Kalutara: A Hidden Gem of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a land of wonders, where natural beauty meets historical grandeur, and culture intermingles with modernity. From the lush green tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya to the pristine beaches of Mirissa, the country has a plethora of destinations that can enchant any traveler. Among these destinations, Kalutara stands out as a unique place that embodies the essence of Sri Lankan culture and heritage.

Located on the southwestern coast of the island, Kalutara is a hidden gem that offers a rich blend of natural beauty, and historical landmarks. In fact, the city is well-known for its picturesque beaches, lush greenery, and serene environment. Moreover, the Kalu River (Kalu Ganga) that flows through this town adds more beauty. Hence, it is a popular destination among tourists who want to experience the natural beauty of Sri Lanka.

Besides, today, Kalutara is a vibrant city that offers a unique blend of tradition and modernity. It is home to a diverse population. To be specific, the population there includes Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, and Burghers, who all contribute to its rich cultural heritage.

Likewise, there is so much to explore in this wonderful town of Kalutara. Thus, in this article, we will explore the wonders of Kalutara and discover why it deserves a prominent place in your travel itinerary. Continue reading!

A Brief History of Kalutara

Kalutara has played a significant role in the country’s history. Besides, various social factors and civilizations have shaped its culture over the years. In this section, we will explore the fascinating history of Kalutara and discover the ancient roots of this charming city.

Early Settlements in Kalutara

The history of Kalutara goes back to the 4th century BC. As per the historical records, Kalutara had been a small village back then. The Veddha people, the indigenous people of Sri Lanka lived there. Later on, this area was under the rule of the Sinhalese kings, who used the region for agriculture and fishing. Further, this village had been an essential stopover for traders who used the Kalu River to transport goods from the inlands to the coast.

However, the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC had a significant impact on the culture and history of Kalutara. There is a belief that the famous Buddhist monk, Ven. Mahinda visited Kalutara during his mission to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He had visited the Kalutara Bodhiya, an ancient temple that still stands today as a testament to the city’s Buddhist roots.

Colonial Influences

Kalutara district was significant during the colonial era as well. To be specific, during the 16th century, Kalutara fell under the control of the Portuguese. They established a fort and a trading post in the city. The Dutch followed the Portuguese. Accordingly, they controlled the city for over a century and left their mark on the region’s architecture, culture, and language. The British arrived in the late 18th century and ruled over the region until Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948.

Kalutara at Present

Today, Kalutara is a bustling city that has retained its ancient charm while embracing modernity. Visitors can explore the city’s rich history by visiting ancient temples, forts, and other historical landmarks. As mentioned earlier, this city is also home to a vibrant culture. The traditional arts, crafts, and performing arts that you witness there express these cultural values. Sp, all in all, Kalutara is a fascinating destination that offers visitors a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s rich and diverse history.

Natural Beauty of Kalutara

As you already know, Kalutara is rich with an abundance of natural beauty that can mesmerize any visitor. We will look into some of the main natural beauties in Kalutara in this section.

1. The Kalu River

The Kalu River, famous as Kalu Ganga in Sinhalese, is one of the most important rivers in Sri Lanka. It flows from the central hills of the country and empties into the Indian Ocean in Kalutara. This river is an integral part of the region’s history, culture, and economy. Besides, it is a popular destination for tourists visiting the region.

The Kalu River has played a significant role in the history and culture of the region. The ancient kingdoms used this river for transportation and irrigation. Besides, several important Buddhist temples and shrines are located along its banks. Hence, the river is also a significant religious site. Also, there is a belief that the water of Kalu River is believed to have healing properties. Owing to all these reasons, the Kalu River remains a significant attraction in this charming town.

Activities around Kalu River

Apart from relaxing by the river bank, there are many activities that you can indulge yourself around the Kalu river.

One of the most popular tourist activities on the Kalu River is taking a boat ride. Visitors can hire a boat and explore the river, taking in the beautiful scenery and learning about the region’s history and culture from the local boatmen. The boat rides also offer a chance to see the river’s abundant wildlife, including birds, crocodiles, and monitor lizards.

Fishing is another popular activity on the Kalu River. The river is home to several species of fish, including the popular freshwater fish, tilapia. Visitors can hire a boat and try their hand at fishing. If not, they can join local fishermen on their boats and learn about traditional Sri Lankan fishing techniques.

The Kalu Ganga River is also a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts. Visitors can try their hand at kayaking, canoeing, and white water rafting on the river’s rapids. The river’s fast-flowing waters and scenic backdrop make it an excellent location for adventure sports.

2. The Picturesque Kalutara Beach

Kalutara Beach is a beautiful stretch of golden sand and turquoise water located in the heart of Kalutara town. This beach is a popular destination for tourists visiting the region, and it offers a range of activities and attractions to suit every taste. We are about to explore the highlights of Kalutara Beach and discover why it is such a popular destination for visitors to Sri Lanka.

