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If you’re planning a trip to central Sri Lanka, you NEED to visit the Dambulla Cave Temples (also known as the Dambulla Rock Temples.) Here’s everything you need to know before exploring the Dambulla Cave Temples for yourself!
The most popular attraction in Dambulla, Sri Lanka is hands-down the Dambulla Cave Temples. These temples hold both religious and historic significance, but what most tourists come to see is their unique setting…inside a series of caves!
But besides the temples themself, the beautiful views over Dambulla just outside of the Cave Temples are also an attraction.
I personally think that the Dambulla Cave Temples are one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka. If you only visit one temple while in Sri Lanka, make it the Dambulla Cave Temples!
So, in this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting the Dambulla Cave Temples including common questions about this popular Sri Lankan attraction.
About the Dambulla Cave Temples
The Dambulla Cave Temples are said to date back to the first century BC. Buddhist Monks first carved a cave out to create a monastery. That’s right, the caves are not natural and all carved by hand!
Valagamba of Anuradhapura (a king of the ancient city of Anuradhapura) had to hide from the South Indians when they invaded and he sought refuge with these monks at this cave temple. He is said to have lived here for fifteen years before returning to his throne in the Anuradapura kingdom.
After returning to Anuradapura, Valagamba wanted to repay the monks for their help. So, he had the cave temples carved larger for the monks to show his gratitude. Since then, many other kings have added to the temples making them even more impressive.
In 1190 C.E. 70 buddha statues were built and in the 18th century, the caves were painted. Most recently, in 1938, the columns and “walls” were added to the caves.
All of this history has made the Dambulla Cave Temples the important religious site that it is today.
In fact, in 1992 the Dambulla Cave Temples were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – making it only one of eight in Sri Lanka!
Common Questions about the Dambulla Cave Temples
When researching for my visit to the Dambulla Cave Temples I had a few questions that I couldn’t find the answers to. I figured that these were likely questions that other people would have too, so here is that info!
1. What’s the difference between the “Dambulla Cave Temples”, the “Rock Temples of Dambulla”, and the “Golden Temple”?
Many people will refer to the Dambulla Cave Temples as the “Rock Temples of Dambulla”, “Golden Temples”, or anything similar. All of these names refer to the Dambulla Cave Temples (a cave complex of 5 temples in the cave.)
The Golden Buddha is different though. This is a massive golden Buddha statue right in Dambulla. You can actually keep walking after visiting the Golden Buddha up the stairs to get to the cave temples, but I don’t recommend doing it this way (keep reading to find out why.)
2. Where is the Dambulla Cave Temple and how to get there?
You’ll find the Dambulla Cave Temple in the city of Dambulla. Dambulla is located 160 km from Colombo, 105 km from Trincomalee, or 73 km from Kandy, Sri Lanka.
The actual Dambulla Cave Temples are located up on top of a large rock that you must walk to. The walk takes about 20-minutes and involves climbing many stairs. There are two car parking lots in which there is a path up to the temples, but there is only one where you can buy the cave temple entrance ticket…
3. Where to Buy Tickets to the Dambulla Cave Temples?
In Dambulla, you can walk up to the cave temples from two locations. The first path starts at the Golden Budhha Statue and Buddhist Museum. DO NOT walk up to the cave temples from here!
Because there is no ticket booth at the top. This means you will need to walk up to the cave temples, then back down the path on the other side to buy the entrance ticket to only back up AGAIN.
Where should you buy the entrance ticket then?
Go to the parking lot entrance on Colombo Rd/Kandy Rd (NOT the entrance on the Kandy-Jaffna Highway/Kandy Rd.) It’s confusing because both roads are Kandy Rd, however, they both turn into different roads near the temples. You can easily see this on the Google map above.
Most tuk-tuk or taxi drivers should know this, but just in case you drive yourself (like we did) be sure to go to the correct place.
If you see a massive gold Buddha statue you are in the WRONG place.
