Climbing Sigiriya Rock – lions and cobras and wasps! Oh my!

climbing sigiriya rock | this city life

When I told people we were off to Sri Lanka for our honeymoon, almost everyone said that we had to tackle climbing Sigiriya Rock. Now, if you know me you’ll already know that when anything to do with ‘climbing’ is mentioned, I’m the last to put my hand up. Do something that makes my head feel like it’s going to explode? Climb something for 3 hours in 30 degree heat? Uhh, no thank you. My feet are perfectly fine planted on this here ground.

But then I figured – screw it. It’s the one and only honeymoon (sort of) I’ll ever have and probably the only time we’ll get to Sri Lanka in the foreseeable, so just suck it up and give climbing Sigiriya Rock a go. Did I?

In the past I’ve really come up against my fears when it comes to heights. I’ve suffered vertigo at the top of St Paul’s cathedral and still get a panicky feeling walking across bridges. And when I researched climbing the rock, it didn’t make my decision any easier. Photos and videos made it look horrendous. Sheer drops, metal stairs bolted onto the side and no hope of turning back if it all got too much. I searched blog posts and YouTube videos of people who had climbed before and all said the same thing – it’s very high. Crap.

So I did it anyway. Yes!

climbing sigiriya rock | this city life

Honestly, it’s not as bad as it looks in pictures (depth is a very subjective thing apparently…) It’s not the easiest thing to do when you hate heights, and I did have a couple of wobbly knee moments, but the main thing you have to do is breathe and push forward. Trust me, the view at the top is so worth it.

What’s climbing Sigiriya Rock really like?

When you first get there, you walk through the ruins of the gardens and pools. The rock looks so intimidating from this angle, but conquering it is the best feeling. Once you get to the base of the rock, you start climbing steps straight away. They’re pretty steep and unforgiving, but it’s not rock steps all the way up. You walk through a bit more garden (uphill) and come to a sign with this on it:

wasp attack | this city life

Pretty random and scary, but those wasps rarely come out. You definitely don’t need to rent the ‘anti-wasp’ suits people peddle at the bottom either! Once you’re here you take a look back at the bottom of the rock and see exactly how far you’ve come already. That little climb from the gardens puts you high enough already to see across Sigiriya. And it’s an amazing view. Then comes the metal spiral staircases up to the paintings. This part is over quickly and the actual paintings are covered, so you won’t be looking out into the wide open. The advice I can give is to take the stairs slowly and keep looking ahead/up. On the way down, do the same but look at where your feet are stepping – it’s the only way to stop yourself from looking at the view below if you’re scared of it!

spiral staircase | this city life

Next you’ll walk past the mirror wall, which I was a bit disappointed by. When it was built by King Kasyapa over 1600 years ago it would have looked its best, but it’s not so impressive now. After the mirror wall, there are more stairs (of course) to the bottom of the Lion Paws, where you can have a break and be proud of yourself for getting this far!

lion paws | this city life

sigiriya rock | this city life

We took a few photos at this point to prove we’d made it to the paws and spent a couple of minutes looking up at the next stage. In photos it looks huge, but trust me – the climb is more like a kitten than a lion! We looked at each other and said ‘After you?’ The steps are steep and narrow, and you are literally hanging from a cliff face, but you’re not looking down the whole of the rock – just the flat plain you just came from. If you take it slow and steady, you’ll get up there just fine. Stop and take some photos or a bit of video and you’ll enjoy it that bit more. I love looking through our photos and being proud of myself for stopping and taking stock of the view.

It took us 6 minutes to climb the last bit. SIX MINUTES! I thought it would take us at least twenty. And once at the top, we were so pleased. The view from the very top is incredible. We took our time looking around – it had taken us an hour to climb the whole thing after all.

monkey | this city life

metal stairs | this city life

walkway | this city life

sigiriya rock | this city life

Once you’re ready to go down, you have to go back the way you came – yep. But you’re so excited by what you’ve just done, all the adrenaline is still flowing around your body so you just skip all the way to the bottom. There’s time for one more animal at the end of the climb too – the cobra. The Cobra Hood Cave is a rock naturally shaped like a cobra’s head and it’s home to some amazing paintings and motifs. It’s worth a look if you’re not already running back to the car!

Have you climbed Sigiriya Rock? What did you think of it? Tell me in the comments!

All images copyright This City Life 2014

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3 Comments

    • 6th January 2015 / 10:59 pm

      Hey Polly – love your pictures! It’s not so bad a climb, is it. We got back in September after visiting Colombo, Sigiriya, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. We didn’t get a chance to go south, which was a shame. What did you think to the elephants? We absolutely loved being up close to them!

      • 10th January 2015 / 10:45 am

        Loved the elephants, I think they were the best part of my trip! Isn’t Kandy beautiful? I visited on a previous trip back in 2004 and fell in love. Sounds like you had a fantastic time :-) You must go back and head south at some point, the beaches there are the best in the world! Polly xx