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 off-the-beaten-track lover like us, this is the perfect time to explore the wild and authentic city before more tourists arrive here.
Get time-travelled 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!
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.
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 5:00 a.m, 10:00 a.m, noon, 4:15 p.m, 4:30 p.m, 5:00 p.m and 6:45 p.m daily. This is also 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.
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.
- Malayan Cafe – Bakery-like Indian place serves all their food on banana leaf. You will see 99% locals here and it’s busy throughout the whole day.
- Harry Hotel – Not one you can find in guidebooks! They have pretty awesome Biryani and only serve during lunch time.
- Rio Ice Cream – 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!
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.
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.
- Delft Island – An island used to be taken over by Dutch and still kept its charm from the old days.
- Nainativu Island – This island is a popular place for locals worshiping and the journey only takes about 15-minutes of boat ride.
Read More: Exploring The Northern Islands From Jaffna
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.
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.
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. If not, you can always squeeze in a shared tuk-tuk!
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!
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!