If you would ask us about our favorite spots in Sri Lanka, you will hear us rave about Mihintale. In our humble opinion, the Buddhist temple of Mihintale is a must-see and can’t be missing from your travel itinerary. It’s easy to combine with Anuradhapura, the sacred city of Sri Lanka, which is only located about 15 kilometers away. So make sure to devote half a day to this scenic mountain summit, you will not be disappointed!
Mihintale is known to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, making it an important place of pilgrimage for followers. Regardless of your beliefs, this temple complex has something truly magical. Also, more tourists find their way, climbing the hill to witness these majestic religious monuments from the 1st century BC. Its scattered white stupas on the green hills, burning incense, Buddhist chants, and overall atmosphere make it a unique experience.
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Mihintale: A Beautiful Buddhist Temple in Sri Lanka
Practical information about the Buddhist Mihintale temple
We headed out for Mihintale the first afternoon when we arrived in Anuradhapura. Most tourists book a stay in the main city, where many guesthouses and restaurants are located. The Mihintale Buddhist temple is only 15 kilometers east of the city and you can visit it in half a day.
It’s best to discover the site in the early morning or at sunset to avoid the burning sun. We personally recommend doing the climb in the afternoon. This way you get to enjoy the beautiful views of the green rice fields with a beautiful orange-pinkish-colored sky. If you are limited in time, it is possible to visit both Mihintale and Anuradhapura on the same day. It is doable but will be quite a packed day. Altogether it’s a good idea to book 2 nights in Anuradhapura to see everything and enjoy the sights at a slower pace.
ENTRANCE FEE | 1000 LKR
OPENING TIMES | 9 am to 5 pm
Disclaimer: Prices in this travel guide to Mihintale are indications and are based on the daily currency rate during our stay in Sri Lanka. Bear in mind that the Sri Lankan currency is currently heavily fluctuating due to inflation. We also advise you to check current travel advice to Sri Lanka due to the ongoing economic crisis. This has led to possible shortages of basic necessities (such as food and fuel), power cuts, and overall unstable security situations.
How to get to the Buddhist temple of Mihintale, Sri Lanka
In order to get to Mihintale, the easiest way is to hire a tuk-tuk from Anuradhapura. You can find many on the streets or ask for your stay to arrange one. Don’t forget to discuss prices first with the driver. It takes around 20 minutes to get to Mihintale and will cost you around 2500 LKR (~€11). This is for going back and forth and the tuk-tuk driver will wait for you at the parking lot or you can exchange phone numbers to discuss a pickup for when you are done exploring the grounds.
A cheaper option is taking the bus which you can take from Anuradhapura bus station. Buses run frequently (every 30 minutes) and will only cost you 40 LKR (that’s not even €0,15). Be aware that the last bus returning is around 6.30 PM, north of the Mihintale site. There is an express train going to Mihintale junction twice daily, but we think it is a less advisable option.
BOOK TRANSPORTATION | Book a train, bus, or taxi to Anuradhapura or Mihintale with 12Go Asia HERE
Buddhist Temple etiquette in Mihintale
Just like with other sacred sites or temples, don’t forget to dress up properly. This is out of respect for the holy place and culture:
- This means covering your knees and shoulders, this is both for men and women. We usually always carry a sarong in our backpacks, just in case for that reason. If you don’t have anything you can rent a sarong there for 50 LKR (~€0,25).
- Upon entering the main site, you will need to remove your hat and footwear. There are shoe racks foreseen to leave your shoes or you can put them away in your backpack. Be aware that the shoe keepers sometimes won’t let you take them away and expect a ‘shoe keeping fee’ at the end of your visit (usually around 10 rupees). Walking barefoot on hot rocky surfaces can get quite uncomfortable, so we always suggest packing a pair of white socks (this is allowed).
- When taking pictures or making selfies with a buddha statue, remember not to stand with your back towards it, as it’s considered to be highly disrespectful. You might get called upon it and the police/military could confiscate your camera or make you delete pictures.
We saw this happening several times and you really don’t want to be that one tourist who doesn’t respect foreign countries and their traditions.
