Welcome to Kalutara, once an important spice-trading point. Visit Kalutara !
45 kilometres south of Colombo lies Kalutara, a city that made its mark in Sri Lankan history in the 11th century when King Vikrama Pandya of the Pandya dynasty made it his capital city.
Kalutara’s other king, Parakramabahu the Second, was famous for having introduced the coconut plantations that run along the west coast of Sri Lanka. This move paved the way for changes in local customs as the coconut tree influenced the local cuisine, building techniques and craftsmanship.
Kalutara was once an important spice-trading point controlled first by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and finally by the British. The Dutch created a network of canals to link the spice plantations and the port at Kalutara. The British replaced the inland estates with rubber plantations.
Kalutara’s fame for the spice trade gave way to the local fame of its basketwork that can be bought from roadside stalls that line the main road.
In recent times, the area around Kalutara has been attracting attention thanks to its fledgling wine industry.
Tips to get to Kalutara and to move in and around
Getting there - By road
Several air-conditioned (and non air-conditioned) buses from Colombo will take you to Kalutara in under an hour.
If you are keen on experiencing a journey by rail, you can take trains to Kalutara from Colombo Fort. Express trains stop at Kalutara South. If your hotel is situated north of the town, you will have to either board a slow train that stops at Kalutara North or get off at Kalutara South and take a tuk-tuk (better option). Check for the exact timings on the Sri Lankan Railway website.
There are quite many high-end hotels along the coast to suit your taste on the coastal stretch between Kalutara and Wadduwa.
A variety of restaurants cater to tourists at reasonable prices.
Top attractions in Kalutara: Gangatilaka Stupa and Richmond Castle
Kalutara Dagoba or Gangatilaka Stupa
This is undoubtedly what any visitor to the town is sure to spot from afar and remains the main landmark of the place. The Kalutara Vihara is a recent Buddhist shrine erected in 1960 and located south of the Kalutara Bridge. It is one of the most popular dagobas in the country. The vihara is the world's only hollow Buddhist shrine. You can hence enter the dagoba to see a smaller dagoba inside and the four golden Buddha statues inside as well as 74 murals, each depicting a different aspect of the life of the Buddha. This dagoba is the first halt for pilgrims travelling on their annual pilgrimage to Kataragama.
The remaining temple buildings feature the Bodhiya (one of 32 saplings of the sacred Bo tree) and several Buddha shrines.
Richmond Castle is a 42-acre fruit garden estate, originally built for a wealthy regional governor in 1910. The name of the governor was ... hold your breath ... Padikara Mudaliyar Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur da Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena.
The architecture is a mix of British and Indian styles, copied from the plans of an Indian Maharaja’s palace designed by a London architect. The entire building is characterized by intricate carvings.
It initially had 15 majestic rooms with Italian marble, Burmese teak wood, English bricks, etc. The garden was landscaped and completed with Italian statues.
For a long time, the place remained abandoned until it was transformed into a Montessori school for underprivileged children and remains a popular tourist attraction. Even today, one can imagine the lavish parties that were thrown by its former millionaire owner.
Entry fee: Rs.100 including a guided tour.
Wadduwa and the Pahiyangala Cave are appealing places easily reached from Kalutara
About 33km south of Colombo, Wadduwa is famous for its rich cultivation of coconut palms and as a major producer of toddy and vinegar. There are very few historical places in the area but Wadduwa is popular for products made from coconut fibre such as carpets, brooms, etc. We mention Wadduwa for its vast expanse of sand, probably the first real beach south of the capital city. Wadduwa can be your halt for anywhere between half a day to a weekend.
Getting there: If you do not have private transport, there are a lot of buses plying between Colombo and Wadduwa. Wadduwa, situated on the Colombo-Matara line, is also reachable by train.
The Pahiyangala Cave is the largest natural cave in Sri Lanka and the oldest human settlement in Asia. It is located at Yatagampitiya, near Bulathsinhala, approximately 35 kilometres from Kalutara. The cave measures about 45 metres high and 60 metres wide at its opening and can host about 3 000 people inside. Five human skulls dating back to more than 38,000 years were discovered during excavation works carried out between 1986 and 2009.
According to a legend, the cave got its name from a Chinese monk Fa – Hsien who stayed in the cave during his pilgrimage to Adam's Peak in the 5th century. Next to the Pahiyangala Cave Temple is a troglodyte sanctuary with a 12 metre long reclining statue.
Best places around Kalutara for beaches
The mission at Kalutara is to hit the unspoilt beach fringed by swaying coconut trees and offer excellent swimming possibilities. If you are going southwards from the Colombo international airport or getting back to the airport from the south, Kalutara can be either you first or last halt for a beach-centred holiday for two days or more.
The Sinharaja forest reserve, a popular place to visit from Kalutara
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja (Lion King) forest, Sri Lanka's top rainforest reserve, is about three hours from Kalutara. The park is over 18,000 hectares of ancient rainforest that once covered a larger part of Sri Lanka.
In recognition of the importance of the rainforest and its contribution to the island's ecosystem, it was declared a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1988.
There are many endemic species of butterflies, birds, reptiles and amphibians in the forest as well as mammals such as civets, mongoose, deer and monkeys. But the Sri Lankan lion is nowhere to be seen.
The forest is renowned for its spectacular flora with trees that can tower over 50 metres. But Sinharaja was not always a luxuriant place. In the early 70s, loggers had installed a wood mill to log native hardwood. Only when conservationists raised warning bells did the authorities decide to put an end to the activity. Today, the scars of the activity have almost disappeared.
If you wade in the water here, be aware that leeches are out there everywhere.
The best time to visit Sinharaja is between December and April.
When in Kalutara take your children to see basketry making. They are sure to be interested.
Visit the Basket Centre
Kalutara is famous for its colourful basketry. You can visit the Basket Centre, situated in the middle of the village to witness weavers making coasters, hats and many other items from palm leaves and coconut fibre.
Mangosteens, a fruit not to be missed when in Kalutara in the right season
Taste purple mangosteens
During the mangosteen season (from July to September), you cannot miss out on this unique fruit. Mangosteens contain over 40 biologically active natural chemical compounds called Xanthones that possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also said to have antibacterial and anti-fungal characteristics. But it is for their taste that Queen Victoria longed to taste them but never could because of the very short conservation of the ripe fruit. Be careful not to stain your clothes when eating this fruit, as the stains are indelible.