Whether you are a passionate mountain climber or a once-in-a-blue-moon hiker as we are, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer! Today I’ll tell you how we climbed two big rocks in central Sri Lanka: Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala Rock. You’ll know how to prepare for these relatively easy hikes, what to expect, which to choose if you want only one and if they are even worth climbing at all. Enjoy!
What to pack for hiking in Sri Lanka
First of all, water! I would probably die if I didn’t take my water bottle for any of those hikes. Hydration is the key when you go to the mountains or even for a short walk, especially for warm countries like Sri Lanka. I use my collapsible Nomader water bottle, but any bottle will work as long as it has water inside.
Second, sunglasses. During the dry season rain and forecast weather are rare and most of the time you’ll have the sun shining all the time. Being on top of a mountain feels great, but it’s even better when you wear good UV-protected sunglasses and avoid squinting on every photo. Who needs new wrinkles, anyway?
Next, comfy shoes! Climbing thousands of stairs for Sigiriya Rock is a no-joke, and the Pidurangala route is even rougher. You don’t need fancy branded shoes, but a pair of comfy snickers is a must. We saw some people (mostly locals) there wearing flip-flops or even going barefoot, but I wouldn’t recommend this extreme approach if you value your feet.
What’s next.. yes, head lamp. Should you choose to climb these hills for sunrise (which I personally don’t recommend but some people do), a hands-free lamp will definitely come in handy as it’ll still be dark on your way up.
Of course, I can’t not mention a camera. Both Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala are beautiful and you’ll surely want to take some memorable pictures back home. All of the images in this post were taken with my Fujifilm XT20, but whatever you already own will work. Just make sure it’s charged!
And don’t forget your wallet! Hiking in Sri Lanka can be less expensive or more depending on your rock of choice, but it’s definitely not free.
Other than that, you don’t need much. Most likely you won’t spend more than three hours on any of these hills, which includes watching a sunset and/or spending some time taking photos on top. Maybe pick up some snacks on the way if you can’t bear two or three hours without food.
So, now we are all packed and ready for the hike! And our first stop is…
Sigiriya Rock (also called Lion Rock)
Sigiriya Rock Fortress is an ancient unique structure which is about 200 meters tall and consists of solid rocks. It is one of the most famous places in Sri Lanka and attracts lots of tourists all year round.
Lion Rock is another name for this fortification. It is mostly known thanks to Sri Lankan king Kashyapa I who strategically build a city around this hill of rocks and a palace on top of it. The palace is not there anymore (or maybe it’s inside the rock with some hidden entrance no one knows about!), but some frescoes are still available to a tourist’s eye on the very top of the rock. Although you are not allowed to take pictures there, which is something to keep in mind.
Right from the entrance you can see Sigiriya Rock in all its glory.
First you stroll through the king’s gardens with some beautiful pools and still functioning fountains, enjoying the views, and then the actual climbing begins.
BTW, can you spot a crocodile chilling on the picture above?
Almost the whole route to the top of Sigiriya Rock is made of stairs. According to our guide, there are 1200 stairs up and only about 600 back. There is another shorter way to get down which leads to a small souvenir market and a parking lot.
Along the way, there are a few flat places to rest and get a breather or some water. The overall hike takes about an hour/hour and a half from bottom to top, which includes a couple of minutes here and there to rest and take pictures.
I guess this is the most popular photo spot because of these huge lion’s paws made of stone. Something to justify the name Lions Rock!
Some beauty and cute chilling dogs on the way, and we are almost at the top!
Near the top of Sigiriya Rock you’ll find two important structures.
First is called the Mirror Wall. It is said that at the time of Kashyapa’s reign this wall was polished so much that the king could see himself during his morning strolls. Now it’s not that impressive, to be honest.
Second is the staircase to the top where you can see some unique ancient frescoes. They are only the remains of what was a huge gallery at some point in the past, but still it’s amazing that the paintings from around 5th century are still there for us to see!
Unfortunately, it’s not allowed today to take pictures there (I guess they are trying to preserve whatever they can), so I can’t show you those unique images of ancient maids. But you can read more about frescoes and see some in this post which I guess was written when it was still allowed.
