When travelling to Sri Lanka one of the top places to visit has to be Sigiriya Rock, the impressive and historic fortress was a highlight of our time travelling around this beautiful country. However the expensive Sigiriya price puts many people off and almost did the same for us too. For such an inexpensive country the Sigiriya price is beyond acceptable, however some experiences are worth paying for and others are worth taking the budget option. Here’s our Sigiriya travel guide that breaks down the price, alternative options such as Pidurangala rock and transport from Kandy to Sigiriya and Colombo to Sigiriya as well as the best place to base yourself.
Sigiriya travel guide: The incredible history of the Lion rock
The almost 200m (660ft) high rock plateau was formed millions of years ago from the magma of an extinct volcano. However the history of the rock as a significant site dates to the 3rd century when it became a monastery when monks moved into the caves at the bottom of the rock.
However in the second half of the 5th century the King Kasyapa took it over and turned it into his own royal residence and this is when it shot to national significance. It became a grand palace of gardens, canals, ponds, fountains and frescos and served as the capital of the kingdom. The rock was transformed into an impressive citadel including the head (Which fell off at some point) and feet or a lion, hence the name commonly used for Sigiriya: Lion Rock. After the death of the king it once gain became a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century when it was then left abandoned and to ruin.
Sigiriya travel guide: An amazing experience that is worth the expensive entrance fee
Being on a backpacker budget we debated long and hard about whether to visit Sigiriya or not, on the one hand it was one of the main reasons we wanted to visit Sri Lanka in the first place, but then again it just seemed so unfair how inflated the price was for foreigners and that made us feel a little exploited. We have no qualms paying and contributing to the economy of this beautiful country, however when the price is so much more than the local rate you can’t help but feel more than over charged and that is something we needed to mention in our Sigiriya travel guide. But in the end the Sigiriya price seemed worth the money for the experience.
However, money isn’t the only way to look at worth and in many ways is the worst way to look at whether something was worth it. Sure, the price isn’t right and it is over priced. But was it worth the money, the time, the effort to get there. Yes and we would do it again given the choice. Sri Lanka is a dirt cheap destination and all things considered, the low cost of the food, the transport that cost pennies and the accommodation that hardly made a dint, it all balances itself out with the relatively expensive Sigiriya price.
The experience we had being able to explore the historic grounds around Sigiriya Rock, seeing it up close, climbing the steep and winding path up the summit of the fortress. It was all we had dreamt of and more when we planned our journey around Sri Lanka. Travelling from Kandy to Sigiriya we were still unsure if we would visit Pidurangala rock as an alternative or not, but we decided to overlook the expensive Sigiriya price and go for it and we are so glad we did!
Heading over from Kandy to Sigiriya you can just feel the immense history of this UNESCO world heritage site as you get close. We were filled with such excitement to finally see this incredible place ourselves. Wandering through the front gates we were greeted with that spectacular view of the burning red rock standing perfectly alone out of the dense jungle below that we had always dreamt of. The citadel was surrounded by gardens fit for royalty, it was like stepping back into a bygone era of mad kings and wild extravagance. The water gardens for symmetrical ponds that frame the rock itself, with carefully arranged channels and fountains.
Climbing the rickety stairway as it precariously clings to the edge of the incredible formation we passed by some of the incredibly detailed and historic frescos that remain, we knew we had made the right choice to come here. In visiting Sigiriya I was initially most excited to see the rock from the bottom up close. The view of it rising up surrounded by the magnificent gardens had mesmerised me for years. In person it was no less impressive and we I had turned away at that moment I would have still be overjoyed with our experience. However, after climbing the rock itself I had no idea of the sheer beauty and historical remains to be found at the top. The pools and remaining foundations, along with resident monkeys, against the stunning visa of central Sri Lanka was an unforgettable experience visiting the palace in the sky.
Alternatives to Sigiriya: Hiking Pidurangala rock instead
However, having said all that we do realise that the Sigiriya price is extortionate and your budget might not stretch that far, you might also want to boycott the Sigiriya price just to make a point too that you won’t be exploited as a tourist in Sri Lanka. Many people that took this trip also said that due to the lesser numbers of visitors it was a much more memorable experience than Sigiriya Rock itself. Costing a fraction of the price it is a slightly smaller rock that sits adjacent to Sigiriya and offers the most incredible views of it and the surrounding valleys and landscape. So our Sigiriya travel guide also includes to option to either just visit Pidurangala rock or combine the two.
Pidurangala rock is the perfect place to head for sunrise, the steep 20 minute hike is either a perfect alternative to visiting Sigiriya Rock itself or a great way to start the day before heading over there too. On the way up you will also pass through the historic Pidurangala temple which includes a beautiful reclining Buddha.
