Just 2 - 3 hours along the E1 from Colombo lies one of the southern most cities in Sri Lanka, Matara. A bustling commercial port city that has been a major contributor to the country’s economy, since the 16th century. In addition to being a commercial hub, the city is famous for its well preserved ramparts, Dutch architecture, and two Dutch fortresses bringing in that colonial touch as well.

Top Reason to Visit

There are many reasons to visit this city, due to its diverse culture, historic backdrop, and commercial significance. However, the top reason goes to its historic background. Filled with well-preserved colonial architecture dating back to the Portuguese colonial masters of the 16th century. The sprawling street life around the monuments adds to the unique experience, since it shows how the local society has adapted to the urban lifestyle.

While You're There

Colonial influence:

Matara has been a major port city since time immemorial, being an important trade point for the Arabs during the 16th century, just before the first Portuguese colonization. Thus the reason as to why the colonials opted to fortify the city with a number of fortresses for the protection of their economic interests. Centuries have passed being handed down from the Portuguese colonials to the Dutch colonials to the British colonials, and the fortresses still possess most of its grandeur when looking at monuments, such as the ramparts, Matara Fort, Star Fort, St. Mary’s Church, and the Dutch Reformed Church to name but four.

Cultural diversity:

Sri Lanka has long been a melting pot of cultures coming from all over the world, and Matara is just one of many cities that showcase such diversity. Being a major trading hub for the Moors from Arabia and North Africa, many of the traders opted to stay back in the Paradise Island due to its tranquil beauty. The descendants of these traders can still be seen peacefully coexisting with the Sinhalese majority, along with other minorities. Exploring the cultural diversity of the city through the churches, temples, kovils, and mosques really do bring out the unity of the local society.

A river of clouds:

The Nilwala River is home to an abundance of various species of flora and fauna, and was once a major ferry route for the kings of old, as these ferries transported a great many people and valuable goods to and from the harbour. This made the kings name the city ‘Mahathota’, translated as ‘The Great Ferry’. Although its ferry system has been lost overtime, a boat ride on the river is still a major attraction as it crisscrosses through leafy trees, thick strands of palm and little riverside houses, with glimpses of the agricultural landscape beyond. Beware of the log like objects floating on the surface though, since they are most likely crocodiles hunting for prey.

All in a day’s work:

Matara is a busy city with many of the inhabitants, and is quite fast paced since many of the people engage in some sort of commerce. At first glance it may look like the usual urban chaos that can be seen in any urban city, however, what makes this city unique though is the united people with their diverse cultures, and relatively untouched historical monuments that make the experience just a little bit more special.

Insider Advice

Travel: Getting about in Matara is quite easy, since most places of interest are quite close to each to other. There are other options to travel, such as the bus or tuk-tuks. Keep in mind though that busses would charge a minimum of LKR 12 depending on your location. Tuk-tuks on the other hand, generally charge LKR 50 - LKR 60 for the first kilometre and LKR 40 thereafter (The vehicles that have meters).

Weather: The months of January - March is when the weather is somewhat favourable, since it is not too hot, thus making it the most suitable time to travel to the area.

Money: Credit and debit cards are accepted in many of the shops, however, it is still advisable to carry cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, LKR 50s and LKR 100s to be on the safe side.

Clothing: Casual / light wear is highly advisable, since it is hot and humid for the most part. Just make sure you dress conservatively when visiting religious sites.

Safety: Matara is quite a safe city, however, the town area is quite crowded, thus making it imperative to be mindful of your belongings.

Meals and refreshments: There are a number of food markets and several fruit vendors with gorgeous displays of produce. There are also cafes inside the Matara Fort enclave and short eats around the bus station.

If you are looking for the unorthodox getaway down the southern coastal belt of Sri Lanka, Matara should be high on your list. It may not boast of pristine strips of beaches like its neighbours, but it does make up for it with the vibrant and unique city life, coupled with a well preserved colonial backdrop.

Title image by: KNOWSL
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