The ticket booth on the correct entrance is just up a set of stairs near the parking lot. Stop here and buy your entrance tickets before continuing to walk towards the top where the caves are.
Trust me on this one, your legs will thank me that you only had to walk up to the temples once!
Related read: Check out our guide on visiting Lipton Seat
4. How much is the entrance fee?
For foreigners, the entrance fee to the Dambulla Cave Temple is 1,500 LKR per person. You must pay in cash. They do state the fee must be in paid LKR, however, the guy at the counter said we could pay in USD (we had no rupees at the time).
5. When to visit the Dambulla Cave Temples?
The ticket office is open from 7 am to 7 pm and the ticket booth closes at 5 pm.
My best advice is to visit just before sunset. Not only is this the coolest time of the day, but you will also get an amazing view as the sun goes down which just makes the whole experience that much better.
We got to the ticket booth at around 4:30 pm and this was perfect as we had time to walk up and check out the caves before sunset.
6. What to wear inside the Dambulla Cave Temples?
The dress code to enter the temples is very strict. Make sure you remove your shoes and hat. You MUST have your knees and shoulders covered.
This rule applies to both men and women and the security at the entrance will turn you away if you are not dressed properly. I simply wore a t-shirt and tied a sarong around my waist and that was sufficient.
There is a small shoe rack at the entrance that costs 20 LKR to store your shoes. Otherwise, you can just leave them at the door but the monkies can sometimes steel the shoes here so be careful.
7. How long do you need to visit the cave?
You only need around 1 hour to explore the caves. If you are a temple enthusiast, allow up to 2 hours. I myself took a lot of photos and set up a tripod to get clear shots. Even with the short visit to the Golden Buddha, I left after 90 minutes.
Day Trips to the Dambulla Cave Temples
If you aren’t staying in Sigiriya or Dambulla (or you just like organized tours) there are plenty to choose from that go to the Dambulla Cave Temples. Some of the best tours to consider are:
This tour is excellent value at only $60 USD! Your tour guide will teach you all about the Dambulla Cave Temples and Sigiriya Rock on this full-day tour. Pick-up and drop-off are at your Colombo hotel.
This tour is only $80 and takes you all the way from Negombo to Dambulla where you’ll visit the Rock Temples. It also brings you Sigirya Rock and a few craftsmen shops! It is a full-day tour at around 15 hours long.
rom your hotel in Dambulla, this guided tour will take you to the Dambulla Cave Temples. Your guide will explain all about them and you’ll learn what many visitors don’t. The tour also includes a traditional Sri Lankan lunch and a rural village tour (reached in a boat!) All of this for only $65!
Why Visit the Dambulla Cave Temples
Before I went to the Dambulla Cave Temples I was wondering what made them so special. So, here are a few reasons the Dambulla Cave Temples are impressive and why you should visit for yourself!
1. The caves are located on the side of a 160m high rock
It is pretty crazy to think that monks once lived here and that the caves were actually carved by hand. One can only imagine the work it would’ve taken to carve such large caves in solid rock by hand!
But that’s not all.
The Dambulla Cave Temples are located 160 meters from the ground! Therefore, the views from the cave temples are really nice. Going during sunset, is a beautiful time to visit. It’s actually one of the nicest viewpoints we went to in Sri Lanka.
2. The paintings are incredibly detailed
Walking through the caves I couldn’t believe how nice the paintings that covered the walls and ceilings were. There are literally hundreds of buddhas painted on the walls and ceiling – it’s something that would’ve taken some serious time to complete!
3. They are really REALLY old
Even if the architecture and paintings don’t impress you, the history and age behind the temples in undeniable. It’s not every day you get to visit temples from the first century BC.
4. It’s a very important religious temple for the Sri Lankan people
When visiting I was surprised to find that it wasn’t just a tourist trap and there were actually many local Sri Lankans there to pray. It felt authentic and special, and I appreciated visiting that much more.
Basically, if you’ve come to Sri Lanka to see the people and their country then the Dambulla Cave Temples are an important part of them and their history. Visiting the caves is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted!
