Natural convection flows in a square cavity filled with a porous matrix has been studied numerically using penalty finite element method for uniformly and non-uniformly heated bottom wall, and adiabatic top wall maintaining constant temperature of cold vertical walls. Darcy-Forchheimer model is used to simulate the momentum transfer in the porous medium. The numerical procedure is adopted in the present study yields consistent performance over a wide range of parameters (Rayleigh number Ra, 103 ≤ Ra ≤ 106, Darcy number Da, 10-5 ≤ Da ≤ 10-3, and Prandtl number Pr, 0.71 ≤ Pr ≤ 10) with respect to continuous and discontinuous thermal boundary conditions. Numerical results are presented in terms of stream functions, temperature profiles and Nusselt numbers. Non-uniform heating of the bottom wall produces greater heat transfer rate at the center of the bottom wall than uniform heating case for all Rayleigh numbers but average Nusselt number shows overall lower heat transfer rate for non-uniform heating case. It has been found that the heat transfer is primarily due to conduction for Da ≤ 10 -5 irrespective of Ra and Pr. The conductive heat transfer regime as a function of Ra has also been reported for Da ≥ 10-4. Critical Rayleigh numbers for conduction dominant heat transfer cases have been obtained and for convection dominated regimes the power law correlations between average Nusselt number and Rayleigh numbers are presented. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.