Sigiriya. Do a quick Google image search for Sri Lanka and it’s the first result that appears. But what is Sigiriya, you ask? An ancient fortress built into a huge monolith in the middle of the Sri Lankan jungle, Sigiriya (otherwise known as Lion Rock) is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka and certainly one of its top icons. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
While planning our own rendezvous into the world of Sri Lanka tourism, visiting these ruins was at the top of my list of things we had to do. Side note: Make sure to check out our comprehensive Sri Lanka travel itinerary for more Sri Lanka tourism ideas! As one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, we knew that the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya would be full of many other visitors, but we weren’t going there with the intention of having the rock all to ourselves.
- 1 Sigiriya Sri Lanka: The Legacy
- 2 The Cost of Sigiriya Rock
- 3 The Climb Up the Sigiriya Rock Fortress
- 4 Things to Know for Visiting Sigiriya Sri Lanka
- 5 What to Bring: Sri Lanka Tourism Guide
- 6 Where to Stay in Sri Lanka
- 7 Like this post?
- 8 You Might Also Appreciate…
- 9 What do you think are the best places to visit in Sri Lanka?
Sigiriya Sri Lanka: The Legacy
You’ll find Sigiriya Rock in the Sri Lankan Cultural Triangle (named for its concentration of cultural and historical sites), near the town of Dambulla.
Read about our visit to the Dambulla Elephant Trash Dump!
In the 5th century, King Kasyapa built the royal fortess we know as Sigiriya on top of the rocky plateau previously used as a monastery. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the landmark earned its nickname, Lion Rock, due to the remains of an enormous lion statue about halfway up the rock. All that’s left today of the lion are its paws, which are still quite massive. The incredible paws are just some of the reasons Sigiriya is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka!
The Cost of Sigiriya Rock
As a popular site for Sri Lanka tourism, the entrance fee into Sigiriya Sri Lanka is not cheap. Like many of the other best places to visit in Sri Lanka, the price charged to foreigners is much higher than the local fee. The rate you pay as a foreign visitor to Sigiriya Rock is $30 USD [~4400 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR)], vs. a local price of 50 LKR (.34USD)!
The Climb Up the Sigiriya Rock Fortress
After entering the park, the path takes you down a stroll through Sigiriya’s beautiful and expansive gardens, some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. The path, lined with ponds and terraces and the view of the rock square in the middle, marks a perfect spot to snap your postcard shot of the famous Sri Lanka tourism site—and maybe a few selfies too!
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Monkey Madness in Sri Lanka
The Sigiriya rock fortress is full of monkeys, fully capable of beckoning a gape or two of astonishment at their rather….questionable behavior at times. Monkeys have a bad rep in Sri Lanka, and for good reason (we had been the victim of at least a few monkey food thefts). Still it’s entertaining to monkey-watch from a distance at Sigiriya Sri Lanka. Just be sure to keep your food tucked away, and under no circumstances should you touch them! Yes, even if it’s an adorable baby monkey.
Avoiding the Lines at the Sigiriya Rock Fortress
The long line up the steep main entrance to the base of the Sigiriya rock fortress gave us pause, and we instead decided to weave around and explore the site of the Sigiriya Lion Rock before climbing. In doing so, we stumbled upon a shortcut on the right side that allowed us to join in near the front of the line! We made our way up some rock-hewn steps to wait in line for the metal stairs and pathway that would take us up to the Sigiriya rock fortress. A short way up this path is the Mirror Wall, which is a highly polished portion of the rock that has been covered in hundreds of years of graffiti.
Making your way up the Sigiriya rock fortress, the views onto the verdant jungle surrounding Sigiriya Sri Lanka really open up. Enjoying these views can help you forget the heat and crowds a bit.
The frescoes, found in a grotto partway up the climb, constitute a major highlight of the Sigiriya rock fortress. To get to the grotto at Sigiriya Sri Lanka, you ascend a tightly-wound spiral staircase—if you’re scared of heights, don’t look down! Sweeping, delicately illustrated frescoes of women from over a thousand years ago cover the walls of the grotto.
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Past the Paws of Lion Rock
Passing the monumental lion’s paws of the Sigiriya rock fortress, the pathways hug the mountain tighter as elevation increases. The crowds had started to thin out a bit because of the rain—plus one for rainy weather! We, however, had no plans to turn back. Our arrival to the top of Sigiriya Rock was paired with awe, and it was immediately easy to recognize why the Sigiriya rock fortress is named one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. The view of the Sri Lankan landscape from the peak of the Sigiriya Lion Rock stunned us, encompassing miles and miles of forest, plains, and mountains. The expansive view from the top of the Sigiriya rock fortress, combined with the busy cloud action that day, provided a feast for the eyes.