Pidurangala rock price: 490 LKR/ $3 / £2.50 ( Pay at the temple)
Sigiriya Rock travel guide: Price, tips and transport
Sigiriya price, the expensive entrance fee:
The Sigiriya price is: $30 / 4850 LKR / £24
The price is listed in USD and you can pay in USD if you have it. However it is most likely that you will be paying in Sri Lankan Rupees. The problem with this is that the exchange rate is rounded up and written on the tickets in marker and is often at an inflated rate, this means that the already expensive tickets will likely cost you more in the local currency. So it is best to be over prepared and bring along more than enough to cover the entrance fee. We found that finding up to date info on the actual price written on the tickets in LKR to be hard to find unless there is someone in your accommodation that can let you know. Sigiriya travel guide top tip, bringing 5000 LKR each for the tickets is advisable!
Sigiriya Rock transport and where to base yourself
The closest town to Sigiriya is Dambulla and transport to this town is widely available from other popular destinations around Sri Lanka. Sigiriya travel guide tips: the accommodation in Dambulla is a lot cheaper than it is around Sigiriya and is a great way to save money if you are concerned about the high Sigiriya price. If you have time to stick around town for more than just visiting Sigiriya then the Dambulla cave temples are another great place to visit in Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya travel guide: Getting from Dambulla to Sigiriya
Getting to Sigiriya from Dambulla is easy and cheap. The cheapest option is to take the local bus for 40 LKR ( $0.30 / £0.20) one way. It leave from the main bus station in Dambulla 300m south of the clock tower on Kandy Road. The first bus leaves at 6:45am and takes an hour. Expect the bus to wait at the second stop for around 15mins and then from there it will take 45 mins. From the main road where the bus stops it is a 10 min walk to the ticket counter around the back of the rock. The last back to Dambulla is 6pm on weekdays, 5.30 pm on Saturdays and 5pm on Sundays
You can also take a tuk tuk which will take around 30 mins and can be organised by your accommodation before hand and can pick you can up too. This should cost around 1500 LKR ($9.30 / £7.25) , some drivers might try to charge 2000 LKR. However if you are concerned about the Sigiriya price then this is quite expensive transport.
Sigiriya travel guide: How to get to from Colombo to Sigiriya
There are no direct buses from Colombo to Sigiriya which makes it a tiresome journey and it takes around 4 hours. Take the No. 15 bus to Anuradhapura or No. 48 bus to Kaduruwela (for Polonnaruwa) or the No. 49 bus to Trinco. Be sure to get off at either Dambulla or Habarana. From there you can take tuk tuks or the local bus to Sigiriya in the case of Dambulla.
The train is a great way to get to Sigiriya as it goes almost direct. However the closest town is Habarana which is 15 km away. The train takes 5-6 hours and only one leaves daily from Colombo Fort and back. It costs between 480 – 600 LKR.
Like Dambulla, Habarana is somewhere often used as a base to visit Sigiriya. However there are no local buses so you will have to take a tuk tuk.
Colombo to Habarana: 6:10 AM – 10:59 AM
Habarana to Colombo: 10:36 AM – 3:25 PM
Be sure to double check the times before you travel.
Sigiriya travel guide: How to get to from Kandy to Sigiriya
Getting from Kandy to Sigiriya is much more straight forward. You can take a direct bus which will take 4 hours and cost around 120 LKR, this will drop you off right around the corner from the main entrance which is about a 15 min walk away.
You can also take the bus from Kandy to Dambulla which is a great place to base yourself for cheaper accommodation. This costs around 116 LKR and takes around 3 hours. You can then take the local bus to Sigiriya which takes an hour and costs 40 LKR or stay over night in a guest house and visit Sigiriya the next day.
There are unfortunately no train running from Kandy to Sigiriya.
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Tips for visiting: Sigiriya travel guide
* Try to get to Sigiriya early. The sun can be strong and you should head up to the top early on. The sun is then better for the rock itself from the bottom towards the afternoon.
* Bring suncream, a hat and plenty of water. It gets very hot and there is no shade and once inside the grounds there isn’t anywhere to buy water. You could also bring some snacks too however. Around the rock there are plenty of places to eat and drink but you cannot go back into the grounds once you leave.
* Wear proper shoes. There is no need for hiking boots but the steps are steep so it’s best to wear trainers rather than flip flops.
* The climb isn’t too hard. It’s 1200 steps but it is pretty easy going. However it is pretty hot so you should just take your time, enjoy the views, watch the monkeys play and see the beautiful murals.
* If you are short on time or unsure if you want to visit on your own. You can organise one day trips from Kandy or Colombo or an organised Sigiriya tour from Dambulla or the town itself.
* If you are concerned about the Sigiriya price then staying in Dambulla and taking local buses reduces the cost. In Dambulla there are also several cheap local places to eat.
* Sigiriya travel guide: Travelling from Kandy to Sigiriya is the easiest way and then on from Dambulla to Colombo.
* If you have enough time you should try to get there early and do both Sigiriya rock and Pidurangala rock
Have you been to Sigiriya Rock or Pidurangala rock?
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