Also called Lion Rock or Lion Mountain is an ancient rock fortress 169 km away from Colombo that was built in the late 5th century, today is a UNESCO-listed world heritage site as the 8th Wonder of the World in 1982. Sigiriya Rock Fortress is noted for its palace ruins on top of a massive 200-meter (660 feet) rock surrounded by the remains of a vast web of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. It is a rock with the ruins of a king’s palace on top. It is also believed to be one of the famous Buddhist monasteries. The climb itself is very steep in parts and with over 1200 steps to climb, you would need a fit body, mind, and some stops for breaths to make it through. Sigiriya Rock Fortress is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Sri Lanka.
Best Time To Visit Sigiriya Rock
The most tempting thing about Sigiriya is that it’s a year-round destination. The best month to visit this place is from January to April – the climate would be pleasing and there’s scant rainfall in these months, making you further explore adventurous activities. I’d suggest you avoid trekking anytime during October-December (the off-season), the wettest months.
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However, the best time to visit Sigiriya Rock is around 7 am to avoid the midday heat and the crowd. Visiting later in the day also gives you the perfect light to capture the intriguing fresco paintings at their best.
How To Reach Sigiriya Rock Fortress?
The best way to get around in Sigiriya is by bike or scooter. You can also hire a tuk-tuk, it is cost-effective and will give you a lot of places to add to your itinerary list which otherwise you’d have missed.
Reaching Sigiriya does not involve a lot of hustles but keep in mind that there are no direct connections to reach Sigiriya.
Colombo to Sigiriya by Car – The distance by car is 175 km and is reachable in about 3-4 hours. If you are going by taxi, the cost to go to Sigiriya from Colombo is between LKR 12,500 to 15,000, USD35-40 (INR 2830-3397). Exploring by Car is highly recommended as there’s no direct transport and hiring a private taxi can be a little pricey.
By Bus – By public transport, a bus which is frequent from Colombo bus station, ‘Saunders Place’ to Dambulla (the city nearest Sigiriya) would mostly take 3-4 hours. Sigiriya is about 30-40 minutes by bus from Dambulla, a bit less by three-wheeler/tuk-tuk. If you want to interact with the locals more then what’s better than voyaging by bus?
By Train – You can take a train to reach Sigiriya. The Habarana railway station is located at a distance of 15.5 km from Sigiriya. A cab will take you to Sigiriya in approximately 30 minutes or you can prefer a tuk-tuk ride to the destination which will take a little more time- consuming than a cab.
By Flights – The swiftest way to get to Sigiriya from Colombo is by flying there directly. The nearest domestic airport to this location is Sigiriya Airport which is located 6.2 km from the site. Once you have reached the airport, you can call for a cab that will take around 15- 20 minutes to reach the destination.
Hiking up Sigiriya Rock really depends on your speed, fitness, and the crowd but mostly it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to climb up and 30 minutes to climb down but don’t forget to stop and take breaths in between. There are some 1,200 steps to the top of the rock, where you will be rewarded with scenic views and dramatic history that will soothe your trouble climbing.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress History, Timings & Entrance Fee
There are many stories behind this majestic fortress – the palace of Kashyapa or the palace of King Ravana or a Buddhist Monastery which one is it?
The history that proves King Kashyapa Palace’s existence:
The rock itself is a lava plug left over from an ancient long extinct volcano. Located in between the Habarana and Dambulla towns in the Matale district in Sri Lanka is,
Sigiriya. Ages ago the citadel on top of the Sigiriya was built by King Kashyapa who ruled from 477 to 495 CE. It is said that he seized the throne from king Dhatusena, depriving Moggallana, ‘the rightful heir’ of his right following the entombment of Dhatusena. King Kashyapa while looking for a place to hide afraid of the attack from Moggallana found an approximately lion-shaped rock which he then converted to be his palace. The rock was elaborately designed with pools and lush green gardens and had dense forests protecting it. The grand gardens of Sigiriya are said to be one of the world’s oldest landscaped gardens. The water system that still leaves people amazed remains a puzzle still functions well during the rainy seasons and fills up the pools on all ground levels. He moved the capital and the residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to Sigiriya. It is said that it served as a safeguard from his enemies as well as a pleasure palace.
The entrance to Sigiriya is through a gateway in the form of a huge lion. A staircase emerges from a lion’s mouth and is guarded on either side by a pair of huge lion paws. For this reason, Sigiriya has gained the nickname of ‘Lion Rock’. The lion carved into the rock served to both welcome visitors and warn enemies.
The “Mirror Wall” is one of the prominent thins at this site (it’s basically a very smooth wall full of historical frescoes and drawings which are similar to those found at Ajanta Caves in India) please keep in mind that you cannot take photos of it. Some of the most magnificent ancient frescoes (it’s the oldest painting technique) in the world are found at Sigiriya. The frescoes depict women of the royal court. It was estimated that there were more than 500 paintings; now only 20-21 of them are there, and the rest got destroyed due to the tropical climate.
