A few towns in Sri Lanka possess the glory and activity like the town of Matara does. Town of Matara is situated in the southern coast of Sri Lanka (further from Galle) which is about 160km away from Colombo. If you are a lover of history, culture, nature and beaches, Matara is a town you must visit during your stay in Sri Lanka. In this article, we look to give you the top 5 things you can do in Matara.
How to get to Matara
Town of Matara is located in the southern-most tip of the coast of Sri Lanka. There are 3 main ways to get to Matara and they are as follows;
- Train ride – a daily train runs from Colombo Fort to Matara and you can catch the scenic beach view and a whole different culture and lifestyle along the railway lines of Sri Lanka when you take this train ride. It usually takes around 4 hours to get to Matara from Colombo Fort railway station.
- Bus/car ride – you can also take the bus or your own vehicle via the Colombo-Matara (A02) highway, which usually takes around 4 hours too. We do not recommend this route unless you are a fan of long drives in a busy main road.
- Southern Expressway (E01) – probably the easiest and fastest way to get to Matara would be via the Southern Expressway, which connects Colombo to Matara. Exiting the expressway from Godagama, there is a drive of about 5km to get to the heart of Matara. The total journey should not take more than 2 hours.
Things to See and Do in Matara
If you are visiting Matara for the first time, the following should be among your top priorities.
1. Paravi Duwa Temple
Paravi Duwa (“Pigeon Island”) Temple is a Buddhist monastery built on a separate rocky island, surrounded by an ocean as clear as the blue sky. This is located right opposite to the Matara Fort and is accessible by a hanging bridge connecting the island to the mainland. Although it is a fairly new temple and was renovated after being destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami, the main Buddha statue located in the heart of the temple predates the surrounding structures. It also has a replica of the Buddha’s footprint which is worshipped by Buddhists from all over the country. From the front end of the island, you can catch a glimpse of a beach that is difficult to look away from. There are observation towers towards the back end of the island where you can catch an endless view of a colour pallet of an ocean extending to the horizon.
Travel Tip: Visit the temple during the evening, and get a breathtaking panoramic view of Matara town lit up.
2. Point Dondra or Dondra Head
About 8km from Matara, on the Matara-Tangalle road, you come across the Point Dondra. The English word “Dondra” has been roughly coined from it’s Sinhala term “Devundara” or “Devi Nuwara” (City of Gods). Point Dondra is a cape on the extreme southern tip of Sri Lanka, near the small town of Dondra. What you get at Dondra is a tall lighthouse, in fact, the tallest (49m) in Sri Lanka. Although you need special authorization to get to the top of the lighthouse due to security reasons, the view of the ocean from the lighthouse garden, with swaying palm trees and pearly waves crashing on the rough rocks is breathtaking. There are small benches around the premises, so you can sit and take in the view. Entrance to this place is free for everyone, so spending one evening at this location would be a sure highlight of the trip down south.
Travel Tip: It is advised not to get into the ocean at this place, because of the rocky terrain and rough waters.
3. Matara Fort
Sri Lanka was a colony of the Portuguese from 1505 to 1658 and Matara Fort was built in 1560 by the Portuguese, rebuilt by the Dutch in 1640 following the capture of Galle. This fort is small, and has a few ramparts, and tends to be not as majestic and give off a charm like its southern rival, the Galle Fort. But this too tends to be a must-see destination when you visit Matara, especially if you are a history buff. The Matara Fort has a promontory (raised mass of land that projects into a lowland or a body of water), which separates the Indian Ocean from the Nilwala River Lagoon. There is also a small, beautiful and peaceful Dutch Reformed Church in the fort premises, and a majestic, clock tower which stands in the middle of the fort.
4. Polhena Beach
One of the most scenic and popular beaches in Sri Lanka is the Polhena Beach. The beach is situated within less than 1km from the heart of the town and anybody will give you road instructions to the beach. Vehicles can access to the beach very easily and so is quite congested on holidays and long weekends. But if you manage to visit the Polhena beach before dawn, you can catch a glimpse of paradise-with crystal clear waters and lush greenery of the coconut grooves. You can even find some beautiful fish courtesy of the reefs nearby. Polhena beach is a very safe area to dip in the water and have a swim as it is bordered by a rocky reef and you find lifeguards throughout the day.
Travel Tip: There are fresh water showers offered for a small sum of money at the beach itself, so you don’t need to worry about washing up after a swim.
5. Madiha Beach
Located about 2 kilometres away from Polhena, it is a smaller beach, yet if you want peace and quiet, this is the place to go. To get to this beautiful beach, you must walk down the beach road, and pass small cemeteries on the road (where grave stones exist on either side of the road), as well as creepy looking houses, which most likely are haunted (not really!). But all this eeriness, (must have been due to the fact that we visited when it was gloomy and raining lightly), will be forgotten when you see this beach. Clear golden sand, blue waters, with swaying palm trees, it is a good spot if you want to enjoy a dip, have a drink and get some privacy away from the crowds of Polhena beach.
Travel Tip: Get yourself a drink, a small bite and a book to the beach and immerse in the read while the gently rolling waves provide the theme music.
The above listed top 5 things to do in Matara are drawn from my personal experience and your tastes could be different to this. Matara is full of wonders and covers a wide array of interests that attract a wide array of people. So, your experience with Matara might be different to this. However, if you are a novice traveller to Matara, the above places are a must try.
As a final note, we would like to remind you that all of these places of interest are threatened due to human influence. Pollution, destruction of property, theft and other forms of negative human influence are seen in all these places. Our final and humble request is that you be responsible travellers and leave nothing more than your footprints and take nothing more than memories from these places. Preserve these wonders for the next generations as well.