Be you a traveller, a history buff, or a lover of sweeping vistas and great views, Sigiriya and its surrounding area has a lot to offer. The ruins of Sri Lanka's first and second kingdoms (Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa) each are about 1.5 hours away; but in this article, we'll be highlighting four other non-mainstream places to visit.
We're taking Sigiriya as our base.
1 hour 18 minutes away
About one and a half hours away from the Sigiriya town, Ritigala is an ancient forest monastery swathed by myths dating back to the third century. Legend involves Hanuman, Rama, and a mystical man-bear demon, while the forest itself teems with endemic wildlife. There are a few monastic ruins, and the Ritigala mountain range is peppered with hundreds of caves. The mountain is off-limits though, unless you have a permit.
Directions: Take Sigiriya Road to the Maradankadawala-Habarana-Thirukkondaiadimadu Highway in Moragaswewa, and turn right off the highway into the Ganewalpola Road. Keep an eye out for the signboards and follow them to your destination.
5-15 minutes away
You'd need to squish yourself between boulders and hoist yourself up in places, but the view from the top is definitely worth it. A huge rock/ small mountain a stone's throw and directly across from Sigiriya, Pidurangala offers stunning views: not only of the rolling plains and lakes stretched out below you, but also the best possible view of the rock fortress itself.
Directions: It's a long walk or a short tuk-tuk ride from Sigiriya to Pidurangala. Go down the road to the North of Sigiriya until you reach a temple. The entrance to the rock monastery is through that.
AM: Namal Uyana
45 minutes away
A massive forest filled with ironwood trees (aka Sri Lanka's national tree), Namal Uyana — the ironwood garden — leads to the island's only rose-quartz mountain range. It's a small range, so you can traipse over most of it quite easily. Climb as high as you can for winds strong enough to knock you off and for an unexpected view of treetops and the zone's quintessential lakes.
2 hours 5 minutes away
Reminiscent of Sigiriya, Yapahuwa comes complete with ruined castle walls, a moat, and a defensive fortification. The most striking feature here is the 70-degree staircase where you'd find two familiar stone lions somewhere near the top. Familiar, because they're featured on our (no longer printed) 10-rupee notes. Climb right to the top for rock pools, ruined stupas, and the casual views you have now come to expect from this area.
Directions: If you're heading to Anuradhapura on the Padeniya – Anuradhapura (A28) road, Yapahuwa is a short 8km detour away. You turn at Daladagama towards Maho and follow the signs to Yapahuwa historical site. If you're taking the train, get down at Maho junction and take a tuk. The historical site is contained within a Buddhist temple with ample parking.
Food and Transport
You can easily find buses and tuks to get around, if you don't have a private transport. Buses off the main road are a bit more infrequent, so be aware of the time and route — just ask around, people are more than willing to help out.
There are plenty of small eateries as well, especially down the Inamaluwa-Sigiriya Road. Stock up on snacks for the longer rides, and on a couple of bottles of water as well.
Plenty of holidays coming up over the next few months, so make good use of them. Happy tripping!