While exploring Sri Lanka, after a couple of days spent in Colombo, the biggest city of the country, our itinerary was taking us up to the farther north. Jaffna is the northern Capital of Sri Lanka. It was on our itinerary because worn by many as completely different. It was.
YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO JAFFNA
You will discover amazing colourful temples, remote islands, genuine culture, and lovely local smiles. Jaffna is unique and despite a horrible civil war that lasted 26 years until 2009, it is rebuilt by local pride and priceless historical heritage.
WHY IS JAFFNA A HIDDEN GEM OF SRI LANKA?
While the rest of the country is well known, like Kandy, Ella, Colombo, and Nuwara Elya, Jaffna is only recently appearing on the travel guides about Sri Lanka. This is the biggest city in the North of the country.
This part is led by the Tamils with a strong Hindu culture influence, separated from the South with the Sinhalese and Buddhist culture. In the north is spoken another language with a prominence of Hindu Temples. The society is influenced by Southern India, with changes in the food preparation, the attitude of the locals, that are more private.
Despite all of that, we define Jaffna as an unknown treasure of Sri Lanka because of the cultural heritage. In Sri Lanka, religion is really important. We were so impressed with how two different faiths, Buddhism and Hinduism are living together sharing spaces, working together for a better country. We have to say also, that the minoring of Catholic and Islam, are well integrated into society.
JAFFNA FOR AN OFF THE BEATEN PATH ITINERARY IN SRI LANKA
We will bet that in 10 years’ time the situation is gonna change completely. Today Jaffna is not appearing so much in the itineraries of Sri Lanka, but in a few years, we think that the heritage of Jaffna will be appreciated by many travellers. If you are interested in off the beaten path itineraries, Jaffna is the ideal place to visit.
The walls of the historic centre are still pierced by bullets of the civil conflict who killed more than 100,000 people. The locals are not yet completely open and prepared for massive tourism, despite there are many hotels and chains opening doors of amazing accommodations. Jaffna is an authentic place to visit in Sri Lanka. Although there are no insta-famous locations, like in Ella, Colombo or Kandy, we found some rough places and unique things to see and do in Jaffna.
The Ancient Fort is uncommon and nice to be discovered, also the colourful Hindu temples are unparalleled, with many gates in the middle of uncertain roads. The Islands around Jaffna need to be seen. For sure you need at least 2 days in Jaffna in order to have a hazy idea.
WHERE IS JAFFNA LOCATED ?
The ride from Colombo, the main city of Sri Lanka to Jaffna was long. The weather conditions don’t help so much long haul drives, neither the rough roads and the crazy drivers. Jaffna is the capital of the Jaffna district. The cultural capital of the Sri Lanka Tamil population. It is located far north in the country, with just two scenic bridges connecting the peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka, and an Elephant Path that is now National Park and Reserva.
Jaffna is about 400Km from Colombo, driving along the west coast. You can reach it by bus and also train, for a scenic ride that will take in some occasion more than 9 hours with a few stops on the way. The city is far away from Kandy as well, the other well known and significant city in Sri Lanka. Those are divided by about 300Km with the same difficulties as before.
WHAT TO DO IN JAFFNA
Tidying up a list of things to do in Jaffna, you can copy the list below. It includes some of the best attractions in Jaffna. The Jaffna Market is something incredible, a melting pot of colours, smells and local products. It is incredible to walk around the city centre and get into one of the tiny shops selling spices. We saw colours we have never seen in our life. If you are visiting Jaffna, even for a day, you should go to Spices seeking in the city centre.
Over than just food and local products, the traditional heritage of Jaffna is unique. Visiting the Jaffna Fort will give you insight into the local culture through the conqueror’s eras. This fort was passed by Portuguese soldiers to Dutch conquistadors, and to the English Army at last. If you are still willing on what to do in Jaffna, you should consider taking a local boat for a day trip to the nearby islands, why not visit the Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple for a mindblowing culture visit.
