A guide to climbing Sigiriya rock fortress

Updated: Apr 18, 2018

Take a trip back in time, discover an ancient kingdom and an impeccably planned city!

About the Sigiriya rock fortress

Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Sri Lanka. And that's not just because the ancient kingdom is built upon a massive rock and you need to climb 1,200 steps to reach the sky palace, but also because the place is steeped in history, and natural and man-made beauty all at once!

The Sigiriya Rock Fortress

The north side of Sigiriya rock is fashioned into a lion, the paws and body of the lion to this day remain well preserved, but unfortunately the head of the lion has not survived the test of time. The inner walls of Sigiriya contain beautiful frescoes of nymphs, some of which have survived to this day and are one of the main reasons, so many tourists flock to this attraction.

Sigiriya is also one of the most important surviving examples of ancient impeccable and efficient planning. A complex underground irrigation set-up pumped water into the terraced pools and fountains in that day and time, and it exists to this day.

Sigiriya forms one part of what is called the historical and cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, which includes Kandy, Anuradhapura and Dambulla. Together these places contain 5 out of total 8 UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka.

At the top!

On the way up Sigiriya rock

The 1,200 step climb, to summit the 200 m peak, can get a bit grueling and tricky, especially in the parts where the staircase is narrow and the climb is steep. But the views from the top are magnificent to say the least and totally worth all the sweat!

There are so many things to check out in Sigiriya, and below, we've given a complete breakdown of everything you need to know to plan your visit there.

History, myth and legend

Built by King Kasyapa, the second king of the Mauryan Dynasty of Sri Lanka, in around 477 AD, Sigiriya served as the new capital of the kingdom of Sri Lanka till 495 AD. King Kasyapa, who was an illegitimate son of King Dhatusena, usurped the throne from his father in 477 AD following a military coup in which Dhatusena was killed by Kasyapa. The rightful heir to the throne, Mogallana, fled to South India to gather an army to defeat Kasyapa. meanwhile, Kasyapa assumed the throne and moved the capital from Anuradhapura to the more strategically secure Sigiriya. With the strategic height advantage, it would be easy to spot approaching armies. King Kasyapa was defeated in 495 AD by King Mogallana, and died a tragic death allegedly through his own sword.

All that history alone makes Sigiriya such an interesting and important Sri Lankan landmark. But its history and myth doesn't end there. It is believed that Buddhist monks took up residence in Sigiriya after it was abandoned at the end of King Kasyapa's reign. It is also believed that Sigiriya once also served as King Ravana's palace in Hindu mythology.

The Lion Rock - the lion paws

The moat at the entrance
Getting there

Sigiriya makes for a good half-day trip, and as there isn't much else to see in Sigiriya apart from this attraction and the nearby Pidurungala rock (about 1 km away). Tourists usually club visiting this place with the cave temples in Dambulla in one day. Sigiriya is located close to Dambulla and it takes about 30 minutes to get to Sigiriya by TukTuk. A TukTuk ride will cost about 1000-1500 LKR (Lankan Rupee) (depending on your bargaining power!). Sigiriya can also be easily reached by bus from Dambulla (from Dambulla Bus Stop) and the ticket costs about 100 LKR. Dambulla is at about a 4 hour distance from Colombo, and can be reached by local buses from Kurunegala. To read more about the trains and buses in Sri Lanka, please read this blog post.

How much time it takes

We stayed in Dambulla and visited Sigiriya Rock and the Dambulla Cave Temples on the same day. A trip to Sigiriya will take about 3-3.5 hours including the travel from and to Dambulla.

Apart from beautiful terrace gardens at the bottom of the rock and the 1,200 step climb, the summit has beautiful views of the surroundings. Sigiriya also has a museum which houses cultural and functional artifacts from King Kasyapa's time, including armory, pottery and jewels. It is well worth spending some time there.

