A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery, with its five sanctuaries, is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka.
The Dambulla Cave Temple site is located just a little bit outside of the city of Dambulla, some 47 miles (72 km) away from Kandy and close to Sigiriya with its famous Lion Rock fortress and Palace. In 1991 Dambulla Cave Temple was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, due to its Buddhist mural paintings 157 statues.
The entrance fee for the Dambulla Cave Temple is 1500 rupee per person. Be aware that the ticket office is at the bottom of the hill. So, if you get to the top and you don’t have a ticket you need to come right back down.
7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Other important things:
It is a bit of a climb to the top of the rock to see the temple and means navigating a lot of stairs so for some people, this might be challenging.
It gets hot and the site is exposed so wear plenty of sun cream, wear a hat and take plenty of water.
This a Buddhist temple so you have to take your shoes off before entering. There is a place to leave your shoes but you’ll need a few rupees to pay the people running the booth. Also, you will need to dress modestly, covering shoulders and the legs below the knees. So, bring something to wear!
Another thing to remember the etiquette is not to take selfies or photos with peoples backs facing the images of the Buddha (statues and paintings!)
What to expect at Dambulla Cave Temple
Sitting on top of a 160-metre high rock, the Dambulla Cave Temple consists of 5 caves with Buddha statues, each with a different interior and statues. Beautiful wall and ceiling paintings make these caves very unique. This is some of Sri Lanka’s most important and evocative religious art. At the bottom of the Dambulla Cave Temple is The Golden Temple which is a huge Buddha and also has a museum which you can check out.
It is believed that these caves were homes to pre-historic locals dating back around 2700 years, as human skeletons discovered in the local area have been dated from that time. There are 80 documented caves in the area that are believed to have been inhabited.
The first use of these caves as a temple complex dates back to the 1st Century BC and continued through the Polonnaruwa times up to 1250 AD. This temple complex forms part of a Buddhist monastery which is still in use today. During the 18th century, the caves were restored and painted by the Kingdom of Kandy.
There are 364 steps and it takes around 15-20 minutes to reach the top, depending on your pace. The views along the way and from the top are stunning!
The temple is composed of five caves of varying size and magnificence. It doesn’t take long to visit them all. They seem to get larger and more impressive as you go along, the first chamber being the smallest. The largest cave measures about 52m from east to west, and 23m from the entrance to the back, and is 7m tall at its highest point.
There are over 150 statues to see, most are of Buddha, the largest being in a reclining pose, measuring 15 m. The most impressive part of the designs in the caves is the murals which cover an area of 2,100 square metres (23,000 sq ft). They are exquisite and cleverly follow the contours of the ceiling and walls.
In Summary …
Overall this is something you can’t miss when you’re in the Sigiriya or Dambulla area, even if you’ve already seen loads of temples or caves – it is very unique!. You can easily do this in two to three hours including the walk up and down. Take the time to really absorb the beauty of the murals.