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Matara is one of the largest and busiest towns in the country. It is regarded as a key transport hub in the south with a railway station, one of the main bus stations and is connected to the capital Colombo via the southern expressway. Divided by the Nilwala River, Matara comprises of the Old Dutch Town to the south of the river and the New Town to the north. The Dutch Fort and the lesser known Hexagonal Star Fort are some of the main attractions here. Further south, you can visit the 19th century built lighthouse in Dondra Head, the southernmost point in the island. You also have the opportunity of viewing Estuarine Crocodiles, which are the world’s largest reptile on a scenic boat ride along the Nilawala River. In the last few years, Matara is slowly gaining a reputation as a destination for sun, sand and sea with a number of small boutique hotels and villas built near the beach, where one can also do some surfing between the months of November through to April.

The Dutch Fort is one of the most prominent highlights in Matara, which comprises of a rampart on its eastern side and a gateway built in 1780. The Dutch Reformed Church where the floor is paved by tombstones is another interesting site within the Fort which is worth exploring. There is also a clock tower within the Fort which was erected by the British when they took over from the Dutch and a number of old Colonial buildings in the streets behind the ramparts.

Located inland and on the west bank of the Nilwala River, lies the hexagonal Star Fort, which was believed to have been built by the Dutch in 1763 to defend the main Fort against the Sinhalese from inland attacks after there was a rebellion in 1760. This unique Fort was built in the shape of a six pointed star with space for 12 large cannons to cover any potential attacks from all directions. Today, the structure of the Star Fort has been restored and a small museum has been built which is open to the public.

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