The eighth wonder of the world – a complete guide to Sigiriya and Pidurangala

Sigiriya Sri Lanka.jpg

Jutting an impressive 200-metres from the earth, Lion Rock, Sigiriya, and its nearby smaller but by no means less beautiful cousin, Pidurangala, should both be absolute ‘must-sees’ on any trip to Sri Lanka.


I catch my first glimpse of it from the bus. 200-metres of sheer rock that bursts from the surrounding jungle without warning.

Its scale is hard to comprehend from so far away. Even as I enter the palace complex and walk the path toward it, I can’t quite fathom just how impressive it is. It’s not until I’m halfway up and I stop to admire the view, with the sting of sweat in my eyes and the burn of climbing stairs in my legs, that I begin to appreciate the awesomeness of Sigiriya rock fortress.

Still higher I climb (1200 steps all told), through the great gates carved in the shape of a crouching lion, from which Sigiriya derives its popular name, Lion Rock, and to the rock fortress at the summit. The sun sets, and the sky lights up in pastel pinks, oranges, and purples. Spectacular.

Sigiriya Sri Lanka.jpg
Lion Rock Sigiriya.jpg
Lion Rock Sri Lanka.jpg

The following morning, I rise well before dawn and ride my borrowed bicycle to Sigiriya’s slightly smaller neighbour, Pidurangala. The climb is more of a scramble than the clear-cut Lion Rock hike, but the view is just as splendid, if not more so. As the sun pops over the distant mountains, heralding the start of a new day, I sit with others who have made the pre-dawn climb and watch the valley begin to come to life. We watch in silent awe as Sigiriya’s natural sandstone burns orange in the morning light.

Pidurangala Rock.jpg
Pidurangala Rock.jpg
Pidurangala.jpg

Exploring the central hill country of Sri Lanka is a must if you really want to gain an understanding of the country and culture beyond the usual Sri Lanka tourist map. Often lauded as the eighth wonder of the world, Sigiriya and nearby Pidurangala are the perfect overnight combination to gain just such an understanding.

History

Sigiriya, or Lion Rock as it is popularly known, holds important meaning both culturally and archaeologically. Evidence suggests that Buddhist monks inhabited the vicinity from as early as the 3rd century BCE, including a number of natural drip caves on the monolithic structure itself. The name ‘Lion Rock’ comes from the great gates in the shape of a crouching lion, set about half way up on a natural plateau. These were built by King Kashyapa I, who turned Sigiriya into his fortress and capital after seizing power from his father, King Dhatusena, in a coup with the assistance of the army commander and cousin, Migara. 

Kashyapa was eventually defeated by his half-brother and rightful heir to the throne, Moggallana, who then turned the pleasure palace and fortress that Kashyapa had built on Sigiriya into a Buddhist monastery complex. It survived as such until the 14th century, after which it seems to have been abandoned until the 16th or 17th century when it was used as an outpost by the Kingdom of Kandy.

The complex hydraulic system featured as part of the landscaped water gardens, as well as the boulder gardens and general lay out of the palace complex makes Sigiriya one of the finest and oldest examples of urban planning, for which it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

Today, the once grand gardens and palace complex are a place where travellers can come to experience a taste of the rich history and culture of ancient Ceylon.


Fancy a visit to the eighth wonder of the world yourself? Check out the comprehensive guide below

How to get there

Location | Sigiriya, Central Province, Sri Lanka

From Dambulla | Your best bet to get to Sigiriya is from Dambulla, which itself can be reached by bus from Kandy. From Duambulla, either grab a tuk-tuk which will cost anywhere between 600-1000 LKR depending on the driver and your bartering skills, or jump on one of the regular buses that run between Dambulla and Sigiriya for about 40 LKR.

 
 
 

The Essentials

Cost | The entry fee to Sigiriya is a little steep at 30 USD per person. While the entry fee to nearby Pidurangala is 500 LKR per person.

When to Visit

Time of Year | Peak season for this area of Sri Lanka is during October to April. It’s during this time that you’ll get the best weather, but also the bigger crowds. 

Time of Day | I climbed Sigiriya for sunset, then got up early at climbed Pidurangala for sunrise. If you’ve got the time, I definitely recommend doing it this way. You’ll get to enjoy dramatically reduced crowds at Sigiriya, as peak times seem to be from mid-morning to late-afternoon. As well as the gorgeous view of Sigiriya from Pidurangala as the sun peaks over the horizon.

Where to Stay

If you’re doing as I recommend and staying the night at Sigiriya so you can enjoy both the sunset and the sunrise, then there are plenty of options for .

Back of Beyond | I didn’t stay here myself, but it comes very highly recommended as an eco-friendly treehouse delight from my good friends Mark and Mim from The Common Wanderer.

Airbnb | I used Airbnb to find my Sigiriya accommodation with a delightful family very close to both Sigiriya and Pidurangala. Click here to book via Airbnb and potentially save yourself up to $55.

Otherwise, you can click here to check prices and availability on hotels near Sigiriya.


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