The buildings that once covered the top of Sigiriya Lion Rock have long since disappeared, and all that remains are their foundations and walls. For our trip, the rains of the season had made the foundations of the Sigiriya rock fortress into beautiful pools that day. After a hot and sticky climb to the top of the Sigiriya rock fortress, the fresh breeze from on high hit the spot as we relaxed, soaking up the views from one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. We could even see an elephant in a pond down past the bottom of the rock!
We spent about an hour on the top of the famous Sigiriya Sri Lanka tourism site. Coming down from the Sigiriya Lion Rock fortress is much easier than climbing up, but we still felt hot in the heat of the day. We eagerly made our way to the parking lot at the exit where we located the tuktuk of our driver from our guesthouse, Rasta Bob, by following the sound of pulsing reggae music. Bob took us to a beautiful spot to take shots of Sigiriya Sri Lanka from near the pond where we saw the elephant. Our Rasta friend then drove us back into Dambulla and dropped us off in front of the Golden Temple/Cave Temple complex, a Sri Lanka tourism site many also believe to be one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya Rock is an amazing place in a beautiful location, truly one of the country’s icons and easily one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. Even though you probably won’t ever have the entirety of Sigiriya Sri Lanka to yourself, the Sigiriya Lion Rock is still worth your time. Our favorite part of visiting this iconic Sri Lanka tourism landmark was enjoying the views from the top—they really can’t be beat. For additional information on Sigiriya (and other top Sri Lanka destinations), check out what to do and where to stay in Sri Lanka!
Things to Know for Visiting Sigiriya Sri Lanka
There isn’t really a dry season in Sigiriya Sri Lanka.
- We visited the Sigiriya rock fortress in December—and while the weather is much cooler than summer (hard to imagine since it was still hot even in the winter!), it was very rainy.
- If it rains when climbing Sigiriya Sri Lanka, care must be taken to avoid sliding on the slippery metal steps and pathways. Watch your step!
Sigiriya Rock has about 1200 steps.
- Be prepared for some exercise, and bring enough water!
It can get quite busy.
- The earlier you go, the better! We were exhausted and got a late start when we went, and by the time we arrived, the rock was already pretty busy. Don’t forget: this is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, so it will often be filled up!
You may not be allowed to photograph the frescoes.
- Whether or not you’ll be able to photograph the grotto frescoes at Sigiriya Sri Lanka or not is up to the guard—we had no trouble at all, but have heard that other people were told not to. Either way, don’t use flash!
For a change of pace, plan a relaxing escape to Mirissa’s Secret Beach!
What to Bring: Sri Lanka Tourism Guide
- Water! We love these reusable Collapsible Canteens that save a ton of space while traveling, and this water filter for providing safe drinking water no matter where you are. Check out our full review of these water filters and collapsible canteens for how to purify water anywhere in the world.
- Snacks (you won’t find any for sale on-site). I personally love packing something like these dried pineapple bags!
- The standard fixin’s for hot weather, such as sunglasses with UV protection (nothing too fancy in case you lose it or a monkey steals it!), a foldable sunhat, and travel-friendly sunblock
- Good shoes for climbing steps (you don’t want to slip!). We appreciate these Adidas Men’s Hiking Boots and Columbia Women’s Hiking Boots.
- A rain jacket/poncho and/or travel umbrella if it’s meant to rain (you will most likely get soaked)
- Cameras! Because it was rainy, Lauren left her DSLR at the guesthouse and only brought her GoPro and iPhone. Find out what travel cameras we recommend for those on a budget.
Where to Stay in Sri Lanka
- Many travelers who visit Sigiriya Sri Lanka stay in Dambulla. In Dambulla, any tuk-tuk driver will happily take you the 15 minutes to Sigiriya Rock. There are many lodges and hotels near Sigiriya Sri Lanka itself, and some are even in walking distance! You won’t have any trouble reaching the Sigiriya Lion Rock from Dambulla or the immediate area.
- We visited Sigiriya Rock after spending the night at the Relax Guesthouse in Dambulla. Our host, Rasta Bob, offered us his tuktuk services to Sigiriya. Beyond our host, Rasta Bob was a fantastic Sri Lanka tourism guide that showed us parts of Dambulla way off-the-beaten Sri Lanka tourism path (such as this Dambulla Elephant Trash Dump!).
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What do you think are the best places to visit in Sri Lanka?
Let us know in a comment below!