Visit the Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka
The central plains of Sri Lanka are home to the most impressive pieces of culture and history on the island. One among these cultural magnets is the Dambulla Cave Temple. Curious to see what to see here? Read on.
In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a trip to the Dambulla Cave Temple in Central Sri Lanka, including details on where to stay near Dambulla, what to eat in Dambulla, things to do in and around Dambulla, and even on how to get to the temple town!
Dambulla is an important stop on the cultural trail in Sri Lanka. Being close to Kandy and Anuradhapura, and even the famous Sigiriya Rock, Dambulla is often visited on a day trip between these locations.
Not only is Dambulla famous for its extensive cave temples but also for one of the largest Buddha statues (golden) in Sri Lanka!
What is the best time to visit Dambulla?
Dambulla can be visited anytime during the year since it is located in the plains of the centre. The dry season is between June and October although tropical showers can be unpredictable. The best time to visit Dambulla Cave Temple is the mornings or in the evenings around sunset time (before 7 pm). Dambulla weather is generally hot and humid at ~30ºC.
Climbing the Dambulla Hill
The Dambulla Caves are up in the hills 150 metres above. There is a stairway with 364 steps from the gardens below to the temple at the top. This path is beautiful, with shaded canopies along the path and a few expansive view points at various heights. The climb takes about 15 minutes.
Tip: The best time to visit Dambulla Caves is in the morning, when the sun is not too strong. This makes the climb more easy and doable. The temple opens at 7 am and the sun is quite strong by 10 am. Ticket for Dambulla Cave Temple and the Golden Temple is LKR 1,500 (INR 600 or USD 7).
The Dambulla Cave Temple
The Cave Temple of Dambulla is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A big rock was cut into and the cave temple was built way back in the first century BC! Many Buddhist monks called this cave network their home since 300 BC. Even today, it remains as one of the most well maintained cave temples in the country.
The whitewashed facade of the temple is more modern and the actual entrance to the caves lie behind these walls. Outside, there is a lotus pond and a wild plants growing beyond the fences.
The outer pillars, columns and the facade was built in 1938 to protect the caves. Although it is a Buddhist temple, there is one small shrine dedicated to Hindu Gods – Vishnu and Ganesha – just after entering from the main arch.
Tip: Wondering about what to wear in Dambulla Cave Temple? Although Sri Lanka is very easy going when it comes to clothing, its best to dress modestly in places of worship. Wear dresses that cover shoulders and knees, and avoid wearing Buddha patterns. Carry a hat or an umbrella to avoid the sun. Shoes can be left outside for a small fee.
Exploring the five Dambulla Caves
There are five main caves which were converted into shrines. In reality there are over 80 caves in the area and about 153 buddha statues inside them. Each of these five main caves represent major kings and reigns and their worship of Buddha. The caves are called:
- Deva Raja Viharaya (Temple of the King of Gods)
- Maha Raja Viharaya (Temple of the Great King)
- Maha Alut Viharaya (The Great New Temple)
- Paschima Viharaya (The Western Temple)
- Devana Alut Viharaya (The Second New Temple)
Each of these cave temples are beautifully decorated with numerous Buddha statues in various positions – sitting, standing, leaning or reclining and more. The murals across the walls and roof of the cave are nothing short of marvellous – the colours are vivid even today after so many centuries!
These murals tell many tales including the life history of Buddha (Siddhartha when he was a prince). Look for the murals depicting the tale of temptation by the demon Mara!
Walk down to the Golden Temple
From the top, at the Dambulla Caves, walk down for about 10 minutes to the massive Golden Temple. The Golden Buddha statue here is the second largest buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The Golden Buddha Temple is actually a museum (entry fee is LKR 300) and also has a Golden Stupa right opposite to it. Both the stupa and the Golden Buddha statue can be seen from the streets below.
Tip: Visit the Golden Buddha Temple after visiting the Dambulla cave temple above.
The Golden Buddha Temple is actually one of the must-see places in Dambulla and definitely worth visiting. Dambulla is famous for not just the caves but for this shrine and museum too! The Pagoda (and stupa) at the base is worshipped by the locals everyday.
Tip: Make the best photographs at this spot in front of the Golden Buddha Statue.
Things to see around Dambulla
Dambulla is very close to Sigirya which is famous for its Lion Rock, a fortress at the top of a single, large rock in the middle of a thick Lankan forest.
Another peak nearby is the Pidurangala Rock which offers an amazing trek and even better views of the Lion Rock.
Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are two other iconic cultural hotspots in Sri Lanka which are close by. The Minneriya National Park is also worth visiting if you want to experience the tropical wildlife.
How to travel to Dambulla
If you are wondering about how to reach Dambulla, there are many easy ways to travel to Dambulla in Sri Lanka:
Train: The nearest train station is in Habarana, about 25 kms north-east from Dambulla. You can take any train from Colombo to Batticaloa or Trincomalee and get off at the Habarana station. From there, take a local bus or taxi.
Bus: There are many buses connecting Kandy to Dambulla. You can also take local buses between Anuradhapura and Dambulla. Sigiriya is also only 30 minutes away. From Colombo Bastion Bus terminal you can ride a 4 hour bus to Dambulla for LKR 200 (INR 80)
Taxi: The most comfortable and expensive option is to hire a taxi to visit Dambulla.
Travelling within Dambulla
Autos and Tuktuks are easily available for LKR 35 per km in the city.
Where to stay in Dambulla?
We don’t recommend spending a full night in Dambulla because there isn’t that much to see. Instead, combine the visit to Dambulla with a visit and stay in Sigiriya.
We spent the night in Sigiriya and drove down to Dambulla the next morning. The ride was only 30 mins long and since it was in the morning, we did not have trouble with crowds either.
Check out the best hotels and hostels here
Suggested itinerary for Dambulla
Visit Dambulla Cave Templa and the Golden Buddha Temple in that order. Preferably, do it in the early morning before 10 am to beat the heat, by spending the previous night in either Kandy or Sigiriya. Continue your journey to Sigiriya or Kandy thereon.
If you have more questions, or want to come to Sigiriya with us, write to us or leave a comment below!