Should you climb the Sigiriya or Pidurangala Rock? Or both? If you’re thinking of heading to Central Sri Lanka’s Sigiriya village and are not sure where to go or what to miss, this post will help you make some decisions. I have climbed both and can compare them for you. Moreover, this post will also act as an excellent guide if you’re climbing them both, like I did.
Climbing Sigiriya Lion Rock is one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka. In fact, Sigiriya is so famous that most of the travel postcards or brochures for Sri Lanka its picture. After all, it is a famous UNESCO World Heritage site and the pride of Sri Lanka.
There is another alternative to climbing Sigiriya and it is right next to it. I’m talking about the Pidurangala Rock, which is also in the Sigiriya village.
I have visited Sigiriya village twice and have climbed both. During my first visit in 2017, I climbed Pidurangala Rock. I visited again in 2018 and climbed the famous Sigiriya Rock. Which one is really better? There is no straight answer because they’re different in literally every way.
Wether you decide to climb Pidurangala Rock or Sigiriya or both or even neither, I highly recommend you include Sigiriya in your itinerary for Sri Lanka. Sigiriya is so close to Colombo and you can literally glimpse the BEST of Sri Lanka here.
You may see wild elephants walking on the road in Sigiriya or you can experience an elephant safari in one of the nearby national parks – Minneriya and Kaudulla. You will surely enjoy the peaceful forest area of Sigirya and you can cycle or walk around Sigiriya Rock.
The oddly shaped Sigiriya hill stands proudly and can be seen from many viewpoints along with it’s sibling – Pidurangala. Since Sigirya is in the Central Province, you can also easily explore the nearby Hill Country. Sigiriya to Kandy is not far and this journey can be done very easily in a local bus or a taxi or even a train. Our favorite experience was staying in a tree house in the middle of the forest near Sigiriya.
Climbing Pidurangala or Sigiriya – Comparison
- Introduction and History
- Height Comparison
- Ease of Climbing
- How Long Does the Climb Take?
- Entrance Fee
- What You See on the Way Up
- View from the Top
- What is on the Top of These Rock Summits?
- Which one is more crowded – Sigiriya or Pidurangala?
- What to Wear
- Best Time to Climb
- Basic Tips for Climbing Pidurangala and Sigiriya Rocks:
- Sigiriya Village Hotels + Guest Houses + Tree Houses
- Kandy to Sigiriya travel information
Introduction and History
Sigiriya Lion Rock
Sigiriya Lion Rock is a citadel – a fortress on top of a hill in Sigiriya village in Central Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sigiriya village is near Dambulla, which is also a famous for its cave temple. Before turning into a fortress, the caves on top of Sigiriya were used as a place to live and meditate by Buddhist monks in the 3rd Century BC.
Sigiriya History – the Legendary Story
King Datusena of Anuradhapura had two sons – Kasyapa and Moggallana. Kasyapa was the older one but was illegitimate, so the younger son Moggallana was the rightful heir of the throne. King Datusena gifted a lake to his Kasyapa but it wasn’t enough.
In 477 CE, Kasyapa conspired with Datusena’s chief of army, Migara and killed him. This did not go well with the kingdom because Datusena was a beloved king, so Kasyapa had to flee.
Kasyapa fled from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya to hide. At that time Sigiriya Rock was mainly used by the Buddhist Monks as a place to mediate – who were asked to move to the nearby Pidurangala Rock. He built a rock fortress on top of Sigiriya Rock with the help of Datusena’s chief of army and became the king of Sigiriya. Kasyapa ruled Sigiriya for almost 20 years and developed it well.
During Kasyapan’s rule, the people were curious about what was on top of the Sigiriya rock. Some stories describe Kasyapan as a playboy because Sigirya caved has beautiful paintings of ladies from many different parts of the world (African, Asian, etc.) that were thought to be his mistresses. There is also a well polished wall inside the caves, which is so shiny that it is called the Mirror wall.
Meanwhile, Datusena’s other son – Moggallana had fled to India and had gradually built an army so that one day he could return and reclaim his throne. (Like Khaleesi of Game of Thrones). Moggallana finally returned in 495 CE to Sigiriya in Sri Lanka and defeated his older brother Kasyapan in the battle. Kasyapan committed suicide.
