Sigiriya is located in the Matale District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is located within the cultural triangle formed by Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, which includes five of the eight world heritage sites in Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya is famous for its palace ruins on top of a massive 200 meter high rock surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures. The rock itself is a lava plug left over from an ancient long extinct volcano. It is also renowned for its ancient paintings (frescoes), which are similar to those found at Ajanta Caves in India. It is generally agreed, however, that the Sigiriya Frescoes exhibit a uniquely Sri Lankan style.
Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees of the Buddhist Sangha.
The complex surrounding the famous rock was built by King Kasyapa (477–495 CE), who had seized power from the rightful heir, Moggallana, who fled to South India. Fearing an attack from Moggallana, Kashyapa moved the capital and his residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya. Most of the elaborate constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces, and gardens, date back to this period. Kashyapa was defeated in 495 CE by Moggallana, who moved the capital again to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was then turned back into a Buddhist monastery, which lasted until the 13th or 14th century.
Sigiriya is connected to the city of Dambulla by a regular bus service. These buses run between 6:30AM to 6:00PM every day at intervals of 30 minutes and cost LKR40. Travel by tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw in local parlance) from Dambulla is LKR800-1000. It is important to note that Sigiriya is located about 25 km from Dambulla, the closest city, and it is recommended not to miss the last bus back to Dambulla at around 6:00PM in case you are not staying at Sigiriya itself.
Dambulla is served by most cities like Kandy, Jaffna and Trincomalee.
Walking is probably the best option if you want to explore Sigiriya, its citadel and Pidurangala. In case you need a tuk-tuk, always agree on a reasonable price before entering.
Sigiriya citadel. There are about 1200 steps or 200 m up to the summit. You can probably walk up to the top and down again in 1.5-2 hours. If you are a completist, you might spend an additional 30-60 minutes exploring the various nooks and crannies in the gardens.
Pidurangala (Cave, Temple & Rock). A little less overpriced than the famous lion rock is this interesting alternative. Pidurangala rock is almost as high as its famous neighbor and provides a pleasant view onto its sibling as well as the surrounding area, which beats every postcard image you've ever seen. The scenery and the view is really something and well worth the effort, and the vegetation is of a rough, almost unearthly beauty. From there you can also see the mountains of Kandy, Pollonaruwa, Anuradhapura, and the rain forest.
Sigiriya rock, its complex and Pidurangala are the main attractions in Sigiriya. In addition, the Elephant Corridor Hotel offers tours from LKR2000 into the nature surrounding Sigiriya. Also, you might also just ask the friendly tuk-tuk drivers what else there is to do here, they will most certainly come up with some idea.
There are some very expensive batik shops on the road to Inamaluwa and Dambulla. If you need cash, there is an ATM at Kibissa, 2 km from Sigiriya on the road to Inamaluwa.
If you are staying at the guest-houses near the lion rock, there are a number of restaurants. Ahinsa Hotel is a good spot to meet other travelers. Chooty Hotel Restaurant and the New Sigiriya Cafe are on the other side of the street. All have good meals, Sri Lankan and western, at reasonably cheap prices. There is a great view of Lion Rock at the back of the Chooty.
If staying at the guest-houses in Sigiriya and want a beer, there is a beer shop just out of town. A tuk-tuk ride there and back is about LKR100. If you get a receipt, your guest house should let you keep them in their fridge. The local cafes might be able to help if you ask nicely.
Some guesthouses clutter around the road from Sigiriya to the Inamaluwa junction. The choice for budget accommodation in Sigiriya itself is limited but available.
Alternatively, just have a look at Google maps. Following the road from Sigiriya to Dambulla you will find plenty of accommodation and referring links. Although the budget options will probably have no website or link.
Flower Inn, ☎ +94 66 5672197. A family run business with 8 neat, tidy and kitschy rooms near a garden in the back well worth the money. Dinner at 7.30, invariably rice and curry, is a great opportunity to meet fellow travelers. Dinner is LKR450. It is lokated on the main road some 500 m before the sandy road to the ruins. LKR1800-3000 double room wo/with a/c. edit
Nilmini Lodge, (email@example.com). Across the road from the Flower Inn, Nilmini has good clean rooms in a garden setting. Friendly family run place and walking distance to the lion rock. Breakfast is LKR300. Cafes and grocery are near by. LKR1800-2500 (2014). edit
Lion Lodge, ☎ +94 71 4793131, . Clean, quiet guest house with free wifi set back away from the main road. Aji is very friendly and will do his best to make your stay comfortable. He'll even loan you his bike and give you empty bottles for a Lion beer run which is 1 km away. There's a sign on the main road into the small town as you head east (past the park entrance). From LKR2000. edit
Lal Homestay (Lal Home Stay), 209 Ehelagala, Sigiriya, ☎ +94 777 045386 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Comfortable friendly family homestay only 10 minutes walk from the beautiful Sigiriya rock. A warm welcome guaranteed with delicious food too. From LKR2000. edit
Wild elephants are roaming at night and they are not friendly. Every year there are fatal accidents and incidents involving elephants. Make sure you make it back to your guest-house or hotel before 6.30PM.
Wild bees have their nests next to the last stairway before you reach the top of the rock. (Black spots in the rock) These bees can attack people when they feel disturbed, and they will usually attack as a swarm making it pretty dangerous. They are disturbed by loud behaviour. If you are on the plateau in front of the stairway during a bee attack go into the provided cage as soon as possible. If you are on the top of the rock during an attack run away from the stairway and go to windy places at the rocks edge as no protection cage is placed there. Avoid the vicinity of other people who seem to be followed by a couple of bees. Do not try to leave the rock until the bees have calmed down even if you see other people trying to do so. If you are on the stairway during a bee attack, you are in a bad situation, so try to avoid climbing these stairs when there are loud travel groups such as teenagers or local school kids around.
When visiting the Sigiriya citadel and rock it is important to carry enough water. The trek to the summit takes roughly 45 minutes from the entrance and there is no place to buy water inside the complex. There is a small shack that sells water, soft drinks and ginger beer near the place where passes to the site are sold.
There are seldom but direct buses from here to Habarana. The better choice is going back to the Inamaluwa junction (LKR20) and taking a bus from there.
Generally, all directions are served from the Inamaluwa junction or Dambulla itself. Try to catch a bus before 7PM to make sure you will reach your destination the same day.