Jaffna is a must-visit tourist destination in Sri Lanka if you are looking for a fascinating insight to a beautiful, culturally diverse part of the country. It’s only been about a decade since visitors were allowed in Jaffna after the end of the 30 year long Sri Lankan civil war. The war is over now and investments are flooding in with new restaurants and hotels opening up along with a new airport and a train to take visitors there. The north is as wild and unexplored as it gets and for the discerned travelers looking for something off-the-beaten track, Jaffna is the perfect place to be.
Jaffna is located in northern Sri Lanka and is 400 kms from Colombo. With India just 100kms from the coast of Jaffna, the cuisine is strongly influenced by southern India. Led by its Tamil population and a strong Hindu culture, Jaffna is worlds apart from its counterparts in the southern coast. We have put together a few things to do in Jaffna that will convince you that the city is a worthy visit when touring Sri Lanka!
Explore the beaches
Roaming around the northern coastal stretch of Sri Lanka doesn’t cost much. Jaffna is a busy city but you can easily find a peaceful stretch of white sand and clear waters at the Casuarina beach or the Kankesanthurai beach. The latter is amongst the safest beaches of the north and is growing in popularity amongst beach lovers. The Casuarina beach is also an impressive one with beautiful color, shallow waters and no waves. One can walk lengths into the water and it would still be shallow enough for a safe dip.
Akkarai beach is another amongst the best beaches of Jaffna and is about a 40-minute drive from the city center. The attractive bridge and the greenery that accompanies the shores turns the area into a stunning sight. If you are looking to stay away from the crowds and enjoy a quiet, calm and peaceful evening on the beach, Akkarai beach is a good option.
Charty beach is about 15kms from Jaffna and is a gorgeous panorama of blue waters, white sands and coconut trees lined along the shores. Several eateries are located near the beach for tourists to get comfortable and spend an entire day out there. Karainagar is about 20kms from Jaffna and the beach there is ideal for nature and beach lovers to just relax, give themselves a sun tan and indulge in the amazing coastal views, along with some sightings of pretty birds and rare animals.
Visit Kovils and Temples
Although Jaffna is a different route as compared to other tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, you could spend a good 2-3 days here visiting beaches, temples and learning about the magnificent ancient culture and marvels.
The Nallur Kandaswamy Temple was built around 948 AD and is known for the stunning architecture. The festival at this Hindu temple takes place 5 days after the full moon in August and goes on for 25 days. Because this temple is socially important for Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus, many of these have been built in Europe and North America with the same name, as a memory.
Nagadeepa Vihara is on an island off the coast of Jaffna which is referred to as the home of the Naga people, a tribe that was once living in Sri Lanka. This Buddhist temple is one of the holiest Buddhist shrines in the country, more so because it is believed that Lord Buddha visited the site five years after obtaining enlightenment. The main aim of this visit was to settle a dispute between two Naaga Kings.
The Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple is another important religious site and a very significant symbol for Tamils in Sri Lanka. The original version of the Temple was destroyed in 1620 CE by the Portuguese and the structure that exists today was put up in 1788 but this too was attacked, burned and damaged in June 1958 as well as March 1986 during the civil war.
1933 was when the Jaffna Library was first established and since then, it has been a symbol of northern heritage. At one point, this was the largest library in Asia, holding almost 100,000 books and manuscripts. After a horrific burning in 1981, the library was restored with a remarkable classical architecture and is indeed worth a visit.
Visiting the Jaffna market is an enjoyable experience in terms of meeting people and trying out new things such as the Jaffna mango and other local fruits and vegetables. There are several popular restaurants that you can try with cuisine resembling Indian food with a Sri Lankan twist. The fish market located at the beach is also quite fascinating as a traditional way to discover the town. Observe how the busy fishermen bring up a variety of sea fish that you can choose from to purchase!
Delft Island Tour
Delft Island, also known as Neduntheevu is an island in the Palk strait, which separates India from Sri Lanka, and is about 8kms in length and 6kms in width. A day trip to the Delf Island will take you back in time to the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial era. Although not very tourist-friendly, the locals are most certainly warm and friendly, and the views surrounding this island makes this one of those secret places that must be visited in Sri Lanka.
Built by the Portuguese, the iconic Fort in the city of Jaffna is a must-visit if you want to learn about the history of this beautiful structure. After having been through several battles, the Jaffna fort was overtaken by the Dutch, who turned it into a trading center but is now an archaeological site for those who want to relive the past. Watching the sunset from here is one of the things that should definitely be on your bucket list.
Jaffna Archaeological Museum
Established in 1978, the regional museum of Jaffna displays antiquities with archaeological heritage and historical value. This excellent collection of items that illustrate Buddhist and Hindu religious heritage have been received from different places and donated by different people in Jaffna. You will also find a large number of coins from different periods available in the museum.