- Know Before You Go
- Climb & Visit the World Famous Lion’s Rock
- How to Get to Sigiriya
- Pidurangala for Epic View of Lion’s Rock
- Stay at Thick Forest’s Beautiful Treehouses!!!
- Elephant Gaze (Go on a Safari) at Minneriya National Park
- Where to go After Sigiriya
- WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT DO IN SIGIRIYA
Know Before You Go
I highly recommend downloading the Pick Me app, Sri Lanka’s improved version of Uber. You can use it to get around the major cities and more importantly for getting to/from the airport. It will show you a general range of the predicted cost of your trip before you book, but it does not account for toll costs.
I am not sponsored by Pick Me; I just wanted to share this information since I found it to be very handy during my trip and was a great way to save money and time. One of my favorite features was it allows you to compare prices before choosing your mode of transport: tuk tuk, nano, mini, sedan, minivan, van, and VIP rides. Their newest features includes food delivery and vehicle rentals!
Climb & Visit the World Famous Lion’s Rock
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually a rocky plateau that was formed by an extinct volcano! It was designed like the shape of a lion so this place became known as Lion’s Rock. In the 5th century BC, Sigiriya was a monastery. In the 5th century it became a kingdom but was later abandoned and originated to being a monastery. You can see the ruins of the kingdom at the top of this 200 meter rock; the surrounding area is decorated by pools and gardens.
- When to go: sunrise or sunset. As with all good things of the world, this place is extremely popular amongst locals and tourists alike. Be sure to go at/before sunrise or around sunset to avoid overwhelming seas of people. These are also the best time to get some good shots since the lighting will be optimal and there will be less photobombers. Even at those hours there will be others there but it’ll definitely be more manageable than the peak times. You can actually use Google’s Popular Times (located in the bottom right box) feature to see how busy it usually is and currently–their live indicator feature is such a fascinating game changer! I love that they show the data breakdown by hour and by day. Another benefit of going at these times is it isn’t as hot; the lower temperature does make a difference if you are doing the climb! We ended up arriving at around 4:30p and leaving at 7 (sunset was at 6:15). The hike down was managable but it did get a bit dark towards the end; however it wasn’t anything our iPhone flashlight couldn’t handle.
- Duration: 1,200 steps up stairs should take 30-45 mins each way. You probably won’t spend more than an hour at the top.
- How to get here: your hotel/Airbnb will gladly organized a tuk tuk for you. The ride from anywhere in Sigiriya will be fairly cheap and fast. Always be sure to confirm a price before the ride starts to avoid getting scammed. You can negotiate but since the prices are so low to begin with, we didn’t even bother with that as a means to support the local economy.
- What to bring: phone/camera, sunscreen, bug spray, and water(!!!!). All these stairs can add up quickly, even if you aren’t hiking midday! They do not sell water upstairs.
- What to expect: mostly stairs and epic views. There are tons of neat looking ruins at the top but you also get to see endless stretches of beautiful greenery; it is like dessert for your eyes!!
- What else to lookout for: aside from the palace at the top, there’s an alternate set of stairs you can take right after the second ticket check that takes you to an enclosed area. Here you can see a few of the ancient paintings (frescoes) that Lion’s Rock is also known for. Also, there are tons of stray dogs that hang out around and on top of Lion’s Rock. They are very friendly so play away!
- Beware: drones are not allowed and there are dangerous bees near the top. There are warning signs on site but they will not be an issue if you do not bother them. Also, they do not sell water anywhere aside from near the ticket booth!
- Cost: the entrance fee for nonlocals is $30USD; I actually do not remember the cost in LKR since they conveniently accepted both currencies and I happened to have USD on me. Visitors from India and Pakistan pay half the price.
- Sigiriya Museum: small museum that you can enter for free if you pay to see Lion’s Rock. Here you can find some history, translations, reproductions, and artifacts.
How to Get to Sigiriya
I mapped out many potential route options for my Sri Lanka trip and have found that going to Sigiriya first after landing in Colombo (almost all flights to Sri Lanka land in CMB) is the best option. The order of my itinerary in Sri Lanka was Colombo – Sigiriya – Kandy – Ella – Udawalawe – Koggala Lake – Unawatuna – Tangelle – Dikwella – Mirissa – Galle; an extremely aggressive 7 day itinerary that I can only recommend for those who are not the faint of heart
Thanks to technological advancements, there are many ways to get to Sigiriya from Colombo. I’ve listed six options in order of how I would rank them from best to worst. If you are dealing with a driver or rental, be sure to negotiate prices before starting your journey to avoid scams! If you opt to use PickMe, then you don’t need to worry about this since the app will calculate it for you.
- By Train (5.5-6H, 480LKR/$3.30USD): I initially planned to arrive at Sigiriya by boarding a train from Colombo to Habarana. The train only departs from Colombo Fort at 6:05A and 9:30P. It takes 5H and unreserved 2nd class seats cost 600LKR/$3.30USD. Reserved seats must be booked one month in advance but unreserved tickets are sold the day of and never sell out. Habarana is 15Km/9.3Mi away from Sigiriya. From Habarana, you can easily hire a tuk tuk to take you to Sigiriya. The ride will take ~25mins and cost 300-500LKR/$1.65-$2.75USD. Train schedules change time to time so be sure to check the railway’s official website for the most up-to-date times.
