Lisa Owen

elephants

The town of Kandy is far from sweet but it does serve as the perfect base to explore Sri Lanka’s centre. Kandy is located a bumpy four hour bus ride from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo - or a couple of hours on a train. It features a pretty lake and beautiful green surrounds, the intricate Temple of the Tooth, and lots of cheap places to eat. 

The Buddhist Temple of the Tooth is located inside the royal palace complex of the former Kandy Kingdom. It’s a religious pilgrimage site because it is home to a tooth of the Buddha. But you won’t actually see the tooth – just where it is kept under guard. 

temple of the tooth

There’s dozens of buses departing Kandy every hour so it’s a simple task to get where you want to go, such as the day trip destinations of Dambulla, Sigiriya and local elephant parks.

Local buses regularly take the the two and a half hour journey to Dambulla, and from there, grab a tuk tuk to get to the nearby Dambulla Caves, Sigiriya and Pidurangala Rock.

Sigiriya is also known as the Lion Rock owing to the lion carved into the foot of the fortress. The nearby Pidurangala Rock features an impressive Buddha statue and offers a view of Sigiriya. So should you do Sigiriya, Pidurangala or both?

hiking sri lanka

Really it depends on your budget. My friend and I chose to only do Pidurangala Rock. Why? Because we are poor backpackers and it was way cheaper. While we would have liked to see the lion carved into the Sigiriya Rock – we just couldn’t justify spending $30 to enter so we chose the cheap option of hiking up Pidurangala Rock for about $5 and getting a view of Sigiriya Rock. But if you’ve got the money, all reports are that Sigiriya is worth splashing the cash.

While we couldn’t make out any detail on Sigiriya Rock, we weren’t disappointed with the view. The hike up is short but steep with some rock scrambling required so you have to be reasonably fit!

rock scrambling

To start the hike up to Pidurangala Rock, you’ll need to pass through a temple. Ladies – you’ll need to cover your knees and shoulders so bring something to cover up briefly and then change for the hike up. About halfway up is an impressive Buddha statue set in the rock – and you’ll reach the summit in about 30-40 minutes.

hiking sri lanka

Not far from Sigiriya is the Dambulla Caves. This cave monastery is a religious pilgrimage site and features rock paintings and statues of Buddhas, gods and goddesses across five caves. There’s a steep staircase up to the caves. Entrance is (surprisingly) free.

From Kandy, you can also visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage or Millennium Elephant Park. The two parks are very different. Pinnawala is an open zoo although there are touristy elements where the elephant handlers invite you to wash the elephants for a sizable tip.

elephant orphanage

Millennium is more touristy and offers elephant rides and feeding. It’s up to you which one you choose to go to. Do your research beforehand and figure out what’s best for you.

My friend and I chose to go to Pinnawala. We saw the elephants being fed milk bottles, which happens twice a day at 9.15am and 1.15am. About every hour, the elephants are also led down to the river to roam and bathe.

Seeing the elephants roaming free in the river and getting up close to these beautiful animals was the favourite part of my visit.

elephant

You can reach Pinnawala and Millenium by local bus. From Kandy, take the bus to Kegalle, which takes about 90 minutes. Then change to a bus that says Pinnawalla or Rabukkna. The journey to Pinnawala takes about 15-20 minutes. You can also opt to hire a driver from Kandy.

Once you’re back in Kandy, indulge yourself with some cheap food. Many restaurants offer fried rice, traditional Sri Lankan curry, rotis or kottyu for only a couple of dollars. Take a seat by the pretty Kandy Lake and enjoy your meal.

Things You Should Know:

  • Your budget will dictate if you go see the Sigiriya Lion Rock, Pidurangala Rock or both. Sigiriya is expensive but is worth a look if you have the money to splurge. Pidurangala is the budget option, but still offers a great view and is a good place to see sunset.
  • It’s pretty straightforward and cheap to take public buses around Sri Lanka. Usually the key tourist destinations are written in English or locals should be able to point you in the right direction. You can buy your ticket on the bus. Be aware buses can get crowded and you might not get a seat. Buses leave when they are full.
  • A tour or driver is not necessary to get around this area. Be aware if you do choose to hire a driver that there are some scams around. One I encountered was a price was quoted to hire a private car for me and three other backpackers. A minivan shows up for the tour with people we didn’t know and the price goes up per person simply because we were travelling in a van instead a car. If the vehicle you’re expecting doesn’t show up or there’s people on board you don’t know, check the price per head or you might get a shock when it’s time to pay up.

 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia