2 Days in Sigiriya – Exploring Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle
June 16, 2019
I, for one, LOVE knowing where I am. What I mean when I say that is, that every country has a story. There’s a history that we didn’t learn about in textbooks, and through time, there’s an imprint that gets carried forward, a little reminder of what a place used to be, and what has shaped the present. It was to understand a little more of this that I made my way up north to spend a good 2 days in Sigiriya.
Sigiriya gets its name from the Sigiriya Rock, or the Lion’s Rock, an ancient fortress that is also known as the eighth wonder of the world. The city is a perfect springboard to explore Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Dambulla. The first two are ancient cities, both former capitals, of which now only monumental remains stand. Dambulla is home to the Buddha cave temple. Sigiriya is a must visit for anyone looking to dive right into the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.
I spent 2 days in Sigiriya because I wanted a decent amount of time to explore a little bit of everything.
When I say 2 days in Sigiriya, I’m talking about a FULL 2 days in Sigiriya, not including travel time. Day 1 of this itinerary starts in the morning, so it is advisable that you arrive the previous day.
Sigiriya was the first destination I set out to explore in Sri Lanka. I arrived into Bandaranaike Airport in Colombo late in the evening, and went straight to a hostel in Negombo to crash for the night.
YoYo Hostel – It’s run by the most amazing family. Gee, the manager, will help you out right from booking you an airport shuttle, to planning the rest of your trip.
The next morning, I met two girls – both backpackers who, like me, weren’t entirely certain of their next destination. A quick chat and a little bit of research, and the 3 of us decided to head up north to Sigiriya. We booked a cab through the hostel itself and were on our way.
For those traveling on a budget, or who do not have / find company, local buses also ply and charge a very cheap rate, roughly around INR 500.
Best Time to Visit
Sigiriya is located towards the north. December to April is ideally the best time to visit, when temperatures are relatively cooler during the mornings and evenings. Days are warm (in my case, pretty hot), but there’s no rain, which makes it ideal to spend an entire day outside. It’s actually a pretty warm destination year-round, but you’ll want to avoid the extreme heat of the summer months, so winter to spring is ideal.
Things to Do in 2 Days in Sigiriya
Climb the Pidurangala Rock
You might notice how climbing the Sigiriya Rock isn’t the first thing to do on this list. I’ll tell you why.
The Pidurangala Rock is located about 4 km from the Sigiriya Rock and is said to be only 1 METRE shorter in height. When you enter, you will be asked to cover your knees with a sarong (which they provide, free of charge), as there is a temple at the base of the rock. Once you cross the temple, you can leave your sarong at the base of a tree and start your ascent. The first 15 minutes involve lots of stairs, alternating with uneven rocks, as you make your way to the top of Pidurangala. The last 5-10 minutes are pure rock climbing, so get ready to use all of your limbs.
The best time to hike up Pidurangala is for sunrise. The 3 of us left our hotel at 5:30 am, got to the base by 5:50 or so, and were up at the top by 6:15, right in time to see the sun make its way over the horizon. A splendid sight indeed!
Wear shoes for the hike. It won’t be easy to clamber up rocks in slippers. Also, moderate fitness level is required. The weather in Sri Lanka is quite humid, so wear something light, because you’re going to sweat quite a bit. Shorts and a T-shirt work fine. Dresses might not be a good idea 😛 Once you get to the top, though, it’s breeeeeezy, so you can totally cool off as you enjoy the sunrise!
You do not need to buy tickets online, or prior. Get to the entrance in the morning and buy your tickets there itself.
Here’s another reason why you might want to choose to climb Pidurangala over Sigiriya. The cost to hike up Sigiriya Rock is $30. That’s right. 10 times the cost to climb Pidurangala. The views are largely the same, the key difference being if you climb Pidurangala, you’ll also see the Sigiriya Rock bathed in morning gold, which is a sight to behold.
That being said, if you wish to, you can also –
Climb the Sigiriya Rock
The rock itself is made of the magma of an extinct volcano. The fortress is said to have been built in the form of a lion (hence the name Lion’s Rock) of which only the feet remain. There are about 1200 stairs to the top, and on the way, you’ll see frescoes and carvings built in. One of the most striking features you will see is the Mirror Wall, which is said to have been polished so well that the king could see his reflection in it. Pieces of history lie here, and it’s a great insight into the history of Sigiriya and Sri Lanka.
Take a day to visit Polonnaruwa / Anuradhapura
Polonnaruwa was the capital of SL right after Anuradhapura was destroyed. What remains of both these former capital cities are monumental remains of what once were splendid, marvellous colonies.
I chose to visit Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura, because on speaking to locals, I found out that Polonnaruwa is not as frequented, and also possesses larger remains from the era. I also chose only one of the two, because structurally, both are said to be rather similar. I’d recommend visiting Polonnaruwa to anyone looking at exploring what life was like back then!
The complex is quite large, and you’ll need a good 3-4 hours to cover it entirely. The King’s Palace, residential quarters, temples, monasteries, viharayas, courtrooms.. It’s all there, everything that formed the old capital city. Take the day to explore, and be prepared to walk around under the sun quite a bit.
It is also advisable to carry a hat and sunglasses, as the sun is quite harsh and reflects off the sand. You don’t want to be unprepared. Some of the complexes require you to cover your knees and shoulders, so dress appropriately.
You will have to take off your hat and shoes too, to enter the Buddha temple and some of the viharayas.