PLACES TO VISIT IN JAFFNA
#1 EXPLORE JAFFNA MARKET
This was for sure the best thing we have done in Jaffna. Get in touch with the local culture, meet the looks of the sellers and discover fruits and vegetables never seen before, was insane.
While exploring the Jaffna Market you have to try the local fruit, like the juicy king coconut. Overall our visit to the Jaffna Market was positive. One of the tips we believe is worth sharing is that in the local culture it is not nice to trade on price. Also, bear in mind that you are visitors and they are working, so be discreet and don’t bother too many locals.
YOU SHOULD KNOW…
Where | Jaffna Market
How to get there | Take a local tuk-tuk. There are many drivers waiting for you outside of the hotels. However, we were staying at the North Gate by Jetwing hotels, which was 15 minutes away. Try to find your accommodation close by.
Entrance fee | Free
Read Also | Sri Lanka bucket list
#2 SPICES SEEKING AT JAFFNA CITY CENTRE
Be ready to be kidnapped by a mix of colours and smells. While walking toward the Jaffna Market you will pass by many shops offering spices and local products. We went inside many and found so many spices that are worth going roaming for a cool souvenir back home.
Not only spices, for which the region is famous for but also fragrances and body creams.
Sri Lanka is well known for the production of the best tea quality in the World, the Ceylon. Actually, the country was known for the former name of Ceylon. But, not everyone is aware that in Sri Lanka is produced the best quality of Cinnamon. Check-in your kitchen where the little box you have in stock is coming from, for sure Sri Lanka.
#3 VISIT THE ANCIENT JAFFNA FORT (DUTCH FORT)
Visiting Jaffna Fort is an amazing way to discover the local cultural heritage. This place has a lot of stories to tell, and you can check it out in the little museum.
You can walk up the walls of the fort which was built originally by the Portuguese. This place became a Dutch Fort, before being under the influence of the British Army. Today is also known as the Dutch Fort. Head to the Jaffna Fort in the afternoon to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the city.
Location / Jaffna Fort
Entrance Fee / Free
Highlights / Fort Museum and Sunset Landscape
How to get there / Take a Tuk-tuk for a tour is always your option, but you can walk 10 minutes from the central market.
#4 WATCH THE CERIMONIES AT THE NALLUR KANDASWAMY HINDU TEMPLE OF JAFFNA
Maybe it was the atmosphere of the annual Nallur Festival, which transported us into a whirlwind of emotions for the whole visit to the Kandaswamy Hindu Temple.
Aware of the visit to an ancient temple, we were not sure what we could find. While getting in the circle of the temple area, you have to remove your shoes, cover your shoulders and legs for women, and remove the shirt for men.
This experience will blow your mind, it is so fascinating to get so close to locals and their ancient traditions. For a true experience go in the temple and see with your own eyes the celebration. A mystic trip in Hinduism, the gods and old history that call many religious to the Kandaswamy Temple of Jaffna.
YOU SHOULD KNOW…
Where | Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu temple
Entrance Fee | Free
Tips | LIke in any other temple you must be careful on how to dress and respect gods statues and rites. Showing your respect for the local traditions is the best way to be close to locals. Inside the temple is not allowed Photography, you can take photos of the surrounding area. Don’t bother the locals too much.
#5 JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY
This structure was burnt down in 1981 during the civil war in an attempt to erase the Tamil culture manuscript, it was then restored in 2002. The public library of Jaffna was once one of the largest in Asia with more than 97,000 books, magazines, newspapers and old manuscripts. Part of that has been destroyed in the fire.
YOU SHOULD KNOW…
Where | Jaffna Public Library
Opening hours | Jaffna Public Library – 4:30pm – 6:30pm for tourists
#6 THE CLOCK TOWER
A short walk away from the Jaffna public library there is The Clock Tower. This is another landmark of Jaffna. Erected in 1875 to commemorate the visit to the country of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII. At that time, Sri Lanka was still named Ceylon as the British used to identify the country.