Sigiriya was given back to the Buddhist monks and Moggallana went back to his kingdom in Anuradhapura. Sigiriya thrived as a a Buddhist monastery complex till 13th or 14th century.
Here’s when the story gets even crazier – there are no archeological records found about Sigiriya after the 14th century and it was pretty much forgotten and covered by bushes. But it was found again in 1871 by the British Army. (Kind of like the how the Borobudur Temple of Yogyakarta was forgotten and then found)
Pidurangala Rock was used as a Buddhist Monastery when King Kasyapa arrived in Sigiriya. The monks were originally living in Sigiriya caves but were asked to move to Pidurangala so that Kasyapa could build his fortress on Sigiriya. It was called Pidurangala Vihara, which means Pidurangala Complex.
Sigiriya is almost 200 meters or 660 feet high.
Pidurangala is almost the same height at Sigirya and is just 1 meter shorter.
Ease of Climbing
Climbing Sigiriya Rock
Climbing Sigiriya Rock is much easier as compared to climbing Pidurangala. It is because you only have to climb the steps on the staircase that goes to the top. You can climb on top of Sigiriya even if you’re not used to climbing or if you consider yourself physically unfit. Just remember to keep it slow and enjoy the experience and the view on your way up. Don’t be in a hurry.
I climbed on top of Sigiriya Rock during the 5th month of my pregnancy and faced no problems.
Climbing Pidurangala Rock
Climbing Pidurangala Rock is very easy in the beginning but just the very last part is difficult. Just like Sigiriya, there steps in some areas BUT they will not take you to the top of Pidurangala.
You have to actually know how to climb because there is this one rock towards the end where you have to use all fours and climb like an animal. My husband San had to help me up here and literally lift me like a rag doll because I’m not tall enough.
The last part of climbing Pidurangala is tricky! But hey, I had more fun climbing Pidurangala as compared to climbing Sigiriya Rock.
Winner: Sigiriya for ease. Pidurangala for a more fun experience.
[Sigiriya Rock is easier than climbing Pidurangala Rock, but if you can handle the last part, then climbing Pidurangala Rock is more fun.]
How Long Does the Climb Take?
How Long Does It Take to Climb Sigiriya Rock?
Even though Sigiriya Rock is easier to climb, it took us at least 45 mins to 1 hour to reach up because of the crowds. Unlike Pidurangala, you can’t enter Sigiriya complex as early as 5 am to avoid the heat and crowds. The heat tends to make you tired while climbing and you will need to take a few breaks to rest. Reaching down took us just 15 – 20 minutes.
How Long Does it Take to Climb Pidurangala Rock?
It did not take us more than 20 minutes to reach the top of Pidurangala Rock. It was because there were so few people and the weather was nice. However, if you’re climbing Pidurangala Rock during “hot hours”, it will surely take you longer.
Sigiriya Rock Entrance Fee
All international visitors must pay a fee of around USD 30 for entering the Sigiriya Rock complex. In local currency it is 3700 Sri Lankan Rupees. The locals pay 50 Rupees.
Many people say that it is unfair that the international visitors pay 3700, but I think it is totally fair. You see, this fee is comparable to most of the international UNESCO world heritage sites. Why should the locals pay less? Well, because they earn in rupees and there is a thing called “purchasing power parity”. 🙂
Pidurangala Rock Entrance Fee
I climbed Pidurangala Rock in 2017 and there was no entrance fee. It was on “donation” basis and I am not sure weather we paid 50 rupees or 500 rupees per person. It depends on your time of your visit because I met some people who paid 500 rupees as entrance fee but got a receipt saying “thank you for your donation”. If you see TripAdvisor, you will notice that some people have paid even 1500 rupees as the entrance fee.
What You See on the Way Up
Sigiriya Rock – Things to See While Climbing
Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage site and there is a lot you can see on your way up apart from just the viewpoints. There is a spot where there are frescos in a cave that I have mentioned in the section about Sigiriya’s history. These paintings are of women that are clearly of many different races from all over the world. They are believed to be of King Kasyapan’s mistresses. Sadly you can’t click a picture of Sigiriya’s frescos and cave paintings.
There is also a polished wall, which was once very reflective and was called the Mirror Wall. After king Kasyapan was defeated, many people wrote poems and messages on this wall.
