Some links are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through these links, I earn a commission, at no extra cost to you.
Sigiriya, also called the lion rock fortress, is the most famous place in Sri Lanka! It’s the former capital of Sri Lanka, it’s also one of the major archaeological sites in the country and today, Sigiriya is a UNESCO listed World Heritage site. People kept telling me it was pretty much impossible to visit Sri Lanka, and not climb Sigiriya, this huge rock which used to be a fortress in the past. Sigiriya has to be part of your Sri Lanka itinerary. By the way, what’s the history behind Sigiriya?
Table of Contents
History of Sigiriya
Back to the 5th century. King Dhatusena had two sons. Moggallana, the eldest child, and Kashyapa, the youngest. Moggallana (the eldest) was supposed to succeed his father but his brother (Kashyapa), quite evidently, wanted to accede to the throne. Therefore he killed his father and evicted his brother, who had to flee to India. Kashyapa then left the capital at the time, Anuradhapura, and moved to Sigiriya. It was strategical, this 370 meters (1200 ft.) rock could also be used as a fortress.
Moggallana, the eldest brother who had fled to India, finally came back 18 years later with his army, he managed to defeat his brother, killed him, took back the throne, and went back to Anuradhapura. After that, Sigiriya became a monastery complex in the 14th century, before being used by the kingdom again in the 17th century. During the 19th century, when the British spotted Sigiriya, the place started to get attention again. Sigiriya was restored during the 20th century, and it’s now one of the major tourist attractions of Sri Lanka.
Climbing Sigiriya, the lion rock fortress
Here I am, facing this huge rock I will have to climb in the afternoon, under the sun of Sri Lanka. Before starting to climb, we passed by different gardens (yeah, there used to be an entire city here!). Let’s go now! Many, many steps to climb! Around 1200 in all! Some stray dogs here and there, sometimes monkeys, and of course the sun…
Beware of wasps!
Oh I almost forgot… Several times, you’ll see signs asking tourists to stay quiet and not be noisy while climbing Sigiriya : sometimes there are wasp attacks! Indeed, if you look closely, you can see wasp nests just next to the rock we’re climbing! Therefore we avoided to make too much noise, and abrupt gestures. I even saw groups of Chinese tourists sitting down and wait when wasps were getting out of their nests.
The Lion Gate
After climbing several stairs, we reached the Lion Gate. You can easily recognize the Lion Gate, there are two big lion paws, well visible. Apparently, in the past there was also a lion body, the head, shoulders… Many tourists stop there and don’t further up : fatigue, having vertigo, afraid to go further… All of this I guess.
Reaching the top of Sigiriya
Because after the lion gate, the steps get really steep and the space to climb the rock gets narrow! I don’t care, those steep steps won’t stop me and I’ll make it to the top! A few minutes later, I was finally there, on top of Sigiriya, and I admired the view. Yes, I did it!
Going down is a lot easier. Still, we had to pay attention, the steps are still fuckin steep! I could spot a local hurtling down the stairs! Wow! In less than a minute, he did what took us five good minutes! Finally back to the starting point, I decided to walk around the rock, before going back home…
My impressions of Sigiriya
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by the lion rock. Once again, I think I heard too much about it beforehand. I give all the info below, but climbing Sigiriya is not worth the price you pay to get in : 4620 rupees, or 30 US dollars. I was expecting a long climb, something that would take me the afternoon. From the first step all the way to the top, it only took me half an hour, and I wasn’t that fast (I was with a US guy and he was kinda slow for me). Climbing Sigiriya is a good way to stay in shape, but I won’t do it again. Read below, there’s a plan B!
By the way, if you spend some time in the country, check out this list of beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka!
How to get to Sigiriya
A bus goes straight to Sigiriya from Kandy, every morning at 7. Otherwise, from Kandy, on a regular basis there’s a bus doing Kandy-Dambulla, and another bus doing Dambulla-Sigiriya. The first one is a 2-hour ride, and it’s 100 rupees (0.55€). The second one is a 45-minutes ride, and it’s 40 rupees (0.20€). Same price the other way around!
From Dambulla, there are buses going to Sigiriya on a regular basis, and Dambulla is only 15km/10 miles away. From Polonnaruwa, there are also buses going to Sigiriya. It’s a 90-minutes ride.
How much is it to climb Sigiriya
The entrance fee is 50 rupees (0.25€) for the locals, 4620 (25€) for the tourists… To me it’s way too expensive for what it is! Still, Sigiriya is a cheap country to visit.
When to go to Sigiriya
The morning is the best time to climb Sigiriya. I went there in the afternoon and the sun is stiflingly hot…
I told you, if you don’t wanna spring 30 US dollars to climb a rock, there’s a plan B! Pidurangala, located just next to Sigiriya. It’s also a rock to climb, from what I heard the view is almost the same, but the big difference is, of course, the price! Free for the locals, 500 rupees (2.75€) for the tourits! Good to know! However, climbing Pidurangala is a bit harder (especially the end), so be prepared!
Where to stay in Sigiriya
I didn’t stay in Sigiriya, I arrived from Kandy early in the afternoon and I left in the evening. Click here to check the hotels available in Sigiriya.
If you prefer to stay in an apartment, click here to check the apartments available on Airbnb.
Other things to do in Sri Lanka
You can visit Colombo, Galle, a beach in the south (Mirissa, Polhena, Matara…) and also Ella and Kandy. There are places to visit, where I didn’t go : Nuwara Eliya, a town located between Ella and Kandy. Also Dambulla, located between Kandy and Sigiriya. Those who are motivated, you can climb Adam’s Peak (the real one, not Little Adam’s Peak!). The view there is amazing for the sunrise!
Sigiriya travel tips
- Traveling soon? Check out my travel resources page! This list of travel accessories can also be useful!
- Check the visa policy here. If you wanna go to Sri Lanka and stay there for less than 30 days, most Western countries don’t need a visa anymore. But you need to apply for a free ETA. Click here to do it.
- Do not go to Sri Lanka without a travel insurance! Here’s why buy travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip to Sri Lanka? Get a free quote here!
- Click here to check the latest flight prices.
- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it. Here’s why use a VPN when traveling.
- Around Sigiriya, there are several stands selling food. I was with a US guy who bought food sitting on a buffet. I was hungry but I didn’t take anything, following my own advice and listening to my instinct. And yes, it had to happen. Two hours later, the US guy had travelers’ diarrhea!