Beach Activities

The calm and clear waters of Kalutara Beach make it an ideal location for swimming, snorkeling, and other water-based activities. Visitors can enjoy a refreshing swim in the ocean, explore the underwater world of the reef, or simply relax on the sandy shore and soak up the sun.

Local Food and Drinks

One of the highlights of Kalutara Beach is the wide range of local food and drink options available. However, since Kalutara is a coastal town it never lacks fresh seafood. So, the visitors can enjoy a delicious seafood lunch at one of the many beachside restaurants or indulge in refreshing coconut water or tropical fruit smoothie from a local vendor.

Besides, street food stalls are a common sight around the beach side. Especially, when the evening hours arrive, the shores slowly get crowded with these vendors. It would be a fascinating experience for you to taste some of the unique Sri Lankan street food items as you relax by the shores.

Sunsets and Scenery

You should not miss the stunning sunsets and picturesque scenery of Kalutara Beach. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline at dusk and watch the sun dip below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the ocean and beach. You can not only witness this glamour from your own eyes, but also capture some of the astounding photographs of the sunset.

Water Sports

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, Kalutara Beach offers a range of water sports activities, including jet skiing, windsurfing, and parasailing. These activities offer an exciting way to experience the beauty of the beach and ocean while getting a dose of adventure.

3. Waskaduwa Beach

Waskaduwa Beach is another beautiful and lesser-known beach located just a short distance from Kalutara. This hidden gem offers visitors a tranquil and serene setting to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of Sri Lanka’s coastline. Let’s take a closer look at what makes Waskaduwa Beach so special.

Secluded Setting

Unlike many of the more popular beaches in the region, Waskaduwa Beach remains largely undiscovered by tourists. This means that visitors can enjoy a peaceful and secluded setting, away from the crowds and noise of larger tourist destinations.

Further, the Waskaduwa Beach boasts a long stretch of soft, white sand, perfect for relaxing and soaking up the sun. This beach is also a great spot for a leisurely stroll along the shoreline, taking in the sights and sounds of the ocean.

Coral Reef

One of the highlights of Waskaduwa Beach is the stunning coral reef that runs along the shoreline. The reef is home to a variety of colorful fish and other marine life, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Local Culture

Waskaduwa is a traditional fishing village, and visitors can get a glimpse of local culture by watching the fishermen bring in their daily catch to the shores. Early morning hours are the best to explore this fishing culture. How they bring the fresh catch to the shores, how the vendors bargain for the dish from the fishermen, and even the bustling nature of the surroundings at these houses would be something interesting to observe.

Sunsets and Serenity

Waskaduwa Beach is the perfect place to experience the serenity and beauty of a Sri Lankan sunset. Visitors can watch the sun dip below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the ocean and beach. And yes, they can capture some amazing photographs too.

Dolphin and Whale Watching at Kalutara

The waters surrounding Kalutara are home to a wide variety of dolphins and whales, making it an ideal spot for nature enthusiasts.

The most commonly spotted dolphins in the area are the spinner, bottlenose, and striped dolphins. These playful creatures are well-known for their acrobatics, often leaping out of the water and spinning in the air. Visitors can also spot larger whale species, such as the blue whale, sperm whale, and fin whale frequently in the waters of Kalutara.

To catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures, visitors can book a boat tour with a reputable operator, who will take them out to sea for a few hours. The best time to go dolphin and whale watching in Kalutara is from November to April, during the winter months when the seas are calm and the visibility is good. However, sightings can never be guaranteed, as these animals are wild and unpredictable.

Visitors should also be mindful of the impact their presence can have on the marine ecosystem. It is important to choose a responsible operator who follows guidelines for responsible whale and dolphin watching. Boats should never chase or approach the animals too closely, as this can disturb their natural behavior and cause stress.

Overall, whale and dolphin watching in Kalutara is a truly magical experience. The chance to witness these incredible creatures in their natural habitat is a privilege and one that visitors to Sri Lanka should not miss.

Historical Landmarks of Kalutara

Kalutara has a rich heritage that is reflected in its many historical landmarks. The Richmond Castle and Fa hien caves are such landmarks, and they are must-visit places for any traveler.

1. Richmond Castle

Richmond Castle is a stunning architectural masterpiece located in Kalutara. Built-in the late 19th century, this castle is a symbol of the colonial era in Sri Lanka. This castle is on a hill overlooking the Kalu River and the surrounding landscape, making it a popular tourist attraction in the area.

A wealthy landowner named Padikara Mudali Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena commissioned the construction of this wonderful building. Further, a British architect named Thomas Skinner, who was well-known for his unique blend of British and Indian architectural styles designed it. The construction of the castle began in 1896 and was completed in 1910, taking over a decade to finish.

