Sigiriya is located in the Matale District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is located within the cultural triangle formed by Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, which includes five of the eight world heritage sites in Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya is famous for its palace ruins on top of a massive 200 meter high rock surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures. The rock itself is a lava plug left over from an ancient long extinct volcano. It is also renowned for its ancient paintings (frescoes), which are similar to those found at Ajanta Caves in India. It is generally agreed, however, that the Sigiriya Frescoes exhibit a uniquely Sri Lankan style.
Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees of the Buddhist Sangha.
The complex surrounding the famous rock was built by King Kasyapa (477–495 CE), who had seized power from the rightful heir, Moggallana, who fled to South India. Fearing an attack from Moggallana, Kashyapa moved the capital and his residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya. Most of the elaborate constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces, and gardens, date back to this period. Kashyapa was defeated in 495 CE by Moggallana, who moved the capital again to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was then turned back into a Buddhist monastery, which lasted until the 13th or 14th century.
Sigiriya is connected to the city of Dambulla by a regular bus service. These buses run between 6:30AM to 6:00PM every day at intervals of 30 minutes and cost Rs 40. Travel by tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw in local parlance) from Dambulla is Rs 800-1000. It is important to note that Sigiriya is located about 25 km from Dambulla, the closest city, and it is recommended not to miss the last bus back to Dambulla at around 6:00PM in case you are not staying at Sigiriya itself.
Dambulla is served by most cities like Kandy, Jaffna and Trincomalee.
Walking is probably the best option if you want to explore Sigiriya, its citadel and Pidurangala. In case you need a tuk-tuk, always agree on a reasonable price before entering.
Sigiriya citadel. There are about 1200 steps or 200 m up to the summit. You can probably walk up to the top and down again in 1.5-2 hours. If you are a completist, you might spend an additional 30-60 minutes exploring the various nooks and crannies in the gardens.
Important: Buy or take water with you before you enter the paid area. It's a long climb, and you will sweat and become very thirsty. Water and drinks are not sold inside, and are available only at the "tourist exit". Due to the length of the climb, also take a hat for protection against the sun.
Biscuits and chips can be bought in the shack near the place where passes to the site are sold.
On the entrance, and also a bit inside, someone may offer his help as a guide for Rs 1500 or even US$ 15, but probably also Rs 1000 is fine depending on your bargaining skills. A guide is not necessary, but may be helpful if you are traveling alone and want to make pictures of yourself.
You can exit the paid area via the main entrance (the way you came in) or via the "tourist exit" that leads to souvenir stands and the tourist parking lot.
If you have a driver and if he agreed to meet you in the tourist parking lot, be aware that it is a long walk from the main entrance to the tourist parking lot (if you choose to exit that way), and when you get there, the parking lot guard may hassle you about re-entering the monument (at the very least, he will demand to see your ticket). It is better in this case to exit via the "tourist exit".
Sigiriya Museum shows photos of the excavation of Sigiriya, reproductions of the frescoes, examples and translations of some of the graffiti on the Mirror Wall, and artifacts excavated from the site. You can probably view the museum in about 1 hour. Since the museum is outside the main entrance, and nowhere near the tourist parking lot, you may want to visit the museum before you enter the paid area. The entrance to the museum is included in the ticket. Rs 3600 (as of 2012), visitors from India and Pakistan pay half. edit
Pidurangala (Cave, Temple & Rock). This has intentionally been but before the famous lion rock, because we believe it is a little overpriced and there does exist this interesting alternative. Pidurangala rock is almost as high as its famous neighbor and provides a pleasant view onto its sibling as well as the surrounding area, which beats every postcard image you've ever seen. The scenery and the view is really something and well worth the effort, and the vegetation is of a rough, almost unearthly beauty. From there you can also see the mountains of Kandy, Pollonaruwa, Anuradhapura, and the rain forest.
