For almost 30-years, Jaffna had been cut off from outside world due to one of the longest running civil war in Asia. Some people might question the sanity of visiting a former war zone that is still hard at work rebuilding itself. Personally, we can’t think of a better time to visit Sri Lanka’s northern province than right this very minute. If you’re a lover of off-the-beaten-track travel like we, this is the perfect time to explore the wild and authentic city before more tourists arrive here.
1. Get time-traveled to the past
Even though the civil war had ended almost 10-years ago, there are still many colonial buildings riddled with bullet holes or not yet recovered from explosives. There are no bars, no tourist restaurants and the curious locals speak little English. What I really love about this city is that the shops are still using hand-painted signboards and antique folding doors!
2. Be mesmerized by the grand Hindu temples
If you had not visited India or enter a Hindu temple before, you should make it a must-go place in Jaffna.
3. Witness the holy puja
Unlike other Hindu temples we had visited before, temples in Jaffna are treated as holy place and not as tourist attractions. Temples are only open for entry during puja ceremony which takes place at 5am, 10am, noon, 4.15pm, 4:30pm, 5pm and 6:45pm daily, and this is the only time you can enter and have a look inside the temple. Do take note that men are expected to remove their top during the ritual.
4. Indulge in Indian influenced food
Located at the most northern tip of Sri Lanka, Jaffna is closest to India where you get to have a taste of delicious food based more on Indian cuisine than on Buddhist Sri Lankan. Even though we had a language barrier, we were treated like honored guests as they kept piling us with food.
Where to eat
This bakery-like Indian place serves all kinds of bread on a banana leaf. You will see 99% locals here and it’s busy throughout the whole day.
Definitely not a legit hotel (hotel means restaurant in Sri Lanka), this place is not one you can find in guidebooks. Not only did they treat us like honored guests, they serve pretty awesome Biryani during lunch time!
Rio Ice Cream
Craving for desserts? They have many kinds of flavors but be warned, this is not your Italian gelato. Sri Lankan people love their sweets and luckily so do we!
5. Catch sunset on top of the ruins
Build in 1618 by the Portuguese, Jaffna Fort is the second biggest Dutch fort built in Sri Lanka. Though it had been heavily destroyed during the 30-years civil war, this star-shaped fort is nevertheless great to do a walk through or catch the sunset from the seaside.
6. Experience a boat trip to nearby islands
There are 2 islands which can only be accessible by ferry from Kurikattuwan jetty in Jaffna. It is possible to visit both islands in a day.
An hour boat ride away, Delft Island is a hidden gem of Jaffna. This island used to be taken over by Dutch and still kept its charm from the old days. There’s a stretch beautiful beach to collect seashells, an old baobab tree, and many mysterious things to discover on the island! If you are lucky enough, you can even see wild horses which were brought in by the Portuguese in the 1600’s.
This island is a popular place for worshiping and the journey only takes about 15-minutes of boat ride. Over here, you get to visit Nagadipa temple – the only major Buddhist temple in the North, and Naga Pooshani Amman Temple – a rainbow Hindu temple towering the sky.
7. If not now, then when?
I’m pretty sure in another 5-years or so, Jaffna will be flooded with tourists like central Sri Lanka. During our 3-days in Jaffna, we came across less than 10 travellers (2 were our bunk mates). We just love how authentic this city is without any influenced of outsider, yet.
Where we stay
Yaarl Hostel is probably the only hostel in Jaffna. We glad that we stayed here rather than guesthouses as we really want to meet other travellers. If you would like to do some workout during your stay, you can even use their in-house gym!
Getting around Jaffna
Most of the sightseeing in the city are within walking distance so we didn’t rent a bike. Buses are easily available and the locals are happy to help you getting on to the right bus.
Getting in and out
There is a direct train from Colombo to Jaffna.
If you are leaving from/ going to Kandy, you will have to change bus or train at Dambulla or Anuradhapura.
To Trincomalee is about 5-hours bus ride.
Jaffna was absolutely a highlight of our time in Sri Lanka. We loved it so much that I wish I’m not writing this post to tell more people to visit, I want it to stay as special as it is.