Perhaps the most iconic image of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya Rock is climbed by thousands of tourists a year. Even if you’re not willing to pay the extortionate entry fee to climb the rock, the area around Sigiriya is still worth a visit as there are plenty of opportunities for trekking and exploring. Nearby there are national parks, ancient cities (also expensive to enter!) and jungle-clad scenery.
Things to do in Sigiriya
- Climb Sigiriya Rock
If Sigiriya rock (also known as Lion Rock) is on your Sri Lanka bucket list then take a deep breath, hand over the cash and enjoy the experience of climbing this unique and beautiful monolith. The entrance fee is $30 USD (4350 rupees) for foreigners. The 1200 steps are a tough climb for some and you’ll need to be fairly fit. The rock offers spectacular views from the top of the surrounding jungle-scape.
- The Alternative – Pidurangala Rock
If you can’t bring yourself to spend that amount of money on climbing a big rock, then Pidurangala Rock is an excellent alternative. The climb is interesting and fun, along a windy, rocky path that leads up through Buddhist meditation caves and under giant boulders. The summit offers spectacular views, some say even better that Sigiriya Rock, as you get Sigiriya itself in your sight. For 500 rupees it’s definitely our recommendation!
- Minerriya National Park
Nearby Minerriya National Park is famous for ‘the gathering’ – a sunset ritual where hundreds of elephants gather around Minneriya tank to take an evening drink. On the positive side, it is almost guaranteed that you will spot elephants here in Minneriya, yet on the negative side, the park can feel a bit like a zoo, as many jeeps gather in the early evening in the same spot to snap photos of the herd. Price is also very expensive, as it is for all national parks in Sri Lanka. Entry fee is 24 $USD per person and around $36 USD per jeep.
- Kaudulla National Park
Another national park close by which is famous for its large herds of wild elephants. Here you can also spot leopards, deer, wild boar, sloth bear and of course monkeys! Many of the guesthouses arrange jeep trips here.
- The Ancient City of Polonnarawu
This ancient city can be reached from Sigiriya in a day trip if you go by scooter or taxi. Much smaller than Anuradhapura, many people prefer Polonnarawu due to its compact ruins that are in good condition and less crowds. The entry fee costs $25 USD and hiring a bicycle is a lovely way to explore the main sites. Women must cover up as it is a holy city.
- Bicycle / Scooter Explorations
The are around Sigiriya is flat and forested and excellent to explore by bicycle or scooter. Take a trip to the friendly nearby town of Bakamuna for an authentic local lunch and on the way back follow by the outskirts of Minneriya National Park to see if you can spot those wild elephants without entering the park!
- Don’t ride the elephants!
After noticing all over the country a very good attitude towards animal welfare in Sri Lanka, and a strong desire to protect their incredible wildlife, we were disappointed to come across elephant riding in Sigiriya. Two sad looking elephants reside in a small scruffy patch of ground in Sigiriya village whilst the odd tourist climbs the wooden ladder to mount them and take an elephant ride around the village. Lack of demand is the only way to finally put a stop to this cruel activity in Asia.
Places to stay in Sigiriya
The small village surrounding the famous rock is well set up for tourists and there are several fancy resorts, as well as many cheap guesthouses. Check out Sigiriya on booking.com and click prices lowest first to browse options.
We stayed at Jaana Guesthouse – A good cheap option with clean rooms and an excellent breakfast!
Frequent buses run from Kandy or the east coast. The nearest train station is Habarana, which is 15km away from Sigiriya. Many backpackers also decide to stay in Habarana which sees more and more guesthouses sprouting up.
Where to go next?
- Kandy – A busy cultural hub and the starting point for explorations of the hill country or ‘Up Country’ as Sri Lankans call it.
- Trincomalee – A laid-back beach resort on the east coast with a great beach and whale spotting opportunities.
- Anudharapura – Sri Lanka’s most famous ancient city founded in the 5th century BC lies further north.