Three days is ample time to immerse yourself in Sigiriya. Combine sightseeing at Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla with elephant-spotting game drives and village tours—capped with forays into ancient ruins, the hill town of Kandy, and Sri Lanka’s palm-fringed east coast. Here’s how to do it.
Day 1: The must-sees
Forego the hassle of driving yourself or navigating public transit, and join a private day trip to two of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage sites: Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Cave Temples. Most tours begin with a climb to the rock’s ruined 5th-century palace-fortress and wall frescoes, then continue on to Dambulla’s caves full of Buddhist icons and murals.
Or for more flexibility, take a self-guided Sigiriya Rock tour using a mobile app, or see the rock as part of a bike or 4WD tour. If time allows, finish with a late-afternoon safari in the Minneriya, Kaudulla, or Hurulu reserve, and see wild elephants lumber to their water holes.
Day 2: Kandy or Trincomalee
Several beautiful Sri Lankan towns lie near Sigiriya. Book a day trip to Trincomalee, a charming east-coast port fringed by white beaches. Tours typically include a roundup of the town’s temples and fort, plus a boat trip to nearby Pigeon Island to go snorkeling.
Another popular destination is Kandy, deep in Sri Lanka’s hill country. Uncover local Buddhist culture on a tour of this UNESCO-protected gem, and visit the Temple of the Tooth—home to one of Buddha’s teeth—and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.
Back in Sigiriya, take an evening jungle walk to see the rare gray slender loris. These endangered primates appear only at night, and a naturalist-led tour is your best chance of a sighting.
Day 3: Ancient ruins or rural life
Set out on a tour of Sigiriya’s nearby villages, learning about facets of rural life that many travelers miss. Take a bullock cart ride or a boat trip, or dine with a local family.
Alternatively, check out more of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO-listed antiquities. Roam the sun-burnished temples of the island’s one-time capital, Anuradhapura—or head to the medieval royal seat of Polonnaruwa. Whichever site you choose, opt for a tour to eliminate transport hassles and learn more about the relics.
On your last night, unwind on a sunset cruise. Board a private, nonmotorized catamaran and sail across a secluded lake with magical views of Sigiriya Rock—absorbing the scenery in silent slo-mo.