On the southern corner of Sri Lanka, Dondra beach is quickly becoming a popular destination among tourists. Initially know only for its lighthouse it has quickly emerged as tourist hotspot with many popular activities. It is also in the middle of the Southern province, making it an ideal base to explore the south.
Although it was a popular surfing destination for a while it didn’t attract many tourists because of the distance from the main airport and the low number of top end hotels in the area. The completion of the southern highway considerably cut down the time to reach here from Colombo. Combined with the new villas that were built in Mirissa it has become much more attractive for tourists.
Tourist Attractions near Dondra Beach
Since its in the middle of the Southern province you have easy access to plenty of attractions. Lets start with the closest one.
Dondra Point Lighthouse
This is the tallest lighthouse in Sri Lanka and one of the four international lighthouses in Sri Lanka. Its 10-15 minutes drive from Matara town and about an hours drive from Galle. Entrance to the lighthouse grounds are free and you get a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean.
Going up the lighthouse probably depends on the mood of the watcher and your negotiation skills. Officially you need permission from the Ports Authority to go up the lighthouse. However for around Rs. 500 per person you can probably convince the guard to let you go up the lighthouse. If you’re traveling with a tourist guide let him do the talking. I’ve heard some tour operators get the official permission as well.
The views from the top are truly magnificent. If you’re into photography this will feel like paradise. If you went there around 4.30PM to 5.30Pm you can probably catch the sunset as well. Check the wiki article for some background information.
Sri Vishnu Maha Devalaya
If you want to get a glimpse of cultural heritage of Sri Lanka then this is worth a visit. You can see Hindu kovils, lots of Buddha statues, remains of some ancient buildings and if you’re lucky some Elephants. Most of the paintings and statues are in very good condition. You’re not allowed to take pictures but I’ve noticed plenty of tourists/local taking photos. Check the TripAdvisor listing for some pictures.
Galle Fort (World Heritage Site)
Within a hours drive towards Colombo you’ll find the historic Galle Fort. Its a cultural UNESCO world heritage site and considered one of the best examples of fort cities with European architecture in Southeast Asia. It has many cannon filled ramparts facing the ocean you’ll find many tourists walking among the ramparts in the evening enjoying the beautiful sunsets.
It has quite a few well preserved colonial buildings from the Dutch and British Eras. The lighthouse and some churches been the most prominent of them all. Some of the property inside the fort are still owned by Dutch and most of the old houses are converted to villas while still preserving the heritage feel.
Although there are quite a few villas for rent inside Galle Fort they are occupied most of the time. Its almost impossible to find one when during the tourists season and when there are international Cricket tours in Sri Lanka. However if you can rent one it can be quite an experience.
Visits to National Parks
Although not very near there are 3 national parks in close proximity. The most popular one is the Yala national park where you can spot leopards, spotted deer, buffaloes, bears, elephants, peacocks and many other birds. February, March and April is the best times to visit there because of the dry season. It will take around 1.5 to 2 hours to reach there from Dondra beach if you’re going by vehicle.
Udawalawe national park is famous for its elephants. However you can see leopards, spotted deer, buffalo, crocodiles and many other birds here as well. If you’re visiting their make sure to visit the Elephant transit home nearby. You have the opportunity to bottle feed baby elephants and do more interesting things. This is especially recommended if you have children traveling with you.
If watching waterfalls and trekking through the forest fauna is your thing then a visit to the Sinaharaja Forest Reserve is recommended. Its a UNESCO world heritage site and considered a bio diversity hotspot. It has many endemic trees, plants and wildlife. A good tracker is a must if you want to learn about the place. It also have many beautiful waterfalls that’s well worth the hard trekking.
Things to do in Dondra Beach
If adventure is your thing then there are plenty of things to do in Dondra beach. Lets start with the most popular one.
Dondra beach is famous for its whale watching tours. There are plenty of private whale watching operators in the area and Raja and the Whales seems to be the most popular one. Sri Lanka Navy also operates a whale watching tour from the Galle harbor. The charge is around $60 for a foreigner and about Rs. 4000 for a local. This varies according to the operator, distance traveled and many other things.
Dondra point is one of the best places in the world to spot Blue whales. Its extremely close to Whale migration paths and its one of the best feeding ground for these large mammals. Check this Telegraph article which better explains why its much easier to spot Blue whales in this area.
Although not as popular as Arugam Bay, Dondra beach also offers some great waves for surfing. If you’re not satisfied with that then the popular surfing beach of Mirissa is just few minutes to the west.
If you didn’t bring your own equipment you can hire them from the locals. If you’re not experienced at surfing but still want to try it out then you can get classes for a fee as well. Also most hotels have surf boards which can be borrowed by guests.
Another popular activity among tourists. The nearby town of Weligama is famous for snorkeling tours and there are quite a few tour operators specialized in snorkeling and scuba diving.
The waters are bit rough in the southern coast so its best to go snorkeling between November and April. There are quite a few specific dive sites in the area. The Mirissa point is probably the most popular one because its suitable for beginners and also because its not that deep.
Yala rock is more suitable for experience divers since you can explore some caves and see much more marine life. Prinz Hienrich patch is the furthest one visited by tour operators but you have the chance to see much larger fish here. Depending on the destination and equipment the prices range from $150 – $300 per person.
Dondra Beach in Summary
Although not as popular as other beaches in Sri Lanka Dondra beach something unique for the interested tourists. It is especially suitable for people who are interested in seeing places and looking for some adventure. From surfing, snorkeling to watching marine and wildlife Dondra beach has it all. Definitely a place to consider when you visit Sri Lanka.