Many guests ready for sightseeing ask: “What are the things to do and the places to visit in Dambulla besides the Cave Temple?”. Well, honestly not too much, or let’s say: Not too much that you can see and do IN Dambulla. Most of the amazing spots are spread around Dambulla. They are out in the jungle, hidden in the most scenic landscape! Which also means you need a tuk-tuk / taxi or rent a bike in order to get there.
Here I’ll tell you all about the places to visit and things to do in Dambulla. Of course the famous Dambulla Cave Temple. But I covered that in a separate post.
Places to visit in Dambulla
So what other places to visit and things to do are there in and around Dambulla (click on the map to see more details):
Wholesale Vegetable Market
You couldn’t be any more central in Sri Lanka than here. Therefore Dambulla plays an important role for the farmers and vegetable wholesale market. All farmers Sri Lanka wide bring their harvest to Dambulla and from here it is sold Sri Lanka wide.
It’s free to visit this market. It opens early morning (no fix opening hours). Morning is a good time to visit, as it’s not too busy. In the afternoon and evening it gets super busy and hectic – with people carrying big bags of veggies on their shoulders or pushing some carts. All among countless lorries that block each others way.
Officially this market is meaningfully named “Dambulla Dedicated Economic Center”. For more information click here.
Popham’s Arboretum is a tree garden. It is Sri Lanka’s only dry zone arboretum, i.e. a place where trees are grown for study and display. Popham’s Arboretum is about 3 km away from the Dambulla Cave Temple on Kandalama Road. You can easily catch a tuk tuk for Rs. 200 from the temple or you catch a bus at the Kandalama Junction. Or just walk.
A daytime visit costs Rs. 1000 and you can follow one of the colored paths by yourself. The property is amazingly big. The original founder, a British tea planter called Mr. F.H. (Sam) Popham, bought 7.5 acres in 1963. 1989 he handed it over to the Sri Lankan Institute of Fundamental Studies (IFS), which added another 27 acres. The longest trail would take you about an hour if you walk steadily. The manager will provide you with a lot of information, either personally or in form of a leaflet.
It’s also possible to do a night safari to see loris. Loris are small nocturnal primates living up high in the trees. The night safari starts at 7pm, costs Rs. 1500 per person and is highly recommended.
The two guides will lead you with red light head torches through the jungle – a wonderful, unique experience! The atmosphere is amazing, when pacing slowly and in total silence through the red lighted jungle.
Your luck on seeing loris depends on the weather. During my visit it was quite windy (wind season is roughly from May to August). Our guide saw loris two times, but both times they disappeared (jumped off to the next tree) before my eyes had a chance to adjust to the light and find the spot he was pointing at. I was told the best time to visit for the loris safari is December to May, as there is no wind. The wind apparently scares them and make them jump from tree to tree, which makes it harder to spot them in the pitch black.
Sunday & Thursday market
Every Sunday and Thursday is local market in Dambulla. Opposed to the Wholesale Vegetable Market that’s the place where the locals buy their weekly supply of veggies, fruits, spices, sweets, fish, meat and all kinds of plastic items (buckets, cooking tools, …).
The Sunday market is bigger than Thursday’s one, with more people sitting on the ground and offering their harvest or produces they bought from the Wholesale Vegetable Market in small amounts for a fair price. You might not find much for yourself to buy, but you will get a good impression of the local grocery shopping style – and plenty of good photos!
Just a few hundred meters down the road of the Golden Temple. The so-called Dambulla Museum is often overlooked by tourist (as well as locals), but it offers very detailed information about the Mural Arts of Sri Lanka. It also features a replica of the frescoes in Sigiriya (so if you skip Sigiriya Rock and Sigiriya Museum for some reason, come here to see the frescoes).
The whole visit takes about an hour time. The entrance fee is 2 USD. There is also a small shop for souvenirs and postcards inside, which offers these for a very competitive price (postcards Rs 20 each, other items come with price tags and are far from being overpriced tourist rip-offs!). The shop has a limited variety though, don’t expect too much. There were a couple of small wood-carved Buddhas and that was pretty much it.
Lakes around Dambulla
Once you leave Dambulla town you’ll be amazed by the beautiful landscape around it. It’s marvelous! There are also quite a lot of lakes in and around Dambulla. The biggest and best ones for swimming and picnicking are Kandalama Lake and Ibbankatuwa Lake. Or if it’s just for a short dip into the water, jump into the Temple Lake right next to the Golden Temple.
Beautifully located in the Sri Lankan jungle it offers not only plenty of green views in any directions but also a beautiful view of Sigiriya and Pidurangala in the distance. Locals come here to take a bath or do their laundry. Or watch the fishermen on the lake.
On the other side of the Kandalama Lake is the famous 5-star Kandalama Heritance Hotel, which is really recommended for swimming (see at the end of this post).
A trip to Kandalama Lake is beautiful at any time of the day. As long as it doesn’t rain heavily, of course… The atmospheric light of sunset and sunrise give it a special touch, though.
I personally love going to Ibbankatuwa Lake. For swimming, I find it better than Kandalama Lake. And also the surrounding looks so breathtaking! There is a small hill with a Buddha on top. Definitely go there, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views.Fortunately, Ibbankatuwa Lake is on the way to Namal Uyana (via scenic Ibbankatuwa Lake Road, not main road).
Other things to do in Dambulla
There are a few things that are really highly recommended. Especially the walk is very easy to combine with a visit to the Dambulla Cave Temple.
Sunrise Ballooning over the Sri Lankan jungle at Kandalama Lake and Dambulla. Highly recommended by everybody who did it. The tourists just love it. Check out the website of the ballooning company. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but probably worth it (haven’t done it so far, sorry!).
Watch a cricket game
… at the international cricket ground in Dambulla. Occasionally there are international games versus India or Australia or England. Just check it out.
Swim in the infinitive pool Kandalama Hotel
Kandalama Lake accommodates the famous 5-star Kandalama Heritance Hotel. I know, not everybody has the money to spend the night there, but you might opt for spending a few hours in their infinity pool for as little as Rs 600! But of course, there is no public bus service to such an exclusive location. You had to catch a taxi or tuk-tuk from Dambulla or Sigiriya.
Last update: December 2017