I will HIGHLY recommend carrying a pair of socks, because walking barefoot on the hot sand is an absolute nightmare and had me jumping as if I was on hot coals. Your soles can blister up, I am not even joking.
Here’s a fun tip: If you’re a SAARC member, you get a 50% discount on showing your passport. So the cost of the ticket for us Indians is LKR 2212.5 | INR 900. Yay!
Visit the Dambulla Rock Cave Temple
This was one of my FAVOURITE places. Dambulla is about 40 minutes away from Sigiriya via tuktuk (or autorickshaw, as we know it). The main draw is the Rock Cave Temple. From the second I entered the place, I felt this beautiful, peaceful vibe, the kind I’ve only got in monasteries in Spiti or Ladakh. The temple itself is built into the side of a mountain, all in white, and stunning to look at. What I LOVED, though, were the caves. They’re filled with statues of Buddha in various poses and forms.
Don’t forget to look up!
The ceiling is painted with frescoes of Buddha and scenes of stories from his life. It is so beautiful, you would think its a tapestry of some sort, and not actual rock that’s been painted.
You will also see a statue of a reclining Buddha, which is 2100 years old. Cool, right?
Go there, and I promise you, you will leave spellbound.
Getting to the temple requires a fair bit of climbing stairs, and the walk up is along the mountainside, so we were treated to fantastic views! Also, we went right around sunset, so the light was magical, and the weather just right.
Worth it, if you ask me.
Visit the Golden Temple
Exit the Rock Cave temple and walk down a long flight of stairs to find yourself at the Golden Temple. The most spectacular and distinguishing factor of this temple is the golden stupa you will see near the entrance. The main entrance itself looks like a giant mouth. For real. I couldn’t go inside the temple because I visited during Sri Lankan New year, and a lot of places were shut, but it is said to be beautiful and peaceful, and if you’re going to the Rock Cave temple anyway, you might as well take out half an hour or so to visit this one.
Check out the vegetable market
Dambulla is said to be a base that covers Sigiriya and a lot of the surrounding areas, so it is the centre where produce is brought and distributed. I’d already eaten a lot of ridiculously fresh fruit and vegetables by then, so I thought it would be interesting to check out the centre of it all. The market is located 10 minutes away from the Golden Temple, and can easily be built into your trip to Dambulla.
Sadly though, it was closed because of the New Year holidays. If this is something that interest you, stop by and chat with the local vendors about their business! It’s always fun to understand how a city functions!
We hired a tuktuk to take us from Sigiriya to Dambulla and back. It cost us a total of LKR 2000, with the per head cost coming to LKR 1000 (USD 6, INR 400), which is a pretty sweet deal.
Go swimming in a lake!
This is a very popular local thing to do in Sri Lanka, and Sigiriya has got a LOT of lakes you can go and jump into to cool off. Roy, the owner of our hostel, took us to one nearby called Lenawa Lake. It felt sooooo good to jump in on a day as hot as that one! You WILL come out smelling of lake though, so go before you shower for the day 😛
Keep your eyes peeled while on the road!
Because you just might spot an elephant or two wandering in the wild! We were lucky enough to see two of them on our way back from Polonnaruwa. We also saw a TON of monkeys, langurs, and peacocks strutting around casually. Good idea to maintain a distance, don’t go too close. Remember, it’s their HOME.
Take a hot air balloon ride!
The craze is definitely catching up! There are a few companies in Sigiriya that offer a view from the top. Be sure to book in advance, though, because these rides are limited and tend to sell out quite fast. Also, this is an early morning thing, so if you’re spending 2 days in Sigiriya, you’ll have to save one early morning for this one. Maybe even on your last day, before you leave.
Here’s a good way to plan your 2 days in Sigiriya –
Day 1 –
Early morning – Pidurangala
Daytime – Polonnaruwa
Day 2 –
Early morning – Sigiriya
Late morning – Swimming / chilling
Afternoon – Dambulla
This is what I did, but skipped on climbing Sigiriya Rock. Backpacker budget 🙂
Day 1 –
Early morning – Sigiriya
Daytime – Polonnaruwa
Day 2 –
Morning – Dambulla
Evening – Pidurangala for sunset
Feel free to play around with the itinerary! Also, like I mentioned before, if you plan on doing the hot air balloon ride, save an early morning for it.
Where to Stay
Roy’s Villa Hostel
It’s Sri Lanka’s top-rated hostel, and with good reason. Dorms are top notch, hygienic and spacious. Roy is an amazing guy, super helpful, and helped us plan our entire stay in Sigiriya as well as after. He knows his stuff. The food here is pretty great too! Local items for breakfast, along with eggs made to order, and maaaad delicious rice and curry meals for dinner! I didn’t feel like leaving!
Sigiri Lion Villa
We stayed here for a night when we arrived because Roy’s was full. Since there were 3 of us, one room on triple-sharing worked out really cheap. It is run by the SWEETEST family EVER! Uncle helped us out with transport to and from Pidurangala Rock and Polonnaruwa, and even arranged a drop back to Negombo for one of us who was leaving the next day. The family stays right behind the hotel, and they invited us into their home to celebrate New Year with them. They were so kind and hospitable that I almost cried.
So there you go! That’s aaaaallllll the deets for spending 2 days in Sigiriya, a destination I would HIGHLY recommend. It was a great start to my journey in Sri Lanka and set the bar quite high. I hope this post helps you out when you’re going too 🙂