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How To Get To And Climb Sigiriya In Sri Lanka – Lion Rock


by Antonina Humes



Nestled in the heartland of Sri Lanka lies a magnificent rock fortress that has captivated the minds of travelers for centuries – Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock. Standing majestically at a height of 200 meters, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not only a testament to ancient engineering and architectural brilliance but also a window into the rich history of Sri Lanka.


With its dramatic setting, Sigiriya offers a unique and unforgettable experience for nature lovers, history enthusiasts, and adventure seekers alike. The journey to the top of the rock is filled with wonders, from lush gardens and intricate frescoes to mysterious writings on the Mirror Wall. And when you finally reach the summit, the breathtaking panoramic views will leave you in awe.


But before embarking on this remarkable adventure, it’s essential to know how to get to Sigiriya and what to expect during the climb. This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your visit to this iconic Sri Lankan landmark.


The History of Sigiriya

The history of Sigiriya dates back over 2,000 years and is rooted in both legend and ancient civilization. It was King Kasyapa I of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura who transformed Sigiriya into a mighty fortress and palace in the 5th century AD.


Legend has it that King Kasyapa built Sigiriya on this towering rock formation to safeguard himself from potential enemies. The site was chosen strategically for its natural defenses, with sheer vertical cliffs surrounding the rock, making it virtually impregnable.


However, Sigiriya is not just a fortified structure but also a remarkable display of architectural genius and aesthetic beauty. The entrance to the palace was built in the form of a lion, hence its name, Lion Rock. Unfortunately, only the massive lion’s paws remain today, but they still evoke a sense of awe and grandeur.


Inside the fortress, Kasyapa created a lavish palace complex complete with stunning gardens, reservoirs, and frescoes. The gardens, known as the Water Gardens, were an engineering marvel with an intricate network of fountains, pools, and canals. These gardens, along with the rock’s natural beauty, add to the mystique and allure of Sigiriya.


The reign of King Kasyapa was short-lived, as he was defeated by his half-brother and forced to flee the palace. Sigiriya was eventually abandoned and overgrown by the jungle, hiding its secrets for centuries. It was rediscovered by British explorer John Still in the late 19th century, and the archaeological excavations that followed revealed the astonishing splendor of this ancient marvel.


Today, Sigiriya stands as a testament to the ingenuity and artistic prowess of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization. Its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its significance in Sri Lanka’s rich history make it a must-visit destination for travelers from across the globe.


Getting to Sigiriya

Situated in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is easily accessible from major cities like Colombo and Kandy. There are several transportation options available to reach this historical site.


If you’re traveling from Colombo, the most convenient way is to hire a private taxi or take a prearranged tour. The journey normally takes around 3-4 hours, depending on the traffic and road conditions. It’s a scenic drive with plenty of opportunities to observe the beautiful countryside of Sri Lanka.


For those traveling from Kandy, there are several public transportation options. You can take a direct bus from Kandy to Dambulla, which is the nearest town to Sigiriya. From Dambulla, you can take another bus or a tuk-tuk to Sigiriya. The total journey time is approximately 2-3 hours, depending on the bus routes and their frequency.


If you prefer the comfort and convenience of a private vehicle, you can hire a taxi or arrange a car with a driver from Kandy. This option allows you to have more flexibility with your itinerary and stops along the way.


If you’re coming from other parts of Sri Lanka, such as Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa, you can take a bus or hire a taxi to Sigiriya. Buses are the most economical option, but they may be crowded and not very comfortable. Taxis offer a more comfortable and convenient option, especially if you’re traveling with a group or have heavy luggage.


It’s worth noting that there is an entry fee for Sigiriya, which is higher for foreign tourists compared to locals. Make sure to carry enough cash as credit card payment may not be accepted at the ticket counter.


Once you arrive at Sigiriya, you’ll find ample parking facilities for vehicles. From the parking area, you’ll need to walk a short distance to reach the ticket counter and the entrance to the Sigiriya archaeological site.


Overall, getting to Sigiriya is relatively straightforward, and with proper planning and transportation arrangements, you can easily reach this historic site to embark on an unforgettable journey into Sri Lanka’s past.


The Climb to the Lion Rock

Ascending Lion Rock is a thrilling adventure that allows you to immerse yourself in the grandeur of Sigiriya. The climb can be challenging, but the rewards are well worth the effort.


