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Things to do in Dambulla and City Guide!

Dambulla Cave Temples is Dambulla near Sigiriya

Dambulla, Sri Lanka is an often forgotten destination and for the most part, remains off the tourist trail.

One of the reasons for this is because many people opt to instead stay in the small touristic town of Sigiria to explore the area instead.

However, Dambulla offers a more authentic experience as it is a true Sri Lankan city. The streets are busy and there are hundreds of local restaurants to try out. But besides that, there are a ton of things to do in Dambulla for tourists.

I didn’t originally plan to stay in Dambulla, but after realizing it was not only closer to Colombo but also many of the attractions I came to see, I decided to split my time between both Sigiriya and Dambulla.

In the end, it was a great choice and I was very surprised at all the things on offer in and around Dambulla, Sri Lanka – some of which made my ultimate Sri Lankan bucket list.


Where to Stay in Dambulla, Sri Lanka

One of the best places to stay in Dambulla
Jet Wing Lake Hotel

We’ve carefully hand-picked the BEST places to stay in Dambulla, Sri Lanka.

New Peacock Resort – For those on a budget, the New Peacock is a great choice. It’s walking distance to town and is a much more modern hotel than others in its price range. Rooms start at $11 a night ($14 with breakfast).

Sayare Inn This is where we stayed. This budget hotel is great value for money. The room was clean, the staff (a family) are friendly, and the breakfast was amazing! Its location is nice and quiet but a little out of town however, there is a restaurant nearby. An air-con room here is $15 USD a night and includes a huge breakfast!

Freedom Village – is a beautiful medium budget hotel walking distance to the bus station with a pool! The reviews say it’s very clean and the staff are really helpful (even offering free rides to the bus station if you don’t want to walk!)

Jetwing Lake – This medium to high budget hotel is a little out of Dambulla but on a stunning property. It features a large pool and sits on the edge of a lake. The reviews are amazing (as they should be for the minimum $80 per night.)

If you didn’t find what you were looking for then check out all the hotels in Dambulla on Booking.com! Or check out our blog on the most romantic and luxurious hotels in Sri Lanka for the perfect couples retreat!

Related Read:   17 Awesome Things to do in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

How Long to Stay in Dambulla?

If you don’t plan on spending any nights in Sigiriya then we recommend 3 nights in Dambulla.

This will give you time to explore some of the best places in Dambulla and also take a day trip to Sigiriya.

We spent a total of 4 nights between Sigiriya and Dambulla and managed to see and do everything we wanted to.

Expect to see some monkeys in Dambulla!
Expect to see some monkeys in Dambulla!

Getting to Dambulla from Colombo

Private car

Lots of people visit Dambulla from Colombo. The easiest way to get to Dambulla from Colombo is via a private taxi. Expect to pay around 11,500 Rupees for the trip one way in Colombo.

If you want to save some money book this private taxi ahead of time from the airport to Dambulla. Its only 9,600 rupees!

Need a ride back to Colombo airport? Book this shuttle for 4,800 rupees per person.

Tour

If you’re short on time then consider doing a day trip from Colombo to Dambulla. On this tour, you will visit Sigiriya Rock and the Dambulla Cave temple in a day for only $60 USD per person.

If that’s not the tour for you, you can browse many more tours on Viator (a trusted booking site) here.

Or if your more used to using Get Your Guide, they organised tours too!

Bus

The best way to travel to Dambulla by bus is on bus numbers 48 or 43 from Colombo Fort to Kaduruwela (getting off in Dambulla), or bus number 49 from Colombo Fort to Trincomalee.

You can book your tickets here.

Train

There is no direct train from Colombo to Dambulla. Instead, you would need to get the train from Colombo to Habarana. You could either get a taxi or bus to Dambulla from here. From Habarana you are only 20km from Dambulla.

There are only two trains a day from Colombo to Habarana. The first at 6:00 am leaving from Colombo Fort (this trains final destination is Batticaloa) and 9:30 pm from Colombo Fort (this train final destination is Trincomalee). You can pre-book your train tickets here.

This TripAdvisor thread has the information you need to get to Dambulla by train.

