Dambulla Royal Cave Temple – Dambulla, Sri Lanka - Atlas Obscura

Dambulla Royal Cave Temple

Dambulla, Sri Lanka

This ancient cave temple complex is the largest and best-preserved temple complex in Sri Lanka.  

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Through the golden mouth of a lion-like creature and a short hike up a hill are five gorgeous caves that are home to some of the most magnificent temples in Sri Lanka. The caves contain larger-than-life statues and elaborate, vibrant paintings of Buddha.  

Visitors can wander through colonial style outdoor hallways that connect the caves with man-made lily ponds. For more than two millennia, this has been a Buddhist pilgrimage site. The site dates as far back as the first century BC  and is still home to Buddhist monks who manage the property.

The temple was carved directly into the rock face in such a way that rainwater never enters the interior caves. The exterior remains a striking white color, despite much of the conservation of the site focusing on the interior murals. 

Of the five caves, the largest is over 160 feet (50 meters) wide and 65 feet (20 meters) deep. Known as the Cave of the Great Kings, it houses not only statues of Buddha in various poses, but also statues of the gods Vishnu and Saman, as well as Sri Lankan kings of old.

Many tourists combine a visit to Dambulla with a trip to Sigiriya as the two are not far apart. Sigiriya, the Lion Rock, can be seen from the Dambulla cave temple complex.

Know Before You Go

The hike is moderate, incorporating some rock stairs and takes about 20 minutes. Beware of monkeys that fight along the path. There is also a museum. You will be required to remove your shoes and wear clothing that covers your knees in order to be permitted entry.