Climbing the ancient fortress-palace of Sigiriya – and the astonishing views from the top.
After a good few days bumming about Kandy I caught a bus up to the Central Province of Sri Lanka to visit Sigiriya. (A/C bus from Kandy bus station to Dambulla 300 rupees/2 hours, then 20-minute tuk-tuk to Sigiriya.) UNESCO certified, Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka’s most iconic sight: a huge sheer-walled rock that seems to appear out of nowhere. Its flat-topped summit contains the ruins of an ancient civilisation, thought to be once the epicentre and fortress of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa
I’ll not go into specifics about the climbing of the rock itself as there are many articles online already that cover that sort of thing. The main things you may need to know though are that the climb is split into sections so you can take a break if you want; there are no toilet facilities; go early to avoid the heat and the crowds; and the final stretch may be difficult for those suffering from vertigo. I myself had no problem but I could see some people clutching on to the rails and staring at their feet, the tell-tale signs of wanting to be anywhere else.
The main purpose of this post is to show just how spectacular the views are from the top, as many articles I have seen just don’t seem to do it justice. Hopefully a few of these photographs will inspire you to climb its 1200 steps and stand in awe of the emerald ocean of forest beneath you.
My host family in Sigiriya
On this trip when not working directly with hotels I chose to stay exclusively with host families. I did this a few times in Indonesia and it was always a great experience. Sri Lanka was no different. Many of the places you will find on booking.com are homestays, all of which offer simple accommodation and also – in most cases – the chance of a homecooked dinner in the evening. In Sigiriya I stayed with Bandula and his wife about 15 minutes up a dirt lane from the town. (Search Bandula Homestay on booking.com) Like the majority of homestays, my place had no A/C or hot water, but I had a fan and a mosquito net. The food his wife cooked was some of the best I had tasted in Sri Lanka.
Food options in the town itself are pretty limited. (When I say ‘town’ it’s really just a single street.) I found one place I liked, however, and ate all my meals there which is what I tend to do. Better the devil you know: if you didn’t get sick the first time, there’s a better chance you won’t the second time. This place had a balcony with a huge tree overlooking it. At one point a troop of aggressive monkeys invaded the restaurant and started jumping up and down. One must have been about 3ft. The next day another monkey pissed all over the restaurant from a great height, and after a mate of mine got very sick from monkey piss in Sumatra (don’t ask me how he managed to ingest it), I decided it was time to find a new place to eat.
There’s no doubting it: Sigiriya is an expensive rock to to climb at $30 for adults and $15 for kids (shorts OK, sarong not necessary). There is another rock nearby that is of similar height and costs just 500 rupees. But from my own point of view I wanted to climb the real thing and stand where an ancient civilisation once stood. (And see the frescoes: paintings on the wall that have somehow survived for centuries.) That being said, I’m sure the views from the other rock are on par with Sigiriya – so whichever you choose, you can be assured of some of the best tropical forest views you will ever see in your life.