Finally, after more than a thousand of steps, we are at the top!
The views are stunning! You can see everything in any direction around the Sigiriya rock. Lakes, trees, the horizon… in all their beauty!
You can even see Pidurangala Rock which I’ll cover next, as they are quite close!
This feeling when you are on top of the world! And not many people around.
I mean, if this is not beautiful, then what is?..
This is us, tired but happy to make it all the way up to the top!
I almost forgot to mention that Sigiriya Rock is one of the UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites! There aren’t many other structures like that in the world which makes it worth visiting as a part of your cultural trip to Sri Lanka. Lion Rock ROCKS!
Pidurangala Rock Hill
Pidurangala is a less-known but more natural and sacred little brother of Sigiriya Rock!
They are not far from each other and you can clearly see one from the top of the other.
Unlike the stone-made Lions Rock, Pidurangala is actually a normal hill with the huge boulder on top of it. Can’t imagine how it got there!
To start the hike you have to pass through the quiet Buddhist temple at the foot of the Pidurangala hill. Beware that during this short walk you need to be barefoot and respectfully cover your body as in any other temple in Sri Lanka. Don’t worry if you happen to come inappropriately dressed: at the entrance you can borrow a shawl and return it when you get back from the top.
However, we saw some tourists not doing any of this and ignoring all the signs, which felt very discourteous and uncivil. Please care enough to follow the rules when you visit sacred places, whatever religion you may be part of!
Inside the temple, you can find a laying Buddha statue. Remember not to take photos turning your back to Buddha as it is considered a sign of disrespect.
After the temple, you can have your shoes back on and start walking… and walking, and walking. This hike is much more wild and natural than the first one. The stairs are higher and sometimes not present at all. To be honest, I could barely walk the next day after such a workout! You’ll see what I mean in a bit.
About half the way to the top you’ll come across another Buddha statue peacefully relaxing on his brick pillow.
And now the fun part! Here are some pieces of the Pidurangala hill hike and those are not even the roughest! The harder place is before the very top and there is a line of people slowly climbing it one by one.
But in the end, it’s all worth it!
You can see the Sigiriya Rock Fortress in all its glory from around the same height!
The whole hike up to the Pidurangala Rock top viewpoint takes about 30-40 minutes depending on how fit you are.
Now you can relax and enjoy the views, a sunrise, a sunset or whatever happens above the horizon at that moment. You made it to the top!
I should say, the view from every side at the top is different and breathtaking! There are few people and it feels quiet and peaceful even when everyone is gathered on the same side of the hill to watch a sunset.
Go to the opposite side, and here comes the Lions Rock! Be careful though, as this is not the safest spot to sit. And you can see how windy it was on the top!
A few degrees to the left and… cactuses! Unexpected, right? Some people hurt the plants by carving their names… I say it’s stupid and harmful to the nature. We climb the hills to observe and embrace the beauty, not to destroy it.
Finally, here is the boulder I mentioned before. It is the same hardest spot where you’ll be on all fours to get up or down. But again, it’s all worth it!
Did I inspire you enough to climb one or another? Tell me in comments which one you’d choose!
And now it’s time to answer a few common questions about these great hikes.
General questions: Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala Rock
What about entrance fees?
Sigiriya Rock Fortress entrance is $30.
Pidurangala Rock entrance is $3.
If you are on a strict budget, it’s a no-brainer.
Should I go for sunrise or sunset?
I would strongly recommend a sunset! Especially if you are going to climb Pidurangala. You saw above how rough the hike is and just imagine trying to get through all of that in the dark!
As for Lions Rock, I believe the ticket office opens at 7 am when the sun has already risen, and then you need another hour to get to the top, so there is actually no way to see a sunrise from the top of Sigiriya.
Sunsets, however, are just as beautiful and fit perfectly into the opening times. I’d say the best time for hiking in Sri Lanka is always before sunset. Another way to look at it is that you’ll probably be tired enough after the hike that you’ll wanna return to your homestay to rest and finish the day.
Which rock to climb if I only want one?
