The narrative is common to anyone with firsthand knowledge of Sri Lanka: the island droplet off the Indian subcontinent looks like a flyweight but slugs like a heavyweight in the tourism department. Sri Lanka has no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage inscriptions (two natural, six cultural) and two more on the official tentative list. All this for a country the size of West Virginia. Impressive.
The bulk of Sri Lanka’s heritage charm unfurls inordinately and spectacularly in the hilly, verdant Central Provinces. The green lung and heart of the country is the home of Ceylon tea and ancient city gems like Kandy, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, as well as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. Together, this singular ensemble of venerable hill stations, highlands wilderness and Sinhalese Buddhist monuments lures tourists from Colombo and the beach resorts that dot the south coast of the island.
Sigiriya, or Lion’s Rock, is a vital part of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO allure. The “Ancient City of Sigiriya” was the nation’s first World Heritage induction in 1982 (in a class with Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa). The Matale District rock fortress dates back to the late 5th century but experts believe the mountain monastery was active in prehistoric times. All told, the complex is a paragon of bygone architectural skill and artistry that effortlessly evokes awe. The small village that circles the granite summit provides for and lives off the domestic pilgrims and international tourists who amass at Sigiriya throughout the year.
- Citadel of Sigiriya - This 5th-century rock fortress is a marvel of ancient architecture.
- Lion Gate - This impressive stone carving of a lion acts as a gate to the ancient city.
- Sigiriya Castle - The remains of this 5th-century castle include a moat and an extensive system of gardens.
- Mirror Wall - This ancient wall was once so polished that the king could see his reflection.
- Anuradhapura Frescoes - These ancient paintings line the walls of Sigiriya and are one of the main attractions for tourists.
Sigiriya Art & Culture
- Sigiriya Museum - This museum tells the history of the ancient city and how it was formed.
- Cobra Hood Cave - Visitors flock to this cave to see the women depicted in its ancient cave paintings.
- Kandy Temple - This is a sacred site to the Singhalese and features many beautiful frescoes as well as stunning architecture.
- Sigiriya Photo Gallery - This gallery features works from local photographers.
- Water Gardens - These gardens are one of the last surviving models of the char bhag style of gardening.
- Sigiriya Museum Gift Shop - This gift shop is a great place to buy a souvenir to commemorate your trip.
- Kandy - This nearby city is the best place to buy handmade items such as jewellery.
- Columbo - Those hunting for cheap garments should start in this city, which is just a short trip from Sigiriya.
- Jayamali Batik Studio - This studio is one of the best places to find the local clothing of Sri Lanka.
- Keels - This supermarket chain is the best place to stock up on local food items.
Gay & Lesbian Sigiriya
- Sigiriya Village - This secluded hotel is a great place for a quiet romantic getaway.
- Pink Vibgyor - This tour company specializes in holidays for gay and lesbian travellers, including trips to Sigiriya.
- Molly’s Bar - This bar caters to a mixed crowd of locals and expats and is a great place for meeting new people.
- Rodeo Bar - Located not far from Sigiriya, this bar features weekly karaoke.
- Serendip - Just about an hour away is this beachside gay bar, which features a lively dance floor.
- Boulder Gardens - These gardens feature large boulders connected by an intricate system of paths.
- Terraced Gardens - These gardens are formed by the natural hill at the base of the Sigiriya Rock.
- Sigiriya Rock - This hardened magma plug can be seen for kilometres around the region and is a favourite spot for hiking.
- Aligala Rock Shelter - This shelter is thought to be over 5,000 years old.
- Sigiriya Moat - Surrounding the lower palace, this moat is a great place to enjoy a day in the sun.
- Catch an exciting cricket match at Dambulla Cricket Stadium.
- Take a cricket tour with Tailor Made Sports Tours.
- Watch a football match at nearby Bogambara Stadium.
- Play a round of golf near Sigiriya at Royal Columbo Golf Club.
- Hit the links at Nuwara Eiliya Golf Club while in Sigiriya.
The small, new Sigiriya Museum holds a number of special exhibits throughout the year and displays archaeological finds from the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When To Go
The cool climate of hill country Sri Lanka provides sanctuary from Colombo and the coast. While still firmly within a tropical belt, Sigiriya’s leafy environs signal a welcome departure from the torrid capital.
That aside, the wet season can elicit chaos from May to July, as well as the months of December and January. Choppy conditions from heavy monsoon downpours make it difficult to flit about the Central Province.
The best time to visit then is from March to the middle of May. Temperatures, for the most part, run between 73°F (23°C) and 86°F (30°C).
Rail travel in Sri Lanka is remarkably scenic. The route from Colombo to Kandy is a prime example. From Kandy most visitors take a bus or arrange private transport north to Sigiriya.
If you fly in to Sri Lanka, as most do, you can hire a taxi from Bandaranaike International Airport for the three hour trip to Central Province. The nascent rise of tourism to the island has made the journey inland more tiresome, however, with dense two-way traffic between Colombo and Kandy. Future infrastructure improvements may ease the passage some.
Sigiriya is tiny and easy to explore on foot.
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A nice unexpected oasis at the foot of the rock
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