- Not necessary, but you can always opt to wear white when visiting a temple site. You will notice that most Sri Lankan devotees are wearing this color since it stands for purity in Buddhism.
Birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Mihintale, a place embedded in a lush green landscape and reachable by countless stairs, is believed to be the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In the 3rd century BC, Mihinthalaya was a jungle area with wild animals inhabiting the surfaces. According to ancient tales, it was here on Mahinda’s Hill that Buddhism was established as the island’s religion, as the meeting place of the Buddhist monk Mahinda with King Devanampiyatissa in 247 BC. Mahinda was sent by his father, the great emperor Asoka of India, to preach the teachings of Lord Buddha. The monk appeared in front of the King on top of the hill on the full moon day (Poson) and tested the king’s wits and wisdom. After this he thought of him as a worthy disciple, converting him to the Buddhist religion.
After this meeting, Buddhism soon got embraced by the Sinhalese people all over the island and became a core part of Sinhalese culture. This can still be seen today in the many ancient sites in the cultural triangle, such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Dambulla Cave Temple. The King, later on, found the sacred Buddhist temple of Mihintale to commemorate the event. It became the main center of Theravada Buddhism, being further developed by many kings throughout time as a monastic complex. Today only a few temples and ruins remain on the top of the hill forming a temple complex that is reachable by 1840 steps leading to the top.
Buddhism and full moon days
The full moon day or Poson, which takes place around May-June, remains a holy day for Sri Lankans even today. Since it’s a holy day for Buddhists, it easily becomes the busiest time in Sri Lanka. Overall full moon or also called Poya, is an important date among Buddhists. They are considered holidays and most things are closed down for the celebrations. It’s a time of prayer and offers, and people go on pilgrimage. Sacred sites and temples tend to get very crowded as well as public transport. It’s best to avoid the most popular spots such as Adam’s Peak or the Buddhist Mihintale temple if you don’t want to experience the crowded chaos, that accompanies this holiday.
Today Buddhism is still the biggest religion in Sri Lanka, with 70% of the people in the country being Buddhist. However interesting to know is that people whether they are Buddhist or Hindu might still pay their respects to both religions. For example, on some of our trips, our driver of the day would pass by a temple first, which could be either one, to pay their respects and get blessings for the day ahead. You might also notice that in some temples aspects of both religions are present. The same goes for religious images in a driver’s tuk-tuk or a restaurant, people often display both Buddha and Shiva or Ganesha next to each other and pray to both.
The must-see Buddhist temple of Mihintale
We wanted to visit the historical site of Mihintale in the afternoon to catch the sunset. The owner of our guesthouse arranged for a driver to bring us back and forth. The interesting thing about taking a tuk-tuk instead of a bus is that the drivers sometimes make stops at unexpected places. No worries, nothing sketchy 😉 Our host asked him to show us the famous old banian tree along the way. It’s something more known to locals and not really indicated on the map, but still an interesting sight to see! The picture really doesn’t do the tree any justice, I myself have never seen such a special tree. Its branches were reaching meters far to the ground, almost creating a roof with different rooms underneath that you could walk through.
After this quick intermezzo, the driver took us to the main parking spot of the temple complex. You can find the location here. From here you will have to climb a total of 1840 steps to reach the summit. The stairs are easy to take, but make sure to drink enough water along the way. At the foot of the stairs, you can find some shops selling water and fruit. In case you want to skip a part of the climb you can also ask your tuk-tuk to bring you to the middle platform near the ticket counter. However, you will miss part of the experience.
Taking a guide at the Mihintale Buddhist Temple
You can always hire a guide if you would like to get more explanations about the ruins, and symbolism, and generally learn more about Buddhism and Sri Lankan culture. Multiple locals are constantly waiting for customers at the entrance of the complex and will be happy to give you a tour. Some of them even speak German or French if you prefer. Make sure to agree on a price first before proceeding. Even if you don’t need one, some can be quite persistent and try to catch your attention by following you around. The moment they accompany you to the temples and start explaining, they also expect you to pay them. So, just be clear from the start and they won’t bother you anymore and you won’t waste their time.
