Matara is essentially a busy coastal city located 160 km south of Colombo and 44 km south of Galle. Though not a major tourist destination as much as Galle, Matara offers a fine tropical destination with gorgeous sandy beaches and several other attractions such as the Dutch rampart and Veherahena Temple in the south Sri Lanka.
At a glance
-Area : Approx 13 km2
-Population : Approx 830,000
-Distance : 160 km south of Colombo (2 -hr drive on Expressway)
-Province : Southern Province
-Climate : Hot and humid with an average annualtemperature of 27oC, January the coldest, February
the driest, May the warmest and October the wettest.
Matara was under the Portuguese and the Dutch rule in the 16th and 18th century respectively and the fort located at the city centre was built by the Dutch. It was one of the most important forts for the Dutch as a commanding base in the southern maritime provinces and for certain inland forts.
Dutch Fort (Rampart)
Originally built by the Portuguese in 1560 and rebuilt by the Dutch in 1645 to protect the administrative office of Dutch East India Company (VOC), the Matara Fort ads much splendour to the coastal city of Matara. The year inscribed on the entrance is 1789, but it could be the year the fort was repaired. In 1796, the Dutch handed over the fort to the British.
The fort with a large stone rampart occupies the promontory separating the Nilwala River lagoon and the sea. Built with granite and limestones, most of the fort still remains in good condition, particularly the gateway and the rampart. During the Dutch occupation, the fort accommodated an elephant kraal, the government agent's official residence, a church, a cinnamon store, and a gunpowder store.
Yet another fort in Matara, located about 350 m from the Dutch Fort, star fort is a small star-shaped fort built by the Dutch in 1763 as the Dutch rampart was indefensible. It was Van Eck who built the star fort after the Matara revolt. Within the fort is a well and the entrance gates are flanked by carved lions. The walls of the fort were originally defended by 8-metre wide earth banks. Between these walls and earth banks, a moat has been built. However, currently, the fort is home to a museum.
Parei Duwa is a small islet in the sea off the city of Matara. A cable-stayed bridge leads to this tiny island which is home to a small Buddhist temple. The temple is set in attractive gardens and it houses a number of statues of Buddha and a replica of the Buddha's footprint found at Adam's Peak or Sri Pada. Nearby gorgeous beach is good for leisure walks.
Polhena is a popular beach lying four kilometers off the Matara city. This gorgeous busy beach is ideal for sunbathing, swimming, scuba diving, surfing, evening walks, and seeing coral reefs. It's a highly famed destination due to its natural swimming pool created by spectacular coral reefs.
Mirissa is a beautiful small rocky beach which is calm, relaxing and almost private located nearby Weligama Bay. Whale and dolphin watching, river trips, snorkeling and bird watching are some of the activities you could do while being in Mirissa. The best time for whale watching in the sea off the Mirissa harbour is from November to April.
Yet another tourist hotspot in the south, Weligama is a unique bay beach and popular for scuba diving and surfing. It is a fantastic experience to see stilt fishing just few meters off-shore. Weligama is also famous for its lace weaving industry which was introduced by Portuguese in the 16th century. This beach destination lies about 19 km north of Matara and hosts a number of boutique hotels and resorts; Taprobane is a popular islet in the Weligama Bay which houses a small French villa.
East of Matara
Veherahena is a beautiful Buddhist temple popular among pilgrims, located just east of the Matara City. The temple holds a large seated Buddha image painted with bright colours. A lot of paintings depicting the Buddha's life can be seen on walls and roofs of the temple which has three underground storeys.
Dondra Head Lighthouse
Located near the southernmost point of the country known as Dondra Head, 6 km southeast of the Matara city, Dondra Head Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Sri Lanka with a height of 49 metres and seven floors. Designed by Sir James Nicholas Douglass, this beautiful lighthouse was erected in 1889 by William Douglass. One can reach to the top of the lighthouse through the flight of 196 steps and see the spectacular views of the area around.
Located on the Beliatta Road close to Dickwella, a town 22 km off Matara, Wewurukannala Temple is a fine attraction in south Sri Lanka. The temple houses a large 50-metre-high seated Buddha image depicting the meditation posture. Wewurukannala Temple also holds a large number of beautiful paintings that depict various events of the Buddha's life.
Blowhole or Hummanaya
Hummanaya or the blowhole is one of the best attractions in south Sri Lanka. Located in Kudawella 7 km northeast of Dickwella, this wonderful blowhole is the second largest of such in the world. The Hummanaya is created by sea waves gushed through a hole in a rock and blasted into the air forming an impressive, powerful jet of water. A platform has been set up so that tourists can view this spectacular blowhole conveniently. Nearby is a tourist information centre. During the southwest monsoon, the Hummanaya soars up to about 30 metres. When you travel around south Sri Lanka, it is worth visiting.