hour and a half drive. You can also spend the night there to fully enjoy the historic site. 🙂 More info here: Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka.
Thank you for reading this blog post! I hope it’ll help you plan your trip to Sri Lanka. Feel free to let me know in the comment section below if it did!
See you soon, fellow travelers! 🙂