The castle’s architecture is a perfect example of the fusion of Eastern and Western styles, with intricate carvings and motifs adorning the walls, doors, and windows. The castle has a total of 42 rooms, including a ballroom, a banquet hall, and a billiards room. The interior of the castle contains decorations with period furniture, antiques, and paintings, making it a perfect representation of the colonial era.

Richmond Castle was once the home of Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena and his family. However, after his death, the castle fell into disrepair and was abandoned for many years. In the 1970s, the castle was declared a national heritage site by the Sri Lankan government, and efforts were made to restore it to its former glory.

Today, Richmond Castle is open to the public and is a popular tourist attraction in Kalutara. Visitors can explore the castle’s many rooms and marvel at the intricate architecture and beautiful interior decorations. The castle also hosts a range of cultural events and exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and culture.

2. Fa hien caves

Fa Hien caves are located in a serene jungle setting about 1.5 km from the Kalutara town and are named after the famous Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-hien, who is believed to have visited this cave complex during his pilgrimage to Sri Lanka in the 5th century.

The Fa hien caves are also known as the Batatotalena caves, which means “rock cave” in Sinhalese. It is a limestone cave system that dates back over 500 million years and is believed to have been formed by the action of underground water. The complex consists of a series of caves that are connected to each other, and visitors have the opportunity to explore the caves with the help of a local guide.

The Fa Hien caves are an important archaeological site in Sri Lanka, and it is believed that prehistoric humans lived in these caves during the stone age. Archaeologists have found evidence of stone tools, pottery, and human remains that date back over 30,000 years. The caves have also been used as a hiding place by the Sri Lankan kings during invasions by foreign powers.

The Fa Hien caves are not only a historic site, but it is also a natural wonder. The cave system is home to several species of bats, and visitors can witness these creatures in their natural habitat. The caves are also home to several species of fish, crabs, and insects, making it a diverse ecosystem.

Visitors can also witness the breathtaking beauty of the cave system, which is decorated with intricate limestone formations. Stalactites and stalagmites of various shapes and sizes adorn the cave walls, creating a surreal atmosphere. The caves are also known for their natural coolness, making them an ideal spot to escape the scorching heat of the sun.

Cultural Attractions in Kalutara

Kalutara is a melting pot of cultures, and it offers many opportunities to explore the unique traditions and customs of Sri Lanka. Let us get to know what they are.

1. The Kalutara Bodhiya

Kalutara Bodiya is a sacred Buddhist temple located in the heart of Kalutara town. This temple is a popular destination among tourists who visit Kalutara to explore the rich cultural heritage of the region.

Kalutara Bodiya is believed to have been built during the 6th century BC and has a history of over 2500 years. The temple is situated on a small hill and provides a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

One of the main attractions of the temple is its stupa, which is said to be one of the largest in Sri Lanka, standing at a height of around 100 feet. The stupa is surrounded by several smaller stupas and statues of Buddha, which are also worth exploring.

Kalutara Bodiya is also home to a sacred bo tree, which is believed to have been grown from a cutting of the original bo tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree is in a small courtyard in front of the stupa and a fence surrounds it, to protect it from the crowds of visitors who come to offer their respects.

The temple is well-known for its peaceful atmosphere. If you visit, you can hear the sound of chanting monks throughout the day. The walls of the temple are adorned with intricate paintings and murals, which depict scenes from the life of Buddha and other Buddhist deities. Visitors are welcome to enter the temple and explore the various shrines and statues inside.

Kalutara Bodhiya is a must-visit destination for anyone who has an interest in the cultural and spiritual heritage of Sri Lanka. The temple offers a glimpse into the rich history of the region and is a great place to spend a peaceful afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the town.

2. Gangatilaka Viharaya

Gangatilaka Viharaya is an ancient temple located in the Kalutara district. This temple is located in the village of Kaluwamodara, which is around 6 kilometers away from Kalutara town.

The temple’s history dates back to the 4th century, during the reign of King Buwanekabahu IV of the Gampola Kingdom. The temple is on a hill overlooking the village. Moreover, there is a belief that the king ordered the temple to be built at this location after having a dream in which he saw the Buddha’s image on a rock on top of the hill.

One of the main attractions of the Gangatilaka Viharaya is the impressive statue of the Buddha. It stands at the entrance of the temple, at a height of 43 feet. And yes, this statue is one of the largest statues of the Buddha in Sri Lanka. Further, this statue is made of concrete and painted in gold, giving it a majestic appearance.

Apart from the Buddha statue, the temple also has a number of other important religious relics, including a stupa, an image house, and a Bo tree. The stupa is one of the largest in the Kalutara district. Moreover, the image house contains a number of impressive statues of the Buddha and other important figures from Buddhist mythology.

