Dambulla Cave Temple: A Complete Guide
Dambulla cave temple is one of the most famous ancient temples of Sri Lanka. The temple complex, dating from the 1st century B.C., was once the largest Buddhist monastery in the world.
We visited the Dambulla cave temple as the first stop on our trip to this beautiful country. Read on for more tips.
About Dambulla cave temple
Dambulla cave temple, also known as the Golden temple, is the most well-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. It was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage in 1991.
This Buddhist temple complex consists of five cave temples. These caves are also known as shrine rooms and were built in different periods, of which the oldest dates back to the 1st century B.C. The fifth cave is considered to have the least historical value because it was built last.
There are 5 caves with 153 stunning Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lanka kings, and 4 statues of gods and goddesses.
The Buddhist mural paintings were first created here over 2000 years ago by King Valagamba, and more images were added by later kings over the centuries.
To fully understand this attraction’s meaning and historical value, you can hire an on-site guide for the explanations.
Where to stay in Dambulla
Dambulla town is quite dull, with nothing much to do except the cave temple. The streets are also very busy, with heavy traffic heading for one of Sri Lanka’s biggest wholesale markets.
We stayed one night in Dambulla at S.A. Village guesthouse, and it was pleasant. The room was simple and clean with good wifi. Our host was very friendly and welcoming. She offered free tuk-tuk drop-off to the cave temple ticket booth.
You can also opt to stay in Sigiriya and visit Dambulla on a day trip. We prefer staying in Sigiriya much more.
How to get to Dambulla cave temple
Getting to Dambulla
To get to Dambulla, you can take a bus to the Dambulla bus station.
If you arrive from the airport, take the bus from Negombo bus station and transit at Kurunegala. From Kandy, you can take the bus from Kandy bus station, and the journey takes about 3 hours.
Sigiriya is also a perfect base for the Dabumlla day trip as well. It takes about 20 minutes per way by tuk-tuk from Sigiriya.
Getting to Dambulla cave temple
You should take a tuk-tuk to the ticket office (1km west of the main highway, on the south side of the hillside leading up to the temples).
After buying your ticket, climb 20 minutes to the cave temple entrance. After visiting, you can walk down the main stairway to the Golden Temple on the main road.
Dambulla temple admission fee and opening hours
While it’s free for Sri Lanka, the entrance fee for Dambulla cave temple is 2000 LKR for foreigners. You’ll also need to pay the shoe storage fee of 200 LKR.
The temple complex opens from 7 am to 6 pm, while the ticket office only opens till 5 pm.
Best time to visit Dambulla cave temple
It’s best to visit Dambulla cave temple in the early morning (7 – 9 am) or afternoon (4 – 6 pm) as it can get very crowded and hot.
We spent about 30 minutes climbing up the stairs and about 2 hours exploring the cave temples.
Things to see in Dambulla cave temple
Cave I (Devaraja Viharaya)
The first cave, the Temple of the King of the Gods, is famous for the 15m-long reclining Buddha carved out of rock. You can also see Ananda, the Buddha’s most loyal disciple, standing at his feet.
The murals are fascinating, however badly eroded by time.
Cave II (Maharaja Viharaya)
The second cave, The Temple of the Great King, is undoubtedly the most impressive. It’s the most extensive cave, with 52m in width and 23 meters in length, and its ceiling reaching up to 7 meters.
This cave features two King statues, with a painted wooden figure of King Valagamba on the left and a Nissanka Malla statue at the far right-hand end of the cave. There are huge lines of Buddha statues on the side and back.
The murals in Cave II are the finest in Sri Lanka, depicting scenes of early Buddhist historical events and dagobas at holy places.
Cave III (Maha Alut Viharaya)
Cave III, the New Great Temple, is believed to be built in the 18th century by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy.
You can see a beautiful reclining Buddha and several other Buddha statues here. The walls are also covered with impressive paintings of Buddhas and floral decorative patterns.
Cave IV (Pachima Viharaya)
This relatively small cave, Western Temple, highlights a central Buddha figure under an elaborate Makara Torana arch. There are multiple identical figures of seated Buddhas in the meditation pose.
You can also see a small dagoba in the center. It’s believed to be broken by the thieves hunting the jewelry of Vattagamini Abhaya’s wife, Queen Somawathie.
Cave V (Devana Alut Viharaya)
Cave V, the second New Temple, is the most modern of the temples.
Unlike other statues carved out of rocks, the sculptures here were made of brick and plaster. Cave V features a 10m reclining Buddha with paintings of Vishnu and Bandara, a local deity.
Dambulla golden temple tips
- You should bring a water bottle because there’s no place selling refreshments.
- You’ll need to take off your shoes when entering the temple gate. So bring socks if you’re not comfortable walking barefoot.