Sigiriya Rock vs. Pidurangala Rock: what's the difference + which one should you hike

If you are traveling through Sri Lanka, you undoubtedly have Sigiriya on your itinerary. But how do you decide whether to climb Pidurangala Rock or Lion Rock? Don’t worry, I’ve made this guide to help any indecisive readers make as informed a decision as possible.

WAIT?! THERE ARE TWO ROCKS?!

Yep! A budget-friendly, less-beaten-path option {Piduranagala Rock} and the UNESCO protected “Lion Rock” with a steep entry fee.

There is plenty of chatter from the travel community about hiking up Sigiriya versus Pidurangala Rock. Budget travelers shudder at the thought of paying USD $30, while bucket list warriors are utterly confused as to why anyone would go all the way to Sigiriya and not pay a visit.

As a mid-range traveler keen to spend on experiences and slowly see the world with no regrets, both sides make a fair argument. That’s why I ultimately decided to hike up both and decide for myself— which hike is best and what are the differences between the two?


KEEP READING AS I BREAK IT ALL DOWN


VIEWS FROM SIGIRIYA

VIEWS FROM SIGIRIYA


a little about sigiriya rock

Sigiriya Rock, which is sometimes referred to as Lion Rock, is one of the most popular and most visited landmarks in Sri Lanka. This is partly due to its UNESCO standing and it being named one of the eight Wonders of the World. It’s also partly due to the fact that it is stunning.

Between 477 and 495 A.C., the top of the rock served as the venue for King Kassapa’s palace. The womanizing king kept his haram at the top, where they bathed and lounged. The king decorated the fortress with beautiful paitnings that can still be seen {though not photographed} as you pass by the “Mirror Wall” on your way up Sigiriya. Rock. Near the final ascent to the top, there is a giant gateway in the form of a lion, which is the namesake of the site— Lion Rock. There are gardens and the remnants of a Buddhist monastery at the base of the rock.

I was seriously impressed with how well-kept the paintings near the Mirror Wall and the wall itself were maintained. The gardens are still clearly outlined, and the bath at the top of the rock truly had me in awe of the ancient construction. Overall, Sigiriya surpassed my expectations for ancient history and views.

ESTIMATED HIKE TIME: 3 hours, roundtrip

VIEW FROM THE TOP OF PIDURANGALA ROCK

VIEW FROM THE TOP OF PIDURANGALA ROCK


a little about pidurangala rock

Pidurangala Rock is home to Pidurangala Vihara, the Pidurangala “Rock Temple.” The entry to the trail is through a temple, which is why you need to keep covered up {knees and shoulders}. While the hike has less history attached to it, it is gaining a lot of coverage thanks to backpackers promoting it as the alternative to spendy Sigiriya {which I’ll get into}.

The hike sways heavily on the side of nature. With a reclining Buddha figure and a temple to visit, you’ll get a little dose of Sri Lankan culture on your way up to the top! The rounded-ness of Pidurangala made you feel like you were living on the edge, literally, which totally suits me!

I quite liked the little ice cream shop across from the entrance to the temple and ticket booth. After beginning to puke in the car park, I sought refuge from the heat and a cold water from the shop. Halfway through asking for a water, I began vomiting all over the owner’s sandal-clad feet. I reached for a tissue on the table to start apologetically {and embarrassedly} wiping my spew from his foot. Before I could manage, he took the tissue from my hand and began wiping my mouth. He then handed me an ice block and I was on my way, ready to take on the rest of the day.

ESTIMATED HIKE TIME: 40 minutes- 1 hour, roundtrip

I’VE PINNED BOTH ROCKS TO THE MAP TO SAVE YOU TIME!

ADMISSION TICKETS TO SIGIRIYA ROCK

ADMISSION TICKETS TO SIGIRIYA ROCK

FOREIGNER TICKET BOOTH AT SIGIRIYA

FOREIGNER TICKET BOOTH AT SIGIRIYA

ENTRY TICKETS TO PIDURANGALA

ENTRY TICKETS TO PIDURANGALA


COST

SIGIRIYA- USD $30

PIDURANGALA- USD $3

Clearly, you save a heap of money by clambering up Pidurangala. Sigiriya is 10x the cost! For someone on a tight budget, that’s a lot of money to fork over.

If you, however, take into consideration that Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site…and the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, then it all kind of falls into perspective. You are paying for the upkeep of the ancient fortress, the salary of those who keep it safe and operational, and being able to say you saw the Eighth freaking Wonder of the World.

The obvious winner in this one is Pidurangala. I mean, USD $30 is nearly a week’s worth of life expenses in Laos.

