One of the reasons to visit Dambulla is to see and visit Sigiriya rock. This ancient site is a popular tourist attraction and if you arrive late, you’ll certainly be fighting your way up to the top. The views are quite stunning however.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts tourists from all over the globe. It’s easily on the itinerary of every tour group visiting Sri Lanka. The problem is the high cost of visiting the site as a tourist and the fact that it can be very crowded if you arrive late.
From Dambulla, it’s about a 40 minute drive that goes up and over mountains and you’ll have to deal with countless twists and turns to drive there. The good thing is that you just take major roads to get there so it’s relatively easy. You can also easily take a day tour to Sigiriya from multiple tour offices in Dambulla or even your hotel. Getting there (as long as you’re not driving) is not the problem.
I would also recommend getting there early….as in get there at 7 or shortly there after. If you get there right when it opens, the site will be secluded and quiet and you’ll be able to climb up to the top at your own pace in the peace and quiet. To be honest, it’s really nice to walk through Sigiriya when it’s quiet because it’s far less distracting.
I got there around 7:30 and was able to get up and down the rock in about 2 hours and that was taking my time with multiple photos and rest breaks (hey….I’m not as young as I used to be!). When I was back on the ground around 9:30, the environment had entirely changed. By then, multiple tour buses had arrived and it felt like an entirely different site from what I had experience when I arrived. It was sad in a way because for a holy site, it seemed like there was too much noise and raucous (insert the “get off my lawn!” sound bit here).
So the real disappointment to the site is that it’s $30 USD to enter the site. It’s just a lot of money to pay for a site that doesn’t take more the 2 to 3 hours to visit. I guess my biggest gripe about this is that locals don’t pay nearly as much to enter the site so it feels like highway robbery when it comes the prices tourists are forced to pay. Also, although you can pay in US dollars, you won’t be able to pay with a credit card so make sure you have some cash handy.
You purchase your tickets at the museum. Although when you first arrive, you’ll see a ticket booth, it’s only for the locals. You’ll need to go into the museum to buy a tourist ticket. Also, from here to when you start climbing Sigiriya, you’ll be approached by countless tour guides so if you want a guide, it’ll be really easy to find one. I think I over heard someone say that since there are so many guides, each one is limited to one tour a day.
Know that once you start climbing, the stairs are basically wide enough to climb up single file. Although you’ll have a couple places to pass some people, you’ll basically be stuck behind tour groups if you get there late so it really is in your best interest to get there early if you want to go at your own pace.
Also, if you’re afraid of heights, this may not be the best attraction for you. Although it’s perfectly safe (or it felt that way), there are definitely spots where it looked scary. At the very least, you should be able to climb up to the lion’s feet stairs since the worst of the stairs is after that. But at that point, you’re so close to the top, you might as well keep going.
Once at the top, you’ll have a great view of everything below. It’s actually a pretty neat spot to have a bite to eat and catch your breath. You can spend all the time you want and wonder how they got the water up to the top for the residents. Pretty remarkable stuff.
I’d recommend going early and just making a beeline to the top. There are other places to stop before you get to the stairs to start the climb but you can do that after you get back down. You don’t want to waste time looking around and then have tour buses come up behind you.
You can spend as much or as little time there as necessary but I think you’ll be done in about 2-3 hours. It doesn’t take too long and the climb up doesn’t take as long as you think.