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Updated by Joanna James on Jul 16, 2018
Headline for Top 10 things to see and do in Sigiriya - exploring an ancient wonder
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Joanna James Joanna James
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Top 10 things to see and do in Sigiriya - exploring an ancient wonder

Towering dramatically over the central plains, the majestic Sigiriya rock fortress is one of Sri Lanka's most recognised landmarks. Here are the top 10 things to see and do in and around Sigiriya.

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Take a stroll through the royal gardens

At the base of the rock is a landscaped garden featuring water fountains, ponds, terraced gardens and natural boulders. Symmetrical water gardens lead visitors toward the base of the rock along with bathing pools and little island pavilion. A series of steps lead up to terraced gardens, before the stairs ascend upwards.

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Take in an aerial view

Most people travel to Sigiriya by vehicle, however if you really want to see something special, hire one of the local air taxi's, like Cinnamon Air, for example, which fly small planes over the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The view is spectacular and you get a real sense of the scale of the gardens, and the labour that would have gone into creating this beautiful city.

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Elephant rides around Sigiriya

Elephant rides are extremely popular in the area and are available near the Sigiriya Lake. The rides can be of varying lengths and usually include a quick dip in the Lake. Although, do try to avoid this as much as possible!

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Get to know the history behind Sigiriya

The rock fortress was once the luxurious private palace of King Kasyapa and his harem. After murdering his father and usurping his brother, the rightful heir - King Kasyapa, fearing retribution, moved his residence to Sigirya and began the construction of the fort palace. Protected by two moats and several ramparts, the centre of the compound is dominated by a massive rock column, on top of which was built a palace, pavilions, gardens and an intricate water garden.

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Gaze upon the exquisite apsaras

Halfway up Sigiriya rock is a sheltered gallery where images of beautiful women have been painted on the sheer surface. Known today as the Sigiriya Frescoes - The women are depicted adorned with flowers and jewellery, and appear to be floating on celestial clouds. Historians are unclear whether they are either apsaras (celestial nymphs) or the King concubines. Previously numbering in the hundreds, only around 21 paintings remain today.

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Explore the Sigiriya palace ruins

On the summit of the massive rock was once a gleaming white palace. Covering around 1.6 hectares, only the foundations of the palace and the gardens remain today. Some highlights include a stone slab, said to be the king's throne and the ruins of a dagoba. A large water tank, hand-hewn out of the hard rock, could easily pass off as a swimming pool, though it was more likely used for water storage. What's left behind is said to be less than 20% of the structures that once stood.

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Tour the Sigiriya Museum

The Sigiriya Museum is located at the entrance to the site. An audio-visual show gives a good explanation of Sigiriya and the model scale provides a good orientation of the site and its vastness.

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Explore Pidurangala

Located about 2kms from Sigiriya, is the Pidurangala rock formation. Less grand and harder to climb than Sigiriya, it is often overlooked by many. Like Sigiriya, Pidurangala is solid rock, and the rock outcrops and wildness give an idea of what Sigiriya may have looked like before it became a royal citadel. Though monks are said to have lived here for centuries, Pidurangala became better known when King Kasyapa moved monks living around Sigiriya to a monastery here.

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Watch the elephant gathering at Minneriya Park

Every year, between July – September, when water is low, large groups of elephants gather near the Minneriya Lake. Between three to seven hundred wild elephants come here to drink, feed, socialise and bathe.

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The Dambulla Cave Temple

A short drive from Sigiriya is the oldest preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka. Dated back over two thousand years ago, the cave temples consist of five caves of varying sizes high on a mountain. Inside the caves are around 153 Buddha statues along with other stone and wooden figures. The ceiling and walls are covered with colourful murals depicting Buddhist imagery.