Updated on 25/09/2017 by Ella Davis.
Dambulla is situated in the heart of Sri Lanka, 72km north of Kandy. It is most famous for the Dambulla Cave temple complex. While this stunning complex has become a UNESCO world Heritage site, it isn’t the only attraction which makes Dambulla worth a visit.
While this city has been a hot-spot for day trippers visiting from Kandy. Dambulla is growing, and so is its popularity. Dambulla features on many ‘top places to visit in Sri Lanka’ sites and its not hard to see why.
We’ve taken a closer look at what Dambulla has to offer to make sure you get the best out of your stay!
Getting there and getting around:
There are limited option when it comes to travelling to Dambulla. The easiest, cheapest and most popular way is by bus. Buses depart from Kandy and take around 2 hours, dropping you off out side the cave complex. You can also travel directly from Colombo, but the 176 km trip will take you closer to 6 hours depending on the bus you catch. Routemaster Sri Lanka will help you navigate the bus system and beware- there are express and slow routes, so look into the times carefully!
Another alternative way to travel is by car. Whether you choose to brave the roads and drive yourself, or hire a driver. This is a more expensive but comfortable ride.
Once in Dambulla, Tuk-Tuks are the main source of transportation. They will line up near the bus drop off point and if you are only making a short visit, it is worth hiring a tuk-tuk for the day to get around as many attractions as possible.
Things to see and do in Dambulla:
This unique complex of temples are the first stop for most travellers and the ancient attraction which has catapulted Dambulla onto the world tourist map. As well as impressive in size, Dambulla temples are also one of the worlds most well-preserved complexes. Perched high up on a hilltop, the Dambulla Cave Temples sit 160m above ground. While there are more than 80 documented caves within its rocks, the main tourist section is contain to the 5 main temples.
Human skeletons dating up to 2700 years old have been found in the caves, leading to speculations that early humans once lived in this network of underground corridors. Moreover, the temples are a great example of ancient art and early craftsmanship. The wall paintings and statues found here are some of the finest examples from this era in all the world.
The entrance fee is 1,500 LKR, unusually high for an attraction in Sri Lanka- But well worth it! To enter the caves you first climb to the top of the hill. There are stairs up but no alternative. Be sure to by your ticket at the base of the hill, or you’ll be sent back down to purchase one!
2. Dambulla Produce Market
The area around Dambulla is an agricultural hub for Sri Lanka. It produces most of the vegetables eaten within the country. Dambulla Produce Market is the interchange for produce, traded and transported all over Sri Lanka. While this may seem a bizarre attraction, the atmosphere at this market allows you to immerse yourself in ‘authentic Sri Lanka’. Chaos, hustle and bustle are all part of this trading point and showcases the amazing variety of locally grown produce.
Cricket fans will be intrigued to see the Dambulla international stadium. Famous for being built in a mere 167 days, this huge cricket stadium seats 30,000 spectators, and is an important venue for international cricket. The site overlooks the impressive Dambulla Rock. Cricket is the most important sport in Sri Lanka, so why not catch a game while your here!
4. Experience a birds eye view with a hot air balloon ride.
From the hill top caves you can appreciated Dambulla’s scenery. However, if you a looking to go one step further, why not take a hot air balloon ride to really take in the vista’s. Companies like Lanka Ballooning set off in the early hours to allow visitors to see the spectacular sun rise emerging from behind Dambulla rock. Packages can include airport pick ups and champagne making this a great way to celebrate a special occasion. Prices start at around $160 per person and are bookable online.
Where to eat in Dambulla:
Unlike the resort towns along Sri Lanka’s coastlines, Dambulla’s restaurant options serve Sri Lankan food almost exclusively. With such fresh produce growing on its doorstep, you can expect high quality traditional Sri Lankan food in Dambulla.
While variety in cuisines is not available, variety within Sri Lankan cooking certainly is. Therefore Dambulla is a great place to really experiment and try Sr Lankan Cuisine.
This family run restaurant welcomes weary tourists hungry after exploring the extensive caves. Traditional dishes are prepared and served buffet style. Therefore this is a great spot to try several traditional dishes. The menu is always made with fresh and locally grown produce. The fresh fruit juices served at Athula are also a draw. Priced at 700 LKR per person the buffet is reasonable and filling and the service friendly.
2. Fresh Talk
Fresh Talk offers a slight variation on Sri Lankan dishes, with Indian curries also featuring on the menu. This family run restaurant is a bit of a local secret and particularly popular with locals. The clue is in the name here, as fresh talk serves up fresh and flavoursome curries. While the Cheese Kottu is an absolute must try, this restaurant aslo serves vegan dishes, all at a reasonable price.
If you are looking for something a little more high-end, Cafe Kachchan is just the place. This restaurant is part of the Hotel Heritance, a cave hotel built into the side of a large rock formation. You can enjoy this stunning architecture from the restaurant, which overlooks a lake and the scenery beyond. The food here is not typical Sri Lankan home cooking. It is Sri Lankan cuisine with some added sophistication and the price reflects this. There is a buffet option available most evenings, but the real show stopper at Cafe Kachchan is the spectacular views.
Where to stay:
The most popular option for visitors to Dambulla is to stay in nearby Kandy or the surrounding Hill Country. There is a range of stunning villas suitable for a wide range of group sizes. Kandy can work as a great base for exploring and the luxury villas are perfect for relaxing after those busy days!
There’s no shortage of history and traditional culture in Dambulla. While the Temple Complex remains the number one attraction, Dambulla remains a place where you can truly experience Sri Lanka like a local. With a range of stunning Villas just a short journey away, Dambulla is a great addition to any Sri Lanka itinerary.
See our villas in Sri Lanka. Inspected and selected by Villa-Finder.com.