Halfway up, you will reach a point where you will understand why Sigiriya Rock is called the Lion Rock. This is where you will see massive lion claws that are carved on the rocks. Apparently these lion paws belonged to fully carved lion that had a head too but it collapsed years back.
Apart from this, there are a few spots where you can stop to rest on your way up and admire the view.
Pidurangala Rock – Things to see while climbing
There is a are different rooms inside the Pidurangala complex but not every room can be accessed. There is a Buddhist Temple at the entry. As you go up, you will reach a spot with a massive reclining Buddha statue. As per Lonely Planet, this statue stretches to 12.5 meters!
As per one website, there are frescos inside Pidurangala too, but most of the people miss them. I missed them too but you should check them out if you are going.
View from the Top
The View from Sigiriya Rock
The view from the top of the Sigiriya Town is pretty spectacular because you can see the perfectly symmetrical gardens below, a lot of greenery all around.
There are many different viewpoints on top. There are places from where you can also see the nearby Pidurangala Rock, Kandys hills and a giant Buddha statue.
The View from Pidurangala Rock
Pidurangala is mostly about the view and you will realize how amazing it is when you reach the top.
The view from the top of Pidurangala Rock is much better than on top of Sigiriya. It is so because you can actually see the dramatic shape of the Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala Rock. Where as, Pidurangala Rock doesn’t have an unusual shape and that’s what you see when you’re on top of Sigiriya.
You also see a giant Buddha statue from the top, Kandy’s hills and the Sigirya town.
What is on the Top of These Rock Summits?
What is on top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress?
The view from Pidurangala is better but the top of the Sigiriya Rock is better. There is a reason why it is called the “Sigiriya Rock Fortress”. It looks like a maze on top with gardens, pool and strange structures.
These structures are actually some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world that are made on the principles of “chaar bags” or Persian Gardens of Paradise. I really wish I had a drone so that I could see how it looks from the top. I found this drone video of Sigirya on YouTube that you will enjoy watching.
Doesn’t it look like a paradise? Even though Sigiriya is very crowded but the lovely terraced gardens do not feel crowded at all because the people are scattered all over. You will surely find your own corner where you can sit alone and enjoy the sights.
What is on top of Pidurangala Rock?
Nothing but a flat area. It is just a place where you can sit and enjoy the view. In my opinion with a view like that, you don’t need more! However, if I truly want to compare things to see on Sigiriya Rock versus Pidurangala Rock, Sigiriya’s gardens surely win.
Which one is more crowded – Sigiriya or Pidurangala?
With a cheaper / free entry, you’d think that Pidurangala would be more crowded? Wrong! Sigiriya was MUCH more crowded as compared to Piduragala on both the occasions.
If you climb Sigiriya during the peak hours or peak season, then you can also encounter a human traffic jam to the top. After all, Sigiriya is a famous UNESCO world heritage site and every traveler wants to see it.
Climbing Pidurangala is actually not so easy for everyone because of the last part of the climb. This is also one of the reasons why a majority of people just skip it and climb only Sigiriya.
What to Wear
What to wear while climbing Sigiriya Rock [NOT]
Sigiriya is not a temple and you can even wear shorts when you climb up. It gets pretty windy up there so I DON’T recommend you to wear a skirt unless you want to do a Marilyn Monroe type photo shoot. 🙂
What to wear while climbing Pidurangala Rock
You have to cross a Buddhist temple and a monastery so you can’t just wear what you want. Your legs and shoulders need to be covered. Actually you can just wear a sarong to cover your legs and a scarf for your shoulders and take them off after crossing the temple.
You can’t hold your scarf and sarong while climbing because your hands need to be free for the last part of the climb. In fact, you should carry a super compact backpack and keep them there with your essentials, like a water-bottle, camera, etc.
Best Time to Climb
Best time to climb Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya’s opening hours are 7:00 am to 5:30 pm and I highly recommend you arrive as early as possible and try to begin climbing by 8 or before. If you’re visiting in the summer months then try to go there even earlier so that the you’re not climbing in heat.
The time from 11 am to 3:30 pm is the worst time to climb the Sigiriya Rock because the heat will make you very tired. Don’t do it unless the weather is miraculously cool on that particular day.
Best time to climb Pidurangala Rock
The best time for climbing Pidurangala Rock before the sunrise or the sunset – after all Pidurangala is mostly about the epic views. We did the sunrise hike and left our hotel in Sigiriya town at 4:30 am, so that we could reach the top before 5:15 am – the sunrise time during our month of visit.