The Clock Tower of Jaffna was heavily damaged in the civil conflict. The British government offered help to Sri Lanka restoring the tower, which was reopened in 2002.
In front of the clock tower, there is another landmark of Jaffna, the Sangiliyan Statue. This is a moderate recreation of the original statue, that was more inclined to commemorate a Martire of Tamil’s.
YOU SHOULD KNOW…
Where | Jaffna Clock Tower
Tips | This landmark is in the middle of a roundabout, be careful taking pictures. We suggest you book a Tour of Jaffna to cover this and other sightseeing in the city with a local guide.
#7 NAGADEEPA ISLAND
This was a little trip we didn’t expect on our Sri Lanka tour. Going on a wooden boat to a remote island was an adventure since the morning. We picked the wrong day to visit Nainativu (known as Nagadeepa as well). It was the day of the fertility blessing for the Hindu at the local temple dedicated to the Parvati, goddess of fertility, love, beauty, marriage, children, and devotion.
Once we arrived at the remote seaport of Kurikaadduwan Jetty, where the fully loaded boats depart to the islands, we saw a long queue of people, correctly dividing men and women into two rows. The little stretch of land is admitting to passing just one car at a time, and you have to be careful when walking from the parking space to the pier. It is windy and dangerous because of the vehicles.
Home of two ancient significant temples for Hindus and Buddhists
The Island has a Buddhist Temple and a Hindu Temple. You will find Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya, the Buddhist holiest shrines, and Nagapooshani Amman Temple, the Hindu side.
YOU SHOULD KNOW…
Where | Nagadeepa ( Nainativu Island)
How to get there | From Jaffna you need to get to Kurikadduwan harbour, about an hour drive away. There is a bus from the city centre bus station of Jaffna to the Harbour, the 776 which costs 90RS per person.
The Ferry to Nagadeepa will take 20 minutes, on a single boat locals can place over 50 people. We suggest you book a tour if you can. This will allow you to have a boat shared with a group of people, not overfilled.
Tips | If you can we suggest you reach the harbour by tuk-tuk. It will cost around 1500-2000r. The Driver can actually take to the entrance gate of the boat departure, in heavy wind conditions the tuk-tuk will leave you at the parking area. To be more welcome in the temples, buy flowers from local vendors before going up the boat.
NAGADEEPA RAJA MAHA VIHARAYA (Buddhist)
This is an ancient Buddhist temple, according to the local tradition, Buddha visited the island to settle a dispute between two warring brothers who wanted to rule the island. This appearance of Buddha on the Island made it become one of the countries protecting the sixteen holiest Buddhist shrines.
According to ancient history in the Nagadeepa Raja Maha Viharaya, Buddhist Temple has awarded the footprint of Buddha. This makes this temple a pilgrimage location for Buddhists, with many coming from India.
NAGAPOOSHANI AMMAN TEMPLE (Hindu)
As we have said before, Nagadeepa Island insists on two temples. Nagapooshani Amman Temple is the Hindu religious spot. It is a very significant symbol for the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, particularly living in the north and in Jaffna.
You can literally walk from the Buddhist Temple to the Hindu location, within 10 minutes you will be at the gate of the Parvati worship.
This place has got four gateway towers, one for each side, called gopurams. This temple is a pilgrimage destination for young women who wish for marriage for the following year.
We suggest visiting both temples while going to Nagadeepa Island, it is a great experience to do in Sri Lanka. Visiting both the religious cultures of this country you will understand better the local heritage. Not only that, but this is also the perfect way to understand how two worlds completely different from each other, can coexist on the same stretch of land pacifically.
#8 A DAY TRIP TO DELFT ISLAND (Neduntheevu)
This is an oval-shaped island of approximately 50Km2. If you are ready to step back in time, and visit some of the more remote parts of Sri Lanka, you have to definitely visit Delft Island. Away about 30Kms from Jaffna Peninsula, this is not the latest Instagram-worthy place to visit in Sri Lanka, but definitely an interesting location to point on your things to do in Jaffna.
