If you’re in the Dambulla area, you’ll almost have no choice but to visit the Dambulla Cave Temple. It’s a temple complex that you can’t miss since there’s a giant Buddha statue out front. However, getting to the top isn’t a straightforward as it should be.
Arriving at the UNESCO rock temple site is easy enough. Once at the top, you’ll see some amazing statues and cave paintings split among 3 caves. The ticket price is as expensive as other sites but it’s still 1500 rupees. Once at the top, you can pay to have your shoes stored as well but it isn’t necessary.
Finding the location is actually really simple because you’ll see a massive Buddha statue out front. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll feel compelled to stop if only to see what the deal is.
So what made this a little annoying for me is that there aren’t 2 ticket offices. If you’re driving down the main road, you instinctively enter the parking lot there and walk out. However, that isn’t where the ticket office is.
The ticket office is actually on the opposite side of the mountain and where you parked is actually the exit….go figure. To get to the ticket booth, you’ll need to climb the mountain halfway and then exit the park area. Walk all the way down the street and past a school (I think that’s what it was), then back up a flight of stairs.. Nowhere is it clearly marked that this is the ticket counter so I ran into 3 other tourists and we were all mindlessly walking back and forth in the rain trying to find the ticket counter.
I also heard that if you climb all the way to the top and you don’t have a ticket, they’ll just send you right back down to buy a ticket. So don’t do that.
Once at the ticket counter, you’ll have to pay $1500 rupees, cash only. However, they do accept US dollars as well in case you’re running low on rupees. You’ll need to hold onto that ticket since they won’t actually accept it until you get to the entrance of the temple complex at the top of the mountain.
At the top, you’ll need to remove your footwear so it’s best if you just wear flip flops (even though you’ll have to watch where you step since there are a lot of monkeys and monkey droppings up there). You’ll see a man “guarding” your shoes or whatever who will charge you to store your shoes. It really isn’t necessary…I mean is anyone really going to take someone else’s used shoes or flip flops? I just left mine at the entrance and they were fine.
Once inside the cave/temple complex, take your time and stroll around. I think there was already a lack of tourists in general but the rain definitely deterred a lot of people from going up. I started walking up the stairs while it was still raining so there weren’t many people up there when I arrived but many were down at the ticket counter waiting for the rain to subside before heading up.
I guess the only word I can use to describe this is impressive. Just all the paintings and sculptures inside the caves is insane.
After you’re done exploring the caves, you can walk down the hill and toward the big Buddha statue along the main road (if that’s where you parked) or go back to the entrance if you parked down there. If you go toward the exit, you won’t have any problems finding a tuk tuk to get you moving toward your next destination since there’ll be a line of them just waiting.
If you’re gong to be in the Dambulla area, there really isn’t a reason not to go see the caves. It’s an easy trip to do and something that won’t take more than 2 hours from start to finish. You’ll also be rewarded with some great views at the top and it’s a fun little precursor to Sigiriya if you’re planning on going there.