Matara is a major city located in Southern Sri Lanka, situated at the confluence of the Nilwala River and the Indian Ocean. Famous for its beautiful beaches, historical sites, and vibrant local culture, Matara offers a range of experiences for travelers. This travel guide aims to provide you with all the essential information you need to plan your trip to this charming city.
History and Overview
Matara has a rich history that goes back several centuries. Originally a prominent port used for trade and commerce, the city has seen a blend of different cultures, including Sinhalese, Dutch, and British influences. Its historical significance is evident through its well-preserved colonial architecture and ancient temples. Today, Matara is a growing urban center but has maintained its cultural heritage and natural beauty.
Culture in Matara
Matara offers a rich blend of cultural influences, reflecting its diverse history and community. From the architecture of its historical buildings to the local festivals that take place throughout the year, the city is a showcase of Sri Lankan traditions. Religious sites like temples and churches are not just places of worship but also hubs of community activity, reflecting the city's spiritual life. Local food, often sold by street vendors or small eateries, is a delicious way to experience the city's cultural richness.
Attractions and Things to Do
Matara Beach is not just a destination for those looking to lounge on the sand; it's also a hub for active pursuits. One of the prime surfing spots on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, it attracts both novice and experienced surfers. The beach offers board rentals and surfing lessons for those looking to catch their first wave. Families and casual beachgoers can enjoy a safe swim, as lifeguards are usually present.
Matara Dutch Fort
Matara's Dutch Fort is a compelling attraction that takes you back to Sri Lanka's colonial era. Built in the 1600s, it was a strategic stronghold for the Dutch East India Company. Today, it's a well-preserved site offering guided tours that illuminate its rich history. The fort also has an old Dutch Reformed Church that adds to its historical charm.
Located just a few kilometers from the center of Matara, Polhena Beach is known for its tranquil, shallow waters and vibrant coral reefs. It's an excellent spot for snorkeling, with equipment rentals readily available. The beach is fringed by coconut palms, adding to its tropical appeal. Local eateries close to the beach offer delicious Sri Lankan snacks, making it a full-day excursion spot.
Weherahena Buddhist Temple
The Weherahena Buddhist Temple is a significant religious site in Matara, renowned for its large reclining Buddha statue. Visitors can explore its intricate murals and paintings that depict various Buddhist stories. The temple's serene atmosphere provides a peaceful space for meditation and reflection. Located amidst well-maintained gardens, the temple is also an ideal spot for some quiet contemplation.
Dondra Head is the southernmost point of Sri Lanka, located near Matara. It's home to the Dondra Head Lighthouse, one of the tallest in Southeast Asia. Climbing to the top rewards you with breathtaking views of the surrounding ocean and landscape. The area is also known for the Dondra Head Temple, which adds a cultural and spiritual dimension to your visit.
Food and Dining
Matara is a great place to try traditional Sri Lankan dishes like rice and curry, hoppers, and string hoppers.
Given its coastal location, Matara offers fresh seafood options, including crabs, prawns, and a variety of fish.
From high-end restaurants to local eateries, there are several dining options to choose from.
Shopping in Matara
Shopping in Matara provides a unique blend of traditional and modern retail experiences. You can visit local markets to buy fresh produce, spices, and traditional Sri Lankan items, offering you a glimpse into the daily life of residents. Handicraft stores are also prevalent, showcasing handmade crafts such as wooden carvings and woven baskets. For those interested in more contemporary shopping, Matara has a few shopping malls and chain stores where you can find clothing, electronics, and other goods.
Budget-Friendly: Several guesthouses and hostels offer economical lodging options. These are usually basic but clean and comfortable.
Mid-Range: For travelers looking for more amenities without breaking the bank, there are several mid-range hotels that offer services like free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, and air-conditioned rooms.
Luxury: If you're looking for a more luxurious experience, there are a few upscale resorts that provide lavish rooms and multiple dining options.
Location and How to Get There
Matara is easily accessible via road and rail networks. The Southern Expressway connects Matara to Colombo, making the journey quick and convenient. It takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Additionally, regular trains run between Matara and other major cities in Sri Lanka.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Matara is between December and April when the weather is generally dry and suitable for outdoor activities. The monsoon season, from May to September, brings heavy rains but fewer crowds.
Tips and Advice
- Safety: Always adhere to local guidelines and rules, especially while engaging in water activities.
- Transport: Tuk-tuks are a convenient and affordable mode of local transport, but make sure to negotiate the fare beforehand or check if they have a meter.
- Currency Exchange: Local currency can be obtained at banks or authorized exchange counters; avoid informal exchanges for security reasons.
- Sun Protection: Always wear a high-SPF sunscreen and a hat to protect against the strong tropical sun.
- Public Transport: Be aware that buses and trains can get crowded; try to travel during off-peak hours if possible.
- Timings: Check the operating hours of attractions beforehand to make the most of your visit.
- Beach Safety: Always swim in designated safe areas and heed lifeguard warnings.
- Mirissa: Just a 30-minute drive from Matara, Mirissa is a beach town famous for its whale-watching tours. The beach itself is a beautiful crescent of sand where you can relax or try water sports. Dining options along the beach offer fresh seafood and local Sri Lankan dishes.
- Galle: About an hour's drive from Matara, Galle is best known for its well-preserved 17th-century fort. Inside the fort, you'll find charming cobblestone streets, boutique shops, and colonial buildings. The city also offers beautiful beaches like Unawatuna, making it a multifaceted destination.
- Weligama: Located approximately 40 minutes from Matara, Weligama is one of the most popular spots for surfing in Sri Lanka. The town also offers an array of seafood restaurants and beachside cafes.
- Dickwella: Around a 45-minute drive from Matara, Dickwella is renowned for its long, sandy beach and the Hiriketiya Bay, which is a hit among surfers. The area is less crowded compared to other southern beaches, offering a more relaxed atmosphere. Don't miss the blowhole attraction, known as Hummanaya, which is one of its unique natural features.
- Tangalle: An hour's drive from Matara will take you to Tangalle, a town famous for its untouched beaches and natural beauty. The tranquil and relatively empty beaches are ideal for those looking to escape the crowds.
Matara offers a well-rounded travel experience with its rich history, diverse attractions, and cultural richness. Whether you're looking to unwind by the beach or explore historical landmarks, this city has a wealth of options to choose from. So, make sure to stop by this charming city as you explore Southern Sri Lanka.