Dambulla – the caves,mountains

One of the most visited spots by travellers is this UNESCO World heritage cave temple – Dambulla. Irrespective of your spirituality & religious belief, this place can captivate you with its tranquillity. Here are things about the Dambulla cave temple you must know before going.


Accommodation in Dambulla

Before Sahana hurt her foot, we had decided to climb Pidurangala rock for the view of Sigiriya. So we had booked one night in the super budget-friendly hostel “Jungle Vista Backpackers.”  Then the plan changed, and I ended up staying in Kandy.

If you are thinking of pampering yourself in the woods, watching a lake, going in the forest cycling and coming back to delicious food in a paradise designed by Ar Geoffrey Bawa, consider and check our post Heritance Kandalama- A luxury heritage hotel.

How to reach Dambulla

  • Nearest airport – Colombo International airport – 130km, which is a 3+hr journey. You can easily keep a minimum of +45 minutes to this because of the traffic. From Colombo, taxi/train/public buses are available.
  • Nearest Railway station – Habarana station
  • Nearest bus station – Dambulla central bus station. There are buses from Colombo leaving every 30 minutes. Kandy to Dambulla is 75km, taking 1.5 to 2 hours. Be ready for the bumpy rides if you choose the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB or CTB) A.KA. Red buses. Otherwise, if you pay more, you can select the private buses AC white buses.

We booked a cab in Kandy for the last two days of our trip – Thanks to Sahana’s madly adventure at Mirissa that got her almost killed. Definitely, this exceeded our trip budget, but health comes first. The private taxi was comfortable, and we could stop at spots where we saw land Monitors – A giant lizard that looked like Daenerys Targaryen’s baby dragons.

How many days to spend in Dambulla

Though Dambulla is a small town, there are many places to see and go hiking around Dambulla. A minimum of one-night stay is a must. Anywhere between 2 to 3 days is good to explore ruins and hiking if you are on a long trip to Sri Lanka.

Things to do in Dambulla

Though climbing up Dambulla was not easy with her limping leg, Sahana was determined and didn’t give up. So we spend almost four hours at the temple. Dambulla has many local restaurants that provide authentic Sri Lankan food and cookery class. So we chose one by the roadside on the highway and enjoyed the countryside food and vibe, 

If you are in Dambulla for more days, consider these –

Sigiriya fort | Pidurangala rock | Poluvannara ruins | Habarana jeep safari to see elephants.

Sakura Restaurant

We had been munching on Sri Lankan cuisines until Kandy, where we hogged on the authentic south Indian delicacy – Dosas at Balaji Dosai. But we wanted to have more. You may find many multicuisine restaurants in Dambulla, but if you crave Sri Lankan food – The Sakura restaurant is the place. It is on the outskirts of Dambulla – 6km from the cave temple. You have to take a right at the Dambulla clock circle and continue in Highway A6 Kandy road on Ambepussa – Trincomalee Highway. A giant board outside says,” Sakura Cooking class and restaurant.”

A perfect ambience, sitting inside a place that makes you feel you are sitting outside with the thatch roof above your head. They serve only Buffet costs 7 USD /500 INR. The crazy part is that the owner accepts any currency – Euro, USD, LKR, INR, YEN, etc.! The unlimited spread had almost 30 dishes, including deserts and options for vegetarians. Thanks to that French couple who suggested this at the cave temple.

Dambulla cave temple

If you get off the tuk-tuk at the main road or drop off at the taxi stand, walk towards the ticket counter.
Timings – 7 am to 7 pm, but the tick counter closes almost around 5.30 pm. Buy tickets with ONLY CASH Lankan rupees – 1500LKR or 9USD for 1 ADULT.

Make sure you have dressed modestly, covering shoulders and knees. Otherwise, you will not be allowed here. Unlike the Kandy temple, they don’t give you any clothes to cover.

Carry a water bottle and food. Though the climb is just 350+step, during the sun, it is hard. You get nothing to eat or drink on the hilltop. But en route, you meet a lot of tree-dwellers – The Monkeys. You may not meet a single traveller offseason, but the monkeys are permanent residents of the area. They are smarter than you think – Food or Fashion, they love everything you own. From your sunglasses to that orange in your hand | A water bottle or the lotus you are carrying for offering, they want the world from you. So don’t flaunt it if you have it. Especially handbags and food.

You see no monkey pranksters here, right? But there were hundreds of them hiding behind, and their colour merged with the surroundings.

Those Mama monkeys with babies weaning make “poor puppy face” and are sure to melt your heart. If you feed her, her entire family gathers around for the barbecue. So don’t fall for Mama monkey trap; keep climbing. If you sit on the steps for some rest, beware of your belongings. They are the quickest thieves in the world – I am declaring this after I lost my pouch that had Enrzal sachets when I kept it on the steps while filling a sachet to our water bottle – I frowned- they frowned and vanished,

Start early in the morning to avoid sunstroke. Getting down is more tiring than climbing up. Also, the downhill hike is hot, with no trees for shade to sit on if you get tired.

Keep a minimum of 3 hrs for exploring the temple—two hours for climbing up and down+1 hours at the hilltop. While we spent 3 hours on the hilltop itself. The views from inside and outside of the temple are spectacular.

There are two temples – The golden temple next to the main road and the one on the hilltop. To see the Golden temple, you have to take a slight detour in the beginning or take a different route while getting down. In our opinion, the temple wasn’t worth our time. However, if you are spiritual and wants to know more about Buddha’s life, the museum may interest you. Plus, this is an active temple, so many rituals occur here. So if you are there at the right time, you may witness a ceremony and listen to the chants.

The ancient cave temples at the hilltop for which you have to climb 350+steps is beyond worth it. We were there in the morning, and we would have stayed back there until evening if we had carried some food. The views of surrounding mountains and tiny villages, mammoth rocks with the temple, the collonaded facades – The exterior enchanting. The ponds with lotus, ritual places with flowers offered, trees seating around – the air itself feels holy here. Like the Kandy temple, Buddhist devotees wearing white holding lotus and monks in saffron robes come here to pray.

As soon as you reach the hilltop, you will be asked to remove your footwear. It was kind of hard to walk on the stones barefoot under the hot sun, but don’t give up. Now and then, run to the roofed corridors with sidewalls, and they are the best place to get your tiredness level to level zero. Though it is a UNESCO world heritage, there are not enough signboards to explain the history and how they marvelled at the cave architecture here. I am sure restoration and renovation are constantly needed, but no information about that too.

The corridors are the fun part. The long collonaded corridors with truss above change their alignment as per the rock behind them. You find a Stupa at the end of most passages. Every sanctuary’s entrance is accentuated with a facade taller than the corridors that remind you of the Dutch Baroque style. The corridors with short columns remind you of Roman style.

There are main five shrines, and you can visit each of them unless the monks have closed the entrance with a curtain for the rituals- (Similar to what happens in Garbha Gudi’s of Hindu temples). Some rituals are open for visitors, and some are only for monks. It is easy to get hypnotised by the echoing chants inside the caves, but don’t forget to look up. The ceilings have beautiful polychrome murals and paintings that are thousands of years old.

Spirituality or serenity: Dambulla is a place you must not miss though most tourists who come to Sri Lanka visit this. Though staying up on the hilltop for 3 hours was inevitable, we suggest you do the same. The beauty of holy places like this is that it calms the air naturally. 

How was your Dambulla experience? We will be glad to know about your Pidurangla hike stories. Please share it in the comment sections below.

Heads up, we are super honest, and we keep it no secret.
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