While I was looking for ideas for what to do during our criminally short stay in Sri Lanka, of course the name Sigiriya appeared. However, it seemed that reactions to the 5th Century structure were a little bit muted. A number of bloggers criticised the $30 USD entry, and even my old mate Nomadic Matt said it wasn’t really worth going after 10am due to the crowds. I didn’t really read anything absolutely glowing about it.
Therefore, I was interested to check it out for myself and see what it was like. Here’s a brief run down of my thoughts, as well as some tips and information I hope you’ll find useful!
Sigiriya is amazing.
Firstly, let me say that I came back raving about Sigiriya. I have visited numerous structures around the world such as Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat, and I honestly think Sigiriya is just as good, if not better. I really didn’t know anything about Sri Lankan history before I visited it, and had no idea that it has such a rich royal history. I was also not aware of the massive wealth which kings held back in the day.
Even though it is much older (5th Century AD), Sigiriya is much better preserved than older structures like Machu Picchu and the Angkor Temples. For me, it was really easy to imagine just how extravagantly beautiful the castle and grounds were. There are also the incredible ‘frescos’, paintings of some of the King’s concubines, which are perfectly preserved after more than 1,500 years.
When I returned from the tip, I started looking for more blogs about Sigiriya, looking to find other ‘Sigiriya Enthusiasts’. I’ve still struggled to find them! I did stumble across Nerd Nomads who gave it a pretty good wrap up – so perhaps we are out there! However, one big thing to note about my Sigiriya experience is there were no wasps! Apparently there can be a pretty awful wasp problem at Sigiriya, and I can certainly understand how between that and the large crowd, it could put a big dampener on the experience.
Putting that to one side, here are some tips and info for planning your hike up Sigiriya!
The history of Sigiriya is fascinating.
I won’t go into too much detail because I’ll let you learn about Sigiriya for yourself, however I’ll give the tl;dr of the history as I think it’s so interesting and can’t help myself. Basically, in the mid-5th Century, the King of Sri Lanka, Dhatusena had two sons; an older son, Kashyapa, by a concubine, and a younger son, Moggallana, by the Queen. Kashyapa wanted to be King, but Dhatusena told him he couldn’t be because he did not have pure Royal blood. This did not go down well with Kashyapa, who killed his father (apparently by entombing him in a wall – yikes) and expelled his brother Moggallana to India.
He then set to work building Sigiriya, a beautiful palace that was a total fortress as he knew it was only a matter of time before Moggallana returned to try to challenge him for the throne. Understandably, the people of Sri Lanka were not thrilled with the patricidal King, and he never felt quite secure. This did not stop him living life to the fullest, however, with an alleged 500 concubines and extravagant swimming pools, flower gardens and marble staircases.
It is difficult to climb Sigiriya quickly.
Personally, I do not think this is a bad thing. I am an exceptionally slow and unmotivated hiker, so I was never planning to bolt up the mountain. However, for the experienced and active types, it may be frustrating. There are quite large crowds, and all of the passageways are very narrow. Sigiriya was deliberately designed this way, to keep the change of the King being attacked by a large army to a minimum. However, it does mean you can expect to hike single file, stopping often, to the top – all 1,200 steps.
Full disclosure – we ignored Nomadic Matt’s advice because we are lazy and sleepy and arrived at about 10.30am. It was very busy, especially because it was ‘international children’s day’ which meant all monuments were free of charge for Sri Lankan citizens.
Bring water as you cannot easily buy water at Sigiriya
Again this is probably no surprise to experienced hikers but I didn’t really think about it because I am hopeless. There are a couple of stopping points along the way where you can buy water, but not toward the top. It is also very expensive, pretty warm, and I was a bit nervous about whether it was really freshly bottled water. Therefore be sure to bring ample water for the trip.
If you can, get a guide!
You don’t need a guide per se, but I highly, highly recommend one. As I walked into Sigiriya, we were stopped by an enthusiastic guide who told us, ‘if you just walk up, it’s just a big rock.’ I appreciated this as I do like having guides, so we paid our $20 USD and had a guide for the hike up and down (a bit steep after paying $30USD each to enter). In my view, it made all of the difference! Our fabulous guide told us all about the history, pointed out things we otherwise would have missed, and generally brought it to life.
The entry price is a bit steep
I’m going to agree that $30USD each for entry is pretty rough, however I can appreciate how much money it takes to maintain such an elaborate site. Not only are UNESCO and the Sri Lankan Government trying to actively preserve the site, such as by keeping the wasps away, there is also ongoing archaeological work. There are lots of guards positioned around Sigiriya to make sure it is not damaged (especially in the fresco cave, where photography is not allowed), and even a first aid tent. Therefore, I think all in all, the price is on the upper end of reasonable, and I have absolutely no regrets about attending Sigiriya (apart from that my camera battery went flat!)