Visitors to the Gangatilaka Viharaya can also enjoy the stunning views from the top of the hill where the temple is located. The hill overlooks the village of Kaluwamodara and the surrounding countryside, offering breathtaking views of the area.

Overall, the Gangathilaka Viharaya is a must-visit destination, especially, if you have an interest in Sri Lankan history and culture. The temple’s impressive architecture, stunning Buddha statue, and beautiful surroundings make it a truly unforgettable experience.

3. The Kalutara Basket Centre 

Kalutara is also home to the Kalutara basket center, a must-visit place for those who love arts and crafts. It is located on Galle Road, a short distance away from Kalutara town. This center is famous for its production of beautiful baskets using sustainable materials like bamboo and rattan. These baskets are not only eco-friendly but also strong and durable, perfect for carrying heavy items.

Visitors to the Kalutara basket center can watch the skilled artisans at work as they weave and create baskets of various shapes and sizes. It is truly amazing to see how the artisans transform the raw materials into functional and aesthetically pleasing baskets.

In addition to baskets, the center also produces other handicrafts like mats, hats, and bags. These items make great souvenirs for tourists to take back home as a reminder of their visit to Kalutara.

The Kalutara basket center is not just a place for shopping. It is also an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn about the local culture and traditional crafts. In fact, the center offers workshops and classes for those who need to learn the art of basket weaving. Accordingly, visitors can learn about the different types of materials used, the various weaving techniques, and the history behind the craft.

Moreover, the Kalutara basket center is a great place to support local artisans and their traditional crafts. It is also a unique experience for tourists to witness the skill and creativity of these talented artisans. So, a visit to the basket center is definitely worth the time and effort for those looking for a truly authentic cultural experience in Kalutara.

Food and Cuisine in Kalutara

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without experiencing the local cuisine. And yes, Kalutara offers a unique culinary experience that is sure to delight any food lover.

In terms of the main meals, rice and curry are the staple dishes of Sri Lanka, and Kalutara is no exception. Yet, the city is well-known for its seafood. The local restaurants serve a variety of dishes that feature fresh catch from the Indian Ocean. Some of the popular dishes include prawn curry, crab curry, and fish ambul thiyal, which is a sour fish curry that is a specialty of the region. However, there is a wide variety of dishes to choose from, when you visit a restaurant at Kalutara.

Besides, Kalutara is also famous for its traditional sweets and desserts. In fact, the local bakeries offer a variety of treats made using jaggery, a type of unrefined cane sugar, which is also a staple ingredient in Sri Lankan cuisine. Some of the popular sweets include kavum – a deep-fried sweet cake, and kokis – a crispy fried snack that is shaped like a flower.

Also, Kalutara is famous for its coconut-based sweets. They include coconut toffee and coconut fudge.

Accommodation and Transportation in Kalutara

Kalutara offers a range of accommodation options that cater to different budgets and preferences. To be specific, the city has several luxury resorts that offer world-class amenities and breathtaking views of the ocean. The mid-range hotels and guesthouses provide comfortable and affordable accommodation that is perfect for budget-conscious travelers. This city also has many homestays and Airbnb rentals that offer a unique local experience and a chance to interact with friendly locals.

Besides, getting around Kalutara is easy, and visitors can choose from various modes of transportation. Tuk-tuks are a popular and affordable way to travel within the city. Moreover, the convenience of using Tuk-tuks is really high. In fact, you can find enough and more of them by the roadside. Buses and trains are also available, and they also provide a convenient way to explore the neighboring towns and cities at an affordable price.

Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit to Kalutara

If you are planning a trip to Kalutara, here are some tips and recommendations to make the most of your visit:

Plan your trip during the dry season, which is from December to March, to avoid the monsoon rains.

Bring sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses as the sun can be quite strong, especially during the day.

Rent a bicycle or a scooter to explore the city at your own pace and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Try the local cuisine and street food, but be cautious of food hygiene and only eat at reputable establishments.

Book your accommodation in advance, especially during the peak season, to ensure availability and avoid last-minute disappointments.

The Bottom Line

Simply, Kalutara is a hidden gem of Sri Lanka. It offers a rich blend of natural beauty, historical landmarks, cultural experiences, and culinary delights. Besides, this city has something to offer for every traveler. Whether it’s a relaxing beach holiday, a cultural exploration, or an adventurous excursion, Kalutara offers it all. With its warm hospitality and welcoming locals, Kalutara is a destination that you should not visit, especially, if you are longing to experience the best of Sri Lanka. Even the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has paid attention to developing this area. So, pack your bags and head to Kalutara, the jewel of the southwestern coast. Happy and safe traveling!


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