NEAR THE TOP OF LION ROCK

NEAR THE TOP OF LION ROCK

AT THE TOP OF PIDURANGALA

AT THE TOP OF PIDURANGALA


views from the top

SIGIRIYA- awesome ancient history + lush landscapes

PIDURANGALA- scenic Sri Lanka + Sigiriya side-on

The rocks both coexist like friendly neighbours directly across from one another. There is no true winner in this battle. While Pidurangala has a cool perspective of Sigiriya and stunning Sri Lankan scenery, Sigiriya offers a heaping dose of history. If you make an early morning out of both hikes, you’ll find that there are far fewer people at Pidurangala, which may make taking in the views more peaceful and getting people-free-pictures easier. The top of Pidurangala is also less manicured, since it isn’t a heritage site.

It’s really all about what you want to see and which view you consider more rad. Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.

STAIRS ON THE WAY UP SIGIRIYA ROCK

STAIRS ON THE WAY UP SIGIRIYA ROCK

STAIRS ON THE WAY UP PIDURANGALA ROCK

STAIRS ON THE WAY UP PIDURANGALA ROCK


difficulty + the hikes themselves

SIGIRIYA- well-kept stairs + walkways

PIDURANGALA- unruly rocks + big boulder obstacles

We started the morning with a hike up Sigiriya, in order to beat the crowds. I had read numerous times that if you wait too late in the day, the stairs to the top of Sigiriya, which serve those going up and returning downwards, become overcrowded and magnify the insufferable heat. Going early made the lighting for photos unexpectedly less than desirable, but it also meant we were in the first round of people to make it to the top. The hike wasn’t really a hike at all. It was climb up steep stairs and well-looked after walkways. The most “dangerous” aspect of Sigiriya were the wasps that, apparently, have a habit of attacking noisy visitors. The grounds are very manicured.

After Sigiriya, the driver took us to Pidurangala, where we took off our shoes, paid our entry fee, and walked up a set of uneven brick stairs. At the top of the stairs, you slip on your shoes and head out on the trail. Grass, gravel, and massive boulders make the path to Pidurangala uneven and more of an actual hike. The grounds are unkept and I suggest wearing proper tennis shoes or hiking boots for this one.

Ultimately, I found that the heat was what made the climbs hard, and not the inclines. Pidurangala is better for those looking for a hiking experience, but beginner’s can manage both if they come with lots of water and appropriate foot attire.

ENTRY TRAIL LEADING UP TO SIGIRIYA

ENTRY TRAIL LEADING UP TO SIGIRIYA


which to chose: sigiriya or pidurangala?

Sigiriya is for history lovers and Pidurangala is for nature fanatics. Non-negotiable budgeters should opt for Pidurangala and those with wallet wiggle-room can head for Sigiriya. People tend to say they prefer the actual hike at Pidurangala and I’d say I agree. I also think people tell others to climb Pidurangala based entirely on the expense. The experiences are entirely different.

Comparing the two hikes is a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

My overall opinion: climb up both.

Here’s my thinking: Would you go all the way to Paris and then skip out on seeing the Eiffel Tower? Would you head to London but never stroll passed Big Ben? It’s very similar to going all the way to Sigiriya and then climbing “the other rock.” As someone who likes to travel slowly and thoroughly to eliminate any regrets, I also feel like if you’re in a destination you may never have the chance to be in ever again, you should pay the USD $30 and just do the damn thing. And, since you’re shelling out thirty bucks for a hike, you might as well pay three more for a hike that’s only a few minutes away by taxi or a sweaty bike journey. Both rocks are different experiences. Both have different views. Both will leave you with different stories to tell your grandchildren. And, only when you have hiked both can you actually determine which you preferred.

SIGNAGE AT PIDURANGALA

SIGNAGE AT PIDURANGALA


tips before you go

PIDURANGALA:

  • Bring lots of water.

  • Wear something that covers our knees and shoulders, or prepare to borrow a sari.

  • Wear proper trainers or hiking boots.

  • Bring a torch if doing the hike at sunrise.

SIGIRIYA:

  • Get there as close to opening as possible.

  • Bring lots of water {a repeated tip…but you’ll thank me later}

  • Stay quiet on the hike to avoid waking wasps.

My top recommendation for doing both would be to do sunrise at Pidurangala and then head immediately to Sigiriya. We were worried about crowds at Sigiriya, so we did this the other way around. However, had we known, we would have woken up even earlier for sunrise at Pidurangala and then bolted over to Sigiriya. The problem with sunrise at Sigiriya is that, even if you go to Sigiriya at opening, like we did, the trail and ticket office don’t open until 7 AM. While it says that Pidurangala doesn’t open until 7 AM/9 AM {depending on your internet source}, there is actually a man there at 5:30 AM to take your entry fee and give you your ticket.

My final tip comes from Homberto, my Inca Trail hike guide, who said, “Hold your llamas.” The heat of the day doesn’t lend itself to overactivity. You don’t want to wear yourself out too badly that you get dehydrated or faint in the heat. Climb slow, drink water, wear sunscreen, and enjoy the views!


LIKED THIS POST? PIN IT!

SIGIRIYA ROCK VERSUS PIDURANGALA ROCK, SRI LANKA
SIGIRIYA ROCK VERSUS PIDURANGALA ROCK, SRI LANKA