Sunset time in Sigiriya during the summer months is 6:15 pm and you should reach at least 15 minutes before that to make the most of it. If you’re visiting in winter months, then the sunset is earlier and you need to possibly start climbing by 5 pm.
Please check the sunset or sunrise time the day before you’re climbing so that you have a more accurate idea.
Basic Tips for Climbing Pidurangala and Sigiriya Rocks:
Make sure you go the public toilet outside Sigiriya Complex before climbing both Sigirya or Pidurangala. There is no toilet inside after you enter the ticket checkpoint of Sigiriya or even inside Pidurangala.
Carry a light backpack with a water-bottle because there is no place to buy after entering the complex.
In case of Pidurangala, you must carry a torch if you’re doing the sunrise or sunset climb. There are many trees, there can be snakes (although we didn’t see) and the path can be slippery.
The way from Sigiriya to Pidurangala can be deserted and has a lot of trees. You can book a taxi from your hotel in Sigiriya village to the entrance of Pidurangala temple if you’re doing the sunrise climb. Coming here on rented bicycles is also a good idea and super convenient. If you’re up to it, you can also walk from Sigiriya to Pidurangala – it is not far.
So which one is really better – Sigiriya or Pidurangala? If you want to see the maze like terraced gardens, Sigiriya’s famous lion paws, the incredible paintings in the cave and want the while UNESCO World Heritage experience – then surely Sigiriya. If you just want to see the view and enjoy the adventurous climb, then Pidurangala Rock.
For me and San it is Pidurangala but it may be different for you and this is why I have listed a comparison of both Sigiriya and Pidurangala on so many different aspects.
Sigiriya Village Hotels + Guest Houses + Tree Houses
Having visited Sigiriya twice, I have actually stayed in more than 6 different places here. This is because the first time we were here, we made a last minute booking but that hotel was only available for a day so we had to change the next day, and then the next two days again.
Based on my experience, here are the places that I recommend. Three are inside Sigiriya village and two are outside.
Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela – it is a paradisiacal resort with real tree houses that were created by the locals to find shelter from the wild elephants. It is a little further away from Sigiriya village and is in the middle of Dehigaha Ela forest. Pick this place if you’re looking to stay away from the civilization and experience Sri Lanka’s thick rainforest and nature. Apart from just the treehouses, they also have family cottages and the cost for them starts at €60. Tree houses are for €80 and above per night.
Back of Beyond – Pidurangala – if the first option is too out of town for you but you’d still like to stay in a tree house or a cottage in the middle of the forest, then the same hotel has a branch that’s just a kilometer away from Sigiriya Rock. You’re going to fall in LOVE with this place. The cost for a cottage starts at €50 and treehouses start at €90 per night.
Jetwing Vil Uyana – Jetwing is one of the best hotel chains of Sri Lanka and you’re guaranteed a great experience no matter which one you pick. This particular Jetwing hotel will let you experience the best of Sigiriya’s nature. The rooms are airy, luxurious and the food is phenomenal. It is a bit upmarket and the rooms start at €300 per night.
Jetwing Lake Dambulla – Dambulla is another town that’s near Sigiriya and is famous for cave temples and frescos. If you’re planning on visiting both Dambulla and Sigiriya, then you don’t have to change hotels but can stay in a hotel in either Dambulla or Sigiriya and visit both the attractions on different days. I stayed in Jetwing Lake Dambulla and it is a very beautiful resort that’s next to a lake, little hills and nature. The rooms here start at €100 per night.
Nethmini Homestay – It is a simple homestay that is very affordable. We paid around €10 per day for a double room here.
Kandy to Sigiriya travel information
If you are arriving in Sigiriya from Kandy, then you can do this journey by train / bus / taxi and also a rented car. From Kandy train station, you can get on a train to Habarana, which is 15 KMs away from Sigiriya village. Habarana is the closest station to Sigiriya village. From Habarana, you can reach Sigiriya on a local bus or a taxi.
Disclosure: One of my trips to Sri Lanka was sponsored by the Sri Lanka Tourism Board as a part of a social media and content creation campaign. The trip also included a visit to Sigiriya Citadel. All the thoughts expressed in this article are my own.