Flip-flops, biodegradable sunscreen, bathing suits, hats and a tank full of petrol are probably all you’ll need to head down south. Sri Lanka’s coastline stretching from Matara to Yala makes for a heady mix of companionable exhilaration and glorious solitude – with nature’s bounty, sundry activities, culture and history thrown in for good measure.
Matara is one of Sri Lanka’s main cities with its Dutch forts, ramparts, trading life and of course, the beaches. The Dondra Head Lighthouse is one of the oldest and most awe-inspiring towers in the island. Surrounded by a base of swaying coconut trees, the imposing beacon stands tall and overlooks the crashing waves from Sri Lanka’s southernmost point.
For Sri Lankan Catholics, the Shrine of Our Lady of Matara with its 400-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary is perhaps one of the holiest and most miraculous sites in the island. It is said that originally, the statue was found in a large wooden crate hauled out of the sea by fisher- men.
After a day of exploring Matara, find a quiet place to sit near the old Dutch Fort and watch the sunset with the rocky Parey Dewa Island in the background.
Further south is the touristy town of Tangalle. With alluring white beaches, this stretch of coast is ideal for sun bathing and surfing.
Tangalle is also home to the venerated Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara – a temple set on a giant rock, which can be reached by ascending its 533 steps. Known as ‘Little Sigiriya’ by the locals, the temple ground has five massive rocks and there are several compartments in the complex.
Guarded by troops of monkeys – which devour the brightly coloured flowers and fruits offered by pilgrims – Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara features large Buddha statues, tombs, pagodas, paintings and inscriptions.
A visit to Tangalle is not complete without a trip to the hummaanaya or blowhole, which is thought to be the second largest in the world. Soak in the sight of this natural fountain that blows its top every few minutes! And don’t forget to take a slow-motion video while you’re here.
Located where the Walawe River meets the sea, Ambalantota is yet another picturesque coastal township worth visiting. It’s also where you will see the statue of Sri Lankan poetess Dona Isabella Cornelia Perumal who is better-known as Gajaman Nona.
Developed and earmarked to become the second most important hub after Colombo, Hambantota has a mix of natural beauty and man-made structures – including a port, an airport and a cricket stadium. It’s also a gateway to the Ussangoda National Park – Sri Lanka’s newest national park, which is believed to have once been the landing strip of King Ravana’s dandumonara yaanaya (peacock drawn air chariot).
Moving towards the sacred grounds of Kataragama with its colourful temple premises, exciting festivities, thousands of pilgrims and the healing waters of the Menik Ganga, you will pass many a holy place – in particular, Tissamaharama. Watch out for the dazzling white dagoba as you cross the lake bund!
Sri Lanka’s wildlife seems to flock around holy sites especially in the deep south. While the area surrounding Tissamaharama is connected to many national parks, it’s also home to many pilgrim sites. The Kirinda Rajamaha Viharaya is one such site and it’s situated atop a rock overlooking a beautiful beach and the sleepy village of Kirinda.
The southern coastal stretch ends with Sri Lanka’s second largest national park. Believed to be an abode of King Ravana, Yala is now home to the magnificent Asian elephant, charismatic Sri Lankan leopard, elusive sloth bear, and a multitude of birds, reptiles and other mammals.
So head on down south, and emerge blessed, touched and awed!
Compiled by Ruwandi Perera