Both Sigiriya and Dambulla are part of the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka. Undoubtedly it is one of the main attractions that people want to see when they are visiting this country. What you might not know about it is that both Sigiriya and Dambulla can be visited as a day trip from Kandy. Kandy is one of the biggest and most popular cities in Sri Lanka, so it is easy to arrange a sty for an extra night and make this dream come true. What you should probably know before you even get to it is that it is going to be a long journey but it is worth it.
Day trip from Kandy to Sigiriya and Dambulla
Before you start planning a day trip to Sigiriya, you need to ask your self about the budget. There are a couple of ways of how to get there. Some of them are more comfortable than others. So it all goes down to what is your budget and time. There aren’t too many things to do with time. It is still around 100 km on a bumpy road. But you can do something about how comfortable it will get. So let’s see the options.
From Kandy to Sigiriya by bus – itinerary
If you are planning to go to Sigiriya from Kandy by bus, it is the most budget option. It is not even that difficult thing to do. But your schedule is quite tight, so here is the itinerary that I had on that trip.
Start early and catch the bus at 7.30 am
The first thing you need to do is to catch a bus to Dambulla. There are a couple of them during the day but if you want to manage the whole day trip to Sigiriya, you need to get on that early one. It takes about two and a half hours to get to Dambulla. I know. It is long. But the busses are relatively comfortable. Besides then you can either see the wonders of Sri Lankan nature unfolding around you on the bus or just catch on some more sleep.
Catch the bus to Sigiriya
The bus from Kandy will drop you off at the bus station, the next thing to do is to catch another bus to Sigiriya. They go there quite often so it is not a problem to do that. The bus to Sigiriya will drop you off right next to the rock. So the only thing to do is to go to the entrance and start exploring.
At the gate, you will need to buy a ticket. For foreigners, it costs 30 USD. That might seem like a lot but at the end of the day, the Lion rock, as they call it, is well taken care of and it is a part of UNESCO heritage. Make sure you spend here as much time as you can. Sigiriya is opened every day from 7 am to 4 pm, so if you come here around 11, you don’t have as much time as you might want.
Sigiriya is filled with different frescoes, that are talking about the history of the place. Up there you can also see various pools. You are not allowed to bathe in them but it is nice to see what people build on this rock.
Exploring Sigiriya might take about an hour, maybe even two hours. It might look very tall but the truth is that it is what is up that takes a lot of time to explore, not the stairs that lead to this place.
Catch the bus back to Dambulla
When you feel like you have seen everything and have all of the pictures, catch the bus back to Dambulla. The busses there goes quite regularly about every 30 minutes. So it is easy to catch it. The bus should get you close to the famous Dambulla caves, so you shouldn’t worry too much about finding your way to the rock.
Exploring Dambulla cave
To explore the Dambulla cave, you will need to buy a ticket to it. Afterward, it is necessary to hike a little hill to the Dambulla caves. Nothing that would be too difficult. After that, you will finally get to the caves. It is another UNESCO heritage site. You will get to see a lot of portraits of Buddha. It is one of the important places for any Buddhist.
Because it is all inside for a couple of centuries it is important that you wouldn’t use a flash inside. The light might damage the statues and the frescoes. But other than that, you are free to explore this amazing piece of art.
The great thing about Dambulla caves is the fact, that they are open to 7 pm, which will give you enough time to explore it properly.
Catch the bus back to Kandy
When you feel like you are done it is time to return to Kandy. Since the bus stop is very close to the caves, it is quite easy to catch it. Some busses are going around all day around. But if you want to catch the last direct one, it goes at 5.37 pm. After that, you might need to change from bus to bus in other cities. If you catch the last one, you will be back in Kandy at around 8.15 pm. So a good time for late dinner or just rest and sleep for the next day.
Budget break down of day trip from Kandy to Sigiriya and Dambulla
Bus to Dambulla from Kandy and back – The bus from Dambulla to Kandy is going at 7.03 am and 8.03 am. Arriving at Dambulla at 9 am and 10 am. It is better to be at the bus station half an hour before the departure, so you make sure you can sit or that there is a place for you on the bus. The price for the bus is around 200 rupees (about 1.3 USD) for a normal bus without A/C. The buses with A/C can cost up to 300 rupees (around 2 USD).
Bus from Dambulla to Sigiriya and back – The buses from Dambulla to Sigiriya and back goes every 30 minutes and cost 45 rupees (under one dollar). The bus stop is right next to Sigiriya.
Entrance ticket to Sigiriya – That undoubtedly one of the most expensive thing you will buy. As a foreigner, you will pay 30 USD to get to Sigiriya. They are checking for passports so they know for sure.
