The Dambulla Temple Cave Complex in Sri Lanka along with the white ancient buildings of the temple
The Dambulla Temple Cave Complex in Sri Lanka

Interested in caves? Here’s the best guide on caves in Sri Lanka!

Like we always do not forget to say that Sri Lanka is an ‘all- in- one-holiday package’ that fills the taste buds of any explorer of natural beauty, any adventurous voyager, or any fun-loving tourist. Apart from snorkeling, whale watching, surfing, hiking, and camping, visiting the caves in Sri Lanka is also one of the must-to-do things on this Island, the pearl of the Indian Ocean. 

Through this article, let us unravel you all about the caves in Sri Lanka, their locations, historical and archaeological value, along with the fun that surrounds them.

The Most Important Prehistoric Caves in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a number of caves that hold a prehistoric value. Thus, most of them attract a large number of tourists yearly. Below is a list of caves in Sri Lanka along with a description of each cave for your knowledge and as a guide to the explorer-you!

  1. Belilena Cave
  2. Batadombalena Cave
  3. Dambulla Cave
  4. Fa hien Cave
  5. Aluvihare Rock Temple
  6. Hunugala Limestone Cave
  7. Bogoda Cave
  8. Lahugala Cave
  9. Kurugala Cave
  10. Andirilena Cave
  11. Nitro Cave
  12. Rawana Ella Cave
  13. Waulpane
  14. Mahalenama Cave

Now, let us find out more details about each cave as follows.

1. Belilena Cave

Belilena cave is the most important cave in Sri Lanka for many reasons. It is a large cave on the Island and one of the oldest too. The location of this cave is closer to Kitulgala. The Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka had performed a scientific excavation in the Belilena cave and the vicinity between the period of 1978 and 1983. The excavations have revealed amazing facts about the prehistoric humans who lived in this cave around 32, 000 years ago. 

In fact, the researchers confirm that this cave had skeletons of prehistoric human beings as well as bone tools and utensils. There is also evidence to confirm the use of fire in prehistoric Sri Lanka. In addition, there is a belief based on the facts that those skeletons belong to the ‘homo Sapiens’ or ‘Balangoda man’ who lived more than thirty-two thousand years ago. After examining and experimenting with the bone remains at the cave, the scientists estimate the appearance of the ‘Balangoda man’ as humans with thick skulls, depressed noses, heavy jaws with large teeth.  However, another part of the cave is still undiscovered. Thus, it is clear that it is yet to unravel valuable information about its deep history.

However, it is an adventurous way to get to the cave as it has a very steep path to get there. Thus, it requires tracking around 1 kilometer. The Belilena cave is around 2000 feet above sea level and that is the reason for the breathtaking location it houses, which is ideal to have a fantastic experience as an explorer!

2. Batadombalena Cave

Batadombalena is another beautiful and valuable tourist site in Sri Lanka that attracts cave lovers. It is located in Kuruwita, in Ratnapura district. It belongs to the stone age or the prehistoric era. The reason for this introduction is, it is a  place where the archeologists have traced the evidence of the existence of Balangoda man centuries ago, similarly to the Belilena cave. The evidence belongs to the olden day which is around 8000 BCE.

Among the findings from this cave, there are human skeletons, tools, and weapons that the homo sapiens used for hunting and their security such as spearheads or arrows. Furthermore, a number of necklaces are also among the findings here.

Owing to the historical importance of the Batadombalena cave, the Archeology Department in Sri Lanka named the surrounding area of the cave as an archaeological reserve. Although you should also trek around a half-hour journey through a stony and a steep path through a jungle to get to this historical location, it is a picturesque place to see around and learn about! The damp and humid air and the surrounding full of thick vegetation and the chirp of crickets and birds, give you the best experience of exploration in beautiful Sri Lanka. You may also experience a slight drizzle at times during the trek.

3. Dambulla Cave

Among the number of caves in Sri Lanka, the Dambulla cave holds a significant place for many reasons. One of the main significance is that it houses a temple, which is famous as the best-preserved cave temple complex on the island. Located in the heart of the city of Dambulla, it is also popular among people as the Golden temple of Dambulla’.

The cave temple spreads over five caves and is located in an area which is around 160m above the surrounding plains. Further, there is a belief that this cave complex belongs to the primary most centuries of BC. The history unravels that the Dambulla cave has been first transformed into a cave temple by King Valagamba of the Anuradhapura era as a retrospect of providing shelter for him until he reclaimed the capital.

These caves in the premises contain a lot of paintings done on the cave walls along with more than 150 statues. There is the main cave by the name of ‘Deva Raja Lena’ in which there is a fourteen-meter-long Buddha statue. The statue depicts the lying position. Further, there are paintings and statues that connect to the Gods and Goddesses related to Buddhism and Hinduism too.

Besides, the cave complex at Dambulla is a fine example of the great techniques of the ancestors. There are drip lines carved at the edges of the overhanging rock in order to protect the interior of the cave from rainwater. It is a magnificent creation with solid pillars and gabled entrances and a wonderful example of the culture of Sri Lanka and its traditional art and crafts. Thus, the cave was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991.

