From millenary temples to giant elephants crossing the road a few meters from you, Dambulla is definitely a must-see city if you are traveling to Sri Lanka. Here is a selection of the top 4 must-see places near Dambulla. (in order of cultural relevance).
1. Golden temple
Situated in central Dambulla, the golden temple (also known as cave temple) preserves hundreds of Hindu and Buddhist statues and paintings carved/drawn on the surface and ceilings of 5 beautiful caves that were carved thousands of years ago below a 150 meter-high rock. It is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Apart from the caves, in the lower part of the rock, you will be able to find the breathtaking Golden Buddha Statue (pictured below), as well as a couple of other temples around.
Cover chest, shoulders, and knees.
You will be asked to take your shoes off. (There is a guy outside that takes care of your shoes for a small fee)
In case you buy mango on your way down, be aware of monkeys!
Recommended time for visit: 5:00 – 6:00 pm (make sure to catch the sunsets!)
Entrance fee: 1500 LKR.
2. Lion Rock, Sigiriya
Just 25 to 30 minutes in TukTuk from Dambulla city center, you will find Sigiriya, also considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Sigiriya is an archeological site, built around the 3rd century BCE. This former palace is surrounded by beautiful lakes and gardens that long time ago were used as monasteries that were abandoned later around the 15th century.
You definitely want to get to the top of the rock, not before taking a walk around the museum, where you can get to know more about the history of this very ancient place.
Be prepared to climb more than 1,000 stairs to reach the top of the 200 meter (660 feet) tall iconic rock.
Water bottle (sold inside) be prepared to sweat a lot.
Fresh, comfortable clothes
Recommended time for visit: Before 9:00 am (can get very crowded after that)
Entrance fee: 4,500 LKR / 30 USD (Most expensive site in Sri Lanka, but definitely worth it)
3. Pidurangala Rock
If you are an adventurous soul who would give up some minutes of sleep for a good sunrise, then Pidurangala is the perfect spot for you. This rock is not as big as Sigiriya’s lion rock, but the 20-minute hike will lead you amazing pictures and a breathtaking view of Dambulla you definitely don´t want to miss.
Tennis or hiking shoes
Comfortable, fresh clothes
Recommended time for visit: 5:00 am (consult sunrise time and start hiking 30 minutes in advance)
Entrance fee: 500 LKR
4. Minneriya National Park
Located 30 minutes away from Dambulla´s city central, Minneriya has a lot to give. If you are looking for wonderful landscapes, adventure, and wildlife, get ready to have the safari of a lifetime. Every afternoon all elephants in the area come hang out by the lake to eat, drink, and take showers before they go to sleep. Make sure you book a tour with your hotel or agency beforehand so you don´t have to deal with negotiations when you get there.
Camera (get ready to see hundreds of elephants)
Recommended time for visit: 1:00 – 3: oo pm (around 4 hours of safari)
Entrance fee: may vary
Sri Lanka´s cuisine
Although you could say Sri Lanka is a mixture of different influences from other countries (mostly Indian), it does have a magic of its own.
Being the tropical country that it is, about 90% of their dishes are prepared with coconut and/or fish. As most south-eastern countries, rice and curry are predominant ingredients to the Sri Lankan cuisine.
Here is a list of my favorite Sri Lankan dishes. (And the most common)
Dhall curry is one of the most important and predominant dishes in Sri Lankan cuisine. It is usually made up of lentils, spices, and coconut milk. Usually accompanying any Sri Lankan dish.
Chicken, vegetarian, or cheese Kottu
If you are a fan of mixing everything there is on your plate, Kottu is perfect for you. Imagine a sandwich or a burrito made salad. Just like that, Kottu is a mixture of pieces of bread mixed with onions, cabbage, tomatoes, spices, and, as if it wasn´t enough, you sometimes get a side dish of curry in case you want to take it further. It can be prepared with chicken, egg, cheese, or vegetarian. You won´t be able to have only one Kottu during your stay in Sri Lanka.
Hoppers are a definite must-have. They are the pancakes of Sri Lanka. Usually made with a mixture of water, flour, salt, and yes, you guessed it… coconut. Once this mix is well blended, you pour it into a pot-shaped pan to make what looks like a bowl-shaped pancake. Hoppers are usually side-dishes that go perfectly with any Sri Lankan dish.
Make sure to try the egg hoppers! (fried egg inside a hopper)
Delicious Brinjal Moju… a personal favorite. Deep fried eggplant mixed with tomato sauce, tomato slices, onion, sugar, and spices. This amazing dish is the best of both worlds, both sweet and spicy, you can combine it with rice, curry, or pretty much anything that comes to mind. Absolutely exceptional.
String hoppers, or Sri Lankan noodles, can be eaten instead of rice or pasta, with curry, vegetables, or meat. As a person who likes having fresh fruit and tea in the morning, it came as a surprise to me to find out that Sri Lankans eat string hoppers as a breakfast dish, along with Dhall curry and spices.
Sri Lanka is definitely a place where you will have an experience of a lifetime. Whether you are on your honeymoon, backpacking around the world, or taking a break from work, Sri Lanka welcomes you with open arms. Their people, food, fauna, and culture will give you emotions you will never get anywhere else.
Dambulla will always be waiting for you with open arms, ready to amaze you and make sure you have the time of your life.