Sigiriya, Lion Rock
Sigiriya, otherwise known as Lion Rock, is one of Sri Lanka’s most incredible landmarks and is a definite must if you’re planning to visit this beautiful country. Located in the Matale District, this ancient rock fortress is just one of Sri Lanka’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Boasting an extensive network of surrounding gardens and a museum, Sigiriya has a lot to offer.
With over 1,200 steps, Sigiriya usually takes between 1.5 to 3 hours to climb and descent. This will largely depend on how busy the route is, your fitness levels and the amount of time spent at the top/along the way.
The site is open every day from 7am to 5:30pm. Early morning and late afternoon are the optimal times to visit to avoid the strongest heat and busy crowds. It cost me $30 usd (as of February 2019) as a foreigner, or Rs50 for locals.
For more tips on Sri Lanka or things to do near Sigiriya, check out my guide here.
My Experience climbing Sigiriya
Climbing Sigiriya was high on my bucket list, however I wasn’t sure how possible it would be given my fear of heights and solo backpacking. Whilst staying in Dambulla, I met two guys who were going and decided to tag along for some much needed emotional support.
After a 20 minute drive in the torrential rain, we arrived at Sigiriya. It happened to be Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, so without realising it, we had chosen the busiest day of the year. Because of this, it took over 2 hours to ascent the rock, with the entire route being congested with queues of people. Take my photos with a pinch of salt, as it’s apparently never normally this busy. The constant queuing worsened my fears, as we had to wait on scary parts of the climb for long periods of time.
For a detailed breakdown of each part of the route, check out this great blog post I found.
Starting the Climb
The start of the climb takes you up several hundred stairs, surrounded by stunning scenery. From a height’s perspective, this part of the climb was fine. I’d made the rookie mistake of not bringing any food or water with me though, which I definitely regretted by the time we got to the top. Luckily as it was overcast and raining, I didn’t struggle too much! The first part of this section was easy and we were moving at a good pace.
The sheer number of people climbing that day meant that within 15 minutes of climbing, we joined a massive queue of people. The route remained this crowded for the rest of the climb. The surrounding views as we climbed were incredible and you can see for miles ahead with each step up you take. However, moving at snail pace meant that the daunting spiral staircase looming ahead made my nerves a lot worse. I highly recommend going early in the morning to avoid congestion, as this would have been a lot easier mentally had we been able to power walk our way up.
The infamous spiral staircase
The spiral staircase takes you to murals in the cave, known as the Frescoes. There are only 23 left out of the original 500, and are really beautiful to look at. You’re not allowed to take photos of these, and there are people patrolling to make sure you don’t. However, it’s worth noting that this part of the route is optional! If you have bad vertigo and don’t want to climb this staircase, you don’t have to. It won’t take you to the next part of the route. If I had known this ahead of time I definitely would have avoided it as it was just as nerve racking as the lion staircase.
After completing this part of the climb, we arrived at the foot of Lion Staircase. This is a great place to stop and take a break before tackling the summit, particularly if you’re scared of heights. At this point, I did notice a few people turn round and head back down…I nearly joined them after seeing the Lion staircase in person.
Lion Staircase – The Summit
In all honesty, the climb up the lion staircase was terrifying. The stairs were slippery from the rain and completely rammed with people. We often had to stand and wait, which prolonged the journey up. My tip is to really focus on looking up and holding on the the railing (or wall depending which side you’re on) for balance.
After a stressful 15 minutes or so, we finally made it to the top! The views made the terrifying summit totally worth it. I spent about 30 minutes walking around the stone ruins, the gardens and pools! It was fascinating to hear about the history of the palace, so it’s worth going with a tour guide or spending time in the museum below beforehand.
After surviving the climb down from the Lion staircase, I started the descent down Sigiriya. The climb down was less strenuous than the ascent, however, it was still a challenge. I wouldn’t say it’s the most obvious route either but, as it was so busy, we followed a group of people down.
For some really great photos of the Sigiriya climb, check out this blog
Tips for Climbing Lion’s Rock
- Pick a day/time that isn’t extremely busy. This could mean early in the morning (good to avoid the hottest time of day too) or on a weekday.
- Bring water and snacks with you. Refreshments are available near the main entrance, however you won’t be able to buy anything within the site.
- Use a bathroom ahead of time near the entrance. There are no toilet facilities within the site.
- Lather up in high factor sun cream. The route is largely exposed to the sun, especially at the top! I got a bit burnt, even though it was cloudy, rainy weather.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. I wore trainers, but I saw lots of people walking in flip flops.
- Consider taking an umbrella – again, there’s no shade during the summit or at the top, so it’ll help protect you from the sun.
- If you’re scared of heights – take it one step at a time and break up the journey by recovering at each rest point along the route.
I hope this post has been useful, and for anyone with a height phobia, climbing Sigiriya is do able!! Just break the route up by resting at each stopping point. The photos of Sigiriya really don’t do it justice, you HAVE to see it for yourself.
Happy Travels x
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