Hike to the top of an ancient monastery and fortress rising out of the jungles of Central Sri Lanka

Sigiriya or Lion Rock is an ancient rock citadel located in Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle.  The enormous rock towers above the surrounding jungle, offering expansive views from the top and cutting an impressive figure into the countryside.  To get here, it's about a 3.5 hour drive from the airport in Colombo.  My suggestion would be to spend the night in the nearby town of Dambulla and start the hike the next morning by 7am at the latest.  The temperatures here regularly hit 100 degrees and the humidity hovers around 80%.  Combine that with the 1,200 steps to the top, and you're likely to be soaked if you don't start this hike first thing in the morning. 

When you enter the complex, you'll walk along a straight dirt road until you reach the ticket complex on your right.  Because this is a UNESCO site, the ticket price is $30, staggering for such a short hike.  You can debate whether it's worth that, but you've already come this far.  Hold on to your ticket, because you'll have to show it several times on the hike. 

The hike can be broken into several sections.  First you'll cross the moat and approach the boulder gardens where massive rocks line the path forward.  Next, you'll begin a gradual climb until you reach a steep set of spiraling stairs enclosed in a cage.  These stairs lead to a cave with frescoes and you'll take a second set down to what is known as the Mirror Wall. The rumor is that this wall used to be so reflective that it acted as a mirror.  After passing the Mirror Wall, you'll climb another set of steep stairs until you reach the top of the fortress.  From here, you can wander and take in the views from every angle.  Once you've had your fill, which might be pretty short in the heat, you'll head back down the way you came.  Right before the Mirror Wall, you'll take a path to the right that leads you to the car park and cuts the return journey in half.

The hardest part of this hike is dealing with the heat. The actual hike isn't very hard.  In fact, you'll see all manners of fitness levels making it to the top, as it's really the equivalent of climbing the stairs of a 15-20 story building.  I was told it would take 2 hours, but I ended up doing the entire thing in about an hour.  Also there's a small section where you'll see signs about wasp attacks.  Exercise caution and be quiet in this area.  

Start early, go slow and drink lots of water.   

Pack List

  • Sunblock
  • Water
  • Hat
  • Camera
  • Cash for entrance fee
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RT Distance 1.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 660 Feet
Activities Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Year Round
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Forest
Scenic

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