Last updated on June 27, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Sri Lanka

Best things to do in Sigiriya

Any trip to Sri Lanka should include Sigiriya, such a unique place in the world, really unbelievable.

It requires a bit of a drive from Colombo, about 4 hours (more by bus) and that’s why I suggest planning a couple of days in the area.

The great news is that there are many things to do in Sigiriya, not just climbing to the peak of the Lion Rock (the other name used for Sigiriya)

In this guide, you can read about my suggested top experiences as well as 2 itineraries that you could follow once there

But let’s get straight into it

You can read also

View of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) from a side street
View of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) from a side street

Things to do in Sigiriya

The area of Sigiriya is quite wide and includes not only the monolith of Sigiriya (also called Lion Rock) but also a National Park, a few interesting lakes and the province of Dambulla.

But let’s start with the iconic destination and the hike to the peak

Hike to the Sigiriya fortress

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, some of them hand-carved in the rock.

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 security and safety.

Peak of Sigiriya
Peak of Sigiriya

It is still unbelievable to think about how materials were carried up on top.

You can spot some hand carved steps into the rock which would make the climb easier, but transporting building materials is another thing altogether.

Just to understand the size of the fortress, I like to point out the presence of a swimming pool, quite big as well.

Besides the construction of it, just think about the maintenance of it.

How much water was carried up…..in buckets?

Swimming Pool at the Lion Rock
Swimming Pool at the Lion Rock

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 take 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 organising 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 the opening time, it may change based on season).  

The later you go, the warmer it will become, besides the growing crowd, too.

You can also decide to visit the Sigiriya rock and fortress on a day trip from Colombo (check out other local things to do in the capital). Just be aware it is going to be a long day.

In saying that, if time is limited, this day trip to Sigiriya and Dambulla is the perfect solution and you will get to see also the Dambulla Cave Temple (read below), another great attraction in the area.

They will pick you up from the hotel in the early morning and you can have a snooze all the way to the destination.

Day trip to Sigiriya from Colombo

Climb to the Pidurangala peak

Pidurangala is another monolith formation facing Sigiriya. Surely the best viewing platform in the area.

It’s a great spot for both sunset and sunrise. It does not have, however, any fortress on top.

If you are on a budget you may want to skip Lion Rock and instead climb Pidurangala.

What’s the difference?

The entrance ticket to Sigiriya is around US30, meanwhile to Pidurangala you are going to pay just US$3

How to get there?

Simply ask a tuk-tuk to take you to the Pidurangala Rock climb.

You will be left at a white temple at the base of the monolith called Pidurangala Raja Maha Viharaya.

It’s important for women to cover legs and shoulders. Scarfs can be borrowed at the ticket office next to the temple.

The walk to the top starts steep, but it’s not super hard.

It, however, becomes challenging the closer you hike to the pick.

The last 200-300m is more of a climb than a hike.

The view is the reward, absolutely stunning

View of Sigirya from the Pidurangala Rock
View of Sigiriya from the Pidurangala Rock

The Minneriya National Park

Minneriya was first recognised as a wildlife sanctuary status over 80 years ago.

It is now a national park covering an enormous area around a water catchment, planned and made in the 3rd century by King Mahasen. 

Elephants at the water catchment in the Minneriya National Park
Elephants at the water catchment in the Minneriya National Park

How can you visit it?

You have two possibilities. 

  1. Take your way to the national park entrance. From there you can buy a ticket ($15) and join a jeep tour. This is, however, not as straightforward as you need to start bargaining the price that may vary between $30 to $40
  2. Book directly online the jeep tour. This has the great advantage that they will pick you up from the hotel and you do not have the hassle to find a jeep once on site. The price is also a better bargain, in my opinion. You will still have to buy the entrance ticket and the operator will help you with that. Easy.

Minneriya National Park Private Safari

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 others you may think of.

The trip inside the park lasts roughly 2 hours.

These are my 2 important tips:

  • make sure that the jeep has open top otherwise the trip can be quite painful as you are stuck in the car and you will be able to watch the animal life only through the side window
  • organise your safari later in the day, around 3-4 pm as this is the time the elephants go to the catchment for water. You will be able to spot plenty of them. Very early in the morning is also a good time. I was there at 4pm and I must have seen over 50 of them 🙂
We actually got very close to the elephants
We actually got very close to the elephants

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.

