Dambulla Cave Temples – Ten Things You Need to Know Before Visiting

Inside Dambulla Cave Temples

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As you might guess, a 2000 year old operating temple that is being built up as a tourist attraction in a far off land, like Sri Lanka, might have special considerations for visiting. We compiled our list of ten things you need to know before visiting Dambulla Cave Temples to help you have a great time in visiting one of Sri Lanka’s oldest temples and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ten Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Dambulla Cave Temples

When I first heard about cave temples in Sri Lanka I was like – gotta go. We love caves and dig Buddhism. (sometimes, we dig caves too but that’s another story). When I realized that “caves” in volcanic Sri Lanka are just rock overhangs, I got a little disappointed. Even still, the Dambulla Cave Temples made a great second half of our Sigiriya Rock day.

Caves, be it limestone or rock overhangs, are the most stable spaces on Earth. They preserve a history that counts time in centuries, not decades. The Dambulla Temples are well preserved and still functioning today after nearly two thousand years of continual use. The continuity of use makes it the best preserved antiquity you’ll ever visit. As you look at our pictures, just think that these temples are over 2000 years old!

Dambulla Cave Temples

Wear Modest Clothing

There is a dress code for entering temples in Sri Lanka that is similar to many temples in Southeast Asia. You can’t wear shorts and woman need to cover their shoulders. If you didn’t bring the appropriate clothes, you may be able to borrow a wrap at the entrance, but it’s best not to take chances. Take a look at Ed’s lovely purple wrap that he used to cover up his shorts.

You’ll have to Climb Uphill to Reach the Temple

There is about a 300’ climb to reach the temple. It will take you about 10 minutes to make the climb, but you will might be sweating at the top if you are leaving in the middle of a tropical day. The fact that the temples are 10 minutes and 300’ up from the entrance makes the next two points even more important.

Ed in temple wear with flower offerings to Buddha

Buy Tickets at the Lower / South Entrance

There are three entrances to the temple complex, but only one ticket counter. If you enter through the Golden Temple or the local entrance halfway down the hill, you will have to walk down hill to temple counter. There is no way to buy tickets at the top where they collect them.

See also
Secrets of Sigiriya Rock: Holy Temple or Pleasure Palace?

Prefer a guided tour of the temple? Check out these:
⛰️ Explore the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya with ease on this guided full-day tour.
🔎 Combine visits to two of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage sites—the Dambulla Cave Temple and the Sigiriya Rock Fortress—on this single private tour.

There Are no Services at the Top

First off, make sure you take your water with you.  On a similar note of water management, make sure you go to the bathroom at the bottom too.  If you’re staying for sunset, consider packing a snack but beware the monkeys. They are used to pilgrims bringing lotus flowers for temples and can be food aggressive. One chased Ed until he gave him half his flowers.

Buddha Inside Dambulla Cave Temple

Entrance Fees

As of 2017, it cost LKR 1500, which is about $10 USD for foreigners to enter the temples. We always considered these fees part of ethical tourism and the costs of maintaining a 2000 year old historic site.

Hours of Operation

The park is open 7 to 7, but the ticket counter closes at 5:00 PM

Water Lilly Pond Dambulla Cave Temples

Stay for Enough Time (but not too much)

Most visits take 1-2 hours. You might think that 5 cave temples would take a while to visit, but in reality, they are small rock overhangs. If you’re in good shape, you can blaze up and down the hill in an hour. If you want to rest at the top, take pictures, or wait for sunset, it might take you a little longer.

Reclining Buddha Inside Dambulla Cave Temple
Reclining cat outside Dambulla Cave Temple

Pick a Good Time to Visit

The best time to visit the cave temples is either early in the morning or in the afternoon. Most of the tourists come in the morning and the sunsets from the temples are outstanding, so that’s a nod for coming at sunset. Also, if you combine the trip with Sigiriya, it allows you to climb the higher (and harder) Sigiriya Rock in the cooler morning and enjoy the sunset from the Cave Temples.

The Difference Between Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla Rock Temple, and The Golden Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple and Dambulla Rock Temple are two different names for exactly the same place. You might also hear cave temple and cave temples since there are, in fact, five separate caves. The Golden Temple and the Cave Temple are part of the same temple complex. The Golden Temple is at the bottom of the hill, close to the main road and the Cave Temple is at the top of the hill. Realistically, you should go ahead and visit the Golden Temple and Cave Temples at the same time since they are basically right next to each other.

See also
Sri Lanka Safari: How Ecotourism is Saving Wild Elephants
Golden Temple

Plan Side Trips

Dambulla Cave Temple will not fill a full day of exploration. Make sure you optimize your time by planning side trips. We stayed at a nearby Mahagedara Retreat and visited Sigiriya Rock and the Megalithic Tombs on the same day as Dambulla Cave Temples. Nearby is hiking Pidurangala Rock and elephant safaris at Kaudulla National Park. Our alternative plan to visit the Dambulla Cave Temples was as a stop before we took the train to Kandy.

Inside Dambulla Cave Temples

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Dambulla Cave Temples FAQs

Why is Dambulla Cave Temple famous?

Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka is a sacred pilgrimage site. It’s also the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka.

What is the dress code for Dambulla Temple?

The dress code is similar to most temples in Southeast Asia. You cant wear shorts and women need to cover their shoulders.

How much is the entrance fee for Dambulla Rock Temple?

The entrance fee for Dambulla Cave is LKR 1500 which is approximately $5 USD.

Concluding Our Visit to Dambulla Cave Temples

We thought about the history and heritage of ayurvedic medicine when we returned to Mahagedara Retreat. With our Ayurveda program at the retreat, we weren’t embarking on a fad diet or flash cure. We were working on a practice and a lifestyle that has endured for thousands of years and is still practiced today, like the Dambulla Cave Temples. We added Dambulla Cave Temples to our best of Sri Lanka guide because of its legacy, history, and beauty.

See also
The Rise and Fall of Polonnaruwa: A Curious Case for Climate Change

Places to Stay near Dambulla Cave Temples

Ready to Book Your Trip? These Links Will Make It Easy:

Airfare:

Lodging:

  • We loved staying and the beautiful all-inclusive Sandals Royal Curacao and we think you will too! Book your Sandals getaway now!

Insurance:

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Attractions/Activities:

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  • Get Your Guide and Viator for guided tours/excursions, day trips, and activities
  • Want to learn a city from the ground up? Take a small group walking tour with Walks – 5-star rated with a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence
  • Want to book an epic adventure experience with top-notch companies like Intrepid Travel, G-Adventures, or Backroads? Check out Travelstride
  • Find information on local trails with the All Trails App.
  • Need something else to plan your perfect trip? Visit our Resources Page for more trusted partners

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Dambulla Cave Temple

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Dambulla Cave Temple

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