- By Taxi/Pick Me (3-4H, 7,000-9,000LKR/$38-50USD): Since we landed late and didn’t check into our hotel until midnight, we opted to snooze and go to Sigiriya privately. Our drive took almost four hours including stops. We left at around noon so we hit some traffic. I read that it’s doable in under 3H without traffic (safety is moderately questionable).
- By Bus (4H, 190LKR/$1USD): Buses often get uncomfortably overcrowded. They are also the least scenic mode of transport but definitely the most budget friendly. I recommend taking a bus at least once during your time in Sri Lanka to get a glimpse at life as a local. From Colombo Fort’s Pettah Station, Sri Lanka’s main bus hub, there are three main options. I would recommend notifying the bus coordinator of your destination to make sure you are on the right bus. Also, I would periodically check my Maps app so I had a general idea of when to get off. Regardless of which route you take, you can easily hail a tuk tuk to get you to Sigiriya. If you arrive in Dambulla, you can save some money by taking a bus instead. It will take 45mins and only costs 45LKR/$0.25USD. Otherwise a tuk tuk from Dambulla will cost 600-1,000LKR/$3.30-5.50USD.
- #15 towards Anuradhapura, get off at Cultural Triangle
- #48 towards Kuduruwela, get off at Dambulla or Habarana
- #49 towards Trincomalee, get off Dambulla or Habarana
- By Plane (30mins, 40,000LKR/$225USD): There are 4 flights that depart daily from Colombo (CMB) to Sigiriya (GIU) which is super convenient. Both Cinnamon Air and SriLankan Air operate flights for this route. The total duration is only 30mins and is therefore the best way to arrive for those in a time crunch since it is almost 10x faster than all other modes of transport. It is obviously therefore also the most priciest option by far. Flights were around $225 USD for just one way! One of the benefits to flying in though is you get to see views of Lion’s Rock before landing.
- By Car (3-4H, 4,000LKR/$22USD for petrol only): I did not give this option too much thought since it is only slightly cheaper than going by Pick Me but without the option of napping during the route. Not including the cost of the car, petrol will only set you back 4,000LKR/$22USD.
- By Scooter (3-4H, 1,800LKR/$10USD): This route is for the adventurous. By far the cheapest way to travel privately but also least comfortable. It is faster than traveling by car during busy hours since you can zip in and out of traffic. Scooter rentals range from 1,500-2,000LKR/$8-11USD and petrol should cost around 300LKR/$1.65USD. If you opt for this option, make sure you have a helmet, sunglasses, and sunscreen!
- By Tuk Tuk (7-8H, 6,500 LKR/$35USD): Although technically possible, I would not recommend this option since it is the slowest and probably least safe way to do it. Tuk tuks are great for intracity travel but can be dangerous on major roads, especially since drivers tend to be more on the reckless side. There aren’t really any notable benefits to this mode of transport.
Pidurangala for Epic View of Lion’s Rock
Since it is only 1.2km/0.75miles away, I highly recommend visiting if you are already in the area. You can get a tuk tuk from Sigiriya Citadel for only 200LKR/$1.10. The entrance fee for Pidurangala is only 500LKR/$2.75 which feels like a steal compared to Lion’s Rock given that you are promised similarly enchanting views at the top. The hike only takes 30mins but unlike the well paved Lion’s Rock, the last third of Pidurangala requires some navigating through rocks which makes it less ideal for the elderly or unathletic.
Stay at Thick Forest‘s Beautiful Treehouses!!!
If you are nature obsessed like me, then there’s no better place to stay in Sigiriya than at Thick Forest! Waking up and seeing Lion’s Rock from my own balcony in the treehouse was such a magical feeling. They are located just minutes from Lion’s Rock; it is a 25 minute walk or a 300LKR/$1.65USD tuktuk ride. The route to Lion’s Rock is fairly straightforward but the staff are also more than happy to easily arrange a ride for you.
As if the forest vibes, cozy interior, and epic view weren’t enough, all stays at Thick Forest come with all you can eat dinner by the bonfire and also breakfast! This really brought my time at Sigiriya to the next level. I loved that the dinner was a communal buffet style because it gave me the opportunity to interact with the other guests. Also, I got to try so many different Sri Lankan dishes. Without exaggeration, everything was so delicious! One of my pet peeves about complimentary food provided by my accommodation is they often skimp on the quality of the meal. This was far from the case at Thick Forest! They even offered alcohol at dinner! Thick Forest supplied way more than enough food and had tons of vegetable options as well–the one category of food that I find hardest to eat lots of while traveling. I could not have been more satisifed with my dinner. Dinner is enjoyed in the back area next to a campfire. The path that leads you to dining setup is also lit by torches, really adding to the ambiance! Breakfast on the other hand is served in the upstairs deck area where you can see Lion’s Rock. Talk about dining with a view!
