Sigyria Sri Lanka: The Lion Rock Where Monkeys and Mountains Meet

This post may include affiliate links, including Amazon Associate links. I may earn money if you click on one at no extra cost to you.

When I first told a friend I was going to Sri Lanka, her first question was Are you going to climb that rock? That rock, she was referring to is called Sigiriya Rock, or Lion Rock.

Sigiriya is the most visited historic site in Sri Lanka and one of the country’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Sigirya Rock (Lion Rock) in Sri Lanka

What is Sigiriya or Lions Rock?

nd yes I did climb it! Sigiriya Rock is an ancient palace that can only be reached by climbing the almost 200-meter massive rock massive. Now seeing ancient palaces isn’t usually with the goal of climbing mountains, but I was definitely game and this was definitely a unique experience, plus I LOVE castles…even if all that is left are palace ruins.


Part of the climb up to Sigiyra, the famous rock in Sri Lanka. This is not even half of the climb.
Part of the climb up to Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. This is not even half of the climb.

At one time Sigiriya, Lion Rock was the capital. King Kasyapa built his royal palace on top, which seems rather fitting for a king. Or perhaps he was health-conscious, or more likely he feared vengeance from his brother after he killed his father – oops! Climbing up and down Sigiriya Rock every day is a great way to stay fit!


Views from the top of Sigiyria over Sri Lanka.
Views from the top of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.

Wildlife at Sigiriya Sri Lanka

After the king’s death, the palace and capital were abandoned and later on it was used as a Buddhist monastery. As I made my way up the seemingly endless stairs, I was greeted by several stray dogs whose ribs showed through.

If you’re an animal lover like me, it’s heartbreaking! Fortunately, the other highlight of visiting Sri Lanka is observing elephants, and leopards – both species which are doing relatively well in Sri Lanka.

One of the resident dogs of Sigiyra in Sri Lanka.
Fortunately, this dog was in better shape than the others and despite all the noisy tourists slept right through it.

I was most excited to see Toque Macaque which is endemic species in Sri Lanka. In the frey of the tourists, I noticed a tiny baby Toque Macaque. Fortunately, though there was a mother who appeared to be taking excellent care to her clinging infant as she/he clung to her chest and she kept her distance from tourists.

Related Reading: Ayu in the Wild: Experiential Travel in Sri Lanka

Mother and baby Toque macaque, an endemic monkey species in Sri Lanka!
Mother and baby Toque macaque, an endemic species in Sri Lanka!

What to Expect at The Top of Lions Rock

Lion Rock in Sigiriya is one of the most popular landmarks to visit during the tour. It is King Kashyapa’s former fortress. Today all that remains of this Sigiriya fortress are the outline of where the palace once stood.

It is home to majestic frescoes, gardens, and on top of the rock: a swimming pool and palace! After you’ve oohed and ahhhed over the expansive views of the lush plains stretching to the mountains, take a few minutes and plop yourself on one of the brick ruins (it’s allowed). Take a deep breath.

I found Lion Rock to be serene and calming, whether it’s the leftover energy from the monks or the gratitude that you have for not having to climb any more stairs, I don’t know. But I do know that as I started to make my way down, I was left with an All is right in the world type of feeling.

I wonder if that was the same feeling 3rd-century monks felt, after all, this was used as a Buddhist monastery for centuries. Our tour guide explained that it was abandoned in the 14th century after King Kashyapa’s death, the same one who built the royal capital filled with an array of gardens.

Related Reading: How to Prepare for an Ayurvedic Retreat and What to Expect

The ruins at the top of Sigiyria in Sri Lanka.
The ruins at the top of Sigiriya.

5 minutes later that changed. I had heard about the giant wasps and someone had pointed out their equally giant nests clinging to the cliffs but assumed they had been exaggerated. As I entered a swarm of wasps, I quickly realized the legends were true.

A local ahead of us instructed us to sit down and be quiet. Apparently, noise irritates the wasps. We waited in silence for a few minutes and the wasps disappeared. Disaster averted!

At the bottom, there are vendors selling handicrafts and ice cream!!!! Covered in sweat, I pulled out an equally sweaty 50 rupee. At that moment I thought that ice cream was as good as it gets…until I spotted several monkeys!

And that is as good as it gets for me…monkeys and mountains in one morning!!!

Laurel Robbins, from Monkeys and Mountains at the top of Sigiyria in Sri Lanka.
The requisite photo at the top along with photo bomber Jeremy from Living the Dream.

Make the Most of Your Visit to Sigiriya, Sri Lanka:

  • Go at 6:30 am when it opens. I know it’s early, but it gets really hot, so trust me, you’ll be happy you did!
  • Stop and check out Mirror Wall, it’s well-labeled.  Look closely and you’ll see that it still retains some of the shine that it had 1500 years ago.
  • Directly above Mirror Wall look up and about halfway up you’ll see the little remaining mural.  In King Kasyapa’s time, the entire wall was a mural.
  • When you come to Lion’s Feet look to the left and you’ll see black things hanging to the side of the rock.  These are the wasp nests that I previously mentioned.
  • You can either return the same way down or just before the Mirror Wall, take the stairs to the right.  This is where all the vendors are selling handicrafts…and ice cream!
  • There are also historical gardens there, considered to be among some of the most important in Asia.  I didn’t visit them, but they looked lovely from the top of Lion Rock.
  • Expect it to be busy.  Remember this is Sri Lanka’s most visited historical site.
  • Bring water, you will sweat and there’s no place to buy it once you’ve started hiking up until you’re at the bottom again.
  • Anyone in reasonably good shape can reach the top, just go slow and take breaks when you need them.  If you are extremely unfit, you may not get to the top.
  • If you want to see what life today is like in a Sri Lankan village, you won’t want to miss this. In many ways, it feels as if you’re traveling back in time.

Where to Stay

I stayed at a beautiful 4-star property named Chaaya Village Habarana. I really enjoyed the natural feel of this property in Habarana Village where guests are greeted with cinnamon-scented wash clothes and the open-air lobby and restaurant. The property really does resemble a village with the thatched roof huts that guests stay in.

I loved the swimming pool, and the spa services available onsite. The property asl so offers tours such as hiking in the Ritigala jungle or riding an ox cart in Hiriwadunna. A must-try for our next visit for sure.

Incredible views of the trees lining the ample property are so relaxing. The monkeys and giant squirrels are frequent visitors! Even the paint used is in harmony with nature and is mixed with mud!

If you’re seeking something more lavish, then try the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana. You can find both properties at Cinnamon Hotels. You can read my review of my stay here.

How To Get To Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya is an ancient city declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. It is approximately a 3-hour drive from the city centre of Colombo, Sri Lanka. If you’re short on time, then consider a Cinnamon Air flight, which only takes 30 minutes.

Sigiriya was one of the most beautiful places I visited in Sri Lanka. It had everything I love, Monkeys and Mountains.

Note:  Thank you to Cinnamon Hotels and the Professional Travel Bloggers Association for making my visit to Sigiriya possible. As always, all opinions are my own.