A Million Travels @ Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka

Our quick stopover in Kandy before moving to Dambulla where we leave from to visit one of the most popular sites in Sri Lanka: Sigiriya. From here we keep heading north, stopping in Habarana, base for the safari at the Kaudulla National Park, home of the elephants.


Our first impression of Kandy is not the best one: the chaos we’ve avoided so far hits us, together with noises and smells. A tuk tuk takes us to our guesthouse, squeezing through the traffic and going uphill. The stay is far from the city disorder and faces the mountains. At the beginning we consider staying in Kandy for 2 nights, but then the rush of getting away from the city wins, and decide to leave the next day.

Kandy station, Sri Lanka
Old style timetable in Kandy train station

We try to use at best the short time we have to change our mind about Kandy; we leave the backpacks and go out immediately. People suggest us to attend the ceremony taking place every night at the Tooth Temple, where it appears to be a Buddha’s tooth as a relic. The temple lies in front of a beautiful lake, and when we get there a flow of people is entering for the ceremony. We follow them but we are stopped for the our inappropriate dress code (we are wearing bermuda shorts, and even covering our knees with a sweater is not enough to convince them). A bit disappointed we continue exploring the city that we like the less and less. Very chaotic, very dirty. We go back to our room early, glad we decided to stay one night only.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress – Dambulla

The next day we go by tuk tuk to the bus station and from there we leave to Dambulla, centre used as base to visit the nearby Sigiriya Rock. We arrive after a 3 hour ride. Dambulla spreads along the main road and it’s hard to point out a proper city center. Guesthouses are all scattered in the parallel small roads around.

Guesthouse Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Our lovely guesthouse in the middle of nature, Dambulla

We settle in the room we booked and we decide to relax for a couple of hours to avoid the early afternoon heat. Later we visit the Rock Temple Caves. Going up on a staircase with monkeys, we get to the top where it’s possible to visit small nice temples extracted from the cave openings and decorated with paintings on the walls.

Rock Cave Temple, Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Rock Cave Temple, Dambulla
Rock Cave Temple, Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Rock Cave Temple, Dambulla
After the visit, we agree with a tuk tuk driver to leave at 5am the next morning to visit Sigiriya, so that we get to watch the sunrise.
Looking for info, we read many articles suggesting Pidurangala rock instead of Sigiriya: Pidurangala is a monolith opposite to Sigiriya, from where it’s possible to enjoy a great view of the most famous rock, and one more advantage is the cost: 500 rupees instead of 4500… A big difference for backpackers on a budget like us!

We are aware that hiking on top of Pidurangala cannot substitute the visit of Sigiriya with its gardens and citadel, but we choose this option anyway, considering that with 9000 rupees we could pay 4 nights in our remaining days in Sri Lanka.

Sunrise at Pidurangala Rock, Sri Lanka
Enjoying the sunrise from Pidurangala Rock

We get to Pidurangala base around 5.30 am and after paying the ticket at a small temple at the entrance, we start hiking up the staircase following the directions. It’s very important keeping an eye on the directions drawn on the rocks because it’s really easy to get lost, mostly on the way back. The first part of the hike is pretty easy, always going up but not too hard. We get to a lying Buddha statue with a few cells used by hermits monks in the past. From this point the path gets more difficult and in the last part we have to climb on the rocks. Small challenge immediately satisfied by the stunning panorama.

Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
The sun is rising on the vast plain at the bottom of the rock, and it colours Sigiriya with thousand of amber shades. There are few tourists but they soon leave probably to get to Sigiriya in time for its opening at 7 am, leaving the rock all to ourselves. Visiting both sites would probably be the best option, if you have enough time and budget.

We stay on top of this monolith for about an hour, admiring the silence and the vastity at our feet.

Pidurangala Rock, sunrise, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Ambra at Pidurangala Rock at sunrise

Sigiriya is a very interesting formation that appears to come out from nowhere. Travelling around this region we will see several similar rocks, that characterize it. The history tells Sigiriya was chosen to build up a royal palace and fortress for the new King who wanted to defend himself from his brother, legitimate heir later exiled.

Sigiriya Rock, Pidurangala, Sri Lanka
Minor vegetation on top of Pidurangala Rock, with Sigiriya on the background

We decide to go back walking to Sigiriya, a couple of km far, and from there take a local bus to Dambulla. We probably miss the nearest bus stop but eventually get to catch the shuttle bus that runs to Dambulla in 40 minutes.

Kaudulla National Park – Habarana
At 10 am we are already back to our room to collect our backpacks and leave again. Other day, other bus, this time to Habarana, a small town some 10km north to Dambulla. We choose this town because want do a safari tour at Minneriya National Park, where all the elephants concentrate in this season, as we read in online blogs and reviews.
We walk a while to find a guesthouse because it seems they’re all scattered around. We pick one not far from the main road, so that we’re close again to the bus stop, when we will have to leave for Trincomalee, city on the East coast.
Kaudulla Park Safari, Sri Lanka
Africa likewise landscapes

We find a safari tour leaving that same afternoon, best timing to spot the elephants gathering at the lake. They suggest us Kaudulla Park though, cheaper and less crowded than Minneriya. So at 1.30 pm we leave from Habarana and in half an hour we are at the entrance of the park.

Safari at Kaudulla Park, Sri Lanka
Ambra shooting

The panorama is maybe less various than the one of Yala Park in the South, but likewise magnificent. Huge savannah stretches make us think of Africa, with a big lake where all kind of animals gather: from buffaloes to colourful birds, from eagles to crocodiles. The elephants make themselves wanted, but eventually we manage to see about 40 of them, even though we were hoping more (they told us “more than one hundred”). We are not very lucky and in the wrong season, considering that in Yala we couldn’t even spot the famous leopards that live in the park.

Elephants in Kaudulla Park Safari, Sri Lanka
Moments before the attack…
It’s an incredible experience anyway. The jeep driver gets close to many groups of elephants, with mothers and puppies, even too close: a pregnant female starts running toward us, and the jeep has to leave with rush!

We get back to Habarana around 6 pm, we have dinner and rest in our room, thinking back to the busy and amazing day we had, full of new experiences and adventures: life is amazing!

A Million Travels @ Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
A Million Travels @ Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
  • Tuk-tuk, Kandy station-guesthouse: 250rs;
  • Local bus, Kandy-Dambulla: 160rs/person;
  • Tuk-tuk, Dambulla-Pidurangala (Sigiriya Rock): 1000rs;
  • Local bus, Sigiriya-Dambulla: 40rs/person;
  • Local bus, Dambulla-Habarana: 50rs/person;
  • You can pre-book in advance your tickets to travel in Sri Lanka on amt.12go.asia
  • Rock Cave Temple, Dambulla: free;
  • Pidurangala Rock, Sigiriya: 500rs/person;
  • Safari, Kaudulla Park: 2700rs/person, private jeep+entrance fees.


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Kandy, Sigiryia, Kaudulla, the heart of Sri Lanka


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