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Climbing the Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Take monkeys, a huge rock, ruined palaces and a patricidal king, and what do you get? It could be the premise of a new movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or it could be the Lion Rock in Sigiriya. While that movie does sound pretty cool, the experience of climbing to the top of the Lion Rock, exploring the ruins of an old palace and getting an unparalleled 360 degree view of the countryside below is hard to beat.

The gardens

The paths that take you to the base of the rock pass through gardens, monkey hang outs, snake charmers and caves. Some people get tunnel vision and head straight for the rock, but it’s worth checking out the surrounding area. Apparently they are the oldest landscaped gardens in the world, and in some areas you’ll have them all to yourself, as most people will be on the rock.

Lion Rock gardens in Sigiriya, Sri LankaMonkeys at Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri LankaA snake charmer at the Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The climb

The climb isn’t as hard as it looks, but if you are afraid of heights it might not be too enjoyable. The Lion Rock is famous for its paintings (frescoes), which are still in remarkably good shape. These, along with the palace itself, date back about 1600 years. The paintings are interesting because instead of the usual religious stuff you see just about everywhere, King Kasyapa decided to decorate the walls of the rock with half naked women. You can see these paintings by climbing up a separate stair case – it’s pretty steep though! About half way up the rock is a small plateau where you can take a rest and escape the sun for a while. Obviously you are exposed to the full power of the sun while climbing the rock, so this rest is welcome. From there it’s a tough (and sometimes slow) climb to the top.

Ancient Frescoe at the Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The top

Upon arriving at the top I asked myself one question: “Where is the palace??”  To say it’s in a ruined state is a massive understatement; there are really only walls, pools and staircases left. It’s still interesting to look around, but the real star of the show is the landscape below. It was here that I was first introduced to the strange phenomenon of people taking photos with iPads. Everyone seemed to be doing it; I almost felt a bit pretentious taking photos with an actual camera.

The top of the Lion Rock is pretty small and doesn’t take long to check out, but it is a great place to just sit and relax – I spent about 2 hours up there, but you could easily see it all in  half an hour.

The View from the top of the Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri LankaView from the top of the Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri LankaPools at the palace on the Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The story of King Kasyapa

Kasyapa didn’t take it too well when he was overlooked as the heir to the throne, despite being the oldest son. He decided to imprison and then kill his father, and take power for himself – which actually worked out pretty well until he realised the people hated him for it. He abandoned his capital in Anuradhapura and set up shop on the Lion Rock in Sigiriya. He built a huge lion gateway (only the paws remain today) to help protect himself, which is how the rock got its name. King Kasyapa was eventually killed in a battle with his brother, bringing his 22 year reign to an end.

Further reading: Find out more about this crazy king!

Climbing the Lion Rock: The details

If you have done a lot of travelling in Asia you’ll be shocked with the prices of attractions in Sri Lanka. The Lion Rock is no different; it costs about $30 to enter! It’s definitely worth the price though; I’d say it was the best out and out tourist attraction I went to in Sri Lanka.

The town of Sigiriya is tiny and there isn’t really any need to stay there; you can reach it from Dambulla, the home of the popular cave temples, in about half an hour. There are plenty of accommodation options in Dambulla – I stayed in a small guesthouse on the outskirts of town which I’d recommend, as the town itself isn’t that inviting. If you are travelling in Sri Lanka, make sure you go to the hill country – it was the highlight of my 2 week trip.

Dwayne the Lion Rock JohnsonDwayne “The Lion Rock” Johnson

Have you been to the Lion Rock in Sigiriya? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. April 9, 2014 at 10:56 am — Reply

    The views from lion rock look amazing! We may be adding Sri Lanka to our list of countries to hit during our rtw

    • April 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm — Reply

      It’d be a great choice, there is so much to see in Sri Lanka, the people are really friendly and the food is nice!

  2. Karen Warren
    April 11, 2014 at 4:33 am — Reply

    It looks amazing. Yet another place that I need to add to my ever expanding list of places to visit…

  3. When I went to Sigiriya 2 years ago I found the entree fee which was ridiculously expensive It was 2800 Rs for foreigners and Rs40 for locals! Whatever your view on whether there should be different prices for locals, that’s a pretty big difference! I would understand 2, 3 or even 5 times more expensive but c´mon, 70!!! Was still nice though 🙂

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:00 am — Reply

      Yeah, Sri Lanka really annoyed me in that respect, but at least I got a DVD (that I never watched) when visiting Sigiriya!

  4. May 3, 2014 at 3:31 am — Reply

    I’m shocked at how well those frescoes are preserved. And that this story has not ended up on a Hollywood exec’s desk yet. I hadn’t heard about this place, so yet another reason to head to Asia soon!

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:01 am — Reply

      It would actually be an awesome movie, maybe I should try and write it!

  5. May 3, 2014 at 11:02 am — Reply

    Looks like a cool hike/climb – and the views from the top must be so rewarding!

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:04 am — Reply

      They were awesome, would have been even better on a clear day!

  6. May 3, 2014 at 10:28 pm — Reply

    This looks like a great day trip! I had to look at that picture twice to realize what you did there haha!

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:04 am — Reply

      Haha, glad you noticed it!

  7. May 4, 2014 at 12:29 am — Reply

    I think it’s funny how differently the shapes of the women in the above fresco painting differ so much from the ones you’d see in Italy. Made me laugh! I would be right along with you taking pictures with my camera, I still don’t understand taking them with an iPad. I have one but it’s not for picture taking. Interesting! This looks like an interesting place to visit and the views from the Rock are beautiful.

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:06 am — Reply

      I thought it was cool that there was pictures of women like that instead of the usual religious stuff! It’s a great place to visit, a must when travelling in Sri Lanka I think.

  8. May 4, 2014 at 10:51 pm — Reply

    Sri lanka looks completely unlike anywhere I’ve been, I’d love to visit.

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:07 am — Reply

      You should! It was completely different to anywhere I’ve been in Asia, even people who have been to India say Sri Lanka is pretty unique.

  9. May 4, 2014 at 11:48 pm — Reply

    Hahah I wasnt reading for that last picture! I love all of them. The monkeys and that snake would freak me out!

    • May 5, 2014 at 12:08 am — Reply

      You could hold the snake for a price, I wasn’t too keen on that though!

  10. May 5, 2014 at 3:56 am — Reply

    The view from atop looks amazing! Hope I will never meet The Lion Rock Johnson. Looks kind of creepy. 😉

    • May 20, 2014 at 12:36 am — Reply

      Haha, he’d be angry that you said that…

  11. May 5, 2014 at 9:54 pm — Reply

    Absolutely amazing. I have seen pictures of Lion Rock and sounds like an amazing place to visit. I don’t know the movie, but I might watch it after seeing your last picture. Do you know if there are any rock-climbing routes to the top?

    • May 20, 2014 at 12:36 am — Reply

      That’s a good question, it didn’t look like there was, it’d be a great place to rock climb though I’m sure.

  12. August 15, 2014 at 11:42 am — Reply

    Very cool, I can’t wait to visit this site!

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