Tips for visiting the mighty fortress of Sigiriya

Northern Sri Lanka is home to some of the most impressive historical sites in the world; one of them being the mighty rock fortress of Sigiriya (Lion Rock in Sinhalese). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 200m high fortress was the centerpiece of an ancient capital city dating back to the 5th century AD.

Sigiriya rock in Sri Lanka

History of Sigiriya

Back then, King Dhatusena of the Mauryan dynasty ruled from the holy city of Anuradhapura. His son, Kashyapa I seized power by staging a military coup and forced his brother Moggallana (the rightful heir) to flee the country. Due to this, he was extremely unpopular among the people. Fearing a retaliatory attack by Moggallana, Kashyapa I relocated his capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya.

During his reign, he developed a city around the rock complete with defensive structures, palaces, pools and gardens. He also built a massive gate atop the rock in the shape of a gigantic lion which gives the fortress its name. Parts of the ancient city’s structures, the Lion Gate along with frescoes from this period still survive today, making Sigiriya a must-see attraction.

The Lion Paw at the northern end of the rock

Sigiriya FrescoesFrescoes in Sigiriya | Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Ticketing experience

We had read that it is advisable to climb Sigiriya early in the morning as it gets hot later on. Accordingly, we reached the site entrance around 7:30 AM. Even so, there were already a fair number of vehicles and visitors present.  We proceeded to the counter to buy our tickets and were surprised to learn that visitors from SAARC countries get a 50% discount. As citizens of India, we were eligible for this discount. The Sigiriya ticket costs USD 30 per person (LKR 5,200 at current rates) for foreigners. So for the two of us, the chance to save USD 30 was an awesome deal!

Unfortunately, the ticket counter agent told us that we could not avail this discount without our passports. This was a problem since we had left our passports back at the hotel. The ticket counter also refused to accept scanned copies of the passports that we had on our phone or any other ID proof. Our hotel was a 30 minute drive away so retrieving our passports meant starting the hike an hour later.

While we pondered our options, our chauffeur Nisantha generously offered to go to Mahagedara Eco Retreat and get the passports for us. He suggested that we could in the meantime explore the surroundings near the park entrance as well as the indoor museum. While we killed time until Nisantha returned, we discovered a separate ticket counter inside the museum. Apparently, this counter is exclusively for visitors who have pre-booked tickets online. And the queue was empty! We would definitely recommend that you use this facility to avoid the rush at the main counter. Tickets can be booked through the Sri Lankan Central Cultural Fund website. You can also reserve tickets for two other heritage sites in the area: Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa.

Climbing Sigiriya (finally!)

Nisantha returned with our passports about an hour later. We finally purchased our (discounted) tickets and started our hike up the Sigiriya rock around 9 AM. The hike up to the top takes about 2 to 2.5 hours.

Certain sections of the climb are narrow and visitors must wait their turn. This can slow down your ascent/descent. Due to our late start, we reached the top only around 11 AM and the weather was sweltering. Starting early in the morning is excellent advice so we’d recommend reaching Sigiriya at 7 AM if possible.

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Despite the weather, the view from the top is certainly breathtaking. You can get an excellent view of the surrounding terrain as well as a bird’s eye view of the ancient city’s gardens and moats. One of the most prominent elevations that you can see from Sigiriya is the rocky outcrop of Pidurangala. We didn’t have time to climb Pidurangala on this trip, although we think that the view of Sigiriya fortress from the top must be equally spectacular. If you’re on a shoestring budget, you’ll be glad to know that the entry fee for Pidurangala is 1/10th the cost of Sigiriya at USD 3 (LKR 530 at the current rates) per person and it’s less crowded. But you’d miss out on the intriguing history and architecture of this ancient 5th century capital. We’d recommend doing both if you’ve got the time and the budget.

Have you climbed Sigiriya? Have you climbed Pidurangala? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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  1. November 19, 2018 / 11:01 AM

    I’ve never been to the Fortress of Sigiriya, but seeing the crowds, I’d say getting there early was a great piece of advice. I noticed that there were lots of people wearing white. Is that because of the heat? I really love the frescos. I like seeing those in places. That’s one big foot too. Imagine how long it took to carve it.

    • Siddharth Prabhu
      November 19, 2018 / 1:26 PM

      Yes, loose white clothing would be ideal for staying cool. Don’t forget to carry a cap/hat.

  2. November 20, 2018 / 1:07 AM

    That’s quite an interesting rock! And this ancient place on its top! I am sure I would like it there! Thanks for the tip!

  3. November 20, 2018 / 9:56 AM

    That’s a bummer to get to the agent and then not have your passport with you. It’s always a challenge when traveling deciding whether to carry your passport with you at all times. Glad things worked out and you enjoyed the hike. Amazing views, though it sounds hot. Hope you had plenty of water with you. Great tips.