Reaching the temple site
Let’s continue our tour from the historical site! As you can see in the picture these are the famous stairs you will have to conquer, and that’s only part 1. Just like many other places with religious significance in the world, they are often located on higher grounds. Mihintale is located on a hill and most pilgrims climb all the way to the summit, sometimes even on their knees.
To get to the main tableau you have to climb 1840 steps, but it’s certainly not as hard as it sounds. On the stairways, you will pass by these beautiful fragrant frangipani trees. It’s an absolutely peaceful path, as we barely passed any other visitors, other than some sleeping stray dogs.
Meda Maluwa in Mihintale
After a short climb of 15 minutes, you will reach the middle courtyard or ‘Meda Maluwa’, where you also have the ticket counter for the temples. From here you can explore at your own pace, there are several ancient ruins around that you can already check out. Just be aware of the monkeys (toque macaques) that are waiting to greet you. They are hungry and not afraid to steal your food from your backpack.
On the east side of the ticket counter, you will find part 2 of the stairs. They will lead you to the main platform, the actual spectacle of Mihintale. Once you arrive at the main monastery complex at the top, there are numerous rocky paths going in all directions to the historical attractions which are spread over three vegetated hills. As you will see, the statues and dagobas have been extensively renovated, compared to the ruins along the way.
Ambasthala Dagoba (Mango Tree Stupa)
The first sight to encounter is the Ambasthale dagoba or the Dagoba of the Mango Tree. It’s not the biggest stupa, but rather big in importance. The dagoba marks the spot where Mahinda met with King Devanampiyatissa and is supposedly built on the exact spot where Mahinda was standing. Right before the dagoba, you can find a statue representing the king, wearing a traditional dress. It is said that the dagoba itself enshrines the relics of the great Mahinda.
Aradhana Gala (Meditation Rock)
Behind the Dagoba in the center, some steep steps, which have been carved directly into the stone, will take you up to the iconic Meditation rock. This rock formation at the top of the monastery is the main place of pilgrimage for many Buddhists. According to ancient books such as the Mahavamsa, this is the place where the monk Mahinda first landed and where Buddhist teaching was brought to Sri Lanka.
As you can see the path is quite steep with uneven steps carved into the rock and nothing for the faint-hearted. Make sure to hold on to the railing that has been foreseen because the steps can get slippery at times. Once you reach the top, your climb will be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of the tropical green landscape. As a side note: because you can’t see this in the picture, the top is crazy windy! I was wearing wide-legged pants and I felt like I was going to fly away. Don’t want to sound too dramatic, but it was not ideal. Also not really practical for climbing up the rock.
The Big white Buddha statue
When you entered the plateau, you will probably have noticed the giant seated Buddha statue on the left, that’s greeting you. This one is also reachable by yet another rock-carved staircase. From here you have a grand view of the most important sights. A local monk gave us a tip on the perfect secret spot behind the Buddha statue from where you can watch the sunset. However, after crawling through the bushes, the ‘secret’ spot wasn’t such a secret anymore. Two big groups of tourists also found their way and already occupied the little viewpoint.
Mahasaya Dagoba (Top of Mihintale)
Opposite the Aradhana Gala, you’ll see the Mahasaya Dagoba on the summit of the Mihintale hill. A stone staircase brings you to the top, with frangipani trees and their beautiful white flowers casting well-needed shadows. The snow-white dagoba has a base of 41m in diameter and was built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga. The stupa was completely restored and according to popular belief, the ashes of the Buddha are enshrined inside. When going around the dagoba, keep in mind to walk clockwise like the devotees. This is the case because you will receive blessings on your right side. The platform of the Stupa is the perfect spot to watch the sunset at the end of the day.
This is the end of our little guide to the Buddhist temple of Mihintale. Hopefully, you can make use of it, and it will inspire you for your upcoming trip to Sri Lanka. Mihintale remains a rather non-touristy spot compared to other places in the cultural triangle and that surely adds even more to its charm. If you have the opportunity to visit, after exploring for example the sacred city of Anuradhapura, go for it! As we think it is absolutely worth it. Feel free to share any questions or your own experiences in the comment section below.
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