Other Important Tips for Visiting the Dambulla Cave Temples
Besides the dress code, there are a few other things you should know before going to the Dambulla Cave Temple.
You are only allowed to take photos WITHOUT people in them. They want to maintain the religious significance of these temples by not allowing tourists to take selfies everywhere. Also, out of respect to those who are praying, don’t take photos of them either.
You may want to bring socks to wear on your feet. The ground gets very hot, especially in the middle of the day, and you must remove your shoes. Socks will help protect your feet from the scorching hot floor.
There are approximately 370 steps you must climb to reach the cave temples. Wear comfortable clothing, sunscreen, and bring plenty of water!
You will see lots of monkeys. I love monkeys – they are just so cute! But they are known to steal things so keep your belongings close and don’t leave any bags or items unattended on the ground.
Related read: Check out the best things to do in Haputale before you visit
What about the Golden Buddha?
The Golden Buddha is another unique attraction nearby that is worth checking out. It’s simply a giant gold statue of Buddha that’s pretty impressive.
Lots of tourists visit both the Dambulla Cave Temples and the Golden Buddha at once.
Because the Golden Buddha is down the stairs from the Dambulla Cave Temples. However, it is down the opposite side to the ticket booth.
So what most visitors do is they get their taxi driver to drop them on one side (where the ticket booth is) and pick them up from the other (at the Golden Buddha.) To me, this is the most ideal way to visit!
Where to Stay near the Dambulla Cave Temples?
The closest cities to the Dambulla Cave Temples are either Dambulla or Sigiriya. In both Dambulla and Sigiriya, there are some great options for accommodation to spend a couple of nights! From your hotel, you can either join a tour to the Cave Temples or get a taxi.
Here are some great hotel choices in Sigiriya that we’ve handpicked:
And if you want to stay in Dambulla, here are some awesome choices for hotels:
Related read: Check out the best honeymoon hotels in Sri Lanka
Getting Around Sri Lanka
To visit all of the best places in Sri Lanka, you’re going to need a mode of transport. You have a few choices when it comes to getting around Sri Lanka:
Rent a Tuk-tuk
Easily the most popular (and most fun) way to travel around Sri Lanka. We actually rented a tuk-tuk on our trip and absolutely loved it! Tuk-tuks are easy to drive, cheap to rent, and the freedom that comes with your own wheels is unmatched.
If you do decide to rent a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, be sure to go with a reputable company that provides quality tuk-tuks, such as Tuktuk Rental (who we rented from.) These guys not only offer an amazing service, but their tuk-tuks are actually rented from local families, providing income for the local community.
If you decide to rent from Tuktuk Rental, be sure to use the coupon code ‘DEST‘ for 5% off!
For more info, read our blog: The Truth about Renting a Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka.
Hire a Driver
If you’re only planning on going to a couple of destinations, then a private driver is not a bad idea. In the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle, your driver can take you to your next destination. All you have to do is sit back and relax!
You can hire highly-rated drivers in advance to pick you up right from the airport when you arrive in Sri Lanka. This driver will take you to your hotel in Mirissa, Galle, Bentota, or Unawatuna. Whereas, this driver will take you to Kandy.
Of course, every time you want to change destinations you will have to arrange for another driver (unless you book this driver who will drive you around for an entire week). Car transfer can easily be organized through your hotel.
Take Public Transport
This is a choice I only recommend for those on a very tight budget and with plenty of time. Public transport is everywhere in Sri Lanka in the form of public buses and trains. It is also very cheap, costing less than a couple of dollars per journey.
However, it isn’t the most comfortable way to travel. The buses don’t have air conditioning and neither do many train services. They can also be slow-moving, stopping every couple of minutes to pick up more passengers.
With that said, public transport is popular with budget backpackers, and it is mostly safe. This is one way to travel for those who want to get around as the locals do!
Before you go…
I hope you enjoy your upcoming visit to the Dambulla Cave Temples and my blog has helped prepare you!