The entrance fee for Dambulla – Dambulla is much cheaper than Sigiriya but still very interesting to visit. To get in you will have to pay 1500 rupees. That is about 8 USD.
The total price is about 45 USD per the whole day (without food).
Advantages of a day trip from Kandy to Sigiriya and Dambulla by bus
- Cheap – it is. One of the cheapest options.
- You can still see both places without a tour company or taxi.
- You won’t be pressured by the time made of a tour company
Disadvantages of public transport to Sigiriya
- You might catch a bus without A/C
- You will still feel a time pressure to manage to see both and be back in Dambulla in time
- Public transport might be crowded and uncomfortable
- Busses in Sri Lanka don’t run on time
Day trip to Sigiriya and Dambulla by taxi
Taxi is another option. It is a very flexible option since the time is pretty much on you. Most taxi drivers will do it with you even if you just ask them on the street. For them, it would mean great pay. So since we are talking about great pay – it will be quite expensive. Day trip from Kandy to Sigiriya and Dambulla by taxi costs about 10 thousand rupees (around 55 USD) for both ways. This price is from 2018, so that may be skyrocketed after. When debating the price, be prepared to haggle. It is quite necessary when you are getting a taxi in Sri Lanka.
At the same time, it is one of the fastest options. The buses to Dambulla and Sigiriya are often stopping in a little village which slows them down a lot. By taxi, you can be there in an hour and a half. It is still quite a bit of time, but compared to almost three hours on the bus, it is nothing.
A great advantage of a taxi is the fact that it is very flexible. You don’t need to stress your self about being on the time with all the bus schedules and so on. And because it is so flexible, you might even ask your taxi driver to make some other stops on the way. That way you can even see the Ibbankatuwa Necropolis, which is close by Sigiriya.
One thing you should know about it – most of the taxis in Sri Lanka, especially the cheaper ones are in the form of tuk-tuks. So you won’t be able to divide the price between the bigger group in case you are traveling with friends. But it is possible to do it in two people.
Day trip to Sigiriya and Dambulla with a tour
Tour is always an option. There is a lot of local travel companies in Kandy, that would be more than happy to arrange that for you. Even the private ones are quite affordable. But keep in mind that the prices usually differ depending on how many people are you taking with. Usually, when you are traveling alone, it will get much more expensive, because you will be the only one who will be paying for the car, the guide, and all the necessities.
So what to expect from the tour? It is quite common that you would get your own guide/driver who would talk to you all about the history of Sigiriya and Dambulla. Most of the time, they can speak English very well and are knowledgeable about the whole history of the country and this particular area as well. Since the tour is usually with a car, most of the time they would drop you off in the hotel. So the only thing you need to do is to wake up early enough.
A lot of tours also offer a bottle of water and lunch. So unlike if you do this trip yourself, you don’t have to look for restaurants. At the same time, organized tours would usually prepare the visit of many more places than just Sigiriya and Dambulla. A lot of times they would show you the Ibbankatuwa Necropolis and some other places around.
All of that sounds great, right? Well, the price per person is usually around 80 USD, which is quite expensive. If there are more people it can be much cheaper. Depending on the company. As I mentioned before, there is a lot of local companies that are not even on the internet, that would ask you for less. But it depends on them. Besides, what is not included is a tip for the guides. Make sure you tip them, it is quite expected.
I didn’t travel to Sigiriya with a tour company, so here are some tours that are worth checking out:
Practical tips for Sigiriya and Dambulla
Wake up early – I know I must be annoying with that. But even if you are planning to take a taxi to Sigiriya and Dambulla make sure you do that in the early morning. It is the time when the places are not that crowded and you won’t catch the midday heat on the top of Sigiriya rock where is nowhere to hide.
Watch out for the monkeys – You will meet monkeys in all the places. Both Sigiriya and Dambulla. Make sure you have your bag closed properly, they might also jump on you from the trees and search your bags. It is not allowed to feed or abuse any animals on Sigiriya and around the Dambulla temple.
Sigiriya is very popular – It is almost impossible to be alone in Sigiriya, there is a lot of people coming every day. And there are stairs up to the rock. So prepare yourself to be squished a little bit.
Buy water at the street vendors – Especially before you go up to Sigiriya rock. There are a lot of people there and no place to hide what so ever. Make sure you have water with you.
Smoking is not allowed – Both smoking and drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited on Sigiriya and Dambulla. So make sure to take your smoke break before you start exploring.
Cover your shoulders and knees – Even though it is one of the biggest tourist attractions, those are still the holly places you are visiting. So it is necessary to cover yourself. A long skirt and t-shirt will do.
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