Dambulla Cave Temple (Golden Temple of Dambulla)
Sitting 525 feet (160 meters above the Kandy-Jaffna highway in central Sri Lanka, the UNESCO-listed Dambulla Cave Temple is a working Buddhist cave monastery dating to the 1st century BC. The five caves at the heart of the complex are filled with exquisitely painted Buddha statues, carvings, and murals.
Visitors can enjoy self-guided tours of the Dambulla Cave Temple, but traveling to the site independently by public transport from Colombo means long train and bus journeys. Consequently, most travelers come here as part of a tour of Sri Lanka’s interior.
Day trips from Colombo, Negombo, and Kandy usually combine the caves with a visit to nearby Sigiriya Rock and are ideal if you only have limited time in Sri Lanka. Travelers with more time can choose from a plethora of multi-day central Sri Lanka tours: nearly all visit Dambulla together with Kandy, Polonnaruwa, and national parks such as Minneriya.
Things to know before you go
- The Dambulla Cave Temple will appeal to anyone interested in Sri Lanka’s history and Buddhist culture.
- Be prepared for many steps up to the entrance, which lies behind the giant Golden Buddha statue.
- Visitors have to remove their shoes, but be sure to keep your socks on: the ground gets very hot.
- Men should wear long pants and women need to cover their heads and shoulders.
- Wheelchair and stroller access is limited.
How to get there
The Dambulla Cave Temple fringes the A6 and A9 highways just south of Dambulla. Your best travel option is to visit on a tour, or to hire a car and follow the A6 from Colombo or the A9 from Kandy. Alternatively, trains run from Colombo to Habarana—the nearest station—from where frequent buses head for Kandy and stop outside the caves. Regular buses also operate between Kandy and Dambulla, pausing outside the complex on the route.
When to get there
The Dambulla Cave Temple is open daily from 7am to 7pm and can get busy during the middle part of the day and peak season of December-March due to tour groups. Arrive early or later in the afternoon to avoid any crowds and the midday heat.
Must-Sees at the Dambulla Cave Temple
Visit the five caves in reverse order, starting with cave 5 and ending at cave 1, so you can appreciate their gradually increasing beauty. The most magnificent is cave 2, which is notable for its stunning murals. Don’t miss the scenes from Buddha’s life and the panels showing him being tempted by maidens and attacked by demons.
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