Visiting and Climbing Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka

In the middle of Sri Lanka lies the countries most historic site, Sigiriya Rock. This peculiar rocky outcrop has drawn people in for centuries. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Sri Lanka’s most visited attraction. On my time visiting Sigiriya Rock, it was easy to see why.

About Sigiriya Rock

The area surrounding “Lion Rock” was once the ancient city of Sigiriya and dates back to the 5th Century. The 180-meter high rock towering over the city was Sinhalese king Kashyapa I choice destination to build a palace. It served as a summer home since it was a cool retreat from the jungle below until his defeat in the year 495. The palace fell into ruins then became a Buddhist monastery until the 14th-century.

Today it draws a crowd for its natural beauty and historic allure.

Getting to Sigiriya Rock

With a central Sri Lanka location, visiting Sigiriya Rock takes some effort. You can train or a bus to Dambulla, the nearest town to Sigiriya Rock, and will take you up to four hours. From there it’s another 25 km to Sigiriya by bus or tuk-tuk.

      Ready to book your train ticket to Sigiriya?

Alternatively, you can fly Air Taxi Cinnamon which runs daily flights to Sigiriya from Colombo. The takes just 30 minutes but costs ~$200 USD each way!

    Compare airlines, dates and prices on flights to Sri lanka all in one place with Skyscanner

The quickest and most value friendly way is to hire a driver. I chose Sanota Walkers for the three-hour drive from Colombo. I booked it as a side trip on the way to Kandy which allowed for a few extra stops along the way and cost me $310 USD.

    Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travellers have to say about Sanota Walkers at TripAdvisor

Note: Roads in Sri Lanka are slow going. Although visiting Sigiriya Rock from Colombo is just 165 KM away, it can take three to four hours to drive. Plan accordingly.

Guide or go it Alone?

Once at Sigiriya, entrance tickets can be purchased for ~$30 USD. This also includes access to the Sigiriya Museum which is a good starting point if you intend to make the climb up on your own. Alternately, and recommended, you can hire a local guide. This gets you a knowledgable companion who will point out tidbits (and creatures) that are easy to miss on your own.

 READ MORE:   Visiting the Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

City Planning Ahead of its Time

As you make your way to the looming rock in the distance you past many examples of how advanced Sigyiria was for its time. The elaborate city planning is symmetrically laid out and includes reservoirs and hydraulic systems. The latter includes a fountain known as the oldest of its kind. More impressive is it still functions to this day.


As you pass the final of five gates you will arrive at the first of 1,200 steps up. Along the way that you will pass fresco paintings dating back 1,600 years. It is thought that the whole face of the hill was once a picture gallery. Today only a handful remain with the best examples inside the Cobra Hood Cave and along the Mirror Wall. The latter got its name as it was once polished so much that the King could see himself in it as he passed. Today this area is well preserved and includes a walkway to cover it from the elements.

Lion Gate

Halfway up Sigiyria Rock, you will find the Lion Gate, the very reason Sigyiria got its name. This massive (massive!) gate to the top of the rock once had a full lion’s head carved into it. Today only the two paws remain. It takes an interesting artist rendition to grasp what this gateway once looked like.

Climbing Sigiriya Rock

On top of Sigiriya Rock, you will find several water gardens and pools once used to cool the Royals. I certainly could’ve taken a dunk myself on my time visiting Sigirya. Despite having no intentions to do so, we arrived on top of the rock at high noon. My biggest take away from visiting Sigirya is to avoid this at all costs. There is little to no shade at Sigiriya and the heat took a toll on me. I was very dizzy at the top and was certainly fighting off heatstroke. Head up at sunrise for the best experience possible.

Beyond the pools, there is little remaining on top of Sigiriya Rock. There are some foundations but nothing to really show what the palace once looked like. Despite this, the views are amazing, especially looking out at the path leading up to the rock.

 READ MORE:   How to Spend 3 Days in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Wrapping up Visiting Sigiriya Rock 

Even with the early onset of heatstroke, visiting Sigirya Rock was my favourite activity while in Sri Lanka.  Its fascinating history coupled with the sight of a giant red rock surrounded by lush green jungle is worth the trip. It’s understandable why people have been drawn to it for centuries. The head-scratching city plans, paintings, and Lion Gate only add to this allure.

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