Sigyria: The Lion Rock Where Monkeys and Mountains Meet

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 Sigyria Rock, or Lion Rock.

It’s 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

And yes I did climb it!  Sigyria Rock is an ancient palace that can only be reached by climbing the almost 200 metre massive rock massive.  Now seeing ancient palaces isn’t usually by 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 Sigyria. This is not even half of the climb.

At one time 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 Sigyria Rock  every day is a great way to stay fit!

Views from the top of Sigiyria over Sri Lanka.
Views from the top of Sigyria.

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.

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.

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

Today all that remains are the outline of where the palace once stood.   After you’ve oohed and ahhhed over the view 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 anymore stairs, I don’t know.  But I do know that I as I started to make my way down, I was left with a All is right in the world type of feeling.

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

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 into a swarm of wasps, I quickly realized the legends were true.  A local ahead of us instructed  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 Sigyria:

  • 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 labelled.  Look closely and you’ll see that it still retains some of its 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 travelling back in time.

Where to Stay

I stayed at Chaaya Village Habarana.  I really enjoyed the natural feel of this property 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. Trees line the ample property and 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 Habarna. You can find both properties at Cinnamon Hotels. You can read my review of my stay here.

How To Get There

Sigyria is approximately a 3-hour drive from Colombo.  If you’re short on time, then consider a Cinnamon Air flight, which only takes 30 minutes. Through October 2015 it costs $223 USD.   Note:  Thank you to Cinnamon Hotels for making my visit and stay possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.


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

Sigyria Rock or Lion Rock is the most visited historic site in Sri Lanka and one of the country's eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It's definitely a highlight of a visit to Sri Lanka.


November 16, 2014
I've been writing about sigiraya more and more lately for my work as it seems to becoming becoming increasingly famous among tourists. I REALLY want to visit it now! One day! Bet the views incredible after the climb.
December 18, 2014
@Charlie - The views are definitely worth the climb and there are monkeys, dogs and paintings en route so there's always something to see.
November 17, 2014
I loved Sigiriya rock! Spent a whole day roaming around the ruins. Beautiful, views, you are absolutely right and there is no shortage of monkeys! Will you be climbing any more mountains while you are in Sri Lanka? Highly recommend Adam's Peak (Siripada), if you have the time and, more importantly, the desire to do another massive climb!
December 18, 2014
@Oksana - Really wish I had more time for hiking and would have loved to have climbed Adam's Peak. Thanks for the recommendation. A good reason to go back!
November 18, 2014
That would have to be a great hike up especially when you get to the top and appreciate it.
December 9, 2014
@De'Jav I really enjoyed it and the views definitely made up for the sweat!
December 1, 2014
Breathtaking View of the Sigiriya , This is considered as a one of the wonder of the world .There are so many amazing views you can see from the top of the Sigiriya . Thank you for sharing this blog post.
December 9, 2014
I still can't believe I hiked that thing with a sprained ankle! It was great to enjoy it with you though; you were so in your element! The wasps were quite interesting; still surprised I did not get a fat eye from the experience; but of course happy :-). Kerwin.
December 9, 2014
@Kerwin, I can't believe you did either. You were a machine! And yes definitely my idea of a perfect day! Agreed, could have done without the wasps, but they did make things interesting :)
December 10, 2014
I am so glad I escaped the wasp attack - that would have terrified me more than any climbing!!
December 10, 2014
Love that photo of us. What the heck was I doing?!
December 18, 2014
@Jeremy - Photobombing my nice photo ;)
December 10, 2014
Would love to follow your footsteps on this one Laurel. It would be great to be there for sunrise.
December 26, 2014
One of Sri Lanka's most prominent attractions ... can't wait to see it for myself!

Leave a Reply