Dambulla is located in the Matale District, approximately 250 km (3.5 hours) from the commercial capital Colombo, and is placed conveniently close to the historic cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy and the rock fortress Sigiriya.
The Dambulla Rock Temple which is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country is one of the many attractions in Dambulla. The temple is renowned for its murals and Buddhist statues. Most tourists who visit Dambulla head out on a wildlife safari to the Minneriya National Park which draws herds of elephants particularly during the dry season. If you intend to spice up your stay in Dambulla with a bit of adventure, we suggest you visit the mystic mountains of Ritigala which boasts many historic temples.
Things to do in Dambulla
This UNESCO World Heritage site is the main attraction in Dambulla. It primarily consists of five caves embedded into a rocky hillock which towers as high as 160 metres from the surrounding plain.
It is advisable to visit the temple early morning or in the evening. Scaling the bare rock during mid-day is likely to be tedious due to hot weather.
The five caves are named:
- CAVE 1 – Deva Raja Viharaya (Temple of the King of Gods)
- CAVE 2 – Maha Raja Viharaya (Temple of the Great King)
- CAVE 3 – Maha Aluth Viharaya (Great New Monastery)
- CAVE 4 – Paschima Viharaya (Western Temple)
- CAVE 5 – Devana Aluth Viharaya (Second New Monastery)
These caves house over 150 statues of the Buddha and a few statues of other gods and goddesses that reveal a link to Hinduism. There are also a several statues of the Kings who ruled during the period the cave was built. The walls and ceilings are adorned with paintings and writings which bear testimony to the country’s history of Buddhism. The majority of paintings are indeed bright and attractive and they depict the unfolding of various historical and religious events.
The view from the rock temple is breathtaking. You can see miles of quaint countryside peeping through a lush green canopy, and Sigiriya (the Lion’s Rock) is only a short distance away.
During the climb, you will encounter large troops of monkeys. Avoid feeding them as they are likely to turn aggressive. On the way down, taste the mangoes and other fruits sold by numerous vendors. You will also find various souvenirs of the Buddha statues and paintings – they are quite expensive as this is a prime location for sales. Therefore, it is best not to purchase souvenirs in Dambulla.
If you become bored with religion and history in Dambulla, perhaps you could plan your trip to coincide with a cricket tournament held at the international cricket stadium to make your trip more exciting. The stadium has a capacity of 30,000 seats and boasts of being completed in just 167 days!
At 766 metres above sea level, this is the highest mountain in the northern plain and is less than an hour’s drive from Dambulla. Ritigala rises over the flat plains, providing a panoramic view of its surroundings. A two-hour walk/climb along a paved path built during ancient times will take you to its summit, passing the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery on the way.
You make your way past winding streams, huge boulders and tall trees through which the rays of the sun kisses the earth. You will be transported back thousands of years to a mystic past. Be sure to keep an observant eye on the rich craftsmanship used on the numerous stone bridges, platforms and the courtyards featured in the neighbouring temples. Unsurprisingly, the summit of the mountain tends to be cooler and wetter compared to the surrounding dry zone.
– Feed your taste buds with a mouth watering array of luscious tropical fruits offered at the Dambulla market and the Economic Development Centre. This market is the largest transit centre for local fruits and vegetables. The ‘must try’ tropical fruits are bananas, mangos, water melons and pineapples.
The Minneriya National Park is ideal for a wildlife safari and is located less than an hour’s drive away from Dambulla. Inside the park is a reservoir built by King Mahesen which is yet another testament to the amazing irrigation network of ancient Sri Lanka. The reservoir acts as a feeding ground for elephants in the surrounding dry zone.
The best time to visit the park is between May and October to witness the large elephant gatherings. Over 300 of these noble beasts laze around, bathe and enjoy the vast natural surroundings.
Treat your eyes to the beauty of the flora and fauna of the park. If you are into photography, do not forget to take your camera.
Perhaps all this climbing may not be your idea of a relaxing vacation. So, indulge in a hot air balloon ride over Dambulla and Sigiriya. Schedule your takeoff at sunrise and be dazzled by the beauty of the breathtaking view as you glide over the mountains and jungles.
Dambulla has over 80 caves and the history of their inhabitants dates back to the 3rd Century BC. These caves were occupied by Buddhist monks for meditation. History reveals that when the South Indians invaded Anuadhapura, the then King Walagamba sought refuge in these caves with the help of the monks who resided there. When he reclaimed his throne, the King showed his gratitude to the monks by building a temple within the caves.
Travel Tips and Planning Information
- The Dambulla Rock Temple is open from 7.00 am to 6.00 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance.
- Make sure to wear shoes (with socks) as the climb is on uneven rocks. Socks will protect your feet as you have to remove your shoes to enter the temple. It would be convenient if you bring along a knapsack to put your shoes in.
- Be mindful of your clothes at places of worship.
- Refrain from feeding the monkeys. They may turn aggressive.
- Be mindful not to take photos where photography is restricted. You may be fined immediately. Photography inside the caves in Dambulla is completely prohibited.
- Take plenty of drinking water as the climb is quite demanding and the heat and humidity may cause dehydration.