The highly polished wall was originally designed for the King to see his reflection when walking by. Since then, the ‘mirror wall’ became a graffiti board, covered in verses scribbled by Sigiriya’s many visitors. However, the tradition of visitors adding their messages to the wall has forced officials to “close” it to new inscriptions.
The history that signifies the Buddhist Monastery:
Following King Kashyapa’s death (he killed himself by falling on his own sword), it was once again used as a Buddhist monastery until it was abandoned in the 14th century.
The myth about King Ravana’s Palace:
Some myths are that this place was linked to king Ravana as it used to hold the majestic palace of Ravana made of solid gold crafted by Kubera at the top of the plateau. Believed to be built 50 centuries ago, it is said that the palace had a special lift for Ravana and his visitors.
Timings: It remains open from 7 am to 7 pm but the ticket counter closes at 5 pm.
Ticket Price: Tourists need to buy the ticket before heading up the stairs which can cost anything between 2400-3000 INR, USD30-40 (10,971 – 13,249 LKR) – yes, it’s a little pricey but it’s worth it.
Other Places To Visit Near Sigiriya Rock Fortress
1) Sigiriya Museum: Sigiriya Museum is at the base of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress and was established in 2009. At a distance of 5 km from the airport, Sigiriya Museum is an archaeological museum and a must-visit place. The museum boasts an impressive collection of exhibits that belong to various periods in history – ranging from the prehistoric period to the reign of King Kashyapa. It consists of two levels, the first one has six major galleries while the second level consists of the recreation of the frescoes.
This museum is generally overlooked by the tourist as they prefer trekking first which makes them too weary to visit the museum. It’s a true beauty and shouldn’t be missed.
Timings: 8 am- 5 pm
2) Pidurangala Rock: The Pidurangala Rock is 3.1 km away from the famous UNESCO site, the Sigiriya Rock. The hike to Pidurangala starts at Pidurangala Rajamaha Viharaya, a White Temple at the base of the rock, and takes around 30-45 minutes.
It is known for the sight of Sigiriya Rock from the top, the white temple situated at the base of the cliff, and the enormous reclining Buddha statue (12m) which you will spot on your way down under an ancient boulder. This rock provides a fascinating view of the whole of Sigiriya rock and its grassland which is quite appealing. The best time to visit is during the dry season, between late December and early April.
3) Minneriya National Park: A Wildlife Sanctuary set in the heart of the popular cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, 4 hours away from Colombo, and 30 minutes (18 km) from Sigiriya Rock. The primary attraction of the national park is the herds of elephants migrating for food, water, and shelter. Apart from elephants, the national park is also home to several mammals, birds, reptiles, and different kinds of Flora & Fauna.
Timings: The best time to visit is during the dry season when you can see most of the animals from May to September. And, if you want to witness more than 300 wild elephants gathering, it should be from July- September when the Elephants migrate to the Minneriya Tank for water. It is a wonderful sight for the eyes.
Entry fee: The entry fee is around 4438-6657 LKR, USD15-20 (1000-1500 INR).
4) Anuradhapura: Anuradhapura is renowned for being the Ancient Capital & The First Planned City of Sri Lanka. It’s a UNESCO named World Heritage Site. Anuradhapura is a historical paradise as it shelters several massive Buddhist Shrines and monasteries, palaces, parks, ponds, and magnificent temples. The pride of Anuradhapura is the ancient stupas and ancient reservoirs. Anuradhapura was the cradle of the glorious Sinhalese Buddhist civilization. On visiting Anuradhapura one can witness the art, engineering, and architectural brilliance- the rock carvings, colossal stone pillars, stone cut pools with sophisticated hydrology engineering techniques, and much more. It is 72.2 km (1 hour & 30 minutes) away from Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka.
5) Sigiriya Elephant Rides: The elephant rides at Sigiriya usually commence at the same site or Habarana, a city located about 20 minutes away from Sigiriya. The rides occur at Sigiriya Wewa, a lake near the rock fortress which was the primary source of water for the kingdom. The elephant will walk past through the forest and will take you to a lake, this provides not more than an hour of incredible experiences for an unconventional way of sightseeing at Sigiriya.
They use well-tamed animals accompanied by the Mahout hence the tourist will not face any problems while riding them. They carry only 4 people at a time. Habarana and Sigiriya are the most popular location in Sri Lanka for elephant safari rides, you shouldn’t let yourself miss this opportunity to shift your track a little from trekking to riding leisurely.
Timings: 7 am to 6 pm
Sri Lanka is among the most favored tourist destination to which Sigiriya has made an important contribution with its beauty, the trails of history, the art, architectural intelligence, and the myths that it carries till day. When you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka don’t forget to add Sigiriya to your to-do list- it is worth a visit.
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