The long - and bumpy - road to Sigiriya

What is the best way to get to Sigiriya?

Sigiriya sits right in the middle of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle made up by Kandy, Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa. Technically, Sigiriya refers to the ancient city, but most people use the name when speaking of the iconic rock fortress, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sometimes referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World. Yet seeing as travel in Sri Lanka is no easy feat – even in 2017 – how exactly do we plan our journey from Colombo to Sigiriya?

A map of Sri Lanka's major tourist routes (Click to enlarge)
A map of Sri Lanka’s major tourist routes (Click to enlarge)

As you can see, Sri Lanka is a pretty varied country, with cultural relics in the north, lush green highlands in the centre, and of course more than a few nice beaches along its southern and western coastlines. From Colombo, it pretty much takes 3-4 hours to get anywhere of note, whether you travel north or south. However, Colombo to Kandy/Sigiriya remains the most popular tourist pilgrimage.

Busy Colombo Train Station
Busy Colombo Train Station

TRAIN

The closest railway station to Sigiriya is at Habarana, which is approximately 15km away. There is only one train that runs back and forth daily, so this makes things a little inconvenient unless you happen to time your trip accordingly. Despite the scenery you will encounter during the journey from Colombo, taking the train is actually the slowest way to get to Sigiriya. A reserved 3rd class ticket costs Rs. 480 while a reserved seat in 2nd class costs Rs. 600 (as of January, 2017). Despite the travel time, however, it does remain the most popular option to get to Sigiriya.

Car or bus is the cheapest way to get to Sigiriya
Car or bus is the cheapest way to get to Sigiriya
Honestly, this is a typical hazard in Sri Lanka!
Honestly, this is a typical hazard in Sri Lanka!

PRIVATE VEHICLE

On the road in a private car, you have got two routes that take you there: the traditional route takes the A01 (Kandy Road) up to Ambepuss, at which point you turn off to Kurunegala on the A06. If you’re lucky and encounter little traffic, then the drive should take about 3 hours at the most.

The newer route, however, makes use of the Katunayake Expressway. Drive towards the airport then straight past it. From here in, follow the road to Minuwangoda and then onwards to Giriulla, then finally on to Kurunegala. If you start early, you can get there in 2 hours. From Kurunegala, continue along the A06 towards Dambulla. The road here is well carpeted, but drive safely (and watch out for stray elephants!). Continue for 10km along the A06 until you reach Inamaluwa Junction. Here, you’ll find a replica of the Lion’s Paw from the rock along with a signpost that directs you onto the B162. This road should get you to Sigiriya in about 10 minutes – where your adventure will begin!

Buses are cheap but not advised
Buses are cheap but not advised

PUBLIC BUS

The journey from Colombo (or anywhere in Lanka) to Sigiriya is rather tiresome considering that there is no direct bus straight. Sometimes, it even takes about an hour longer than driving in your own car. If you’re taking the traditional and easy route from Colombo, hop on either a No. 15 bus to Anuradhapura or a No. 48 bus to Kaduruwela (for Polonnaruwa). Alternatively, a No. 49 bus to Trinco will suffice as long as you get off at Dambulla or Habarana (don’t go all the way to Trinco!). Buses in Lanka are patchy to say the least, but generally they are safe and will get you to your destination…eventually. Please note that there are no buses from Habarana to Sigiriya, but if all else fails, just grab a tuktuk. It should cost you no more than Rs. 300 from Habarana by tuktuk.

Sigiriya by Cinnamon Air (Photo: Yamu.lk)
Sigiriya by Cinnamon Air (Photo: Yamu.lk)

PLANE

Cinnamon Air operates daily flights from their domestic terminal in Katunayake to the airstrip in Sigiriya. At US$223, it is by far the most expensive way to get there but the experience you will enjoy up in the sky is unlike any other! As of late 2015, Cinnamon Air’s schedule reads as follows: 10am and 14.30pm departures from Colombo (domestic terminal) and it takes 30 minutes to reach the rock. Flights back to Colombo leave Sigiriya at 11am and 17.30.

On my way to climb Sigiriya
On my way to climb Sigiriya

Sigiriya is an incredible place, and for me the highlight of Sri Lanka. There are 1200 steps to the summit of the Sigiriya rock fortress and you may encounter hornets, elephants, monkeys, and even crocodiles during your visit, so keep your wits about you. At the beginning of 2017, the entrance fee is $30 for foreigners, whereas it is a mere Rs. 50 for Sri Lankan nationals. There are plenty of amazing hotels in the area (though no hostels), but if you do not happen to be staying in Sigiriya itself, then most people will look to book rooms in Dambulla (20km away) or Habarana (15km away), where the train station is located.

This article is based on travel between Colombo and Sigiriya. If you are coming to the rock fortress from Kandy (as many people do) then many similar road-based routes apply – just head in the general direction of Dambulla. The journey is typically 98km and takes around 2 hours. All taxi drivers and tour operators know where Sigiriya is, although the journey is probably too far to make in a tuktuk!

Page last updated January 16, 2017. Please report any dead links.

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8 thoughts on “What is the best way to get to Sigiriya?

  1. Hi i will be heading down to sri lanka for a week and would like some advice on my itinerary. Would u be able to help me guide through it? U can email me.

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  2. Hi,

    Nice and inspirational blog you’ve got here 🙂
    Going to Sri Lanka beginning of next year. Like you, we don’t intend to stay in Colombo, but want to get out asap. Would you suggest going straight to Sigiriya (bearing in mind if we can get a train ticket – alternatively maybe booking a driver), or to go straight to Kandy, and then travel from there to Sigiriya? Which of the two train journeys are the most scenic?
    Hope you’d like to share your thoughts on this 🙂

    Cheers, Lucy

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    1. Hi Lucy, what time would you be arriving in Colombo? A lot of airlines from SE Asia seem to arrive at like 5am, or some other ungodly hour, so if you can plan your arrival properly then it is certainly possible to travel by day straight to Sigiriya. However, the scenic train ride from Sigiriya to Kandy is amazing (and very cheap), plus you would get a chance to spend maybe a night or two in Kandy, which has a much cooler temperature than other parts of Sri Lanka. Closest train station to Sigiriya is Habarana (15km away), but from Kandy it is a pleasant 2-3 hour drive. You could hire a driver for the day whilst you are in Kandy. Have you thought about extending your Sigiriya trip to maybe take in the ancient sites of Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa? I would certainly recommend the latter! 🙂

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      1. Hi. Thanks for your reply. We get in on one of the early morning flights, think it’s around 4-5am. We are not too sure about the route yet. There are so many places we’d like to see. So we keep changing our mind. But we are restricted to 2 weeks in all. Do you know of any drivers (companies) you’d recommend? It doesn’t have to be the cheapest option, but reliable and safe 😬🙂

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        1. Hi,
          I am going to Sri Lanka beginning of next year too. But I heard from a Sri Lankan friend that the roads are under construction nowadays, so it is taking much more hours to travel. He said that figures in web are not correct 😦 and going to Sigiriya from Colombo is like a 1,5 days journey. Do you know if it is possible to go and come back from Colombo in one day?

          Thanks in advance!

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          1. your sri lankan friend had said lies and nowadays that road is in very good condition and it is possible to go and come back from colombo in one day during visit some other place also.if you need more info contact via email(publvecha@gmail.com)

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