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Conquering Sigiriya: The Lion Rock of Sri Lanka

There it was: A stone monolith perched high above the jungle, its rock face and sculptures weathered by many centuries. An image of Sigiriya’s peculiar limestone plateau first ignited my need to visit Sri Lanka.

A once-hidden palace to an illicit king, Sigiriya is nicknamed Lion Rock for its formerly lion-shaped peak—of which the only remaining features are a pair of massive clawed feet. The fifth-century citadel is shrouded in mystery even to the locals who know it well, so I wondered who could possibly resist scaling its steps in pursuit of its legends.

Apparently, very few of Sri Lanka’s 1.8 million yearly visitors. Sri Lanka is new to the tourism spotlight, and Sigiriya has quickly become the island’s most-visited monument. Elbow-to-elbow queues form for the chance to make it to the top of this beast, but I hoped to experience it without those crowds.

And I discovered it was possible. With the right combination of season, time of day, and guide, I was carried back in time rather than swept up in Sigiriya’s usual wave of tourists.

Climbing Sri Lanka’s Lion Rock

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Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. She visited Sri Lanka on a Real Food Adventure as a guest of Intrepid Travel. Follow her adventures on Instagram @shanmcmahon and on Twitter @shanmcmahon_.

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