The climb begins at the foot of the rock, where you’ll find a well-marked path leading to the summit. The path is partly paved and partly consists of stone steps. As you ascend, you’ll be surrounded by lush vegetation and occasional glimpses of the magnificent rock fortress above.


The climb to the top of Lion Rock usually takes around 30-45 minutes, depending on your pace and fitness level. It’s a moderate hike that requires a reasonable level of physical stamina. If you have any health concerns or mobility issues, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before attempting the climb.


Throughout the ascent, you’ll find several resting spots where you can catch your breath and enjoy the scenery. These resting spots also provide an opportunity to capture stunning photographs of the surrounding landscape.


As you climb higher, you’ll approach the famous Sigiriya Mirror Wall. This ancient wall is made of polished white plaster and was once highly reflective. It was also a canvas for ancient writings, known as the Sigiriya Graffiti. Visitors in the past left their mark on the wall, and today, you can still see some of these inscriptions dating back centuries.


Continuing the climb, you’ll reach a platform where you’ll be able to see the awe-inspiring frescoes of Sigiriya. These vibrant paintings depict celestial nymphs, known as the Sigiriya maidens, and offer a glimpse into the artistic brilliance of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.


Finally, after navigating through a set of steeper staircases, you’ll reach the Lion’s Paws, the remnants of the grand entrance to the palace. Here, you can take a moment to admire the colossal stone paws and marvel at the architectural prowess of King Kasyapa and his craftsmen.


The last section of the climb requires you to ascend a series of narrow metal staircases attached to the rock face. These staircases lead to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including the sprawling greenery and the distant mountains.


Take your time to soak in the beauty and tranquility of the summit. The journey to the top of Lion Rock is not only physically rewarding but also spiritually and mentally enriching, allowing you to connect with the ancient history and captivating natural surroundings of Sigiriya.


Exploring the Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Once you have conquered the climb to the top of Sigiriya, you’ll be rewarded with the opportunity to explore the fascinating rock fortress in all its glory. As you wander through the ancient ruins and architectural marvels, you’ll feel transported back in time to the era of King Kasyapa and his grand palace complex.


One of the main highlights of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress is the Water Gardens. These beautifully landscaped gardens are a testament to the ancient engineering skills of the Sri Lankan civilization. The gardens feature terraced pools, fountains, and lush greenery, creating a serene and picturesque setting. Take a leisurely stroll through the gardens and imagine the opulence that once graced this magnificent site.


As you explore further, you’ll come across the remnants of the royal palace complex. Although much of it is in ruins now, you can still see the foundations and remains of buildings that once housed the king and his court. Admire the intricate architectural details and imagine the grandeur that would have surrounded the palace during its heyday.


One of the most remarkable features of Sigiriya is its well-preserved frescoes. Located on a sheltered rock face, these colorful paintings depict beautiful celestial maidens, also known as the Sigiriya Maidens. These frescoes provide a captivating insight into the artistic talent of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization. However, due to preservation efforts, access to the frescoes may be restricted, and visitors may only be able to view them from a distance.


Another fascinating aspect of Sigiriya is the renowned Mirror Wall. This polished white wall was once highly reflective and served as a backdrop for the ancient graffiti left behind by visitors. These inscriptions date back centuries and provide us with a glimpse into the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of those who visited this iconic site in the past.


Finally, don’t forget to explore the summit of Sigiriya, where you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Marvel at the lush greenery, the sprawling plains, and the distant mountains as you reflect on your extraordinary journey to the top.


Take your time to soak in the history, beauty, and mystique of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. As you explore its ancient ruins and marvel at its architectural wonders, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka and the awe-inspiring achievements of its ancestors.


The Frescoes of Sigiriya

One of the most fascinating aspects of Sigiriya is its collection of ancient frescoes. Located on a sheltered rock face, these vibrant paintings provide a glimpse into the artistic talent and cultural heritage of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.


The frescoes of Sigiriya depict celestial nymphs, known as the Sigiriya Maidens. These ethereal figures are exquisitely painted with intricate details and vivid colors, showcasing the skill and mastery of the artists who created them. The vibrant reds, graceful poses, and serene expressions of the maidens add a touch of mystique and beauty to the rock fortress.


It is believed that there were originally around 500 frescoes on the rock face, but only a few of them remain today due to natural erosion and human interference. However, the surviving frescoes are still a remarkable testament to the artistry of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.


