Sigiriya and Minneriya, two must see sites in Sri Lanka, are both located only a 30min drive away from Dambulla. Dambulla is also right in the centre of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka and the two ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa can both be visited as day trips from here. It is the proximity of Dambulla to these fantastic locations that makes this town an ideal stop on the Sri Lankan backpacking circuit. The town of Dambulla also has some really good hiking opportunities and one of my favourite restaurants in all of Sri Lanka is found here.
Dambulla City Hostel is the only hostel in Dambulla. Thankfully it is a really nice one! Lots of large spaces to socialise in including outdoor spaces and even a swimming pool. The main reason that I recommend staying in Dambulla is due to the day trip options that exist out of Dambulla. The hostel is fantastic on this front and has a couple of resident tuk-tuk drivers that the guests can use. The drivers are friendly and the prices are fair. The hostel offers day trips from Dambulla to all the attractions in the area including the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. The hostel is located about 1km out of the city centre on the Kurunegala-Trincomalee highway. It should cost 100 LKR to get a tuk-tuk from the bus stop to the hostel.
Sights and Highlights
Sigiriya is one of the most visited sites in Sri Lanka. It is easy to see why. Sigiriya and its surrounds possess some incredible natural beauty as well as being of very high historical and cultural importance to the people of Sri Lanka. According to ancient Sri Lankan records, the site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion.
As beautiful as Sigiriya is, I do not actually recommend that budget travellers pay to climb to the top of the rock. The cost to do so is 4200 LKR and in the middle of the day the queue of people climbing the stairs makes the hike a chore at best and unbearable at worst. Thankfully there is an alternative. A few kilometres from Sigiriya is Pidurangala Rock. The hike up to the top of Pidurangala is very pleasant, but does involve a bit of a scramble over some rocks towards the end. The view from the top is spectacular and provides an amazing vista of Sigiriya as you can see below. The cost to climb Pidurangala is a very reasonable 500 LKR.
Minneriya National Park hosts the largest Asian Elephant gathering in the world. It occurs during the dry season in the region, May to October, when the elephants congregate around the Minneriya reservoir and feast on the grasses growing on the surrounding flats. Up to 300 elephants at a time can be seen within a few square kilometres of the reservoir. The cost to enter the national park is $15USD per person, about 2200 LKR. On top of this you need to pay for the safari jeep that takes you around the park which should cost no more than 5000 LKR per jeep. If you split the cost of the jeep between 5 people you are looking at a total cost of 3200 LKR for Minneriya.
Also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the Dambulla Cave Temple is a World Heritage listed site and is walking distance from the centre of town and the Dambulla City Hostel. It is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains providing for some fantastic views, particularly at sunset. There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses inside the cave complex itself.
Jathika Namal Uyana (Pink Quartz Mountain)
Jathika Namal Uyana is the largest ironwood forest and pink quartz mountain in Asia. It is believed the pink quartz mountain that makes up the destination of this hike through the forest is at least 550 million years old. Namal Uyana was a sanctuary for Buddhist monks during King Devanampiyatissa’s reign in the 8th century AD. One of the Dambulla City Hostel tuk-tuks will take you to visit this place for a reasonable price. It costs an additional 500 LKR to enter the forest.
For general information on popular Sri Lanka dishes, check out my article Sr Lankan Food on a Budget.
Bentota Bake House
One of my favourite restaurants in Sri Lanka. Amazing rice and curries, kottu roti and egg hoppers. You will probably be the only non-local eating here which just adds to the experience. Make sure you eat at the local restaurant on the ground floor and not at the tourist restaurant located above it. The tourist restaurant is very ordinary and overpriced.
Family Run Local Restaurant Close to Dambulla City Hostel
I do not know the name of this restaurant am not sure it actually has one. It is a very small restaurant with 3 tables and chairs inside. The rice and curry was fantastic and really cheap. The couple that cooks and serves are lovely and very hospitable. To reach it from Dambulla City Hostel, cross to the opposite side of the road to the hostel and then turn to the right. Walk about 50m down the road and look for the restaurant on your left.
Dambulla is not known for its night life. Dambulla City Hostel sells beer but they are a bit expensive and often warm. The solution is to head to the local liquor store (referred to by locals as a wine store). It is located above the Cargills Food City, a 100 LKR tuk-tuk ride from Dambulla City Hostel.
Tuk-tuks are the best way to get around Dambulla. Speak to the lovely staff at Dambulla City Hostel to arrange one of the hostel’s tuk-tuks.
Getting In and Out
Dambulla is well connected to the rest of Sri Lanka through a range of bus lines. It is relatively easy to reach Dambulla from Colombo, Kandy, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Buses run frequently to all destinations. Just head to the bus stop in town and ask some of the locals where the bus you need departs from. The buses that stop here will frequently be full before they arrive in Dambulla so expect to stand for at least part of the journey.