The Pidurangala Temple, which is the entrance to the rock, is about 1 km north of the Sigiriya citadel north exit - you can't almost miss it. It is just past the kindergarten. There is a sign pointing out the right direction to Pidurangala at the start of this short road and even besides the Sigiriya citadel entrance. Alternatively, a tuk-tuk is Rs 200 from the Sigiriya citadel entrance. Enter the temple terrain (do not take the stairs 200 m before the temple complex) and walk to the new building in the back on your right side. Some 50 m further on and to the left there is the entrance to the temple from which the trail is slightly bending to the right and going up. Further on this will become a rocky stairway also leading to the meditation bunks of the monks. When you reach the rock (a big wall just in front of you) you have to walk left - watch out there is a hornet nest right at the rock. Walking up further the trail, it leads you past a giant sleeping Buddha sculpture. Before you can climb onto Pidurangala the trail will lead you shortly into the jungle again for about 50 m past some smaller rocks, slightly down and straight up again, after which you should find your way onto the rock.
At the base of the rock most likely there will be someone waiting to guide you up to the top and past the cobra nest - kindly give him Rs 100-200. Agree on the (overall and not per person) price before the climb if you want to prevent discussions at the end. If you try to get rid of him, he will probably warn the monks, who will expect a contribution. Either way, he is neither an official guide nor someone to be scared of. Rs 200 (official ticket). edit
Sigiriya rock, its complex and Pidurangala are the main attractions in Sigiriya. In addition, the Elephant Corridor Hotel offers tours from Rs 2000 into the nature surrounding Sigiriya. Also, you might also just ask the friendly tuk-tuk drivers what else there is to do here, they will most certainly come up with some idea.
There are some very expensive batik shops on the road to Inamaluwa and Dambulla. If you need cash, there is an ATM at Kibissa, 2 km from Sigiriya on the road to Inamaluwa.
If you are staying at the guest-houses near the lion rock, there are a number of restaurants. Ahinsa Hotel is a good spot to meet other travelers. Chooty Hotel Restaurant and the New Sigiriya Cafe are on the other side of the street. All have good meals, Sri Lankan and western, at reasonably cheap prices. There is a great view of Lion Rock at the back of the Chooty.
If staying at the guest-houses in Sigiriya and want a beer, there is a beer shop just out of town. A tuk-tuk ride there and back is about Rs 100. If you get a receipt, your guest house should let you keep them in their fridge. The local cafes might be able to help if you ask nicely.
Some guesthouses clutter around the road from Sigiriya to the Inamaluwa junction. The choice for budget accommodation in Sigiriya itself is limited but available.
Alternatively, just have a look at Google maps. Following the road from Sigiriya to Dambulla you will find plenty of accommodation and referring links. Although the budget options will probably have no website or link.
Flower Inn, ☎ +94 66 5672197. A family run business with 8 neat, tidy and kitschy rooms near a garden in the back well worth the money. Dinner at 7.30, invariably rice and curry, is a great opportunity to meet fellow travelers. Dinner is Rs 450. It is lokated on the main road some 500 m before the sandy road to the ruins. Rs 1800-3000 double room wo/with a/c. edit
Nilmini Lodge, (email@example.com). Across the road from the Flower Inn, Nilmini has good clean rooms in a garden setting. Friendly family run place and walking distance to the lion rock. Breakfast is Rs 300. Cafes and grocery are near by. Rs 1800-2500(2014^). edit
Lion Lodge, ☎ +94 71 4793131, . Clean, quiet guest house with free wifi set back away from the main road. Aji is very friendly and will do his best to make your stay comfortable. He'll even loan you his bike and give you empty bottles for a Lion beer run which is 1 km away. There's a sign on the main road into the small town as you head east (past the park entrance). From Rs 2000. edit
Wild elephants are roaming at night and they are not friendly. Every year there are fatal accidents and incidents involving elephants. Make sure you make it back to your guest-house or hotel before 6.30PM.
When visiting the Sigiriya citadel and rock it is important to carry enough water. The trek to the summit takes roughly 45 minutes from the entrance and there is no place to buy water inside the complex. There is a small shack that sells water, soft drinks and ginger beer near the place where passes to the site are sold.
There are seldom but direct buses from here to Habarana. The better choice is going back to the Inamaluwa junction (Rs 20) and taking a bus from there.
Generally, all directions are served from the Inamaluwa junction or Dambulla itself. Try to catch a bus before 7PM to make sure you will reach your destination the same day.