Matara is one of the largest cities in southern Sri Lanka and popular beach holiday destinations on the island. Matara has a fascinating, and long beach front but very less crowded compared many Sri Lanka beach resorts. Matara is a landmark in Southern Sri Lanka with one of the oldest histories. The city has a collection of the colonial building with fascinating architecture; these buildings add colonial charm to the city. Even though the city is far from Colombo, the development of the area is taking place at a rapid phase for the last several years. The new city looks very modern with new construction, but the colonial building is saved from the modern touch.
The beaches in Matara and other tourist attractions are not fully exploited so far. One reason is being the remoteness from the airport. But newly opened international airport in southern Sri Lanka expected to bring a considerable number of foreign tourists to these beaches in the future. The newly opened airport is just one hour away from Matara. TUK TUK is the most popular transport method for the tourists in the area, but the city has a well-developed transport system that comprised of buses, trains, taxis and rarely used bullock carts. Accommodation in Matara can be an issue sometimes due to the limited availability, especially during the peak season. Accommodation available only in small hotels, guest houses and rest houses but the prices are very affordable here.
Polhena is the most popular beach area in Matara. In Polhena you get a large number of small guest houses, hotels and rest houses. Matara is not possible to find large accommodation facilitators due to the low demand for accommodation facilities. Secluded beaches in Polhena gives you the maximum privacy during your beach holiday, due to the low number of travellers. Here you can have a swim at any time of the year. You will not feel the impact of underwater current or giant waves originate from the monsoon, due to the natural water break off the shore.
The blowhole is just 30 minutes s drive away from Matara and can be accessed very easily on the Matara-Tangalle main road. It is one of the most awesome natural attractions in Sri Lanka. This natural fountain is located on the beaches of Kudawella and the waters rise up to 30 meters. The fountain came being due to the pressure generated by the high tide of the sea. The blowhole located in a rocky outcrop, where the water is pressed through a natural hole, making a huge fountain.
Another uncrowned beach resort near Matara, that you never see so busy like Bentota or Kalutara. Still the beaches in Mirissa are well worth making a visit. The beaches are very wide and clean providing best setup for beach holiday enthusiasts. Mirissa is not only suitable for beach hopping but also for diving, snorkelling and mainly for surfing.
Weherahena temple is a major pilgrimage site in the southern province of Sri Lanka. Even though it is not a leading tourist attraction in the country, most tourists, who spend their holiday in down south, make a visit to this beautiful Buddhist temple. The temple considered to be one of the best places to see the religious paintings in the country. This remote temple shows a remarkable development during the last several years. Therefore, the temple is very popular among the Sri Lankan Buddhist community. Unlike most Buddhist temples in the region, Weherahena temple has many interesting things that take the tourists by surprise. The temple is located about 5 km inland from the city of Matara.
The modern temple is relatively new but the history of the temple is dating back to 2nd century BC. The temple is consisting of one of the biggest Buddha statues on the island. By far it is the main attraction in the temple. This colossal Buddha statue depicts Buddha in serene state or deep meditation. Buddha statue is 40 meters in height while it is 132 feet at the widest point of the statue. The Buddha statue shows a lot of similarities to the Samadhi Buddha statue in Anuradhapura. This colossal statue is considered as a great achievement of modern Buddhist architecture in Sri Lanka.
A nine-story building is supporting the Buddha statue while providing protection against the suns, wind and rain. The nine-story building also used as the image house of the temple. There are interesting collection Buddha statues and god figures in the building and all of them are constructed over the last several years. The building is 150 feet high. Other than the statues, there are many religious paintings in the building.
Today the temple is spreading over 3 hectares. Other major attraction of the temple beside the Buddha statue is the underground tunnel with a large number of painting, statues and murals. There are large numbers of a number of painting and sculptures in the tunnel, exceeding 100’s. Most of the painting and sculptors in the tunnel are depicting the stories of the life of Buddha. Beautiful paintings numbering more than thousand are painted on the inner wall of the tunnel.
The first part of the tunnel is about 45 feet in length. Here you get the paintings pertaining to the life of Siddharta Gautama (Buddha was called Siddharta Gautama before the enlightenment). Beautiful paintings depicting the sceneries of Eranda Jataka and other major incidents between 1st and 6th rain retreat periods can be seen here.
The second part of the tunnel is 110 feet in length. Here you get several ponds and lotus plants, which are mainly done for the decorations purposes. Here you get the beautiful paintings depicting the incidents between 6th and 19th rain retreat period of life of Buddha.
The third portion of the underground tunnel is the smallest, which is about 35 feet in length. It is further divided into smaller parts towards the end of the tunnel.
Star fort and the Dutch fortress are most prominent colonial construction in Matara. Both are located near the city centre and only ten minutes walk away. Star fort houses the archaeological museum with a collection of a large number of valuable artefacts. As the name suggests star fort takes a shape of a star and surrounded by a ditch and a huge wall.
Mangrove forest Kiralakele
Mangrove forest as the local name (Kirala Kele) denotes; this magnificent wet-land covers 1800 hectares and located in southern Sri Lanka off Matara. It is comprised of marshlands, irrigation channels, and mangrove habitats. Mangrove distribution in Sri Lanka about 0.34% of the total land area or 6000 – 7000 ha is a very important ecosystem which provides a wide array of benefits to humans as well as for the balance of nature.