The frescoes not only showcase the artistic excellence of the painters but also provide valuable insights into the clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles of the time. These details offer a glimpse into the culture and lifestyle of the people who lived in Sigiriya during its heyday.


It’s important to note that due to ongoing preservation efforts, access to the frescoes may be restricted. Visitors may only be able to view the paintings from a distance to ensure their long-term protection. This is done to safeguard the delicate artwork and prevent further deterioration.


Despite the restrictions, the mere sight of the Sigiriya frescoes is awe-inspiring. The combination of the natural rock canvas and the detailed depictions of the celestial maidens creates a truly mesmerizing experience for visitors. Standing in front of these ancient paintings, you can’t help but marvel at the talent and creativity of the artists who brought them to life.


To fully appreciate the frescoes of Sigiriya, take the time to learn about their historical and cultural significance. Engage with local guides or audio guides to gain a deeper understanding of the stories and legends associated with these captivating works of art.


Visiting the frescoes of Sigiriya is not only a visual delight but also an opportunity to connect with the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. It allows you to witness the enduring legacy of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization and appreciate the artistic treasures that have stood the test of time.


The Mirror Wall and the Sigiri Graffiti

One of the intriguing features of Sigiriya is the Mirror Wall, a remarkable polished surface that once reflected like a mirror. This white plastered wall, which still retains its shine despite the passage of time, has a long and storied history dating back to the ancient civilizations that inhabited the rock fortress.


The Mirror Wall served both practical and decorative purposes. Not only did it enhance the aesthetic appeal of Sigiriya, but it also allowed the king and his court to see their reflections as they passed by. The mirror-like surface was achieved through a combination of fine plastering techniques and the application of materials such as lime and egg whites, giving it a smooth and glossy finish.


Over the centuries, visitors to Sigiriya have left behind their mark on the Mirror Wall in the form of writings, inscriptions, and drawings. This collection of ancient graffiti, known as the Sigiri Graffiti, offers a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of those who once walked the same paths.


The Sigiri Graffiti covers a wide range of topics. Some inscriptions are poetic and philosophical in nature, reflecting upon the passing of time or expressing deep emotions. Others are more lighthearted, with visitors leaving behind jokes, anecdotes, and personal messages. The graffiti provides valuable insights into the daily lives and interactions of the people who visited Sigiriya throughout history.


Unfortunately, due to preservation efforts, access to the Mirror Wall and the Sigiri Graffiti may be restricted. Visitors are often not allowed to approach too closely to the wall in order to protect the delicate inscriptions from further damage. However, measures have been taken to ensure that the graffiti can still be enjoyed and appreciated from a distance.


For those who are unable to witness the Mirror Wall and the Sigiri Graffiti up-close, there are digital reproductions and photographs available that capture the essence of these historical scribblings. It’s fascinating to see how, despite the passing of centuries, humanity’s desire to leave behind a mark and connect with the past remains a universal sentiment.


The Sigiri Graffiti not only serves as a record of the visitors who came before but also preserves the cultural and linguistic diversity of the ancient civilizations. The inscriptions are written in various languages, including Sanskrit, Pali, and ancient Sinhala, contributing to our understanding of the linguistic landscape of the time.


Although small in scale, the Mirror Wall and the Sigiri Graffiti carry immense historical and cultural significance. They provide a tangible link to the past, allowing us to connect with the individuals who once walked the same paths and left their mark on this iconic rock fortress.


The Lion’s Paws and the Summit

As you near the top of Sigiriya, you’ll come across one of the most iconic features of the rock fortress – the impressive Lion’s Paws. These enormous stone paws represent the remnants of the grand entrance to the palace complex, and they offer a captivating glimpse into the architectural ingenuity of King Kasyapa and his craftsmen.


The Lion’s Paws were originally part of a colossal lion statue that guarded the entrance to the palace. The statue was intricately carved, with every claw and detail meticulously sculpted. Sadly, only the paws survive today, but they still stand as a testament to the grandeur and splendor that once awaited visitors to Sigiriya.


Approaching the Lion’s Paws, you’ll be struck by their sheer size and the level of detail that went into their construction. The paws are positioned on either side of a staircase, as if welcoming visitors into the heart of the fortress. Take a moment to admire the craftsmanship and imagine the awe-inspiring sight that the complete lion statue would have presented.


As you continue your journey, you’ll reach the final leg of the climb – the ascent to the summit. This part of the journey involves climbing a series of narrow metal staircases that are securely attached to the rock face. While this section may be challenging for some, the rewarding views awaiting you at the top make it all worthwhile.


