Sigiriya: So Sri Lanka

Otherwise known as Lion’s Rock, Sigiriya is an ancient fortress situated in the Matale district, and is surrounded by rainforest, swampland, and manicured gardens. Sigiriya was built in 495AD as a castle-like structure for the then ruling monarch King Kassapa I, and is now known as one of the 7 major heritage sites of Sri Lanka.

The long - and bumpy - road to Sigiriya
The long – and bumpy – road to Sigiriya

The journey to Sigiriya is not an easy one. It is at least a 2hr drive from Kandy (and probably 4-5 hours from Colombo). Most people stop at the Dambulla Caves on the return journey (don’t do this on the outbound journey, as it’s best to get to Sigiriya early, before the sun is at its strongest). Be prepared for a bumpy ride for the duration of your journey, as roads in Sri Lanka are somewhat underdeveloped!

One of the maps scattered around the complex (click to enlarge)
One of the maps scattered around the complex (click to enlarge)

The whole area around Sigiriya is very lush, filled with jungle and tropical foliage. I saw many monitor lizards and monkeys as I was making my way down the roads up to the entrance to the site. Sigiriya opens to the public at 7am and closes around 5.30pm. The Entrance fee to Sigiriya during my visit was 3,200 LKR, which is very expensive (around $25 – and it has now been increased to $30 per person, as of December 2015). Many backpackers want to avoid Sigiriya altogether because of the extortionate fees lumbered to foreigners. Still, I wasn’t going to come all this way to Sri Lanka and not climb Lion’s Rock.

There are lots of moats around Sigiriya Rock
There are lots of moats around Sigiriya Rock
Crocs about?!
Crocs about?!

I was NOT going to dare bathe in a moat like that, regardless of whether there were warning signs or not, however I did wonder why for such a popular tourist destination the authorities have not done anything about relocating the potentially man-eating crocodiles from the area. I guess it would do the crocs a lot of good, too, to get away from all the people and noise pollution. That said, one of the greatest things about travelling for me is seeing signs like the one in the photo above – it makes me realise that I am far away from home exploring lands anew, and that’s precisely what I’m interested in!

On my way to start the climb
On my way to start the climb
A closer look at those stairs
A closer look at those stairs…
...and a closer look at those hornets!
…and a closer look at those hornets!

As if crocodiles weren’t enough, giant hornets are also a problem around Sigiriya. In that area of the jungle, they are in their natural habitat and you can see their huge nests hanging from the underside of the rocks. Hornets do not like ambient noise, and any noise from the mass crowds can disturb them into an angry – and potentially deadly – frenzy. As such, warnings are all around to keep quiet, and in the event of a hornet attack, there were even tiny shed-like structures made of what seemed like mesh which we can run into to get away from the hornets. Luckily, I did not encounter any problems with an hornets when I was there, although I did see their nests. I have also heard stories of hornet attacks on tourists, so the threat is very real.

Walking up the stairs of Lion's Rock was a nervous affair, and the weather took a turn for the worse!
Walking up the stairs of Lion’s Rock was a nervous affair, and the weather took a turn for the worse!

Sigiriya is almost 200m high and has 1200 steps to reach the summit. You must make sure you carry a bottle of water with you (at least one bottle each) as the heat and humidity will cripple you. When I set out at the foot of the Rock, I had a bottle of water in my hands and another in my cargo shorts pocket, yet by the time I reached half way, I had already disposed of one bottle.

A 5th century fresco painting from the walls of Sigiriya
A 5th century fresco painting from the walls of Sigiriya
Some of the frescoes at Sigiriya are getting worn due to the weather
Some of the frescoes at Sigiriya are getting worn due to the weather

I am not a fan of paintings like this normally, but these frescoes were an exception. It is claimed that originally there were plans to paint these frescoes around at least one side of the entire Rock, although plans were seemingly scaled down somewhat all those centuries ago for reasons unknown. In the middle of a steep and potentially dangerous climb to the summit, I had more important things to occupy my mind than fresco paintings, although to be fair most tourists with me absolutely loved them, so I guess it’s just a personal preference.

Made it to the top! This is what is up here!
The remains of Sigiriya's long-since-destroyed citadel
The remains of Sigiriya’s long-since-destroyed citadel (with me sheltering from a monsoon under a tree…)

By the end of the climb, which had included a spiral staircase that I was too take photographs of in case I lost my footing (I don’t actually like heights!), I was relieved to finally make it to the top of Lion’s Rock. I was not timing myself, but I think it took me around nearly 3 hours to ascend the narrow stairs to the summit, hang around up top for as long as possible (a storm ruined my plans to stay up there for longer) and then descend back down again. Be warned that – regardless of the weather – there are no toilets nor refreshments at the top of Sigiriya, it’s just you and hundreds of other travellers!

For further information on Sigiriya with incredible photos (especially of its amazing gardens, which sadly I did not take many of) I really recommend these blogs from Dea Sihotang and Addie Gonzalez!

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17 thoughts on “Sigiriya: So Sri Lanka

    1. Thanks! If you mean the aerial shot, it is a stock photo, but hard to understand who owns the photo. I think Sigiriya.org, so I will credit them. It would have been nice to take a helicopter overhead (or direct from Colombo which would have saved a lot of hassle!)

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  1. My mates just came back from Sri Lanka and they said eye refused to pay the price for sigiriya but they just took photos of the rock from far back 😂

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    1. I think they missed out on a great experience, but I guess if you are on a real shoestring budget then it may just not be possible to pay the extortionate attraction entrance fees in Sri Lanka – but at least your mates got some good photos! 😛

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  2. Hey! Thanks for the write up. This really helps me plan my upcoming trip.
    Quick question, I am keen on both Sigiriya as well as polonnaruwa. would it be possible to plan a day trip covering both, or am I being too ambitious?

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    1. Hi Shereen! I think Sigiriya AND Polonnaruwa is too ambitious for the same day. You must factor in the heat problems…

      Polonnaruwa has virtually no shade, whereas Sigiriya is a long and hard climb up the rock – neither should be tackled in the midday or afternoon sun.

      It is best to do each on separate mornings when the weather is cooler.

      I hope you have a great time in Sri Lanka! 😀

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