To see as much as you can from Sri Lanka and its culture, you must visit the central part of it. When you type in Google the magic combination “Sri Lanka”, one of the first recommended things to do in Sri Lanka is Sigiriya rock. That is definitely one of the highlights, and let us tell you something, there are more things to do in Dambulla and Sigiriya. Spending a few days around the area could be a great start of your trip around Sri Lanka. Also, because of the convenient location, you can plan a great Sri Lanka itinerary starting from Kandy or Dambulla and then traveling across Sri Lanka clockwise until you’re back in Colombo.
How to Get to Dambulla or Sigiriya from Negombo, Colombo or Kandy
➳ Bus – ☆
➵ Car – ☆☆☆
➳ Bus/Train + Tuk-tuk – ☆☆
How to Get to Dambulla by Bus From Colombo or Negombo – ☆
Time and cost will strongly depend on the location you are coming from. You will be traveling for a longer period if you come from Colombo than if you are in Kandy already. You can get a bus from any of the cities mentioned: Negombo, Colombo or Kandy. However, it will be the longest and most difficult way to travel.
Please note, that there are no direct buses from Negombo going to Dambulla. Thus, you will have to change buses in Kandy or Kurunegala. The total trip should cost you from RS 200 to RS 300 ($1.70), depending on which route you take. The total time will vary depending on the time of the day, traffic jams and waiting time. But the rough estimate is 4-5 hours. Getting to Kurunegala would cost you approx. RS 100 and getting to Kandy – RS 150. Most of the local buses are non-A/C so be aware of that. A few buses have A/C but they do not leave that often and will cost you a bit more.
How to Get to Dambulla or Sigiriya from Kandy by Bus
Getting to Dambulla from Kandy is very easy and will take about 1.5 to 2.5 hours. This is still Asia and unexpected delays will occur. Just get to the Kandy main bus station, which is next to the railway station and jump on the first bus going to Sigiriya. Locals will point you in the right direction.
Note: We heard from other travelers that there is a direct bus every morning that goes straight to Dambulla from Negombo, however, the frequency is questionable. However, there should be a direct bus from Colombo, still – questionable.
If you want to know how to get to Kandy from Colombo or Negombo, have a look at our Kandy travel guide, which explains all the different ways to get to Kandy.
How to Get to Dambulla by Car – ☆☆☆
You can hire a driver that will take you to Dambulla or Sigiriya from any location in Sri Lanka. However, you have to know that it will be quite expensive. It will take around 4.5 hours with a car and cost around $80 if you negotiate well with a driver. However, if you are coming from the airport, Negombo or Colombo you can hire a driver via PickMe app. (Similar to Uber and Grab).
Thus, you do not have to negotiate the price, you can pay with your credit card and you know that you will have a reliable driver. It is also considerably cheaper than finding a driver on the streets. We estimate that getting from Colombo to Dambulla would cost around $60. However, before booking you can check the price and decide, if you would like to go by car. It is the fastest and most convenient way. If the price is split by 4 people, hiring a PickMe is also quite affordable.
How to Get to Dambulla by Bus/Train + Tuk-tuk – ☆☆
If you choose to get to Dambulla by Bus + Tuk-Tuk, then you have to catch a bus from Colombo, as we explained above. Then from Kandy, you can hire a tuk-tuk to take you to Sigiriya or Dambulla. If you hail down a tuk-tuk on the street you will have to haggle hard to get the price down to approximately 3000 Rp. ($17), which is an acceptable price. The easiest way, again, is to hire a tuk-tuk or a car on PickMe App.
The same applies to the train. However, the train is way more comfortable than a bus and is almost always on time as well. There are Intercity, Express and Commuter trains. Intercity is the fastest and will get you to Kandy in 3 hours. You cannot really book in advance, rather just show up and get a ticket at the station. Tickets will be always available.
After that, just hire a tuk-tuk from Kandy to Dambulla or Sigiriya. This way you will experience different modes of transportation in Sri Lanka and decide which one you like the best and it will be a great adventure. Also, this way of getting to Dambulla is fast and not that expensive.
Things to Do in Dambulla and Sigiriya
When researching things to do in Dambulla, most probably many will suggest visiting the Sigiriya rock. Yes, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also declared as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but there is a better way to admire it. The entrance fee to Sigiriya rock is 30 USD (27 EUR), which in our opinion is a tad too high, so we decided to visit the Pidurangala Rock instead. Oh, boy, it was a great idea! Also, many will consider that Sigiriya rock is the only thing to do in Dambulla and Sigiriya, but that could not be further from the truth!