Entrance to the Sigiriya Museum
Best time to visit

The Sigiriya Rock fortress is open to visitors everyday from 7 AM - 7 PM. But being one of the most popular attractions to visit in Sri Lanka, pretty much everyone who is visiting Sri Lanka comes here too. Therefore, picking a right time to visit is of tantamount importance to having a good experience there.

Saturdays and Sundays are better to be avoided as apart from the tourists, there will likely be a lot of locals too. During the day time, one sees more crowds swarming in, and sometimes causing a choc-a-block situation on the stairs, thereby increasing the time it takes to summit (and that too, in the sweltering heat it can be a mood dampener!). The best times when one can avoid crowds would be early in the morning before 9 AM and later in the day- after 5 PM (with the added bonus of a gorgeous sunset!)

Prep and gear

200m to the summit might not sound like a lot, but the climb can get a tad taxing and even difficult around the parts where the staircase is a narrow spiral vertical one or when it is jutting out of the rock with vertigo-inducing views. But one look at the panorama at the top makes everything else seem small (and we're not just talking literally!). Whether you are an experienced hiker or a novice, it's important to take short breaks during the climb.

Comfortable joggers / track pants and a thin cotton tee should do just well for the climb. Running shoes or flat comfortable footwear will do the trick as far as footwear is concerned. And sunglasses too, because it's likely to be very sunny during the day.

If you're going in the off season with a chance of rain, it'll be a good idea to carry along a sweatshirt or a rain jacket.

Perhaps the most important thing to carry along on the climb would be a bottle of water. There are no shops close to the rock and during the climb to stop to buy water, so it is really important to take a bottle of water along.

Let's talk cost

The entry ticket price to Sigiriya is a bit steep but well worth it at 4500 LKR. The ticket price includes the museum entrance fee.

For tourists from SAARC countries (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Afghanistan), the tickets are at half-price - 2250 LKR, provided you show your passport at the ticket office. This is the case with quite a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites here. So yes, you should carry along your passport when you visit Sigiriya.

The neighboring Pidurangala rock's entry ticket costs 500 LKR. So if you want to see Sigiriya from a vantage point but the ticket price seems too prohibitive, you could scale the Pidurangala rock instead, at a fraction of the price. The duration of the climb will be about an hour.

A view of the entry path from the half-way point
The climb

After you buy your ticket at the counter, we recommend that you head first to the Sigiriya Museum to check out the beautifully preserved artifacts. It serves as a good introduction to the high level of craftsmanship and skill of the Sri Lankans more than 1000 years ago.

The museum tour takes about 30-45 min, after which you can head along the straight mud path leading directly to the rock. The view of the rock from the bottom is quite awe-inspiring!

The awe-inspiring rock

Flanked on either side of this path are elaborately and meticulously planned terraced gardens, possibly one of the oldest planned gardens in existence. The gardens contain pools, a testament of the complex and evolved water planning system.

The impeccably planned Sigiriya gardens

Half-way up is a cave where the surviving frescoes are present. The frescoes are believed to by some to be those of King Kasyapa's concubines. The frescoes are beautiful and we strongly recommend that you see these on your trip to Sigiriya. One thing that you need to be mindful of is that photography of these frescoes is not allowed.

Another important aspect is of the Sigiriya Rock is the mirror wall, which is believed to have been so polished that the king could see his reflection as he walked past it. Over time, the wall is no longer as polished as it would have been and is now full of inscriptions from passer-by/ visitors some even dating from the 9th and 10th century!

The mirror wall

The views at the top are breathtaking and we strongly recommend that you take some time to soak in the beautiful countryside from the summit. Take a stroll among the beautiful vestiges of the royal gardens at the top.

The breathtaking countryside views and the gardens

The sky palace

We absolutely loved our Sigiriya climb! it was indeed one of the highlights of our Sri Lanka trip an we highly recommend it.

We'd love to help you out with your questions regarding Sigiriya in the comment section below! We hope you have an amazing trip there.

#Sigiriya #SigiriyaRockFortress #SriLanka #Travel

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