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.
Apart from the cave temple there are a few more things to see and do in and around Dambulla, such as the vegetable wholesale market, Pophams Arboretum and more. All details of what else there is to discover in Dambulla can be found here.
Places to stay close to Dambulla Cave Temple
There seem to be endless options for places to stay in Dambulla. Pretty much all accommodations in Dambulla (or elsewhere in Sri Lanka) are listed on booking.com, that’s why it’s one of the best websites to compare them.
For everyone who is more after a comfortable stay, check out the famous Kandalama Heritance Hotel at the feet of Kandalama Lake, a very well-known 5-star-hotel designed by the famous architect Geoffrey Bawa.
Always dreamt of sleeping in a tree house like me? Then definitely check out the Dambulla Tree House, that my friend Pradeepika and her husband runs. It’s an absolute “magical experience” being surrounded by wildlife like squirrels, birds and fire flies.
And if you want to experience Sri Lanka’s hospitality at its best, the possibly most heartwarming, friendly and helpful family in Dambulla runs the budget-friendly Sandra Guesthouse. They go far out of their way to make your stay as comfortable as possible. The home-cooked meals are a real treat!
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.
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 Buddhist Museum.
The visit of the Golden Temple is free of charge and a short detour of 5 minutes is definitely worthwhile! Rarely have I seen such a lovingly designed temple.
Cave Temple Entrance fee and Location of Ticketcoutner
The current entrance fee is for the Cave Temple is Rs. 1500.
From January 2016 until February 2017 the visit of the cave temple was free. I only mention it in case you read blogs or travel guides from that time and are wondering.
In a long lawsuit in 2016 and 2017 it was found out that Dambulla’s cave temple does not belong to the administrative area of the Golden Temple, but the rightful owner is the small neighboring temple. Therefore a big parking lot was hurriedly built near the small temple in the middle of nowhere, and the ticket office was moved there. Now all tourists have to go there to get their tickets.
The new ticket office (the marker with the star on the map) is accessible from both Kandy Road and Colombo Road. Coming from Colombo Road, the entrance of the road is marked with a large archway and signs. Coming from Kandy Road, the road starts about 400m south of the Golden Temple. However, one has to climb up and down a rather steep slope of the road to get to the ticket office. A better and much more beautiful and flatter alternative would be the walk around the rock, starting at the Golden Temple. There is a detailed description at the end of this article.
The climb up and down
The climb now starts directly at the ticket office and leads over a long staircase up to the cave temple. The caves are located at a height of 110 m. The ascent takes about 10 minutes. It is quite steep, just take your time. There are no shops at the top (except for souvenir sellers), bring enough drinking water from below.
The way back down can still be made via the old route to the Golden Temple. Just follow the locals, almost all of them take the ascent via the Golden Temple (locals do not have to take the detour to the ticket office). If you took a tuk-tuk to visit the Cave Temple, ask the driver to pick you up at the Golden Temple.
Visit of the Cave Temple
When you visit the cave temple of Dambulla, it is best to start with the last cave and work backwards. The last two caves are the newest and least impressive. In this way of reverse order, each cave you visit will be more impressive – and not 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 the details about the five caves.
Here are a few of my pictures for a first impression (I’m not a professional photographer, though!)
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.
Hours needed for the visit to the caves
With all this 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 Opening hours
The Cave Temple is 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 allowed to enter.
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. Seeing the five caves takes about an hour, so plan to be at the Cave Temple complex 1.5 hours before sunset. But of course, keep in mind that the ticket counter closes at 5 pm.
Another good time to visit is early in the morning. The ticket office opens at 7 am, and at this time it is still very quiet in the temple. There are only a few isolated locals (all early risers!) there. A really peaceful and atmospheric experience.
During the day many day tourists come from Kandy etc. to visit Dambulla’s cave temple on the way to Sigiriya or Polonnaruwa. Moreover, with the sometimes scorching midday heat, the climb is not exactly a walk in the park.
In the afternoon around 2 to 4 pm there are a lot of tourists who spend the night in Dambulla, have just moved into their room and visit the temple first, as they leave for Sigiriya very early the next morning.
Beautiful walking trail
If you have more than one hour to visit the cave temple, I recommend a walk around the temple rock. The walk is approximately 3.5km long and takes 40 minutes to an hour.
This begins and ends at the Golden Temple. From there you follow the footpath that starts at the Temple Lake right next to the parking lot. This path leads once around the rock, in which the Cave Temple is located. You cannot get lost, you just have to make sure that the huge rock is always on your left side. The path ends at the ticket office where you can buy your ticket and climb up to the caves. You can then descend to the Golden Temple again.
If your driver drops you off at the ticket office and waits there for you, you can also climb up to the Dambulla Cave Temple and after visiting descend over the Golden Temple and walk along this route back to the ticket office and the waiting driver.
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. Even if you don’t want to visit the Cave Temple, you can still follow this path, go up to the entrance of the Cave Temple (without entering), enjoy the view or sunset and descent over the Golden Temple.