With only ten days in the beautiful Country, I was restricted on time and had to make my itinerary water tight. This in mind, I had one day to offer a day trip from Kandy to explore Sigiriya and something I spent a lot of time googling before I went was, to climb Sigiriya or to climb the neighbouring Pidurangala Rock.
So, which one to climb?
There’s pros and cons to both, obviously.
Sigiriya is the official UNESCO world heritage site and has fascinating history with beautifully carved lions feet and the remains of a fortress on top. Pidurangala Rock is close by and offers a priceless view of Sigiriya as well as some history itself, there’s a beautiful temple at the foot and a carved laying Buddha half way up.
One of the biggest differences of the two is the price. Sigiriya is circa £30 per person to climb, not big money over here in the UK but for Sri Lankan standards, a very pricey day trip. Pidurangala Rock cost us 500 LKR which is circa £2.31. We opted for Pidurangala Rock, not only due to the price but because of the view, I knew I wanted to see Sigiriya in all it’s glory from so high up.
How to get to Sigiriya from Kandy
Head to Kandy bus station early doors, we arrived around 8:45am. The bus doesn’t go directly to Sigiriya but to neighbouring Dambulla.
The bus station is located across the road from the train station, we wandered down the day before to get an idea of where it was. There’s not much order here but you will spot the hundreds of buses along the road.
We wandered up and looked a bit lost so someone shouted to us ‘Dambulla? On here!’ so we did. Luckily, it was the right bus and we had a comfortable seat near the back to set off on the 2.5 hour journey.
If it helps, the bus was at the end of the line outside of the bus station, whether they always line up in the same order is a mystery but if you ask anyone for the bus to Dambulla, they’ll assist you. Hop on and the come down selling the tickets once you’ve set off.
The journey is around 2.5 hours to Dambulla and you pass through many little villages and through the landscape which is really lovely to watch through the bus window. The bus drivers do drive fast but we felt perfectly safe. As we went on, locals jumped on and off but as we got on in Kandy we had a seat the whole journey to and from. We were a little concerned as to how we know we are at Dambulla but as we weren’t the only travellers on the bus, it came to a halt and the driver signalled to us all to get off here.
As soon as you get off you’re acosted with tuk tuk drivers as they know exactly where you’re headed! You can get another bus from Dambulla but I would say the tuk tuk is a good option. Our driver was lovely, he stopped off on the way to show us some massive lotus flowers which were beautiful and he took us on a tour around Sigiriya before we got to the rock so we could take photos from different angles.
He then waited for us at the bottom as we climbed up and returned us back to the bus, helping us find the right bus heading back to Kandy so all in all, a very good service.
How is the climb and can anyone do it?
The climb up Pidurangala Rock is not bad, it’s just hot. Luckily, you’re in the shade under the trees for majority of the walk up but it is still a fight against the humidity. As you reach the very top, there’s a bit of bouldering to be done so be mindful of that. Non supportive footwear or heavy backpacks could make this difficult so plan accordingly. If you or someone you’re travelling with is not able to climb or support themselves then it may be worth considering either not climbing the rock or climb as far as you can, if you can’t do the last bit you still enjoy the views and the Buddha half way up.
Climbing Pidurangala Rock doesn’t mean you have to bypass the culture and the history. The story goes that many many centuries ago, King Kashyapa arrived in Sigiriya and he discovered Sigiriya itself was a monastery complex. Wanting to build a fortress at Sigiriya for himself, he offered to build them an alternative monastery at the close by Pidurangala Rock. The monks duly obliged, and a Buddhist monastery was built in the caves and rocks around Pidurangala. Obviously this was a very long time ago and therefore at present you will find an ancient cave temple and reclining Buddha which you pass on the way up, and a stupa near the temple entrance which is believed to mark the spot where King Kashyapa was cremated. Make sure you have your shoulders and knees covered in order to show respect when passing the temple at the bottom and take a peak inside. They also ask you to remove your shoes also for this part.
Once you’re up, there’s shade to sit in and it’s a nice spot to relax for a bit taking in the view and the street dogs. It’s not the largest space, a lot smaller than I expected but luckily it wasn’t too busy, only about four other pairs. A lot of people choose to venture here for sunrise or sunset as the views are wonderful but given we were venturing from Kandy, this wasn’t doable for us unfortunately but the views are amazing none the less!
I’m very happy with our decision to climb Pidurangala Rock, you could see the queue heading up Sigirya from across the way and I was glad we weren’t in it. It took us about twenty minutes to get there from the bus and then an hour and a half to get up, enjoy the view and back down again.
You certainly can climb both rocks in one day and I highly considered this, the only reason we didn’t is because I wanted to get back to Kandy before dark as we were walking from the bus station back to the hotel and getting dinner and I wanted this to be in the safety of day light. It’s not far between them both so you can tuk tuk to one and then easily make your own way to the next. We did pass someone who had done both and they opted for Sigiriya first as the queues get crazy so that is definitely the best way round.
En route back to the bus in Dambulla, you pass a lot of restaraunts and home stays so there’s certainly things to do in this area if you were planning to stay the night and make the most of it. If you’re really into hiking, history or these fortresses then by all means work it in to your itinerary to spend a little while longer and truly immerse yourself.