Tuk-tuk

We rented our own tuk-tuk and drove this tuk-tuk all around Sri Lanka! To us, this is the best way to get around in Sri Lanka. From Colombo, Dambulla is only about a 2.5-hour drive in a tuk-tuk!

Watching sunsets in Sri Lanka from our tuk tuk
Tuk-tuk is a great way to get to Dambulla (or around all of Sri Lanka for that matter!)

Getting Around Dambulla

Dambulla isn’t small and you are going to a way to get around if you want to see all of the best Dambulla attractions. Some different ways to get around Dambulla are:

Scooter

One of the best ways to get around in Dambulla is to rent your own scooter. Most attractions in Dambulla are not that close to town, but also not that far. And although the traffic in Dambulla can be a little crazy, outside of the town it’s very easy to navigate.

Taxi

Second to this would be by tuk-tuk or taxi. Both options are fine with tuk-tuk being the more budget-friendly option.

Bus

For the day trip to Sigiriya, you could definitely save some money and take the bus. Once in Sigiriya, you would then need to use tuk-tuks to get around.

Private driver

Hiring a private driver wouldn’t be a bad idea if you plan on knocking a few things off this list in one day. Having a car is more comfortable than a tuk-tuk especially in the Sri Lankan heat!

Related Read:   Backpacking as a Couple: How to Survive Travelling With Your Partner

9 “Must-Do” Things to do in Dambulla, Sri Lanka

We did some serious exploring in Dambulla, and what we found was a ton of things to do (things that most people miss out on!) We discovered 9 amazing things to do in Dambulla that we really hope you check out!


1. Climb Rose Quartz Mountain/ Jathika Namal Uyana

Rose Quartz Mountain near Dambulla Sri Lanka
Look at all that Rose Quartz!
Location: Jathika Namal Uyana Reserve, a 20-minute drive from
Dambulla
Cost:$5 USD per person
Rating:5/5 – Everything about the visit here was amazing! I highly
recommend checking it out!

If you have ever wanted to climb a mountain made entirely of Rose Quartz then a visit to Jathika Namal Uyana Nature Reserve should be at the top of your bucket list.

I was truly shocked when I heard about this place and just had to see it for myself. This small nature reserve is beautiful and despite being home to South Asia largest rose quartz mountain, it’s also home to Sri Lanka’s largest Ironwood forest.

From the entrance gate, you walk amongst this old forest along a well-maintained path dodging hundreds of butterflies as you go. It’s a beautiful walk completely shaded from the hot sun.

After around 15 minutes you will then arrive at some ancient ruins and a Golden Buddha statue. From here you begin your climb on the Rose Quartz Mountain.

The entire mountain is a light shade of pink and you can literally pick up huge junks of Rose Quartz from the floor beneath you.

The hike takes around and 30 minutes each way and entrance to the park costs $5 USD. I can’t recommend this enough for anyone after a unique, off the beaten path activity!


2. Dambulla Cave Temples

Dambulla Cave Temples is Dambulla near Sigiriya
The Dambulla Cave Temples
Location:In Dambulla city
Cost:1,500 Rupees per person
Rating:5/5 – Very old and historical place. Amazing views at the
top!

The Royal Rock Temples (AKA Dambulla Cave Temples) are ancient Buddhist temples located right in Dambulla. The temple itself is built 160m above the surrounding plains and offers stunning views of the area.

The main part of the temple is made up of 5 caves that you can explore. Each section is filled with Buddha statues and ancient paintings with the first construction of the caves dated back to first century BC. It’s both a religious and historical attraction that in all honesty, took my breath away.

This is without a doubt the most popular attraction in Dambulla and after wandering the grounds for myself, it’s easy to see why.

The hike to the top isn’t that hard and takes around 15 minutes. Entrance to the temple is 1,500 rupees and it’s well worth it.

There are two entrances on either side of the rock. It’s important that the driver drops you at the correct entrance because otherwise, you will need to hike up to the temple and back down the other side to the ticket office before hiking back up again.

Ask the driver to drop you at the ticket office and then after you visit the temple, hike down the other side to the Golden Temple (next on this list).