4. Fa Hien Cave

Fa Hien cave is also famous as ‘Pahiyangala’ in Sinhala terms. It is in the area of Bulathsinhala, in the Kalutara district. The cave got its name after a Buddhist monk called ‘Fa Hien /’Faxian’. According to the information descending through generations, people believe that this Buddhist monk has been residing in the cave meditating. Fa Hien cave is also popular in Asia as the largest natural rock.

However, there is no archaeological evidence to support it to date. Nevertheless, similar to most of the other caves in Sri Lanka, there is archaeological evidence of Pleistocene human fossils or the skeletal remains of humans to prove the existence of prehistoric humans in Sri Lanka more than 37,000 years ago. The Archeology Department in Sri Lanka has unraveled these skeletal remains through the burial sites found in the cave premises in around 1968. Furthermore, there have been natural tunnels in the cave during the olden days which are now not accessible due to blockages. 

The number of important archaeological studies following that reveal many and more facts relating to the prehistoric people who lived in the Fa Hien cave. Some of these significant remains include jewelry and accessories, stone tools, and weapons they used to kill animals as well. 

The location of the cave is about 400 feet above sea level.

5. Aluvihare Rock Temple

The next cave in Sri Lanka which we are bringing out is again a cave complex that exists amidst the soothing and cool hillside of Matale. It is none other than Aluwihare rock or ‘Aloka Vihara’. As the name already depicts, it is a rock that was transformed into a temple around the 3rd century BC when the Kings ruled Sri Lanka. The king who held the reign in Sri Lanka during this period was King Devanampiyatissa

Aluvihare rock temple is popular and respected in the hearts of Sri Lankans for its great historical importance. It is a very special place where the Pali Canon was first written in Sri Lanka. The scriptures were written on ola leaves for three long years and completed on a Vesak poya day. All the scriptures are kept preserved. Besides, the transcribed manuscripts of a number of volumes of the canon are still there in the stores of the Aluvihare rock temple’s ancient library.

There are around 13 caves in this cave complex. However, people believe that there can be a number of other hidden caves which are yet to be discovered by the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. Many parts of the rock temple had been destroyed during the period of colonization. Nevertheless, you can take a glimpse of beautifully created and painted Buddha statues and other sculptures in the temple together with oil lamps carved on the rock surface which are intact even at present. 

Above all, Aluwihare rock is a place that we can recommend as a must-visit for a tourist. It is a place where you can enjoy the wonderful nature, amazing ancient artifacts, and also the great experience of caves in Sri Lanka all in one!

6. Hunugala Limestone Cave

Hunugala cave is also famous as the ‘Pannila Hunugala’ cave. It is a fantastic cave premise in the Badulla district due to many and more reasons. 

Mainly, the location of this cave holds a significant place. Hunugala cave stands high in the Rakwana mountain range bordering the Northern side of Sinharaja. The area surrounding is so rich in biodiversity thus, it’s a place which soothes both the mind and body of any person who visits there.

The specialty of this cave is its material! The cave is formed with crystalline limestone or marble as we call it. While some of the parts of the cave have already changed into marble, some parts of it are still limestone. Another notable and interesting feature of the Hunugala cave is the stalactite that hangs from the roof of the cave. Depending on the atmosphere where the cave is, some parts of the cave are wet.

Reaching the cave is a little adventurous as you should hike along the stream and there can be leech attacks often. Nevertheless, visiting the Pannila Hunugala cave is something not to miss in your cave visiting journey in Sri Lanka. 

7. Bogoda Cave

Bogoda cave is another great place where the cave cravers can have a valued caving experience. Among the many reasons to support that fact, the main reason is Bogoda cave being a cave temple.

According to the Brahmin scriptures which are available at the temple, this cave temple is a creation of King Walagamba. It has a lot of paintings that belong to the Kandyan era that marked a great name in Sri Lankan history. The images or the folk arts and paintings in the image house display the marvel of the ancient artists of Sri Lanka and the great cultural elements as well. 

There are a few steps leading down to a platform on the right side of the temple. According to mythology, there is an old tunnel here. It had been an escape route for the kings to keep safe from their opponents.

Also, the Bogoda Bridge, which is in the same area, is the world’s oldest wooden bridge that dates back to the same period as the Kandyan era. This magnificent bridge was built entirely of wood, without the use of any nails, and history reveals that the deck was made from a single tree. So, it indeed enhances the delight of visiting Bogoda Caves.

8. Lahugala Cave

Lahugala is a cave temple, which is also known as Hulannuge, Tharulengala temple. The gigantic Nuga tree, which makes a lot of noise when the wind blows, gave the village its name, Hulan Nuge. Hulan Nuge Temple is located between Siyabalanduawa and Potuwil on the A4 road in Lahugala. As per history, this temple is a work of King Kavanthissa

This cave temple is well-known for two main reasons. One reason is that one of the oldest clay Buddha statues exists in this temple. Apart from that, it is also famous for being Asia’s longest natural cave.

