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Dambulla, Sri Lanka, is an often forgotten destination and for the most part, remains off the tourist trail. With the exception of the Dambulla Cave Temple, most travelers have never even heard about the city of Dambulla.
One of the reasons for this is many people opt to stay in Sigiriya 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.
I didn’t initially plan to stay in Dambulla. However, after realizing it was closer to Colombo and many of the attractions I came to see, I decided to split my time between Sigiriya and Dambulla.
In the end, it was a great choice, and I was amazed at all the activities in and around Dambulla, Sri Lanka – some of which made my ultimate Sri Lanka bucket list.
So, if you’re thinking about visiting Dambulla on your Sri Lanka trip, here’s what you need to know before you go!
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, Sri Lanka that we really hope you check out!
Climb Rose Quartz Mountain/ Jathika Namal Uyana
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’s 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 30 minutes each way, and the entrance to the park costs $5 USD. I can’t recommend this enough for anyone after a unique, off-the-beaten-path activity!
Visit the Dambulla Cave Temples
The Royal Rock Temples (also known as 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 caves’ first construction dating 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, Sri Lanka, 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 costs 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).
After exploring the Dambulla 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 artwork 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 Dambulla Cave Temples.
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 a renovation 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 buff then it may be worth visiting, but then again, for 200 rupees it might just be worth visiting to soothe your curiosity.
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 Pidurangala Rock which although smaller, still offers impressive views at a fraction of the cost (500 rupees).
A tuk-tuk from Dambulla to Sigiriya will cost around 1000 rupees each way.
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!
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 one way to surround yourself with beautiful nature. You can walk past many small streams over wooden bridges and spot tons 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!
You can easily grab a tuk-tuk or taxi from Dambulla city center to the Arboretum as it is only a couple of minutes away.
You can read more about Popham’s Arboretum!
Join an Elephant Safari
There are three national parks that you can do a safari in near Dambulla, Sri Lanka. All of them 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 three of these national parks 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.
You can book a Minneriya Safari in advance that looks for these unique elephant gatherings.
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.
Watch a Sri Lanka Cricket Match
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 on my way back to Colombo!
If you do go, please reach out and let us know how it was!
Explore the Ancient Ruins of Ritigala
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.
At the ruins, you can see old stone toilets, artificial pools, and houses. It’s really impressive how they constructed it, and it’s 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!
The only downside to visiting Ritigala is that it is about a 30-minute drive from Dambulla. You could hire a driver or rent a tuk-tuk or scooter and drive yourself. It is a little tricky to find, though, and you’ll need Google maps.
Should I Stay in Sigiriya or Dambulla?
I spent a couple of months in both Dambulla and Sigiriya and overall I preferred Sigiriya. With that said, both towns have their positives and negatives.
Most of the attractions I loved the most (other than Sigiriya Rock and Pindurangala Rock) were actually closer to Dambulla. Things like the Cave Temples, Rose Quartz Mountain, safaris, and Ritigalla.
Overall, Sigirya town is more relaxed and caters to tourists and Dambulla is more of a hectic and local experience.
So which one?
If you’d like a more local experience and want to be closer to more attractions, then stay in Dambulla. If you want a tourist town that’s small and relaxed, then stay in Sigiriya!
Ideally though, if you have time, spend a night or two in both!
Where to Stay in Dambulla, Sri Lanka
New Peacock Resort – For those on a budget, the New Peacock is a great choice. It’s within 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 and shops 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 outside 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 a 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!
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.
Getting to Dambulla from Colombo
Lots of people visit Dambulla from Colombo. The easiest way to get to Dambulla from Colombo is in a private taxi. Expect to pay around 11,500 Rupees for the trip one way from 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.
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.
The best way to travel to Dambulla by bus is on bus number 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.
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 is at 6:00 am leaving from Colombo Fort (this trains final destination is Batticaloa) and 9:30 pm from Colombo Fort (this train’s final destination is Trincomalee). You can pre-book your train tickets too.
This TripAdvisor thread has the information you need to get to Dambulla by train.
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!
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…
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! Some articles you might find useful are:
Things to do in Ella – Sprawling tea fields and stunning views. Ella provides the most exotic landscape to explore and we found some pretty amazing things to do there!
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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