THINGS TO DO IN JAFFNA
The island still insists on tiny rural villages and uncertain dusty roads. If you love the adventure you have to visit Delft Island. While it is remote and with just one restaurant on the island remember to take with you water and food.
YOU SHOULD KNOW…
How to get there | From Jaffna you need to get to Kurikadduwan harbour, about an hour away. Take the 776 from Jaffna bus station (90r per person), departing at 6:30, or a tuk-tuk (2000r).
The bus departs from the dock every half an hour and last leaving the harbour of Kurikadduwan is at 5.30 pm. Arriving at the harbour, the ferry is leaving at 8 am – 9 am – 1.30 pm – 4.00 pm. It is back to Kurikadduvan Harbor at 7.30 am – 11.30 am and 4.30 pm which is free. The boat ride will cost you around 80-90RS.
Tips | In rough sea conditions or too strong winds, the boats to reach the island are limited or cancelled.
A MAP OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN JAFFNA
As always we invite our readers to discover a place safely, a way to do that is to always have a map even if your network is down.
JAFFNA IS SAFE AND WORTH A VISIT
Yes, Jaffna is safe and worth a visit. We were travelling to Jaffna from Colombo in a Van. While sitting at the back I was able to look around the landscape that was varying so much, Mile after mile. It was for us the first time outside of Europe. It was the first time we were visiting a country in Asia.
Despite the culture shock in our two days in Colombo, we were slowly going to understand the local culture and familiarise ourselves with our travelling location.
An eight hours bus ride from Colombo to Jaffna found ourselves asking many times if it was worth visiting Jaffna. A few kilometres after the Elephant Pass, a narrow path that connects the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka, we saw military roadblocks. We were just a few kilometres away from the city, and it was sounding dangerous for us.
It was only a precaution, our guides say. It was. The city is completely safe. We didn’t feel any kind of danger, or situation to worry about. If you are planning a visit to the Northern Capital of Sri Lanka, you will be relieved to know that travelling in this part of the country is safe.
HOW TO GET TO JAFFNA
It is not easy to reach Jaffna, the Tamil Capital in the North of the Island is a Peninsula connected to the land by two scenic bridges and the Chundikulam National Park. Despite all the impervious ways to reach Jaffna it is worthwhile. You will get in deep about the local culture, heritage, and traditions.
Reach Jaffna by Bus, Train, Flight or Private Transport
Coming back then, I will suggest you plan a few stops on the way, and why not organize a trip splitting your way to Jaffna staying in Dambulla which is right in the middle, 3 hours away from Colombo and Jaffna. Alternatively, you can break up the journey stay in Anuradhapura which is another amazing location to explore in Sri Lanka.
There is a third way to reach Jaffna, it is actually the quickest, most expensive one, but no less scenic. Jaffna is served by charters for Regional Travels, check the below guide to understand how to reach Jaffna by flight.
TRAIN JOURNEY FROM COLOMBO
This is the best way to choose if you are looking for awesome scenarios. The Train from Colombo to Jaffna is running through the heart of Sri Lanka. A long journey will give you highlights of what your trip is all about. You can catch the train from the main train station in Colombo, the Colombo Fort. This train is always a crowd of locals and departs 5 times a day.
YOU SHOULD KNOW…
Ticket Costs | 1500RS per person for 1st class and assigned seats, 600r per person for 2nd class not assigned seats, 350r per person for 3rd class mostly stand places.
Tips | We suggest you book your ticket in advance for the first-class tickets and avoid travelling during the night. Jaffna Fort Station is one of the busiest in the World, estimating to welcome around 2 million people every day for their journey, don’t expect that the train is waiting for you for the departure. Show up ahead of time and be quick to go up and take your seat.
