No first timers visiting Sri Lanka should leave without doing the Sigiriya Rock climb. This ancient rock fortress, also known as Lion Rock, or “The Eighth Wonder of the World” (lovingly named by locals), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a great historical and cultural significance for Sri Lankans.
We had the chance of climbing Sigiriya during our recent tour of Sri Lanka. I was impressed with how massive the rock column is. Towering over the surrounding jungles at 200 meters high, Sigiriya is a striking vision to be seen. Witnessing the view from the top is another story. It reminded me of Pride Rock from The Lion King, so royal and magnificent in its energy.
If you can add one hike to your Sri Lanka itinerary, make it this one! In this guide, I will share everything you need to know before climbing Sigiriya, including the best time to go, how to get there, where to stay in the area and more. Grab your hiking shoes and let’s go! 🙂
*My trip in Sri Lanka was generously hosted by the Sri Lanka tourism board. However, all opinions expressed in this article are my own. This post may contain affiliate links, which means, at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks for supporting!
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The story behind Sigiriya Rock
How the birth of Lion Rock came about is a fascinating tale involving betrayal and murder, fear and greed. There are several versions of the story, but I will tell the one our guide shared with us.
A long long time ago (circa the 5th century), there was an anxious Sri Lankan king named Kashyapa. Kashyapa was so anxious because he had done something bad, and that is he murdered his own father. You see, Kashyapa wasn’t meant to become the king. His father Dhatusena had wanted Moggallana, his other son to be the heir to the kingdom. However, the power-hungry Kashyapa cold bloodily assassinated Dhatusena, usurped the throne, and chased off his brother.
When Kashyapa finally came into power, he was paranoid of vengeance from Moggallana. So he came up with the idea of moving the capital city of Sri Lanka from Anuradhapura to on top of a big rock in the central jungles of the island. After significant effort and time in planning and building, the most magnificent “Palace in the Sky” was created.
Here, King Kashyapa was finally able to feel safe. The Sigiriya Rock Fortress was painstakingly laid out and built to be indomitable. Not only that, the palace was a beautiful place to live. There were pretty gardens, serene pools, and elaborate architectural designs. One of the most interesting things about Sigiriya is how this ancient kingdom demonstrated building skills and technology far more sophisticated than its time. Even though the city is no longer like how it was in its heydays, you can still imagine its former glory when you see the fainted frescos and touch the cool rock stones as you climb up to the palace at the top.
Oh, if you are wondering what became of Kashyapa…He committed suicide after being defeated in a battle in 495. After which his brother Moggallana took back Sri Lanka and returned Sigiriya to the Budhhist monks who used to live at the rock before Kashyapa claimed it. Since then, Sigiriya became a monastery until the 14th century. Oops, I guess Kashyapa’s fears came true in the end despite all his efforts.
Sigiriya is open year-round from 7:00 AM. Closing time varies from 4 PM to 5:30 PM depending on the season. Check the exact hour for the day here. Peak tourists season goes from December to April and July to October. Since Sigiriya is such an epic landmark in Sri Lanka, it can get really packed with people during the day. If you want to avoid the crowd, start the climb as early as possible, preferably as soon as the place opens.
Not an early riser? No worries, the second-best option is going in the late afternoon when the temperature has cooled down and people are heading out. This was precisely what we did and we got to witness the sunset at the summit. Thanks to our guide for this wonderful suggestion!
How to get to Sigiriya
Sigiriya is located in the central province of Sri Lanka. The best way to get here is by car or private transport. From Colombo, the drive is about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Check here for rental cars in Sri Lanka. Otherwise, you can join a tour operator. Get Your Guide offers many tours to Sigiriya, whether you are departing from Colombo, Kandy, or Dambulla:
If you are really on a budget, public transportation is available. You can take the train from Fort Station to Habarana (1hour 10minutes) and then a taxi from Habarana to Sigiriya (30 minutes). The whole journey would only cost about $6-$10. However, you do have to figure everything out yourself from purchasing train ticket to finding your way. Rome2Rio is a great tool for planning for this.
Personally, I highly recommend taking a tour because the guide would be able to tell you the rich history behind Sigiriya and all the details in the surroundings as you enter the site. It is really worth knowing these stories as they are the reasons why Sigiriya is so iconic in Sri Lanka.
How much does it cost to climb Sigiriya Rock
To enter Sigiriya Rock, it cost 50 rupees for Sri Lankan locals and 5500 rupees for foreigners. In USD, 5500 rupees is $30.
Is Sigiriya Rock Hard to Climb?
The Sigiriya Rock climb is fairly moderate. There are man-made stairs all the way up to the top and it is 1,200 steps in total. It can be done by people of all fitness levels. However, it is not wheelchair friendly. Also, the last part of the climb may be challenging for those who are afraid of heights as the path runs right along the cliff.
One of our people had to opt-out going to the top as it became too scary for her. If you have similar fears concerning heights, reconsider whether the Sigiriya Rock climb is for you.
What to wear climbing Sigiriya Rock
Although the steps are well paved, you still wouldn’t want to wear flip flops for climbing Sigiriya Rock. The walk up can be strenuous, especially on a hot day. Make sure to come in sturdy footwear like sneakers. Wear clothing with breathable fabrics as you will sweat. Generally, anything that can keep you cool is a good idea. Body wipes, hats, umbrellas (Yes be that weird person who use an umbrella when it’s not raining. I highly recommend it), and of course, don’t forget to wear sunscreen and bring water. Lots of water.
A detail look at the Sigiriya Rock climb
When you first arrive at Sigiriya, you will notice that the fortress has both an outer mote and inner mote. According to our guide, they used to be filled with lots of crocodiles to ward off intruders. Kashyapa definitely didn’t play around when it came to security.
