Jaillan Yehia

Pidurangala Rock At Sunrise: 5 Reasons To Choose It Over Sigiriya

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Dog contemplating the view at at Pidurangala

Puppy love at Pidurangala

Pidurangala Rock is probably on your list of places to check out in Sri Lanka’s Central Province, and chances are Sigiriya is on that list too.

But unless you’ve got unlimited time to spend in the area, and plenty of funds, you might be wondering whether you should climb just one or both of these famous natural wonders.

There’s a host of information online comparing the experience of climbing Pidurangala vs Sigiriya, most of it is factual, but in my opinion

it’s the completely different feeling you get from these two nearby climbs which make them so different, and understanding that will help you decide which one is right for you.

So first off I want to tell you why, having climbed both rocks, I would advise you to prioritise climbing Pidurangala  – especially if you’re travelling to Sri Lanka in search of serene and authentic travel experiences, as I was when I spent a month in Sri Lanka on a wellness retreat.

Why Climb Pidurangala Rock Instead of Sigiriya?

Sunrise at Pidurangala Rock

After sunrise at Pidurangala Rock – you can have this lunar landscape to yourself

Both Sigiriya (Lion Rock) and Pidurangala Rock (Cheap Rock) are beautiful and unique, each offers a different climbing experience, and a contrasting view of the absolutely epic surrounding countryside, and with enough time on my hands I’d happily climb both again.

View from Sigiriya

I was lucky enough to see the view from Sigiriya years ago, with not another soul around

If you want a climb which is easier, and has pathways and stairs to guide you all the way, and if you’re happy to share the experience with plenty of other tourists – or if you love the legend of the Sigiriya citadel and want to get up close to the Lion’s Paws, then go for it.

Jaillan at Sigiriya

I don’t think it would be possible to get photos like these at Sigiriya today unless they opened it just for you

But if you want to feel you’re actually ‘climbing’ a rock (scrambling on boulders instead of following a line of other people on a well-trodden path), or if you want a more serene and relaxed atmosphere and a more challenging physical experience, then choose Pidurangala.

I’d also recommend going to Pidurangala Rock early in the morning when it’s still dark, so you’re already at the top at sunrise  – and setting aside the time to stay for an hour after the sun has risen. I’ll explain why that’s so important later on in this post.

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Miss Pidurangala Rock At Sunrise

Pidurangala Rock at Sunrise

Pidurangala Rock at sunrise – people are all enthralled, dog, not so much

If you only want to do one hike in Sri Lanka make it Pidurangala at Sunrise, here’s why:

1.Pidurangala Rock Offers Amazing Value

Buddha at Pidurangala

One of the Buddhas at Pidurangala temple

Pidurangala Rock is known by locals as Cheap Rock – a reference to the fact that as Sigiriya has become more popular it’s also become more expensive.

At $30, which must be paid in cash in Sri Lankan Rupees on the day, the entrance fee for Sigiriya is out of proportion to the cost of most other activities in Sri Lanka.

Of course you may decide that $30 is a small price to pay for seeing the ancient rock fortress which is the most famous of Sri Lanka’s 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and that would be a reasonable attitude.

By contrast entry to Pidurangala Temple and the climb costs Rs. 500: that’s under $3.  As the Pidurangala ‘donation’ costs less than 10% of an entry ticket to Sigiriya it wouldn’t make sense to miss it out.

2. Pidurangala Rock Offers A Really Tranquil Atmosphere

Pidurangala rock

It’s tranquil up here

I was lucky enough to climb Sigiriya in 2012, shortly after Sri Lanka’s civil war ended, but before tourists had returned to the country.

I shared the climb with a smattering of local school children, all dressed in their white uniforms, but with not a single other visitor in sight. The memory will stay with me forever.

school children on a staircase at Sigiriya

Sri Lankan School Children were the only people climbing Sigiriya in 2011

Today Sigiriya is one of the island’s biggest attractions, and the opportunity to experience it in an utterly tranquil setting has vanished. Luckily the option still exists at Pidurangala – for now. I’d advise to you to take advantage of Pidurangala Rock before over tourism strikes there too.

3. You Will Get A Beautiful View of Sigiriya From Pidurangala Rock

Top of Pidurangala

Happy to be at the top!

There’s no doubt that the view of Sigiriya jutting up 200m from the lush green plains surrounding it is one of the most jaw dropping sights you can see in Sri Lanka – a country which has no shortage of stunning vistas, many of which are also in the Central Province. I’d argue that seeing Sigiriya from afar is actually more epic than climbing it.

4. Pidurangala Cave And Rock Temple Is More Than Just A Rock – There’s Plenty of Buddhas

Reclining Buddha at Pidurangala

The impressive reclining Buddha at Pidurangala

I was pleasantly surprised by how much there is to see in and around Pidurangala Rock. As the site to which the monks of Sigiriya were located at the time Kassapa built his new city and fortress atop Sigiriya, there’s plenty of legend and history to be discovered here too.

As well as a 1930’s temple with it’s own Buddha, there’s an ancient 50ft reclining Buddha partway up the path to the summit, and the ruins of the cubicles in which the monks would sit in silent meditation.

