Would you climb Sri Lanka’s famous big rocks? What about climbing Pidurangala or Sigiriya with kids in tow? We did them all; but with tourists flocking to these rocks, there is definitely a ranking in my opinion – especially if you are short on time.
The following is some tips to plan a great trip to Dambulla, and a successful climb of all three of Sri Lanka’s famous rocks.
- About Sri Lanka
- Why Dambulla?
- How long do you need
- Dambulla Cave Temples
- Pidurangala Rock
– Know before you go
- About Sigiriya
- Climbing Sigiriya with kids
– How long does it take?
- Getting there
- Where we stayed
- Pidurangala, in my opinion
QUICKLY, ABOUT SRI LANKA
Language: Sinhala, Tamil, English
Religion: Buddhism 70.2%, Hinduism 12.6%, Islam 9.7%, Christianity 7.4%
Currency: Sri Lanka Rupee (LKR)
CHOOSING DAMBULLA AS A BASE
Dambulla is a town in the north of Matale District, the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Most often on the tourist trail, Sigiriya is the closest hub stop to complete Sri Lanka’s ‘cultural triangle’ from, and so Dambulla can be overlooked. We choose to base ourselves in Dambulla to make short half-day trips to Pidurangala and Sigiriya with the kids, liking the sound of it being off the tourist trail. It is a good choice for bus connections with a busy central bus station.
If you are looking for a local experience then I would recommend staying in Dambulla.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED?
We spent three nights in Dambulla, arriving by bus from Negombo. It was the perfect amount of time to feel content with our explorations of this historical inland area and also to have ample time to relax in between early starts and rock/stair climbs.
DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLES
The first of our explorations took us to the Dambulla Cave Temples, only 300m from our guesthouse (but, UP hill!).
We made a successful though slightly weary climb up the steps after a day of bus riding, and were rewarded with awesome views from the top of the rock.
Contrary to common perception that it might be majority Hindu being so close to India, more than 70% of Sri Lanka is actually Buddhist.
You have to take your shoes off at the top, to explore the temple. And don’t forget that being a Buddhist place of worship you need to cover up or you will not be allowed to enter; knees and shoulders at least.
Cost: 1500 LKR per adult ($8.50 USD).
Hours: Open from 7 am to 7 pm.
Pidurangala is a massive rock formation located a few kilometres north of Sigiriya. Sort of like the sister rock to Sigiriya, it is best known now for its sunrises and views over Sigiriya. We liked the sound of that and on first pick up from Dambulla bus station, our tuk tuk driver fast sold us an early pick up for the next day with the allure of watching sunrise from the top of Pidurangala.
The driver picked us up at the promised time of 4:30am, and drove the half hour distance to the base of the rock. Note, it is cold in the tuk tuk at that time of morning, whilst whizzing along at 40kmph. We had to pull over and ask our driver to pull down the sides of the tuk tuk!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The track up Pidurangala is a decent climb. The first half is easy with steps and a path, moving on to more rock scrambling and clambering for the last part. Near the top you need to crawl underneath a few low lying rock formations.
The view is surreal on emerging at the top. A faintly lit Sigiriya is visible in the distance. There are two viewing levels at the top of the rock. A lower viewing level (pictured) and space higher up by a lone boulder resting on the highest peak. Either level is good for watching the sun rise.
It is dark on arrival at Pidurangala before sunrise. There is some lighting on the path but bring torches or a headlamp.
Buy tickets from the office at the entrance to the walk.
Cost: $3 USD per adult.
Hours: Open from 5 am to 6 pm.
Name: Lion Rock (Sinhala: සීගිරිය, Tamil: சிகிரியா)
Location: Central Province, Sri Lanka
Elevation: 349 m
But what actually is Sigiriya?
Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress dating back to the 5th Century. According to Sri Lankan history, the site was selected by King Kashyapa (447 – 495 CE) as his new capital. He built a palace on top of the rock, with an enormous gateway in the shape of a lion.
After his death, the royal palace was abandoned, but the site was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Today it is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, so the ruins are protected.
It is fascinating to wander the terraced layout of the palace. The grounds were designed with a theatre area and bathing pools for the king. And all on top of a rock!
CLIMBING SIGIRIYA WITH KIDS
Climbing Sigiriya with kids is definitely an adrenaline pumping experience. It was certainly a satisfying climb up (and sit down at the top). From my part it felt like half of the 1201 steps involved scaling iron scaffold up the side of the vertical and rock face; but it isn’t quite true.
The walk up took us about an hour, but could be done faster. We took time stopping for little rests, reading the signs, and looking out over the incredible jungle landscape at view points along the way. Albeit we did make our way very slowly up the scaffolded steps for the last part of the climb to the summit!
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
We left our guesthouse in Dambulla at 7:00am, and it was a good time to get to Sigiriya. The journey from Dambulla takes half an hour, and the Sigiriya grounds open at 7:00am. If we did it again we would probably arrange for a pickup at 6:30am and be there that little bit earlier. There were crowds forming on the way up as we descended at 10 am in the increasing wind.
Do your research, start early, and keep an eye on the wind and weather. It’s worth it!
WHAT DOES IT COST?
Thats definitely the catch! Sigiriya with kids is really expensive, especially in comparison to Pidurangala. Per adult to climb Sigiriya is $30 USD (children under 6 are free). Pidurangala costs only $3 USD per adult!
A tuktuk from Dambulla to the two rocks cost LKR 2500. We did one rock per day and ended up paying 2000 LKR for each trip. We were happy with the tuk tuk price and were back to our hotel each day in time for a late – but included in the price – breakfast.
We made day trips from Dambulla to each of the rocks. Sigiriya and Pidurangala were each about half an hours drive from our guesthouse. The Dambulla Cave Temples were within walking distance.
We found it easy to get to Dambulla by bus from Negombo which was our first stop in Sri Lanka. After Dambulla we completed a further loop down to the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka, before flying onwards to Kerela, India.
WHERE WE STAYED
- Negombo: Optimum Residencies [great proximity to airport and not in main tourist area; awesome swimming pool; very friendly staff; restaurant onsite; recommend for first stop in Sri Lanka].
- Dambulla: Shan Inn [great value for money; basic but very friendly and clean; good base for Dambulla].
- Kandy: Kandy View Garden Hotel [amazing views; family run hotel; great breakfast and dinner, spacious rooms; a five minute tuk tuk from shops and town though not really walkable].
Climbing Pidurangala really got me thinking about travel and the sights we choose and enjoy most around the world.
How often are you underwhelmed by ‘sights’?
I am pretty sure this was more about us. (Maybe a case of ‘it’s not you, its us’?). The sight itself was truly great. And despite the 4:00am alarm clock, and tuk-tuk pick up at 4:30am, we loved the challenge of scaling a rock in the setting moonlight.
But standing atop Pidurangala was in essence a little underwhelming. Perhaps it was the anti-climax. We’d made the climb and there we were… But so were all the other tourists. Maybe about 30 of them, and all sitting around taking selfies.
We sat in semi silence, watching the sun come up and admiring Sigiriya in the distance. But it had us discussing how we feel about “sights” vs. the experiences we seem to find far more interesting… Like wandering through local markets, meeting our drivers family, eating at a roadside stall, or talking to people. All things that involve ‘doing’ rather than seeing…
So would I recommend you do the walk at sunrise? Probably!
And the cost to do Pidurangala is only $3 USD per adult. A small price for the adventure of climbing and seeing… If that is what you are into!