Entering the cave temples in Dambulla

Dambulla Cave Temple Tours

You can pre-book your Dambulla Cave tour in advance and save the hassle on your holiday. There are literally hundreds of tours to choose from! The great thing about the tours is you’ll learn so much about the history and significance of the caves.


3. Golden Budha

The Golden Buddha in Dambulla Sri Lanka
From the ground looking up! Be careful of the bees! Can you see the hives under the arm and chin?
Location:Down at the bottom of the Cave Temple mentioned above.
Cost:Free
Rating:3/5 – It’s nice to look at and impressive, but not a
must-see. Most people visit because it’s near the
Dambulla Cave Temple.

After exploring the Cave Temples you’ll want to hike down and gaze your eyes upon one of the biggest Buddha statues I have ever seen. As it turns out, it’s the largest Buddha in this position and is actually plated with real gold.

The Golden Buddha sits above the Buddha museum and is surrounded by other artworks and statues including elephants. From the ground floor, you can walk up the side of the museum to the base of the Buddha.

It is completely free to see the statue and well worth doing especially after visiting the Cave Temples.


4. Buddha Museum

The Golden Buddha and Buddha Museum in Dambulla
The museum is the building below the Golden Buddha
Location:Below the Golden Buddha
Cost:200 rupees entrance fee per person
Rating:2/5 – It’s a poorly made museum with few displays
(inside) but it’s cheap.

As mentioned above, below the Golden Buddha is the Buddha Museum. It’s a very small museum that holds old artifacts and statues of Buddha. The museum is in need of an overall and even though it only costs 200 rupees to enter I didn’t overly enjoy it.

The displays were poorly lit and there is a severe lack of information about the artifacts. If you are a real history geek then it may be worth visiting, but then again, for 200 rupees it might just be worth visiting to soothe your curiosity.


5. Visit Sigiriya

A magical sunset on Pidurangala Rock overlooking Sigiriya Rock/Lion Rock
A magical sunset on Pidurangala Rock overlooking Sigiriya Rock/Lion Rock
Location:A 30-minute drive from Dambulla
Cost:Depends on the activities you do. Read our blog
about all of the things to do in Sigiriya for
more info!
Rating:5/5 – There are so many cool things to do in Sigiriya!
One of my favorite places in Sri Lanka!

Sigiriya is only a 30-minute drive from Dambulla and as such, it’s very easy to visit on a day trip from Dambulla. In Sigiriya, there are lots of things to do and see but the main attraction is Sigiriya Rock.

Sigiriya Rock sat at the center of a huge ancient city. Sigiriya rock stands at 200m tall and on top of the rock are remains of ancient temples and buildings built thousands of years ago.

For $35 USD you can climb to the top of the rock and wander the ruins. Despite the hefty fee, it’s well worth it and one of the most famous attractions in Sri Lanka.

Another thing to do in Sigiriya includes climbing Pindurangala Rock which although smaller, still offers the impressive views at a fraction of the cost (500 rupees).

A tuk-tuk from Dambulla to Sigiriya will cost around 1000 rupees each way.

Sigiriya Rock Tours

As with the Dambulla Cave Temples, there are lots of tours you can book in advance to save the hassle on your trip. The tours range in price and some include the Cave temples too!


6. Popham’s Arboretum

Location:4 km from Dambulla town center
Cost:1,500 Rupees
Rating:We can’t say but the reviews on trip advisor are good!

I’ll be honest, we actually didn’t do this but we really wish we had! Popham’s Arboretum is the only dry Arboretum in Sri Lanka and one of the best things to do in Dambulla.

The Arboretum is over 30 acres and exploring it is a beautiful way to surround yourself in nature. You can walk past many small streams, over wooden bridges, and spot lots of wildlife including Spotted Deer, birds, and butterflies. We even heard you can visit at night!

Entrance to the Arboretum is 1,500 Rupees per person and goes directly to wildlife conservation. It’s a great cause to support so don’t make the same mistake we did!

You can read more about Popham’s Arboretum here!


