When exploring Sri Lanka’s central province, it is impossible to miss the forest’s crown jewel: Sigiriya. Just shy off of 600 ft, this ancient rock fortress is considered to be one of the earliest examples of advanced urban planning. Sigiriya’s structure makes it deserving of its UNESCO status alone, but travellers may be more keen to know what happened between these ancient walls. From the birth of a new kingdom to a war between brothers, royal secrets hide in plain sight in Sri Lanka’s sky castle.
An Abridged History
The exact origins of Sigiriya are unknown, but some signs suggest it was occupied as far back as the Mesolithic Period. Though its most famous connections are to King Kashyapa: who after murdering his father, usurped the throne from the rightful heir and his half brother Moggallana.
Left with no choice but to flee, Moggallana spent time in India raising an army to reclaim his title. Kashyapa expected Moggalana’s return, and so used the top of Sigiriya as his fortress. What Kashyapa did not see coming though was how quickly his own army abandoned him.
After an overwhelming defeat, it is believed that the former King Kashyapa took his own life in what can only be described as the final act in a Shakespearian tragedy.
Sigiriya is more commercial than conflict these days, but is still pretty legendary. Having been awarded the Traveller’s Choice ‘Best of the Best’ in 2022, the ruins have withstood the test of time. The sheer variety alone here means that you will want to take your time searching every detail.
Guides are commonplace but Sigiriya can easily be explored independently. The entrance fee for foreigners is $30 USD, granting you access not only to the fortress but also the nearby Sigiriya Museum — where you can learn more about the site.
The best time to visit is before sunrise at around 5am. Those 1,200 steps may feel like a burden first thing in the morning, but what a way to start your day!
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When to visit
When climbing old steps that have seen better days, the last thing you want is rain! Whilst dreary weather does not make visiting Sigiriya impossible, this destination is all the more beautiful when there are clear skies.
Sri Lanka’s monsoon seasons vary throughout the country, but January to March are the best months for visiting this particular attraction. April and December are the hottest and coldest months in Sigiriya respectively; with October to December being Sigiriya’s wet season.
The easiest way to reach Sigiriya is through bus or private transfer.
Your bus route to Sigiriya starts at Kandy bus terminal, where you can catch a transfer to the quiet town of Dambulla. From here, buses go every 45 minutes to Sigiriya during the daytime. Since bus fares are cheap in Sri Lanka (around $1 USD), this is a budget-friendly option.
Taxis from Kandy to Sigiriya roughly take 1 and a half hours and will cost upwards of $60 USD.
Whilst you’re in the area
Kandy may be a big city, but its abundant environment makes you feel ever-connected to nature. The final capital during Sri Lankan’s ancient reign of royals, Kandy is home to some of the most sacred sites in the world: including Buddhist temple Sri Dalada Maligawa, more commonly known as Temple of the Tooth.
Time spent by the lake is true bliss, as is exploring the wild Udawattekele Sanctuary. From boutique resorts to critically acclaimed cheap eats, staying in Kandy is as sweet as it sounds.
Boasting one of the largest cave temples in the world, Dambulla is a magnificent site to stop off by whilst visiting Sigiriya. Whilst there are 5 major caves that bring Buddha’s journey back to life, there are also over 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Some of which contain paintings dating as far back as the 1st century BC!
Terrific history and tranquil nature intertwine in Central Sri Lanka, making a trip to this region feel like a transformative experience.
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