Let me say straight away that one of the most amazing sites in Sri Lanka surely is Sigiriya; and the Water Garden, just minutes away, is certainly the resort that impressed me the most in the country.
If you are not aware about Sigiriya and you are still investigating about the top attractions in Sri Lanka, well, just close your eyes and think about a rock, a big one, over 200 metres high, orange with red traces all around. A rock that stands out in a green flat valley.
All right, you may have seen other similar formations around the world (Uluru in Australia could be one) but now imagine a fortress on top and here is Sigiriya.
This amazing location was used by the Buddhist monks already in the 3th century (BC) however in the 5th century (AD) King Kasyapa decided to build a fortress and move here the empire capital. The main reason was obviously security and safety.
The beauty of this place is just unique, something that takes this site apart from any experience or activities you may have in Sri Lanka.
Why the name Sigiriya?
Simply because it means Lion Rock, a name used to scare anyone even thinking to try an attack.
Where is this site?
In the Central Region of Sri Lanka, around 2.5 hours drive from the beautiful Kandy, 4 hours drive from Colombo on the west coast and 2.5 hours from Pasikudah on the east coast (one of the most beautiful beaches in the country)
Planning the visit as a day trip is not really practical and that is why I suggest to stay at least one night, and possibly two or more.
There are two great reasons to sleep here:
All the photos in this post are mine (except the 2 images with credits). For this trip I have used a Nikon D610 and 3 different lenses. You may read more about my camera suggestions in this post and here about the lenses I highly recommend for any trip. I have been lucky enough to review and travel with lots of gear in the previous 2 years 🙂
I usually write about my accommodation at the end of the post however in this case I like to make an exception because I find the Water Garden Sigiriya to be a unique experience, one of the attraction of Sigiriya itself.
This resort is located right in a water lagoon with cottages built as stilt houses interconnected by small unsealed walking path, just enough wide for golf buggies.
You can have a beautiful pool in lots of resorts and hotels nowadays, you can experience lovely rooms, curated and decorated in all the details, however it will be difficult to beat the view from the Water Garden Sigiriya entrance area, unobstructed to the Lion Rock.
In photography we use lead-in lines as a clever visual way to help the viewers’ eye through the image and ultimately move the attention to the subject of the photo.
The landscape designer in this resort has used the walking path as lead-in lines so that the attention goes straight to the star of the region, the Lion Rock. Really a great wow factor.
I had the cottage number 16, right in the centre of the lagoon. I was impressed by all the details in this one bedroom villa, however most of all by the private pool, which I could not stop myself using at night.
This is the perfect place to have after a tiring day visiting the attractions around Sigiriya, a cottage where you want to spend time, and more time, and even more.
For a swim I had the common central swimming pool, with view to the lagoon and the bar area.
When I travel I always like to experience the local food and I had some of my best here, not to talk about the never ending breakfast, à la carte.
I was even invited to the kitchen to assist at the preparation of the Hoppers, probably my favourite dish in Sri Lanka. The chef was so friendly that we organised a small gig too. You can check the short video and have a laugh.
I found this resort as a great value for money especially considering that breakfast and dinner are included. I am still dreaming of the beautiful open terrace facing the private plunge pool. There are some amazing specials at the moment that you may want to check.
In my life I have seen some amazing rocks formation, of which probably Uluru has been the most impressive one (and I still remember Mt Roraima in Venezuela so well!).
However hard to find anyone with a citadel on top, at least that I know. I have been to Meteora, in Greece, where they built monasteries on top, however the rocks are close to the mountain ranges and connected in most cases with bridges.
The peak of the Sigiriya fortress is just isolated, not interconnected to anything, unreachable if not through a long climb of I-don’t-know how many steps.
It is still unbelievable to think how materials were carried up on top. You can spot some carved steps into the rock which would make the climb easier, but transporting building materials is another thing all together.
Just to understand the size of the fortress I like to point out the presence of a swimming pool, quite big as well. Beside the construction of it, just think about the maintenance of it. How much water was carried up…..in buckets (I don’t think there was any pumping system in that era).
On the way up you can also see the fresco cave, painted in the 5th century and in a later stage too. Still very well maintained, considering the exposure to the elements. The subject? A group of celestial nymphs protecting the rock. Unfortunately it’s not possible anymore to make photos.
From the peak of the Sigiriya you have a magnificent view, 360 degrees, to the valley around the site and the mountain chain in the background.
I would personally suggest to organise your climb as early as you can in the morning. Around 6:30-7am when they open the gate (check with the hotel to confirm opening time, it may change based on season). The later you go the warmer it will become, beside the growing crowd too.
Minneriya was first recognised the wildlife sanctuary status over 80 years ago. It is now a national park covering a huge area around a water catchment, planned and made in the 3rd century by King Mahasen.
How can you visit it?
You have two possibilities.
What will you see?
Well, surely you will not miss one of the biggest animals on earth, the elephant. There are around 200 of them, walking around and organised in small herds with lots of small babies around, really cute.
Our driver was very well trained. He slowed down as soon as he spotted any animal, this could be an elephant (actually it’s not that hard to miss it considering the huge dimension), a monkey, a deer, a leopard (I haven’t seen it though) and any other you may think of.
The trip inside the park lasts roughly 2 hours.
These are my 2 important tips:
I would personally not visit the Minneriya National Park during the day, 12pm or 2pm. You have a good chance that most of the animals are sleeping in the forest and you will cook your head under the strong sun.
Last thing, you will not be alone in the park. It can be crowded at the entrance however the park is big and you will be quite likely to see only few cars around. Remember, you can always tell your driver to move on and drive around if not happy with the site or the many cars around.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla is a World Heritage site since 1991 located around 30 minutes from Sigiriya.
This is the biggest and most preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka and a must visit once in the area.
The Golden Temple is actually part of a series of Cave Temples and, based on your spare time, you may plan to check others.
The temples are mainly dedicated to Gautama Buddha. Here you will find statue and paintings of his life.
To reach the Golden Temple you will need to climb quite a number of stairs, get prepared for that 😉
A local guide may help you with more information otherwise you may save/print this interesting page before you visit the site (there is also a useful map). The entrance fee is around $10 (1,500 rupees).
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa was the old capital city of the Sri Lankan kingdom, still very well preserved for an enjoyable visit.
It is a UNESCO heritage site spread around few square kilometres and, unless you are a good walker, you may visit it using a bike or taking a tuk tuk ($7 or 1,000 rupees).
Keep in mind there is not much shade as you are walking through mostly ancient ruins. Visiting the site in the middle of the day is not probably recommended.
It is all about history and most of the sites have explanations.
The entrance fee is around $25 (4.000 rupees). Take your time and water.
A couple of tips here:
You can plan all the sites at the time you want, if you can deal with the heat, except the Minneriya National Park. There is no point to visit Minneriya if animals will not be there and instead sleeping in the forest.
In saying that I personally suggest to visit most of the site in the early/late part of the day with a break at the resort for a swim during the hot hours.
If arriving late in the afternoon I would suggest a 2 nights/3 days stay as
If arriving in the middle of the day, you can still spend 2 nights in Sigiriya however with a more relaxing time at the resort
During your stay at the hotel you may also want to rent a bike to visit the rice fields around.
The easy way to move around the Sigiriya area is by tuk tuk. Bargain the price and that’s it.
Taking local buses is an option however you should budget more time for that (especially early in the morning)
Of course you can also ask your hotel to organise the lot, transportation included. It may cost more but it will be all straight forward.