7. Join an Elephant Safari

Minneriya National Park in Sigiriya is a great place to do a safari in Sri Lanka
Watching wild elephants was a very special moment we won’t forget!
Location:Various locations around Dambulla
Cost:Around 13,000 rupees for two people in a private jeep
Rating:5/5 – If you haven’t done a safari then do it. Elephants are

such beautiful creatures

There are three national parks that you can do a safari in near Dambulla. All are around the same price and start at 13,000 rupees for two people including the national park entrance fee (the most expensive part).

Although you can see elephants in all of them all year round, there are times when it’s best to visit each one.

The main reason for this?

Elephant gatherings. In each park, during certain times of the year, you can see the famous elephant gatherings. These gatherings can be as many as 350 elephants strong.

Minneriya National Park is the most popular park to visit in the area. This national park is huge and the best time to visit is between July to September. During this time it’s common to see large elephant gatherings.

Book a Minneriya Safari in advance here!

Kaudulla National Park is another park that’s very close to Dambulla. The best time to visit Kaudalla is between the months of October and November if you want to see the elephant gatherings.

Wasgamuwa National Park is the least visited in the area and also the furthest away. However, there is a chance to see leopards here. The elephant gatherings are common between the months of November and May.


8. Watch a Sri Lanka Cricket Match

Location:Dambulla International Cricket Stadium
Cost:Depends on the game and seats
Rating:4/5 – If you love cricket (like me) it would be well worth

checking out!

Dambulla is home to the Dambulla International Cricket Field. This cricket field hosts lots of local games but also international games. Teams like England and Australia play here on occasion and if you’re lucky enough to be here when they do, it would be an awesome place to watch a game.

In Sri Lanka, cricket is like a religion and the people love it – it’s their national sport. My biggest regret about Sri Lanka was not seeing a cricket match. But unfortunately the first time I saw the Dambulla Cricket field was one my way back to Colombo!

If you do go please reach out and let us know how it was!

For match fixtures, check out the Sri Lanka cricket website here.


9. Explore the Ancient Ruins of Ritigala

Ritigala the ancient monastery
Part of the ancient Monastery
Location:Ritigala Nature Reserve, a 30-minute drive from
Dambulla
Cost:350 rupees entrance fee person person
Rating:4/5 – I personally loved it and it was super cheap
compared to other ancient ruins in the area.

We love finding off the beaten path experiences and Ritigala was one of them! Ritigala is an ancient monastery that resembles more of an ancient city – it’s that big!

The monastery is over 1000 years old and was abandoned some time ago. Only 5% of the ruins are visible today but that still takes around 30 minutes to explore.

It’s an interesting place and it really reminded me of ancient Roman ruins. At the ruins, you can see old stone toilets, manmade pools, and houses. It’s really impressive how they constructed it and it is said to have taken 30,000 people 20 years to build.

The big difference between these ruins and others like Sigiriya is the price. It costs only 350 Rupees ($2 USD) to visit these ruins and you’ll be lucky to see any other tourists there!

Related Read:   14 Best Things to do in Haputale, Sri Lanka

Should I stay in Sigiriya or Dambulla?

I stayed in both Dambulla and Sigiriya and overall I preferred Sigiriya. With that said both have there positives and negatives.

For example:

Most of the attractions I loved the most other than Sigiriya Rock and Pindurangala Rock were closer to Dambulla. Things like the Cave Temples, Rose Quartz Mountain, Safaris, and Ritigalla.

Overall Sigirya Town is more relaxed and catered to tourists and Dambulla is more of a hectic and local experience.

So which one?

If you like a more local experience and want to be closer to more attractions stay in Dambulla. If you want a tourist town that’s small and relaxed stay in Sigiriya!

-Daniel

Keep Reading

If you found this blog helpful you may want to check out some of our other Sri Lanka blogs. We pride ourselves in digging deeper than other bloggers to bring more value and less fluff! Check them out!

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Lipton Seat Guide – One of my favorite mornings in Sri Lanka. But, how do you get there and what does it cost. Find out in our complete guide to Lipton Seat!

Things to do in Mirissa – Mirissa isn’t all about the beach and we prove that in this huge 17 things to do in Mirissa blog. We cover many things we haven’t seen on any other blogs!

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9 amazing things to do in Dambulla

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