Dambulla Cave Temples: Buddhas, Monkeys & Other Surprises


Also known as The Golden Temple of Dambulla, the Dambulla Cave Temples are yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site found in Sri Lanka. The series of caves date back to the first century B.C.E although the white colonnade facade and arches were added more recently in 1938.


We arrived in Dambulla on a night when the rain was incessant. The streets were muddy and our backpacks seemed to be getting heavier and heavier as each raindrop fell to the ground. Hotels and guest houses were spread along the main road prompting us to hire a tuk-tuk driver to help us in our search for a place to rest our weary heads. He took us from one hotel to the other, from one guest house to the other – some were too expensive for our budget and others too filthy for even the weariest backpackers.




As the night was getting darker, the rain was falling harder and our tempers were just about to reach boiling point – it was urgent we find a room. Our tuk-tuk driver had taken us to his uncle’s guest house, his cousin’s guest house and his friend’s hotel (he probably had no relation to any of them but was hoping for a small commission) – it was one fail after the other. Finally, he took us to what seemed like a decent family-run guest house. Treading through the puddles, we got out of the tuk-tuk to take a quick glance at the room and decided it would be fine for one night. Big mistake.

We were relieved to finally have a place to sleep. After paying for the room, we settled in and slowly started to notice how dirty filthy it actually was. The walls were blotched with stains we didn’t recognize, the bed sheets were of a grayish-white variety and the bathroom was so decrepit I didn’t even want to use it. We’re not picky when it comes to accommodation but the least it needs to be is acceptably clean (keeping in mind cleanliness standards vary greatly from country to country) but this room was filthy. As expected in a room in this dire state, we were sharing the room with a few cockroaches but there was also a more unusual species – a frog! We had spent the whole night rejecting filthy rooms and there we were in possibly the worst room we had seen.

Yes, I cried.




The next day the rain stopped and was replaced by cloudy skies with the occasional ray of sun. This was perfect weather for climbing up to see the caves. The sheer beauty of the mesmerizing Dambulla Cave Temples erased all traces from the previous night spent with our uninvited guests (cockroaches and a frog).

To visit the caves, you first need to climb hundreds of steps along a gentle slope to get to the entrance where you’ll be asked to remove your shoes. The views along the way (and a few mischievous monkeys) make the climb very enjoyable and perfect for snapping a few pictures along the way of the lush surrounding landscape.

The caves were laboriously carved out by monks. There are five such caves to be visited: Cave of the Divine Kings (with 14-meter reclining Buddha), Cave of the Great Kings, Great New Monastery (best-preserved ancient monument in Sri Lanka) and the smaller nameless 4th and 5th caves which were added later on and offer paintings of lesser craftsmanship. All the caves are shrines to Buddha depicting his life including the first sermon he had ever given. Other deities, gods and goddesses are also represented in a multitude of statues.

Every cave is intricately and elaborately painted from floor to ceiling. I was amazed at how the colors and pigments were still so visible and intact after thousands of years (though some have been restored). Prior to going, I had seen pictures but witnessing them in person far surpassed my expectations!

For the ladiesWomen need to cover their shoulders (but not their head) when entering the site and, of course, the temples – a great reason to show off your favorite scarf!













Click here to view my design inspired by Buddha’s feet!




















Read all about my travels in Sri Lanka




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  • This is so interesting–I can’t believe the caves were carved by monks! That’s exhausting just thinking about it. And I’ve had a terrible lodging experience like that too but it didn’t kill me!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      It’s hard to believe isn’t it (about the caves)?! That wasn’t my first and only bad experience with accommodation but it just feels so much worse when you’re exhausted and starving – but, hey, we’re not dead! 😉

  • Quite the epic journey and the photos are just so cool. I can commiserate with your cockroach hell got a lot of them in Mexico, even found one communing with a gecko on the bathroom sink one night. I learned very quickly to check my shoes in the morning and not scream at the roaches apparently they are more afraid of us. But I could not live or sleep in a dirty filthy room like that it would put me off for days at a time. I guess age does change things…lol….

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I’m no spring chicken but sometimes you just have to take what there is! 😉

  • I really want to visit these caves, they look amazing! The detailing on those feet too! Sri Lanka has always appealed to me ever since I was a kid and now I want to go even more 🙂

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I strongly advise you to go to Sri Lanka as soon as you can! 😉

      It’s one of my favorite countries and the people just make it that much more inviting.

  • Oh dear that accommodation sounds awful! Especially when you get to the point of just needing to find a place and it ends up being worse than the ones you rejected. The caves look quite incredible though! So much history.

  • Jet Set Brunette

    Ahhh your experience trying to find a room and the ending up in one that was so horrible sounds AWFUL! The caves looked really cool to explore though!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Yes the caves made up for it tenfold! 🙂

  • Oh no, those cockroaches don’t sound like fun..
    My husband and I are actually pretty set on Sri Lanka for our honeymoon. Do you have any advice on how to find good accommodations? After that disaster haha
    The caves are beautiful! Do you have to pay to visit them?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I hope you make it to Sri Lanka – it’s such a wonderfully diverse country! If you’re willing to pay for higher end accommodation then you shouldn’t have any problems. We were traveling for two months and this was just the beginning so we were careful with our spending. Sorry, I honestly don’t remember if there was an entrance fee. :

  • In Africa N Beyond

    The more I hear about Sri Lanka, the more I want to go there. The caves sound so interesting. But I feel your pain about the room you stayed in. I would have cried too.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Beautiful caves, awful room but great experience overall! 🙂

  • Jennifer Morrow

    Certainly an argument to book clean accommodations ahead of arrival. The caves look interesting. When were they built?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      We don’t usually book ahead as we like to see the accommodation first. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka prices often don’t reflect the quality of the rooms (unless you want luxury accommodation which we didn’t). The caves date back to the 1st century B.C.E. as mentioned at the beginning of my post. 🙂