The 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 a 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.

Paddle in the Hiriwadunna Lake

This is typically an afternoon trip that starts with 1 hour canoeing in the Hiriwadunna Lake.

You will be taken to the Gami Gedara Village Home where you will get to experience the local life.

You will see how the food and drinks are prepared in a small characteristic house

I did this experience through the accommodation, however, the operator is now online and it is a better option because includes also the  Minneriya National Park on a single trip, so handy.

Minneriya and Hiriwadunna Tour

Ederagala Wana Senasuna

An authentic Buddhist temple used for meditation on top of a small rock formation.

The place is very quiet and sort of hidden from mass tourism, which is great

It is positioned on the road between Dambulla and Sigiriya, which makes it a perfect stop on the way to your next attraction.

Dambulla Cave Temples

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 statues and paintings of his life.

To reach the Golden Temple you will need to climb quite several steps, 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).

Photo by Amila Tennakoon.

Polonnaruwa

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 a 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.

Most of the sites have historical explanations.

The entrance fee is around $25 (4.000 rupees). Take your water.

A couple of tips here:

  1. try a visit in the early morning to avoid the hot hours of the day
  2. take a couple of socks with you. Some temples allow visits only without shoes and the floor/sand may become very hot during the day.
Photo by Antoine Nicolas Vasse

Two great itineraries in Sigiriya

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 sleeping instead in the forest.

In saying that I personally suggest visiting 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. 

Itinerary #1 – The busy experience

If arriving late in the afternoon I would suggest a 2 nights/3 days stay as

  • DAY 1
    • head straight to your resort (Read below on my great experience at Water Garden Sigiriya), relax from the trip and enjoy your dinner
  • DAY 2
    • early morning visit to the Sigiriya Lion Rock
    • late morning visit to the Dambulla Cave temples
    • back to the hotel for some relax and swimming pool (lunch on the way to the hotel in one of the many restaurants)
    • late afternoon at the Minneriya National Park
    • time off at the resort
  • DAY 3
    • morning visit to Polonnaruwa
    • back to the resort or drive to the next destination in Sri Lanka

Itinerary #2 – The relaxed experience

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

  • DAY 1
    • head straight to your resort 
    • late afternoon at the Minneriya National Park
  • DAY 2
    • morning visit to the Sigiriya Lion Rock (9am should be still fine)
    • back to the hotel for some relax and swimming pool (lunch on the way to the hotel in one of the many restaurants)
    • afternoon visit to the Dambulla Cave temples
    • time off at the resort
  • DAY 3
    • morning visit to Polonnaruwa
    • back to the resort or drive to the next destination in Sri Lanka

During your stay at the hotel, you may also want to rent a bike to visit the rice fields around.

Where to stay in the area – Water Garden Resort

During my trip to the area, I stayed at the Water Garden Resort, located right in a water lagoon with cottages built as stilt houses interconnected by a small unsealed walking path, just enough wide for golf buggies.

Water Garden Sigiriya : view of the Lion Rock
Water Garden Sigiriya: view of the Lion Rock

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 (see photo above). 

I had the cottage number 16, right in the centre of the lagoon. I was impressed by all the details in my one-bedroom villa, however, most of all by the private pool, which I could not stop myself from using at night.

Night pool at the Sigiriya Water Garden - What a view
Night pool at the Sigiriya Water Garden – What a view

This is the perfect place to stay 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 proper long swim, you can use the common central swimming pool (25 metres), with the view of the lagoon and the bar area (see photos here). 

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 in 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 special deals at the moment that you may want to check.

Check special deal at Water Garden

Private swimming pool in the cottage
Private swimming pool in the cottage

Transportation

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 straightforward.

If you are travelling around Sri Lanka, you may also be interested in the best places to stay in Sri Lanka with a few itineraries.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

8 thoughts on “Best 7 Things to do in Sigiriya [including the cave temple]”

  1. I’m so glad i stumbled across your blog. It’s given me another place to try and tick off on my list of places to visit before i die. I think im going to have to get them in some sort of order because im not going to be able to get everywhere on it.

    Love the drone video, it really adds another dimension to the really great photo’s you’ve taken.

    Reply

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