The stunning Dambulla Cave Temple is the main attraction in Dambulla. It looks back on a history of 2100 years and comes with a unique atmosphere, 151 Buddha statues, two statues of gods and three images of kings. On top of all, every single square millimeter is painted with amazing wall paintings, which help to create this venerable ambiance.
On this page you gonna read all you need to know when planning your visit in the caves. Entrance fee, opening hours, dress code, how long it takes to see the caves – and many more helpful information.
Difference between Dambulla Cave Temple and Dambulla Rock Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple is – by the way – the exact same thing as the Dambulla Rock Temple. Two interchangeable names for the same cave temple complex, not two separate temples or caves.
And what is the Golden Temple?
The Dambulla Cave Temple and the Golden Temple are one temple complex. The Golden Temple is at the bottom of the big rock, in which the 5 caves, known as the Cave Temple, are carved.
Formerly, until 2016, was the official entrance and ticket counter for Dambulla’s Cave Temple at the Golden Temple, so every visitor came to the magnificent sight of the Golden Temple with the big Golden Buddha on the roof of the museum.
Short overview of the history
Back in those days, the King Walagamba had to flee from Indian invaders and hid in the jungle and different caves for decades. Among them where these caves in Dambulla, in which already monks lived and meditated. His strong belief in Buddhism gave him the strength to endure all those years. Therefore, he decided to transform these caves into a temple if he will ever be King again. Said and done. Once he got to the power again, he started building this temple, which is now famously known as the Dambulla Cave Temple. Many additions and changes were done later, though.
The climb and visit of the caves
The caves are in 110m height. The climb takes about 10 minutes. It’s quite steep at times, just take your time. There is no shop at the top, bring enough drinking water.
When visiting the Dambulla Cave Temple it is best to start with the last cave and work your way backward. The last two caves are the newest and least impressive. So it becomes more impressive with every cave you visit rather than less spectacular.
As I specialized in writing what’s not written everywhere (or even anywhere) online, I decided against writing all the details of the five caves. But I found two awesome pages, that give superb descriptions: Srilankaview.com and Amazinglanka.com. Read there all about the five caves itself.
Hours needed for the visit to the caves
With all these information about the 5 caves and the actual 2 sites Dambulla Cave Temple and the Golden Temple, many tourists think that they will need at least a half day for this sightseeing program.
No. It only takes 1 hour altogether. Maybe one and a half hours, when you tend to take a photo or two more than other or when you need to rest a minute longer after the climb up. But still, that’s far away from day filling. It takes longer reading all about the five caves in your guidebook than actually seeing them. Just kidding 😉 But you get the point.
Dambulla Cave Temple entrance fee
The entrance fee for the Dambulla Cave Temple is LKR 1500. The caves were free to visit from January 2016 to February 2017. But unfortunately, since the beginning of February 2017 you have to pay an entrance fee of Rs. 1500 again!
The new ticket counter is NOT (like before) inside the Golden Temple anymore. It was moved to the neighboring temple at the base of the rock in the south. So now you can ascent from the new ticket counter or still through the Golden Temple.
When entering through the Golden Temple take the left staircase left of Buddha (in the following photo in the very left). The ticket counter is signposted on the way up. Or just ask the locals where to buy the tickets for the caves.
The downside when using the Golden Temple entrance is: You have to go up, then go back down a bit to the ticket counter and then go up all the way… On hot days (or just the unfit ones) it’s not really fun to climb up twice, even if it’s just a few height meters. So you can actually walk up at the new ticket counter and come back the other way, ending at the Golden Temple. Or you do my suggested walking trail, see the Golden Temple first, walk around the rock and then go up to the caves (see the end of this post).
Dambulla Cave Temple Opening hours
The caves itself are open for visitors from 7 am to 7 pm. But be aware that the ticket counter closes at 5 pm. Make sure you arrive in time to get your ticket. Once you’ve got it, it’s fine, no rush. A visit to the Cave Temple usually only takes about 1 hour! It’s not a day filling thing, as I already wrote before.
Dress code and other things to consider
As in every Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka (and probably worldwide), there is a dress code in the temple. You have to cover your shoulders and knees and take off any hats. There is no rental service for sheets/clothes, so bring a shawl/ sarong or dress properly before arrival. Otherwise, you won’t be allow entering.
There is a shoe rack up the hill in front of the entrance to the Cave Temple. The guy running it charges a small fee, usually Rs 20 per pair. If your shoes are dear to you, use his service. Many many pairs of shoes do disappear at temples in Sri Lanka! Especially on really busy days with hundreds of local visitors (full moon or famous temples). If their shoes broke (which happens easily and often considering the low quality) Sri Lankans tend to just take somebody else’s shoes, as they can’t walk off without shoes (or don’t have the money or chance to buy new ones). The next person coming back and seeing that their shoes are missing might just take another pair of shoes. And so on… So better pay a few rupees and your shoes are still there when you return.
Best time to visit the caves?
The best time to visit the Cave Temple depends on the weather – what a surprise! But generally, I suggest going just before sunset. It’s less busy, as most foreigners come in the morning (after 8 am) or during the day. And even better: It’s the best spot for sunset viewing in Dambulla. As seeing the five caves takes about an hour, so plan to be at the Golden Temple complex 1.5 hours before sunset.
Another good time for visiting would be just in the early hours of the day. It opens at 7 am, so being at the top of the hill, i.e. at the entrance of the Cave Temple at 7 am is a really quiet and peaceful experience.
Beautiful walking trail
If you happen to have some time to linger in Dambulla, definitely don’t miss out on this trail. You would start/end at the Golden Temple. The easiest starting point is at the Golden Temple car park.
From there you’ll follow the path, that starts at the Temple Lake. This path leads once around the rock, in which the Cave Temple is located. You can’t get lost, as all you have to do, is making sure, that the huge rock is always on your left-hand side.
This walk is very beautiful and scenic. Along the way, you won’t even feel like being in town. Especially in the back of the rock, there is nothing than a small ruin (Somawathi Stupa) and a paddi field on the other side of the path.
Follow the path until you reach the ticket counter and then make your way up to the Cave Temple.
Last update: November 2017