Before reading forward, let me clarify that this is strictly my opinion. You should definitely do further research because these might be the kind of places that you would enjoy. Furthermore, I’m going to explain my reasons why I will not recommend Anuradhapura, Dambulla, and Sigiriya.
I did intense research before going to Sri Lanka to know exactly where to go and what to see. Most importantly, I checked how to group each place so I could minimize transportation time. Why? Because I really wanted to entirely discover this amazing country that was on my top destinations list.
Why I will not recommend Anuradhapura
After seeing many photos, I expected Anuradhapura to be a small ancient city with a lot of nature around, and with a traditional vibe.
We decided to take a bus there and then book accommodation for 1 night after finding a nice area. In contrast, when we arrived, it was a crazy crowded city. It was nothing close to what we had in mind, nothing traditional, and definitely nothing ancient at first sight.
I knew the area was famous for being home to one of the most sacred Buddhist places, but I never went to Anuradhapura with the idea of visiting the Ruwanwelisaya Temple. Instead, I went to spend some time in a quiet place.
Actually, I stopped visiting Buddhist temples since I arrived in Sri Lanka, because of the Sri Lankan way of “promoting” them. You can get a better understanding of this statement reading below.
Regarding Ruwanwelisaya Temple, I think it’s insane to charge foreigners 25USD to see a pagoda that you can see in many other places for free. Therefore, here comes my main question: since when it’s Buddhist religion this expensive? I have to admit that I’m against this procedure of overcharging tourists that only want to see a Buddhist temple. Most importantly to mention is that locals go in for FREE.
After spending a few hours in the city, we decided to leave to the next city on our list, Dambulla.
Why I will not recommend Sigiriya
I’m skipping Dambulla for now because we arrived late that evening. The first thing we did the next day was going to Sigiriya.
We heard a lot of “wow” comments regarding Pidurangala Rock, the rock located in front of the famous Lion Rock. To be honest, I was actually excited to go there, to enjoy nature and do a bit of hiking. We were all so excited that, instead of going to the east coast, we wanted to spend 5 days in this area.
First of all, let me tell you about the Lion Rock. We saw it from Pidurangala Rock because no way I would pay 30USD for that (and guess what, locals pay only 50LKR, which means 0,25€).
It’s not that big and impressive as you might see it in some photos. What made us question this place was talking to some local friends we made here. They told us the Lion Rock is “ok, just some ruins with a view”. Also, I did my research on TripAdvisor before and I found a lot of comments from tourists who were not recommending this place. They were saying that it’s too expensive and you don’t get to see anything special.
Secondly, we climbed Pidurangala Rock, where the ticket (“donation”) is way cheaper (500LKR-2,50€). Also, the view better because we could see the Lion Rock. After entering, there’s a Buddhist temple, the reason why they also charge you to climb the rock. After climbing a while you will find a Reclining Buddha statue carved in the rock, measuring 12,5m.
Once you arrive on top, you can get a nice view of the nature surrounding you and the Lion Rock. But it’s just nice, nothing spectacular or impressive. We actually thought for a moment that we were not in the right place because the Lion Rock looked smaller. But, there wasn’t any other rock around so we concluded that we were in the right place.
Why I will not recommend Dambulla
The city of Dambulla is famous in Sri Lanka for the Dambulla Caves. This is, again, a Buddhist temple, but, compared to the other one, it’s in a cave. Initially, I wanted to see it, as the price ticket was a bit more decent 1500LKR (7,60€). Also, I thought it’s something I haven’t seen before. But after climbing Pidurangala Rock and seeing the temple and the statue carved in the rock, I felt like they’re more or less similar.
We booked 3 nights in Dambulla because again, we thought we would enjoy some nature, but we ended up leaving after less than 24 hours.
Advice: if you want to spend 1, 2 nights in the area, but you don’t want to crazy, dirty. crowded city vibe, choose to stay in Sigiriya. There is only 1 main road with a few good restaurants and souvenir shops.
If you’re coming to Sri Lanka, be ready to feel this commercialization of religion on your own. I’ve been before to Buddhist temples in other countries, but I’ve never seen anything like this before.
First of all, tourists have to pay a ridiculous amount of money compared to the country’s prices. One example is above, where a foreigner has to pay 30USD for a temple and for the locals is free. Besides that, they charge us anywhere, even if it’s a smaller price. There wasn’t a single temple in Sri Lanka where I wasn’t charged.
Secondly, let’s say you don’t have a problem with the price and you want to see these temples anyway. Once you go inside, you will be facing another problem. Everybody will start taking advantage of you and you won’t have a lot of quiet and meditative time for yourself. The tricks are numerous: from the blessings to pulling the bell. Everything will end up with you having to pay “donations” for your soul.
Most importantly, I’ve spent in Sri Lanka 3 months, so time was not a problem for me. In case you have plenty of time, you should definitely visit these places so you can form your own opinion. But, if you’re coming for 2 weeks, I feel like you’re losing time you could spend in another place that’s worth it.
When we did this small tour, we had a friend who was visiting us for 2 weeks. We were all excited to do some sightseeing in nature, but, unfortunately, it was not like that. After leaving from Sigiriya, our friend told us “I feel that I’ve lost these 2 days and I haven’t seen anything”.
How about you? Did you enjoy your trip to these part of Sri Lanka or you feel like you could have skipped it?
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