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 and 157 statues.
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 that you can check out.
What to expect at Dambulla Cave Temple
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!
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 is 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!)
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 …
- This should be included in your tour plans for Sri Lanka.
- There are quite a few stairs to climb. If you do it in the middle of the day it will be a hot and sweaty task
- Don’t forget the basics of visiting temples: cover knees and shoulders
About Dambulla Cave Temple
|Location:||Jaffna Hwy, Dambulla, Sri Lanka|
|Hours:||7:00 am – 7:00 pm|
|Fees:||LKR 1500 (Sri Lankan Rupee) which comes to around INR 590 and USD 8.35. Prices are half for children ages between 5 and 12 years, and below that, entry is free for kids|
Planning the journey
If you’d like to fly, it’ll cost you anything between LKR 16,000-40,000 for a flight. Cinnamon Air, a reputable domestic airline in Sri Lanka has an air taxi operating daily from Colombo airport’s domestic terminal to Sigiriya. Although it is the fastest way to reach Sigiriya (30 mins), flying is a bit too steep in terms of budget!
One of the best ways to reach Dambulla is to take a train from Colombo Fort Station to Habarana and from there travel by cab to Dambulla. The train line (Colombo-Trincomalee) will take about 1 hour and 11 minutes to reach Habarana and cost you anything between LKR 80-270. The onward journey from Habarana by taxi will be 25 minutes or so for LKR 650-800.
Most buses in the long-distance segment begin at the Colombo Private Terminal while most CTB buses operate from the Colombo Fort Terminal. For a journey of less than a 100 km, the usual bus fare is less than LKR 400. The journey by bus from Colombo’s Bastian Mawatha Terminal will have you in Dambulla in approx. 4 hours. Route nos. 48, 48-2, 48-3 are the best to travel in and the buses operate every 30 minutes to an hour. The bus fare is less than LKR 300.
Best time to visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a variety of different tropical climates where rainfall periods and amounts of precipitation determine the distinction between a rainforest climate, tropical Savannah climate and tropical monsoon climate. Sri Lanka can be visited year round, however because of the two rainy seasons there is a lot of confusion as to when is the best time to visit. Here is a peek into the various monsoon periods: You have the Yala Monsoon; this means rain in the west, southwest and inland from the end of April to September. The other is the Maha Monsoon; this means rain on the east coast from October to March.
Are you planning to travel to the west and south coasts or inland? Then you have the highest chance of pleasant weather from December to March. Are you going to the east and north coasts? Then you have the highest chance of good weather from April/May to September.
Places to visit close by
1. SIGIRIYA ROCK FORTRESS
The Sigiriya palace and fortress complex in central Sri Lanka is recognized as one of the finest examples of ancient urban planning, which has resulted in it being recognised in 1982 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2. MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK
Set in the heart of the popular cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, Minneriya National Park is mostly known for its incredible elephant migration, which is one of Asia’s finest wildlife experiences. During the drier months of June to September, as many as 300 elephants congregate in the Minneriya National Park around the ancient Minneriya water tank (which dates back to 3rd Century AD), taking advantage of the receding waters that provide an important water source.
Some 800 years ago Polonnaruwa was a bustling commercial and religious centre for the Chola dynasty, as can be seen by the amazing density of ruins of temples, palaces and other buildings. In the early 13th century the city’s glory faded and it was abandoned. The capital moved to the western side of the island where Colombo is today. In 1982 Polonnaruwa as added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Where to stay in Dambulla/Sigiriya/Habarana
1. HABARANA VILLAGE BY CINNAMON
Offering bungalow-style rooms surrounded by greenery, Chaaya Village Habarana is a 15-minute drive from Minneriya National Park. The hotel features an outdoor pool and facilities for tennis, volleyball and badminton.
Chaaya Village Habarana is an hour’s drive from Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. Driving from Bandaranaike International Airport takes 6 hours.
Featuring wooden furniture, the air-conditioned rooms at Chaaya Village Habarana come with private terraces. Each room has a TV with cable channels, a safety deposit box, and tea/coffee making facilities.
Azmaara Spa provides a range of treatments, from massages to manicures and pedicures. The hotel offers tours such as hiking in the Ritigala jungle or riding an ox cart in Hiriwadunna.
2. HABARANA ECO TREEHOUSE
If you are looking for something more unusual then you might want to consider the Habarana Eco Treehouse. This is not exactly a treehouse, as it is not in a tree, but it is in the air on stilts. To get to your room you have to climb up a rustic ladder – this is not one for those who are wobbly on their pins or suffer from vertigo.
The accommodation itself is basic, but there is electricity and hot water.
Food is prepared by the owners and are delicious local dishes.
3. IL FRANGIPANE
Located in Sigiriya, 1.1 mi from Sigiriya Rock, il Frangipane provides accommodations with a restaurant, free private parking, free bikes and an outdoor swimming pool. 2.7 mi from Pidurangala Rock and 0.7 mi from Sigiriya Museum, the property offers a garden and a terrace. The air-conditioned rooms provide a garden view and come with a wardrobe and free WiFi.