Locals refer to Sigiriya as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and when you see its near-vertical rock face jutting 200 metres above of the surrounding jungle, it's clear why. This formation was the site of a monastery as early as 300 BC, but it's the tenure of King Kasyapa at the end of the 5th century that left behind the ruins. From the remains of the ancient fortress and palace to the surviving art on the walls, there are plenty of treasures to uncover at Sigiriya once you conquer the iron staircase to the top.
Sleep in the middle of Sri Lanka's bustling nature in a hostel in Sigiriya's surrounding jungle, or unwind in a place with an attached yoga school. Sigiriya hostels with lush outdoor terraces and sociable common rooms are ideal for meeting fellow travellers. Air con and free Wi-Fi are standard in a Sigiriya hostel and make for an extra-comfortable stay.
Sigiriya's main focus is the ancient palace, but there are some towns and villages nearby you can explore. Dambulla is famous for its Buddha-filled cave temple and spectacular views of the surrounding forests and mountains. It's also your best bet for a lively nightlife scene among these ancient cities. Nearby Habarana is a great base for a peaceful stay within easy reach of the region's major attractions. You can experience the paddy fields and day-to-day life of the locals with a day trip to the rural village of Hiriwadunna.
There are historical sights everywhere you turn at the top of Sigiriya. At the main entrance, you'll see the claw feet of the giant lion that once stood guard. Among the ancient ruins of the palace, there are surviving frescoes depicting women known as the Maidens of the Clouds. You'll also find the Mirror Wall, once polished to a shine and now covered in visitor graffiti from as early as the 8th century. If your head's swimming with the height, a stroll in the surviving water gardens and terraces on the ground will have you back to normal in no time.
The easiest way to get to Sigiriya from elsewhere in Sri Lanka is by taxi, but the bus is more budget-friendly. If you're starting in Kandy (about 95km away), first catch the bus to Dambulla, then connect on to Sigiriya itself. You can also fly into Sigiriya Airport, which receives domestic flights and is about 10-15 minutes from the ancient fortress by taxi. Once in Sigiriya, renting a bike or a scooter is the easiest way to get around.