There are many mangrove species recorded here out of 29 mangrove species available in the country. Like in most of the mangroves habitats, high genetic, species and Eco-system diversity is recorded in the area. The Nilwala Flood Protection works and expanding agriculture has changed the ecology of the forest. A network recently repaired of irrigation canals has restored the water flow in the mangrove area. Today this wetland considered to be one of the most valuable conservation areas in the Southern Sri Lanka with an ideal habitat for wetland biodiversity. Being close to Matara town, it is a potential site for nature-based tourism.
Presence of fossils of the Windowpane oysters (Placenta placenta) in the area indicates that the area has been subjected to inundation by seawater during the Pleistocene period (3 million to 10,000 years before the present).
Apart from being a very valuable contributor to the natural wealth of the country, Kirala kele supports about 35,000 people in the surrounding area. It provides a wide array of benefits to the people in the region; it is being used for raising cattle and fishing. Freshwater fishes form an important part of the wetland and provide food for the communities. Small-scale fishing is very common to supplement household income.
This complex, rich wetland habitat is the home for many animals. Thirteen species of mammals have been recorded from the site, including the common and endemic Purple-faced leaf monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus), and the Toque macaque (Macaca sinica).
Wetland birds are the most prominent animals of Kirala kelle. One hundred and three bird species were recorded from Kirala kele, of which 48 are wetland birds. Large flocks of Lesser whistling ducks (Dendrocygna javanica) is a common sight; Other common birds include the Asian Openbill (Anastomus oscitans), Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), Purple heron (Ardea purpurea), Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus), and Pond heron (Ardeola grayii). Kirala kelle not only provides the feeding ground for many bird species but also provides nesting habitats for many bird species such as herons, cormorants, egrets, coots, weavers and Munias. An influx of migratory wetland birds can also be observed during the migratory season from early September to late March every year.
About 25 species of fish are found in the waters of the wetland. The exotic species, Tilapia (Oreochromis mosambicus) and Niloti (Oreochromis niloticus) are the most abundant. Other commercially important fish are the Murrel (Channa striata), spotted snakehead (Channa punctata), stinging catfish (Heteropneustes fossils) and walking catfish (Clarias brachysoma).
In addition to the above, many species of butterflies, reptiles, amphibians there are hundreds of invertebrate species also decorate the biological wealth of Kirala kelle.
Oliyagane forest reserve
Oliyagane forest is situated between Akuressa and Kamurupitiya gramaseva divisions in the district of Matara. Even though this unpopular forest is small in size (482.9 ha), it can be considered as one of the most picturesque forest covers in southern Sri Lanka. The forest serves as a valuable catchment area in the southern part of the country. In 1993 it was decided to declare the forest as a protected area and several years earlier it was declared as a biosphere reserve due to its contribution to the environment.
The soil in the forest is mainly consisting of Red and Yellow Solid soils while the areas with water resources dominated by alluvial soil. Being a forest in the wet zone of Sri Lanka, it is soaked up mainly during the South-West monsoon, from April to November and yearly rainfall recorded as 2465 mm. due to the heavy rainfall and other characteristics, the forest is categorized under the wet evergreen rain forest.
There are two valuable medium size natural lakes can be seen in the forest, one is situated toward the western part of the forest and the second lake is called Hali Ela, located towards the North-East end of the forest. Hali Ela is bigger in size than the other lake and it can store a large amount of water compared to the smaller tank. Hali Ela mainly fed by few small streams and rainwater. Both tanks show a sizable concentration of water throughout the year and the tanks are fed by the Oligane forest during the drought period. Oliyagane forest harbours a large number of flora species, that particularly important for the country. More than half (58%) of trees and plants of the forest are endemic to the island.
Bedi del, An Kenda, Beru, Weli Piyanna, Pat Kela, Doba, Keena, Kudumiriya, Kalu Mediriya, Hora, Bu Hora, Beraliya, Dun, Ini Petta, Nitiya Dun, Godapara, Atama, Wildwood apple, Goraka, Veera, Milla, Keena, Katu Kenda are some of the most seen trees and plants of the forest. The forest is inhabited by several species of animals such as Wild boar, Porcupine, black monkey, several species of mouse, and squirrel. The forest attracts a number of resident bird species, due to the abundance of water in the area. Little Cormorant (Microcarbo niger), Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and Black-crested Bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus) are some of the most common bird species in the forest.
The forest reserve is resided by five species of butterflies and the lakes harbour a large number of fish species. One species called Dankola Petiya is only seen in the Oliyagane forest reserve. The leading amphibian species of the forest is the frog and number of reptile species also recorded in the forest reserve. Cobra (Naja naja), CommonKraitt (Bungarus caeruleus), Sri Lanka krait (Bungarus ceylonicus), Russells’s viper (Daboia russelii), Saw scale viper (Echis carinatus) are some of the most seen reptiles in the reserve.
Most of the trees and plants of the forest are considered as relatively new due to the removal of initial forest cover (deforestation). Today it has become a fully grown secondary rain forest under the forest regeneration and the property is protected under the wildlife act of Sri Lanka.