Reaching the summit of Lion Rock is a breathtaking experience. As you step onto the expansive plateau, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, stretching as far as the eye can see. The combination of lush greenery, distant mountains, and the remnants of the ancient palace complex create an awe-inspiring sight that is hard to forget.


Take your time to explore the summit and soak in the tranquility and serenity that this elevated vantage point offers. It’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on the historical significance of Sigiriya and marvel at the architectural brilliance of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.


From the summit, you can appreciate the scale and strategic location of Sigiriya, providing insights into why King Kasyapa chose this imposing rock fortress as his palace. Gaze out over the vast plains and imagine the sense of power and security that must have accompanied the inhabitants of this magnificent stronghold.


As you descend from the summit, take a moment to bid farewell to Lion Rock, filled with memories of your extraordinary journey. The Lion’s Paws and the summit are reminders of the grandeur and legacy of Sigiriya, ensuring that its historical and cultural significance endures for generations to come.


Safety Tips for Climbing Sigiriya

Climbing Sigiriya can be an exhilarating experience, but it’s important to prioritize safety throughout your journey. Here are some essential tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable climb:

  1. Wear appropriate footwear: The climb involves walking on uneven surfaces and steep stairs, so it’s crucial to wear sturdy and comfortable shoes that provide good grip.
  2. Stay hydrated: Carry an adequate amount of water with you and drink regularly to stay hydrated during the climb, especially in the hot and humid Sri Lankan climate.
  3. Take breaks: Pace yourself and take regular breaks to catch your breath and rest. Sigiriya offers several designated resting spots along the climb where you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
  4. Follow the designated path: Stick to the marked path and avoid venturing off into restricted areas. This ensures your safety and also helps in preserving the site for future generations.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings: Pay attention to your surroundings, especially while climbing the stairs and passing through narrow passages. Watch out for other climbers and be cautious of any loose rocks or slippery surfaces.
  6. Use handrails: Whenever available, make use of handrails for support and stability, particularly during challenging sections of the climb.
  7. Protect yourself from the sun: Apply sunscreen, wear a hat, and consider carrying an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun’s rays during the climb.
  8. Respect the site: Sigiriya is an archaeological treasure, so it’s important to respect the site and avoid touching or damaging any structures or artifacts. Take only photographs and leave behind only footprints.
  9. Listen to guides or audio guides: Engage with local guides or use audio guides to enhance your understanding of Sigiriya’s history and receive important safety instructions specific to the site.
  10. Inform someone of your plans: If you’re traveling alone, inform a trusted friend, family member, or the staff at your accommodation about your plans to climb Sigiriya. This ensures that someone knows your whereabouts and can raise an alarm if needed.

By following these safety tips, you can fully immerse yourself in the experience of climbing Sigiriya while ensuring your own well-being and the preservation of this historic site. Remember to take care of yourself and be mindful of the environment as you embark on this unforgettable journey.



Sigiriya, the magnificent Lion Rock of Sri Lanka, offers a journey into the ancient past and a remarkable connection to the rich cultural heritage of the country. From the fascinating history and impressive architecture to the breathtaking views and captivating frescoes, Sigiriya is a must-visit destination for travelers seeking an extraordinary experience.


As you explore the rock fortress, you’ll be transported back in time, marveling at the ingenuity of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization and the grandeur of King Kasyapa’s palace complex. The climb to the top of Sigiriya is a rewarding adventure, filled with natural beauty and historical wonders at every turn.


From the Water Gardens and frescoes to the Mirror Wall and the Lion’s Paws, every step reveals a new layer of history and intrigue. You’ll feel a sense of awe as you stand at the summit, taking in the panoramic views that stretch far beyond the horizon.


It’s important to approach Sigiriya with respect, following safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Remember to wear appropriate footwear, stay hydrated, and be mindful of your surroundings. Take the time to engage with local guides or audio guides to deepen your understanding of the site’s significance and storytelling.


Sigiriya’s legacy as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its status as a symbol of Sri Lankan history make it a place of profound cultural importance. As you bid farewell to Lion Rock, you’ll carry with you the memories of a truly unforgettable adventure.


Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a history enthusiast, or a nature lover, Sigiriya offers a journey that will leave an indelible mark on your soul. So, plan your trip, immerse yourself in the wonders of this ancient wonder, and create memories that will last a lifetime.