Famed for its Golden Cave Temple, the little town of Dambulla is a part of the Cultural Triangle located in the Matale District in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. It sits 182 kilometres away from Colombo and 72 kilometres from Kandy. Sinhalese people refer to Dambulla as ‘Dambulu Gala’- Dambulla Rock and the temple is called as the ‘Rangiri Dambulu Viharaya’ – Golden Rock Dambulla Temple. Declared as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, the cave temple complex has five magical dimly lit caves filled with statues and walls painted with beautiful secular murals reflecting the Sinhalese Buddhist culture.
The area also claims to have South Asia’s largest Rose Quartz mountain range and Ironwood forest known as Namal Uyana. The Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium is well known for it was built in just 167 days.
Nearby attractions within the vicinity are the beautiful Kandalama Reservoir, exceptionally unique edifice of Nalanda Gedige, a birds’ haven in the Kaludiya Pokuna and the majestic citadel of the Yapahuwa Ancient Kingdom.
Dambulla has popular nature excursions such as elephant back riding in the nearby town of Habarana, hot air ballooning in Kandalama, cycling along the endless paddy fields and temple complex and bird watching.
There is delicious and authentic Sri Lankan cuisine in well recommended restaurants and eating houses.
The caves of Dambulla were the refuge of King Valagamba (Vatagamini Abhaya) when he was in exile for 14 years from Anuradhapura. Buddhist monks meditating in the caves at that time provided the exiled king protection from his enemies. When the King returned to the throne at Anuradhapura kingdom in the 1st century BC, he had the magnificent rock temple built at Dambulla in gratitude to the monks who had helped him.
How to Get There
There are many options of travel from Colombo to Dambulla which are by road, bus, train and air.
By Road – Renting a car to travel direct to Dambulla would be the most comfortable option. There are routes to Dambulla via Kurunegela. The traditional route is to take the A1 highway (Kandy Road) up to Ambepussa, where you would turn off to Kurunegela on the A6 highway or the newer route would be via the E03 (Katunayake Expressway) where you would drive past the airport towards Minuwangoda, then to Giriulla and then to Kurunegela, where you can get on the A6 highway. The A6 will take you directly towards Dambulla. The entire journey would take approximately 3 – 4 hours from Colombo. Tour consultants at Epic Sri Lanka Holidays can make arrangements for a car for you.
By Bus – Bus travel can be tiring with several stops but since there are many buses leaving Colombo Pettah daily, it would be an easy option to choose. From Pettah Bus Stand, you could take No.15 which is Anuradhapura bound, No.48 which is Kaduruwela – Polonnaruwa bound or No.49 which is Trincomalee bound; these buses do stop at Dambulla in which you can get off.
By Train – the closest railway station to get to Dambulla is in Habarana which is 15 km away. There is only one train that leaves daily at 6:10am from Colombo Fort Railway taking approximately 5 hours to reach Habarana. From Habarana, you will have to taxi to Dambulla which is only 25 minutes away.
By Air – Cinnamon Air operates daily flights from the domestic terminal at the Katunayake airport to the Air Force airstrip base in Sigiriya. Then you can either taxi or rent a car and travel to Dambulla. Although, an expensive way of travel, it is the quickest and the view of the surroundings from the sky is breathtaking. It would be ideal for those on short stays in Sri Lanka. Tour consultants at Epic Sri Lanka Holidays can make booking arrangements for you.
From Galle – the fastest route to reach Dambulla from Galle would be to taxi to Koggala to fly to Katugastota on Sri Lankan Airlines and then taxi to Dambulla. This would take an approximate time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. Alternative option would be to drive by renting a car since it would take approximately little over 5 hours via the Southern Expressway E01 and the A1 Colombo-Kandy highway to Kurunegela and then take the A6 highway towards Dambulla.
From Trincomalee – it is a short route from Trincomalee to Dambulla since it is 105.5 km and takes almost 2 hours travel by road. You can drive by renting a car or taxi. Drive via Ambepussa-Kurunegela-Trincomalee Highway (A6). Vehicle or taxi arrangements can be made for you by our tour consultants at Epic Sri Lanka Holidays.
The best time to visit Dambulla is from February to April since it has moderate climate. Since it is situated in the Cultural Triangle which is a dry zone, there is very little rainfall throughout the year except during the Maha monsoon season which occurs from December to February. From May to October it is the dry season.
Food & Drink
The food available in Dambulla extends from local cuisine to Chinese, Indian and Western. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants offering food from cheap eats, mid-range to fine dining. However popular restaurants according to tourists are, Sakura Restaurant, Gimanhala Hotel, Tropical Village and Café Kachchan at Heritance Kandalama Hotel.
The Golden Cave Temple – The Cave Temple complex is the largest and well preserved of its kind in Sri Lanka and is situated within a huge cavern it the rock that is 160 metres high over the surrounding plains. For many centuries, Dambulla Cave Temple has been a pilgrim site for Buddhists and monks till today. The temple comprises of five caves that are extraordinary and covers a wide area of the complex.
Namal Uyana – Ironwood Forest – Renowned to be the oldest garden in the island, Namal Uyana or Ironwood Forest is famed for South Asia’s largest pink quartz mountain range sitting shimmering and sparkling amongst seven hills. The area had been previously used as a sanctuary and later used as a prison camp where it was recorded that each person who had found refuge here, had to plant a Na (ironwood) tree hence creating this man made Ironwood forest.
Dambulla Museum – Located at the south of the Cave Temple, the Dambulla Museum is a very small museum dedicated to the recreations of all the murals and paintings that are displayed at the cave temple which illustrate Sri Lanka’s history with relevance to the life and events of Buddha and the onset of Sinhalese culture.
Rangiri Dambulla International Cricket Stadium – It is the first and only international cricket ground built in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. It was built just within 167 days, over 60 acres and has a seating capacity of 30,000 people. This stadium hosts matches whenever monsoon hits other areas of the country and has a fantastic turning pitch which has helped bowlers break records.
Dambulla Economic Centre – Dambulla Produce Market or Economic Centre is the largest and vegetables and fruits wholesale market in Sri Lanka. The harvest from the surrounding fields and villages is brought in to the market for distribution to the rest of the country.
Kandalama Reservoir – Lying 8km away from Dambulla Rock Cave Temple is this man-made lake created by kings of a bygone era. This reservoir was constructed for the purposes of irrigation within the area which stretched up to Kekirawa. Apart from irrigation purposes, it supplies drinking water, facilitates fishing industry, presents a tourism region for special interests and holiday excursions and it has a view which could take your breath away.
Nalanda Gedige – Renowned as one of the most intricately built historical places in Sri Lanka, this edifice has a fascinating mix of Buddhist and Hindu architecture and style that makes it uniquely exceptional.
Kaludiya Pokuna Forest – An ideal escape after exploring the heritage site of Dambulla or the Cultural Triangle, the Kaludiya Pokuna Forest is a beautiful place for trekking in nature and bird watching although it is a site of neglected ancient ruins.
Yapahuwa Ancient Kingdom – The Rock Fortress Complex of Yapahuwa has been commended to be quite extraordinary in comparison to all the ancient ruins in the country although it has not attracted much fame among most visitors. Nonetheless, it has been accredited as one of the best archaeological sites in the island.