February 1, 2019
Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s far north is an intriguing place, and if you are reading this the chances are you are considering a visit to Jaffna.
But what will you find there and how do you get to Jaffna? Is it worth visiting Jaffna in Sri Lanka?
During Sri Lanka’s decades long civil war, Jaffna and the northern regions were cut off from the rest of Sri Lanka. Indeed, when we first travelled to Jaffna in 2014 we discovered a place where the impacts of those many years of isolation were obvious and where it seemed that time had stopped some 30 years ago. (There were no traffic lights in Jaffna during our very first visit, few tourists and limited options for accommodation. When we returned recently we found new traffic lights in place and large hotels!)
Though Jaffna is only about 400 kilometres from the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, the two places are worlds apart.
That contrast between northern Sri Lanka and the rest of the country is one of the reasons why it is worth travelling to Jaffna.
If you take the time to travel to the north and explore Jaffna, then you can also delve deeper into Sri Lanka’s history and cultures – coming to understand a little more about the Tamil people that live there and their culture.
With the rise in tourism in Sri Lanka, Jaffna – one of the least-visited places in the country – is a destination that people are curious about.
Having returned to Jaffna ourselves several times again since our initial visit, we still think its a part of the country worth exploring. Indeed, Jaffna makes our list of Top 10 places to explore in Sri Lanka in 2019.
So, what can you see and do in Jaffna?
Firstly – getting there. How do you get to Jaffna? If you are on a private tour of Sri Lanka designed by us at Sri Lanka Unbound with a private vehicle and chauffuer/guide, you can reach Jaffna by road. Alternatively you can also take a train – or a combination of the two.
There’s a new express train to Jaffna from Colombo – the `Queen of the North’ – which you can also board at Anuradhapura. We took the train to Jaffna from Anuradhapura after touring the cultural triangle – our driver dropped us at the station and helped us board the correct carriage and we then we travelled by train to Jaffna. It was fast, comfortable and provided great views of the scenery and countryside as we went. Our driver took our luggage and drove, and met us at our hotel in Jaffna.
At the moment, Jaffna is not on the main tourist circuit for visitors to Sri Lanka; however we can already see signs of that changing. For that reason we say go now, so you can see it while its largely unaffected by tourism.
Here are some of our recommendations for the top things to see and do in Jaffna, based on our first-hand experience:
#1 Visit Nallur Kandaswamy Temple:
One of the main attractions in Jaffna is the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple – the largest Hindu temple in the country. Leave your shoes at the gate as you take in the soaring two spires of the temple complex, and inside discover the temple paintings of the various deities, including the 108 dancing Shivas. Time you visit with one of the morning or evening prayers and be mesmerized as local devotees pay homage to their gods. During August each year, the temple holds a festival; at this time Jaffna and the temple see increasing numbers of visitors so be sure to plan ahead well in advanced to secure accommodation.
# 2 Bicycle tour of Jaffna
To really discover this fascinating city, leave your vehicle at your hotel and jump on a bicycle – preferably the iconic older style Lumala rides. Our gentle, guided Jaffna bicycle tour will take you through the back roads and lanes of the city, past the fishing village, to the largest church in the north, through quiet streets and areas, past the library and buildings destroyed by war. A wonderful way to get a sense of the city and the everyday lives of the people in it. The city is flat and we would classify the riding as easy and gentle – suitable for most ages and fitness levels.
# 3 Stop of ice cream at Rio’s
Everyone in Jaffna knows Rio’s and you should definitely include it in your tour of Jaffna. Rio’s is the city’s iconic ice cream parlour – where you will find locals devouring sundaes and ice cream at all times of the day. Ignore the calories and order the the Rio Special – a sundae of 3 scopes of ice cream, 2 flavours of jelly, fruit salad, cashews and a wafer. The ice cream is made on site each day. We went for the simpler options of vanilla with chocolate and nuts and mango, but we were tempted to order a second when we saw the chocolate sundaes being devoured at the table next to us. (We also went back the following day for a second tasting – after it was a hot day and the ice cream so good!)
#4 Go swimming at Point Pedro
If the hot weather is getting to you and you want to cool off in the sea then head to Point Pedro for what could possibly be one of Sri Lanka’s best beaches. Point Pedro is about an hour north of Jaffna and is the most northerly part of the country. Here you will find beautiful soft white sand and cool blue sea. The facilities are really limited there (no toilets or places to change, no where to eat) but the day we went we had the beach to ourselves! No doubt a resort or two or a major hotel will pop up at this beautiful beach soon enough.
#5 Visit Delft Island
For the more adventurous or those wanting to get a greater sense of the history of this region and the country, head to Delft Island – the remotest part of Sri Lanka. A journey of about an hour’s drive from Jaffna, followed by a local ferry ride of another hour will take you to Delft. The island’s best known for the wild horses that inhabit Delft – a legacy of the Dutch rule more than 300 years ago. Today the island’s attractions may seem non-descript, though for curious minded travellers, Delft’s strategic importance historically and its shear remoteness should appeal. A journey to Delft will really stoke your inner adventurer.
#6 Dine with a local family
Jaffna cuisine is unique and differs greatly from the Sri Lankan you will eat in other parts of the country. With dishes based on the fresh seafood so readily available (especially crab and prawns), and featuring exotic and unusual flavours. The best way to get a true sense of local food is to dine with a local family and experience Jaffna home cooking. Be prepared to have your plate refilled many times!
#7 Stroll the local market
Jaffna’s main street and market, or `downtown Jaffna’, as we refer to it, is an easy place to take a stroll. Small in size, take a walk through the fruit and vegetable stalls, past the fabric shops and small stores and get a glimpse of locals going about their everyday business.
We hope that you have found this blog helpful with your Sri Lanka travel places. Lastly – what are the best places to stay in Jaffna? There’s the new Jetwing Jaffna hotel to stay at in the centre of Jaffna. You can’t miss it – it’s the tallest building in Jaffna, though hardly a skyscrapper by an means!
Jaffna and northern Sri Lanka can be included in any custom made journey of Sri Lanka designed by us. It also features in our suggested itinerary Backroads of Sri Lanka.
You may also like to read our other Sri Lanka travel blogs:
Top beaches of Sri Lanka
16 Things about Sri Lanka you should know
Some of other popular travel routes and suggested itineraries in Sri Lanka include Classic Sri Lanka. We also have ann upcoming hosted small group tour for women travellers departing in August 2019 called Sri Lankan Discovery
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details about travel in Sri Lanka or call 1300 449 709