The visitors can find the main temple cave once they enter the temple. It is the place where they can observe the reclining Buddha statue as well. Clay and bricks have been used to construct this. Besides, there are several drawings by Veddhas, Sri Lanka’s aboriginal people, in this cave.

9. Kurugala Cave

Kurugala Cave, or rather, the Kurugala Sri Shailantharama Cave Temple is located not far from Padukka, a rapidly urbanizing town on the borders of the Colombo District. For a variety of reasons, the old Buddhist temple is unlike any other.

The visitors can reach the temple’s main terrace via a novel Makara thorana, which is unique and modern in comparison to the typical Makara thorana. Drilling deep into a large boulder creates space for the temple’s image house, which is located beneath a rock.

Like the Gal Vihara Buddha statue in Polonnaruwa, the major Buddha statue and the chamber that it houses are carved out of stone. The Buddha statue at the image house, according to mythology, took 50 years to complete. Many devotees visit this temple owing to its uniqueness. Also, the 100-meter-tall boulder known as Kurugala is one of the main reasons that draw visitors to this temple.

10. Andirilena Cave

Andirilena Cave is located 4 kilometers away from Udagama in the Galle district. It is also an important cave on this splendid island, which looks large in appearance, and is rich with historic values. However, its entrance is not that high, as it is only 4 feet high. Even though it is rarely visited, the visitors who have explored this cave reveal that their exploration was interesting since this cave leads to other caves which are connected to it.

11. Nitro Cave

The nitro cave is a vast cave in the Knuckles Mountain Range. These Caves are believed to be thousands of years old, and their name comes from nitrate deposits left by bats. And yes, this cave is still home to hundreds of bats.

Nowadays, it’s simply enjoyable to be immersed in this environment, to observe and analyze it. All adventurers and naturalists must see this. This exercise is ideal for exploring the range while also embarking on an exciting adventure into a mysterious world.

12. Ravana Cave

The Ravana Cave is 1370 meters above sea level and is located 2 kilometers outside of Ella town. And yes, it is one of Ella’s most prominent historical tourist sites that attract many.

The Ravana cave is a passage of the tunnel that leads to the Ravana Falls in Ella, one of the most elegant waterfalls in Sri Lanka. The interesting fact is that there are wonderful historical values related to this Ravana cave.

According to mythology, India’s King Rama had a lovely wife named Queen Sita. King Ravana, kidnapped Queen Sita and took her to Sri Lanka, where she was hidden in these caverns.

Further, stories reveal that these tunnels acted as a secret path as well as a rapid means to go through the hills. Besides, they have connections to all of Sri Lanka’s major cities, airports, and dairy farms. A closer examination reveals that these tunnels are man-made rather than natural formations. Moreover, the architectural characteristics of these tunnels demonstrate King Ravana’s amazing construction methods.

You will arrive at the historical Ravana Cave once you’ve climbed the 650 steps. Just to keep your expectations in check, the cave itself is quite modest. Visitors can only walk up to 200m into the cave. After those 200 meters, the government has erected a large stone that prevents people from entering any further. The scenery from the cave is spectacular. So, if you enjoy history and a little excitement, this is an excellent Ella activity!

13. Waulpane Cave

Who wouldn’t want to see a mysterious and old cave complex? A visit to the Waulpane Cave packed with more than 250,000 bats would surely offer you this feeling.

The Waulpane Cave, located in the Ratnapura District, is one of Sri Lanka’s few limestone caves. It actually contains a single major cave structure and a dozen smaller caves. They hold with them a unique beauty and charm that has the power of attracting any. Tourists, particularly children, go on a frenzy of discovery and adventure around this cave.

Besides, the Waulpane limestone cave is a perfect example of the island’s distinct charm and graceful beauty that infuses every attraction. This cave, which is over 900 feet above sea level, is home to a spectacular internal waterfall. Its fascinating natural beauty blends well with the special bewitchment that each visitor feels at this magnificent location.

14. Mahalenama Cave

Mahalenama Cave, which is also an ancient Buddhist monastery, is the site of a historical Vedda mythological race – Nittevo. The Nittevo clan is a dwarfish type of humans from the Mahalenama area. However, history reveals that the Veddas wiped them off some 250 years ago. Some assume they were a buried Negrito tribe; some believe they were ape-men, and still, others think that they were an ancient bear species with the name Rahu Valaha.

The Bottom Line

If you are craving to go on an exciting tour of caving, it is a must to mention that the caves in Sri Lanka offer you the perfect opportunities. The unique charms that they hold, coupled with their historical values, will surely make your visits to these caves more delightful, and meaningful. However, reaching many of these caves is quite a hard task. So, whenever you are planning a visit to a cave, make sure that you are physically fit, and ready with your first-aid. However, exploring the caves in Sri Lanka is simply one of the best things to do on this island, and thus, never miss that fun. Happy and Safe Travelling!