Buddha and snake at Pidurangala

This Buddha being sheltered by a snake at Pidurangala is stunning to see

You’ll also find an attractive stupa and Buddha and snake statue nearby, and on my visit, I didn’t have to share it with anyone.

There’s the usual Sri Lankan wildlife hanging around of course – I spotted a few monkeys.

Sigiriya Lake view

Sigiriya Lake is another quieter spot where you can get a beautiful view of both Pidurangala and Sigiriya rocks

From here it’s also a great idea to head to Sigiriya Lake and dam where you can see both rocks side by side – and this spot doesn’t seem to have been discovered yet either.

5. Pidurangala Rock Is Incredible At Sunrise

Sunrise at Pidurangala Rock

Sunrise at Pidurangala Rock is beautiful

One of the reasons many people choose to climb Pidurangala is that unlike Sigiriya it’s open for sunrise, offering you an incredibly special memory of the darkness quickly giving way to light, revealing the full majesty of a sleeping Sigiriya, before any tourists have set foot on it for the day.

From 7 am when Sigiriya opens you can actually see the line of tourists snaking up the pathways. Of course if you’ve never climbed Sigiriya before and want to, you’ll have no choice but to join them but I was delighted to watch from afar, with the breeze in my hair and only the dogs at Pidurangala for company.

Why Stay On Pidurangala Rock After The Sunrise Is Over?

Pidurangala Rock

Plenty of photo opportunities at Pidurangala Rock once everyone else has left – unlike Sigiriya

Here’s why it’s essential to allow yourself plenty of time to stay at Pidurangala after the sun has risen.

You probably won’t be the only one trying to avoid the crowds by choosing Pidurangala at sunrise. So if you want to have the place to yourself – and get some great shots – stay on that little bit longer after the sunrise and you’ll find the other climbers will slowly disappear. Many will be headed straight for Sigiriya to try to beat the crowds when it opens at 7am.

Girl looking at the view from Pidurangala Rock

Serenity at Pidurangala Rock – imagine having these views to yourself

This is your chance to have Pidurangala, and world class views of Sigiriya, all for yourself – and let’s be honest get the amazing shots you want to show off on instagram.

Where To Base Yourself To Climb Pidurangala Rock

Village hut at Mahagedara Retreat

My village hut at Mahagedara Retreat

Despite this region of Sri Lanka being delightfully rustic compared to the West Coast beach resorts or the modernity of Colombo, the popularity of Sigiriya means there’s a highly developed tourist infrastructure.

This is good news if you’re fussy about your accommodation, as you can choose between everything from palatial luxury hotels, to mid-range places, homestays and boutique hotels.

Swimming pool at Mahagedara Retreat Sri Lanka

Mahagedara Retreat near Pidurangala, Sri Lanka

As I was in Sri Lanka on a wellness holiday I stayed in the peaceful and unique setting of Mahagedara Retreat – if you want to keep the sense of calm you’ll have after climbing Pidurangala at sunrise, I can’t think of a better place to base yourself.

Pidurangala Rock Fact File

Pidurangala Rock signs

The Pidurangala Rock climb gets more fun along the way

When heading out on excursions it’s easy to get it wrong in terms of what to wear or bring along, so here’s what I discovered:

Do You Need A Guide to Climb Pidurangala?

Pidurangala's paths

Pidurangala’s paths start off easy but you end up clambering over boulders

I went with a Sri Lankan guide organised for me by my hotel Mahagedara Wellness Retreat, and I’m glad I did as he held a torch during the darkness and showed me the pathway when it becomes a bit confusing at the end, but plenty of people were doing this climb without a guide and you can always ask others or simply follow them.

What Should You Wear To Climb Pidurangala?

shoes at Pidurangala

I wore these pumps on the climb down and it was fine for me

As long as you wear something comfortable and flexible to allow for a bit of scrambling you will be fine – there’s no real need for a full on gym outfit for this (though I did a week-long cycling holiday in flip flops, so I am quite relaxed about attire). To be respectful it is important to cover up when walking through the temple to access the climb, though sadly not everyone I saw observed this courtesy.

The most important thing is to wear shoes with grippy soles, I wore trainers on the way up, but my feet were hot so I changed into rubber-soled pumps on the way down and they were fine.

What Should You Bring To Climb Pidurangala?

The usual suspects of water, sunscreen, sunglasses and whatever camera gear you like. A lot of fuss is made about bringing ‘plenty’ of water but I found at sunrise it was cool enough for me to not need much, so don’t bother lugging litres of water for no reason. I also brought coffee for the ride there, and some fruit to snack on at the top.

How Difficult is the climb up Pidurangala Rock?

I found the climb up Pidurangala pleasantly challenging and definitely harder than Sigiriya, but as someone who is reasonably fit without being a marathon runner, it was fine. I also noticed that I was a lot years older than most of the other climbers who all appeared to be in their early 20’s or eyen younger, and they were definitely finding the climb pretty easy.


Pidurangala Rock Sri Lanka - Why It's Better Than Sigiriya

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