Once you enter the grounds, the scene is much more welcoming. There are miniature water gardens filled with lotuses. The path leading to the big climb ahead is paved with bricks that are well over 1500 years old.
Now, let’s go up! The first section of the climb is easy peasy. Just follow the staircase and it will lead you over, under and through many big boulders. You will likely see some playful monkeys hanging around on the trees and rocks. They are so mesmerizing to watch. Be careful not to make too much noise in this lower region as there are also wasp nests around (Another tactic by Kashyapa? I’m just guessing 😛 ).
After about 15 to 20 minutes, you will arrive at the thrilling part of the hike. It starts with a metal bridge fixed into the side of the rock, kind of like a path on the edge of a cliff. For those with fear of heights, this is where the anxiety begins.
The bridge leads to a spiral staircase that resembles a metal cage. So yes, on top of acrophobia, you can also feel claustrophobia. Jokes aside, it is actually not that scary. Just don’t look down and it will be over in no time.
The spiral staircase comes out to a cave where you can see some incredibly well-preserved murals. The pictures depict women with naked breasts holding flowers. Some say that they are consorts of King Kashyapa. However, others believe that they are meant to be goddesses from heaven. What is the truth? I guess we will never know.
Tip: Photography of the murals is not allowed so please respect the rules.
From here, the final stretch is near. You will pass the ancient Mirror Wall (a marble no longer reflective due to its age) and come to a platform right before a grand staircase that is the entrance to the top. The staircase is between two giant lion paws carved from the rocks. Once you make it up these crowded staircases, you would have successfully conquered the Sigiriya rock climb.
At top of the rock, you can see evidence of civilization from a bygone era. Even though the palace is no longer present, the layout and symmetries of the grounds still exist. As you stand on the Lion Rock fortress, take in the surroundings and picture the glorious city that used to be here. As well, you can forget the views of the surrounding jungles and hills. They just stretch on for miles and miles. If you have good timing and the weather god on your side, the sunset show will be a gorgeous one.
Tip: If you do plan to do the Sigiriya Rock climb for sunset, keep in mind that it will be dark on the way down. Use a flashlight (from your phone will be fine) and take extra care.
What to do in Sigiriya besides climbing Lion Rock
Being right in the midst of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, there is a lot more to see in and around Sigiriya beyond the Lion Rock. Here are some awesome places to explore:
Pidurangala Rock is adjacent to Sigiriya Rock and only a 7 minutes ride away. It is another easy hike (about 20 to 30 minutes) and you will get the best photo of Sigiriya Rock ever. Since you can never see sunrise from Sigiriya due to their opening times, you can come to Pidurangala Rock instead. Pidurangala opens from 5 am and the entrance fee is only $3 USD. Comparing to $30 USD required for Sigiriya, this is a very low price to pay. Read this article for an overview of the Pidurangala Rock hike.
If you are a history & culture nerd and enjoyed reading the stories I shared about Sigiriya, you can learn even more at the Sigiriya Museum. Although the building is not the most modern and architecturally beautiful, it is rich in information about Sigiriya’s past. I suggest going to the museum before you do the hike up the rock fortress, as you can gain better understanding and appreciation of the climb. Also, you will be too tired to want to spend time in a museum after a hike. Entrance fee for the Sigiriya Museum is $5 USD for foreign adults and children.
Minneriya National Park + Kaudulla National Park
Just 20 minutes drive from Sigiriya is an experience everyone should put on their Sri Lanka itinerary, and that is doing a safari in either Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park. These two parks are some of the top places to spot elephants in the wild not only in Sri Lanka, but in Asia overall. Sighting is almost guaranteed. We did a safari in Minneriya National Park and found a big herd of elephants very quickly after we entered. It was so epic that I almost cried. Read about our Minneriya safari experience and learn all the things you need to know before planning your own trip.
Polonnaruwa is another can’t miss sight for those on a quest for culture. To Sri Lanka, it is like the Acropolis in Greece. The important archaeological site is filled with temples, ruins and tombs. If you have the energy, you can combine Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya into one single day trip as they are very close to each other.
Dambulla Cave Temple
The Dambulla Royal Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is a great place to learn about Buddhism and find a moment of peace. You will find caves with stunning statues and murals of buddhas. From Sigiriya, Dambulla Cave Temple is a half an hour drive away and takes half a day to visit.
Where to stay in Sigiriya
We loved Hotel Sigiriya, a gorgeous property with a big tropical garden, lots of wildlife and an outdoor pool. The friendly staff put on quite a show for us when we arrived as guests. They welcomed us in true Sri Lankan fashion with flower necklaces, a candle lighting ceremony, and dancers and drummers. Check availability and prices here
Here are more highly rated hotels in Sigiriya:
Budget: Run by a local family, Sigiriya Rock Side Home Stay is a charming little accommodation 800m away from Sigiriya rock. All rooms have a lovely view of the garden. Guests always rave about the host’s warm hospitality. Check availability and prices here
Mid-range: EKHO Sigiriya is a quality hotel with helpful staff and comfortable rooms. The location is excellent with lots of stores nearby. You may also see an elephant or two wandering about outside. 😉 Check availability and prices here
Plan your Sri Lanka trip in 4 easy steps
- Book A Flight: Find the cheapest flights on Skyscanner, my go-to search engine.
- Find A Hotel: Score affordable accommodation on Booking.com. Receive $16 off your first booking with my link here.
- Buy insurance: You never know what may happen on the road. Protect your trip & gears with World Nomad, the best travel insurance company ever. Get a quote here.
- Read up on the best advice: Lonely Planet: Sri Lanka Travel Guide
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