How to Visit Pidurangala Rock for the Sunrise?
So, here’s what we did. We woke up in the middle of the night, got a tuk-tuk and went to see an amazing sunrise. At first, we thought we might be the only ones to climb the rock but of course not. Of course not! Anyway, it was one of the best decisions during our Sri Lanka trip, the sunrise was just gorgeous! The entrance to Pidurangala Rock is 3 USD (2,50 EUR). The climb up takes approximately 30 minutes and the views are spectacular. To be up there when the sun rises we suggest to start the climb about 45 minutes before the sunrise. Better, start 1 hour before the sunrise, to get the best spot and avoid the masses. Prepare a flashlight as the path is dark, take some water, charge your camera, and you are good to go!
You’ll be awarded a beautiful view of Sigiriya rock once the sun is up. You will be able to have a full 360 view and see the mist rising from the forests below. Pidurangala Rock is just amazing! As it is impossible to climb Sigiriya Rock so early, this is the best option for you to see both an epic sunrise and the majestic Rock. If you still feel like hiking stairs, go visit Sigiriya rock for the sunset! What is better than starting a day with a beautiful sunrise and finishing up with a beautiful sunset?
Safari Tour in Minneriya National Park
If you think of things to do in Dambulla and Sigiriya you probably haven’t thought of a safari tour. Well, we have a great next stop for you. Only half an hour away Minneriya National Park is located. Minneriya National Park offers safari tours, which are one of the least busy in the whole of Sri Lanka. The best time to visit Minneriya National Park is early in the morning as it still gets busy in the afternoon.
Definitely, there are way fewer tourists than in Yalla National Park, which is the most popular in Sri Lanka. Our safari tour cost 43 USD (38 EUR) per person and it included a pick up from Arika Villa (a bit outside of Dambulla, 45 minutes away from the Park) tour around the park, and drop off at the hotel. We had our jeep just to ourselves (we were 5 people). We traveled with our friends, fellow Dutch travel bloggers.
What to Expect from Minneriya National Park?
This was our first safari tour ever and we truly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to spot a leopard, maybe you’ll be luckier though. In that case, send us some pictures! Anyway, there are many elephant babies and Linda loves them, so she didn’t need anything else. Just give her a baby elephant and the girl is happy for days! (Kris typing this!)
As always an important note is to take some water. It is quite hot in the park and the real fun starts when you get stuck in the mud for some extra hour. Guess what, it happened to us and we didn’t have much water – classic us! Guys helped the poor driver to swing the 4×4 out of the mud. Only then we realized we didn’t choose a four-wheel drive and that’s why we got stuck. On our way back another 4 cars got stuck, also not 4×4. So, when you arrange a car, make sure its 4×4.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Sri Lanka is a multireligious country and there are so many temples and churches to see. While exploring Dambulla, you should pay a visit to Dambulla Cave Temple. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest Buddhist cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Cave Temple consists of five caves, more than 150 Buddha statues, and many gorgeous wall and ceiling paintings. The entrance fee is roughly 9 USD (8 EUR) and is worth it. As it can get a bit crowded during the midday we recommend to visit it early in the morning. Visit the Cave Temple should be on your things to do in Dambulla list, trust us. Especially if you are around the area to visit the Pidurangala rock, why don’t you stop by?
Where to Stay in Dambulla
Stay in Arika Villa close to Dambulla
Arika Villa is definitely the best place to stay in Dambulla. It is like an oasis in the middle of the jungle. The rooms are spacious, spotless and with all the necessary amenities. Some of the rooms open doors directly to the pool which is the perfect start of the day. The food is top notch, it feels like a luxury restaurant tucked away on the countryside. The staff is very friendly and helpful, speaks good English. Additionally, they offer a cooking class, transfer to Sigiriya or Pidurangala rocks, can arrange the safari tour in Minneriya park, basically, they can help you with everything. If you are going to Dambulla, choose Arika Villa and your stay will be amazing!
When you are planning your trip to Sri Lanka, don’t forget to include visiting Dambulla and Sigiriya. Although the island is not so big each part of Sri Lanka has its own charm. We recommend staying in Dambulla for 2-3 days to explore the area and tick off all the things to do in Dambulla. Sigiriya and the Pidurangala rocks will be one of the highlights of your Sri Lanka trip, and probably one of the most beautiful sunrises you have ever seen. These humble towns in central Sri Lanka will amaze you with their historical sites and welcoming people. Well, the people are welcoming all over Sri Lanka, for a fact! Visit central Sri Lanka and enjoy the adventure!