Sigiriya – What you need to know about seeing the incredible Lion’s Rock in Sri Lanka

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Sigiriya is an ancient palace located in the Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka. It is also known as the Lion's Rock because of the face of the rock and the paws leading up the main stairs to the rock.

What is Sigiriya?

Sigiriya is about 100 miles north-east of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. While this sounds pretty close, keep in mind that Sri Lanka is just starting out building 'roads' to the rest of the country. The existing 'roads' are more paved village paths. I wasn't sure what would be the best way to get to Sigiriya, but after asking around, I ended up hiring a car with a driver. Regular car rentals are about $40 a day on the island, but includes only 60 miles and there's a hefty charge for extra kilometers.

Given the road conditions, I was glad to have hired a car with a driver, who managed to escape the myriad of mini-crashes that constantly appeared in front of my eye. If you have been to India or Bali, you can imagine the traffic conditions here. The average speed is just about 20 miles an hour.

I ended up paying $135 just for the drive, which is steep in a country where the average income per person per month is just $300! If you can pool 3 or 4 people, the price drops per person, of course.

When driving out to Dambulla, most tours will also take you to the Dambulla cave temple, which has a unique design carved into a city hill. After buying the $10 ticket downstairs, you have to make your way up the 500 steps through the humid air to the entrance.

There are 5 caves with lots of Buddhas and a pretty gorgeous view of the surrounding jungle. It's not grandiose, but definitely worth seeing.

After lunch in a village with Sri Lankan village food (I really love the local curry variant), I was being driven to the Lion's Rock. It is an amazing sight - the rock stands out in the hills around it.

Pictures of Sigiriya

The entrance fee is a steep $30 for non-citizens (citizens pay just a few cents to get in). The only good news about the high entrance fee is that there are few crowds of foreigners waiting to enter. Sri Lankans certainly love to make use of the low entrance fees and easily outnumber the foreigners.

There is a museum that is well-worth seeing before you head up to the rock. It prepares you with many facts before your ascent and portrays the amazingly-clear frescoes that you will see at the side of Sigiriya.

Once you enter the gardens, you can feel how intimated people in the early centuries would have been to see the king's palace. It is a beautiful garden that centers the view towards the towering rock. The palace is in ruins now, but it must have looked incredible in its day.

The 1,000 steps up the hill can be a bit treacherous because of the slow-moving crowds and the slippery steps. The hot, humid air does not help either. It pays to take frequent breaks and admire the surroundings when the crowds let up a bit.

The ticket office closes at 5PM and it is a good strategy to show up just before and see the sunset around 6PM on the rock with fewer visitors around.

Once you reach the top, you can wander the ruins of the old palace and see the old swimming pool which has weathered the times very well. The view is awesome and I had a hard time going back after spending 90 minutes at the summit. If you can have a day there with a sunset, it will be very rewarding.

I feel that Sigiriya is a unique sight in the historic heartland of Sri Lanka. Given what I know now, it would have been a better idea to stay in the surroundings cities for a bit and see more of the slow village life.

A visit here is plagued by the same issues many major tourist sites (Machu Picchu, Giza pyramids, Petra) have, with steep entrance fees, frequent sales pitches by locals, the crowds and heat.

However, I felt this one was worth the trip for me.

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