The answer to which rock to climb depends on your needs. Important things to consider are the following:
- Pidurangala Rock hike takes half the time of the Lion Rock hike, so if you are short on time, choose Pidurangala.
- The way to Pidurangala is rough and requires some rock climbing. At some points, you’ll need to use your feet and both hands at the same time. I relied on my husband’s hand a few times for safety, so if you are not in a good physical shape or travel with kids, better choose Sigiriya Rock.
- If it rains and might be slippery, Pidurangala is not your option. This also applies if you don’t have good shoes. Lion Rock hike has stairs all over and railings along the way, and it feels much safer to walk.
- Lions Rock is ten times as expensive as Pidurangala! If you happen to be a backpacker on a strict budget, Pidurangala is your choice.
- Pidurangala is less popular and therefore much less crowded.
- Lions Rock is a World Heritage Site from UNESCO list.
For me personally, Pidurangala felt more like a real mountain and Sigiriya more like a tourist attraction. But both are fun to hike and both offer mesmerizing views (although somewhat similar as they are pretty close to each other). If I had to choose one, I’d say Pidurangala.
Do I need a guide for Sigiriya Rock or Pidurangala?
Short answer, no.
Both routes are plain and straight, there are no forks in the road or other ambiguities, you go forward and you’ll get to the top. You don’t need any guidance!
If you have unlimited budget and want to know some history about the king, you may consider getting a guide for the Lion Rock hike. (Pidurangala doesn’t have that much history and there are no guides at the entrance.)
We took a guide and decided that it was not worth the money. You pay twice as much (yes, another $30 for a guide!) and get to know some interesting facts about the place, but you can totally read about them in advance or afterward (for example here). We wish we’d spent those $30 on something else!
Where to stay in Sigiriya for hiking?
We stayed in Liyara Home Stay and had a nice time with a local family, having dinner made by a Sri Lankan housewife and watching monkeys playing on our balcony. Other good options are Seegiri Close-up View Guest and Sigiri Saman Home Stay.
Also, check out my other post where I tell you about our favorite stays all over Sri Lanka: Where to stay in Sri Lanka: Our favorite budget accommodations. The one from Sigiriya is also on the list!
How long is it best to stay in Sigiriya?
You have a lot of options here depending on the duration on your trip!
We stayed in the area for three nights. This included having a long rest after the exhausting two nights of flying just to get there from Europe. We visited Sigiriya Fortress and Pidurangala Rock on different days and attended a unique village tour. Continue reading for some info about other attractions in Sigiriya!
So I’d say 3-4 days is a good time to stay in Sigiriya especially if you come straight from the airport. However, if you are short on time, you can try to squeeze both hikes in one day or choose only one of them. I know some people do this, but I wouldn’t bear it. But maybe you are in better shape and will easily rock both rocks! In this case, 1 or 2 nights is enough.
You may also consider not staying in Sigiriya at all. Consider coming for a day trip from Colombo that includes climbing Sigiriya Rock Fortress and exploring Dambulla Cave Temples, which is another famous landmark close to Sigiriya.
As this is usually a starting point of any first-timer trip to Sri Lanka, it gives you a good introduction to local history and nature, which will later be expanded with other cool experiences like visiting ethical elephant sanctuary to see orphaned baby elephants or exploring the best beaches in the south coast of Sri Lanka.
What else can I explore near Sigiriya Rock?
Hiking in Sri Lanka is just one of the cool things to do. But Sigiriya has some more. And the more you look, the more you find!
What will you say about a short private safari in Wasgamuwa National Park to see the elephants? Or a half-day safari to a park of your choice? Or maybe you’d like to head to a remote jungle village to see some of the real life of Sri Lankan people and local crafts? Rest assured there is much more to Sigiriya than just hiking!
After you are done with the cultural part of your journey, head over to the south coast of Sri Lanka to see the best tropical beaches with pleasant water, smooth clean sand, and wonderful marine life!
Conclusion on hiking in Sri Lanka
Sooo, did I get you inspired?
In the battle Sigiriya Rock vs Pidurangala Rock, which one do you think is the winner? Share your thoughts below!
Don’t forget to pin this page to your dream board or save it to bookmarks to refresh your memory before your trip to Sri Lanka!