BONUS: You do not need to bring a travel adapter if you are staying at Thick Forest since their wall mounts are either compatible with an array of international plugs or already have converters in them.
Elephant Gaze (Go on a Safari) at Minneriya National Park
Located just a 25min drive from Sigiriya, it is known for having “the Largest known wild Asian Elephant Gathering at one place in the World”. Minneriya National Park got its name from the manmade reservoir nearby. People have seen up to hundreds of elephants gathered together in this park! If you don’t make it to Minneriya, be sure to go to at least one of the other national parks, there are 26 to choose from; together they make up 2,214 sq mi/5,734 km. It is a very affordable and easy way to see animals in their natural habitat. I ended up going to Udawalawe instead; I will be doing a blog post about my safari and glamping experience soon!
Where to go After Sigiriya
If you are a history buff and dig the ancient ruins vibes of Sigiriya, then head to the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa. It is only 75mins away by car. It is the second most ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka and is a great place to stopover at if you plan on exploring the East coast after Sigiriya.
To get to this paradise gem, you can board bus #49 from Dambulla or Habanara or you could hire a taxi for the 100min journey. Located 100Km/62Mi away from Sigiriya in the NorthEast coast, Trincomalee offers stunning beaches, whale watching, beautiful temples, and crystal clear snorkeling.
From Sigiriya, we headed to Kandy. Kandy itself is a great place to explore and also a city that can connect you to a bunch of other amazing spots. You can hop on the train known as the most scenic route in the world. This epic Badulla bound ride can take you to Hatton (to hike Adam’s Peak), Nanuoya (for Nuwara Eliya aka tea fields galore), and of course Ella (no description needed!!). If you go to Sri Lanka, this train ride is a must!! It would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Stay tuned for my blog post about Ella, the highlight of my Sri Lanka trip!
To get to Kandy from Sigiriya, there are two main ways; both will take 2.5-4H depending on traffic. You can hire a taxi (PickMe is not available in Sigiriya), for ~7000LKR/$38USD. Or the better option in my opinion is to take the bus. Although not always the safest, the buses are usually faster than private cars since they drive more aggressively and don’t run the risk of getting pulled over by the police.
There are two different Kandy bound busses nearby: one that leaves from Sigiriya Junction and one from Dambulla. The ticket price per person will range from 200-400LKR/$1.10-$2.20USD depending on the quality of the bus. The earliest buses do not have AC but they are very manageable since the windows are open.
- The bus that leaves directly from Sigiriya Junction is a more direct route and more convenient if you are staying in the area. The only caveat is it only runs once per day. It is scheduled to depart at 6:30A daily but plan to arrive early because ours actually departed before then! Despite the early time, it was pretty manageable since we were staying at Thick Forest which was only 10mins away from the bus station.
- The other bus leaves from Dambulla and offers a much more flexible schedule, departing every 15-30mins between 6:30A-6P. However, the issue here is you first have to trek 17K/10.5M to Dambulla either by bus or tuk tuk. The bus from Sigiriya to Dambulla runs every 15-30mins and only costs45LKR/$0.25USD. but takes 45mins. A tuk tuk from Sigiriya to Dambulla will cost 600-1,000LKR/$3.30-5.50USD but will only take 30mins. From Dambulla, the bus will take 2-2.5H before arriving at Kandy.
WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT DO IN SIGIRIYA
There are endless sights to see and things to do in Sri Lanka but one of those things should never be, under any circumstances, to ride an elephant!! These businesses deploy marketing tactics to trick unsuspecting consumers into thinking their practice is ok but the truth is it never is!! It is a highly unethical tradition that needs to end.
We came across people riding these gentle giants on the side of the road in Sigiriya as we were driving through. A busy intersection full of reckless drivers is no place for elephants!! Unlike horses, elephant spines are not designed to bear excess weight. Not only is this practice inhumane, but it actually also causes irreversible psychological damage and physical harm. Violence, weapons, confinement, torture, and starvation, to name a few, are all heavily involved in the behind the scenes process.
Additionally, since elephants are very social animals, being in captivity causes them tremendous stress; they are designed to roam in the wilderness and migrate great distances. The average wild elephant lives to be 56 but the zoo average is only 17!! I don’t even want to guess what the average is for the ones being treated like slaves.
Sure, it is a form of income for the locals but if we as tourists stop demanding this service from them, they will eventually move on to a different career and be able to make a more ethical and sustainable living. No beings suffering is ever worth it for a photo or encounter experience. Please do your part to help others make informed decisions and to be a voice for vulnerable creatures that cannot speak for themselves.
[…] There is not really a bad time to visit besides in the dark. If I could spend all day here, I would! Without exaggeration, walking away from the Nine Arch Bridge was one of the hardest things I had to do during my entire Sri Lanka trip; this is perhaps second only to painfully witnessing elephant riding in Sigiriya–more on that in this blog post. […]