  4. November 20, 2018 / 2:02 PM

    Beautiful places. Nicely captured and described.

  5. November 20, 2018 / 2:40 PM

    So lovely of Nisantha to offer to get your passports! I love when people are kind The climb looks incredible and that view is spectacular (can only imagine how much better it was to be there!)

    • Siddharth Prabhu
      November 20, 2018 / 2:59 PM

      Yes, he was awesome! We had a really good trip thanks to him. If you’re thinking of visiting Sri Lanka and want to rent a chauffeur-driven vehicle, we’d recommend the agency he works for (Ceylon Escapes).

  6. November 21, 2018 / 1:44 AM

    To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Sigiriya, let alone visiting it ! But your post comes handy whoever decides to go there. Oh those large feet!!

  7. November 21, 2018 / 11:20 AM

    What a fascinating fortress and story! In the picture of visitors waiting to climb the stairs, why are they all dressed in white? Is there special meaning to the all-white clothing? And how wonderful that your driver was willing to go back and fetch your passports for you!

    • Siddharth Prabhu
      November 21, 2018 / 11:26 AM

      There were a lot of school children the day we visited. Those might be their school uniforms.

  8. November 21, 2018 / 2:21 PM

    Never heard of this place before. I feel like it’s kind of a high price for visitors though.
    Can’t believe how many people were in line to go up those stairs in one of the pictures.
    Regardless, the fact that you can save $30 is a great tip, so thank you 🙂

    • Siddharth Prabhu
      November 21, 2018 / 2:46 PM

      The ticket price of USD 30 is for foreign visitors only. Sri Lankans can visit Sigiriya for the equivalent of USD 3! It’s the tourism board’s strategy to earn enough funds for maintenance and upkeep of the site.

  9. November 21, 2018 / 3:06 PM

    I had been to Sigriya this year itself. And, I totally agree to your advice of reaching early as it gets crowded later. I reached well in time yet it became so hot and crowded when I was returning.

  10. November 21, 2018 / 5:47 PM

    Sir Lanka is such an unexplored country by tourists, it really needs more recognition.

    What a turbulent history Sigiriya has had, but that turbulence has added to the beauty.

    Not sure I would be game to climb Sigiriya rock. All those people!!

  11. November 21, 2018 / 8:01 PM

    You were very lucky to have someone get your passports for you! A good tip on skipping the queues with a pre-purchased ticket. No discounts for us, sadly.

    Is Pidurangala the same price for foreigners as well as locals?

    • Siddharth Prabhu
      November 21, 2018 / 8:31 PM

      Entry to Pidurangala is free for locals as far as we know.

  12. November 22, 2018 / 5:54 AM

    Oh my gosh those steps into the fortress look CRAZY so many people. But how beautiful, I definitely want to visit this place.

  13. November 22, 2018 / 8:30 AM

    Great post. We visited earlier this year and absolutely loved it, we were unsure if it would be worth the quite expensive entrance fee but for us it was an experience we had some to Sri Lanka for so it was something we had to do. The walk to the top too is quite easy going with great views!

  14. Yukti
    November 22, 2018 / 6:11 PM

    These are very helpful tips to visit fortress if Sigiriya. To avoid hot weather, I would also try to reach here early morning and it is good to know that we have to carry original passport to get discount.

  15. November 22, 2018 / 6:21 PM

    Whoa! It seems to be really crowded up there. The area is so picturesque. We went on a tuk tuk ride all around the forests and found some interesting vantage points to view the rock.

  16. November 22, 2018 / 7:56 PM

    I would love to visit the fortress of Sigirya one day! While I don’t qualify for a discount, the tip to book a ticket online is very useful to save some time and avoid the heat.

  17. November 23, 2018 / 3:15 AM

    The universe is telling me I need to visit Sri Lanka! Thank you for this detailed account of the Sigiriya Fortress and its history. That ancient architecture, those lily pads, those incredible mountain views! Wow. It looks like a fantastic experience. I’ll get there one day!

  18. November 23, 2018 / 5:25 AM

    I have never heard of the fortress if Sigiriya but I have to tell you this is the type of place I would love to visit. The history before it sounds amazing and I love that giant Lion paw and the Frescoes. Thanks for the tips to especially about the weather

  19. November 23, 2018 / 6:34 AM

    Sigiriya sounds like an awesome experience. We love hiking where ever we travel too. It looks like this place has some interesting sights to see too.

  20. chocoralie
    November 24, 2018 / 4:06 PM

    This is gorgeous! That giant paw is particularly impressive. And those frescoes!

  21. robert19
    March 12, 2019 / 3:02 PM

    Wow, looks Beautiful. This article is giving me serious wanderlust. Would definitely go. I have bookmarked it for future references. Thanks for sharing such an amazing article.

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