BUS TO JAFFNA FROM COLOMBO VIA ANURADHAPURA
This is not the best way to reach Jaffna from Colombo but for sure the cheapest one. If you are a backpacker like us and looking for the next adventure, this is maybe your way to reach the northern capital of the country.
The cost of the trip is around 200RS, and the journey will take you to Jaffna in around 7 hours. However, the Bus in Sri Lanka is not the most comfortable way to travel, if you are still willing to move to Jaffna by bus, try to split your journey in a middle city like Dambulla or Anuradhapura.
FLIGHT INTO JAFFNA AND OUT
If you believe that your time is worth it, you can opt for the quickest way to reach Jaffna but expensive. Just recently after the civil war, the Airport of Jaffna has opened the door to passenger flights. Yes, Jaffna is served by an International Airport that will take you to Colombo (Both airports), Tricomalè and Chennai in India.
The plans in the future allow seeing this becoming an international hub with flight in and out from Europe and other Asian destinations. Check your options.
WHERE TO STAY IN JAFFNA
While Jaffna is still an off the beaten path location in Sri Lanka, we were so pleased to see many hotels standing and working well. In our hotel, the Jetwing by Northgate there were other groups of travellers visiting Jaffna. Despite not the entire region of Jaffna is already open to tourism and there is lack of accommodation outside of the city, it is good that in a kind of way this part of the country is developing quickly.
Over than just traditional accommodation, we found it interesting that Airbnb was offering apartments here as well. It would be interesting to find a local guesthouse and interact more with locals. In this way, we found some good Airbnb rentals which we highlighted to you.
Honestly, in our view, Airbnb is your best option when looking for cheap accommodation everywhere, Sri Lanka too. We use it almost exclusively throughout all our trips! But Sri Lanka is so cheap that it is worth checking how much it will cost you a couple of nights in Jaffna.
The Northern city is known as a bit more “expensive” compared to the rest of the country. So check out Airbnb for the possible available options. The average price is around 15$ to 50$ depending on the period you are visiting Jaffna Province. Book using our code will help to save on your trip, you will receive up to 40$ off your first booking!
As we said Sri Lanka is perfect for budget travellers like us. Willing to pay less as possible without compromise with safety and services, hotels could be your way to travel in Jaffna. There are many opportunities regarding hotel accommodations, from mid-range to luxury ones.
In a few years, there could be more Hotels in the area, we can highly suggest to you our accommodation. We have been at the Jetwing Northgate Hotel of Jaffna, which was amazing.
Our suggestions on where to stay in Jaffna
BEST TIME TO VISIT JAFFNA, SRI LANKA
We visited Jaffna in mid-August and it was super humid and hot. Not used to Asian temperatures, once we arrived in Colombo we had to leave our body to understand the new climate conditions. Spending 10 days in Sri Lanka was ideal to get used to the humid weather.
NEVER WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Staying safe on our first trip to Asia was a priority. Note also that, we have been so careful in our trips in Europe in the last few years, that now we can’t book a flight without renewing our travel insurance as well.
Things can go in the wrong way, far away from your expectations and imagination. That’s why we invite you to consider Travel Insurance for your next trip. In this way you will be covered in any case, from theft to lost baggage, gear broken or hospitalization (We don’t want that to happen, so be careful).
This doesn’t help you to avoid mistakes during your trip, but absolutely to let it be hassle-free and have someone to look after it.
BACKPACKERS ESSENTIALS TO TRAVEL TO SRI LANKA | EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR YOUR SRI LANKA ITINERARY
Backpacking the world one country at the time we have developed a way of listing what we need for each trip. From essential medicines to tools, kit and reusable stuff.
Our first trip to Sri Lanka wasn’t the same as the others, so we did a lot of preparation before. We are pretty happy on what we carried in our trip to the Pearl of Sri Lanka.
Those are our suggestions for your backpacker essentials:
Hand Sanitiser | We actually didn’t pack it but bought it at the local supermarket once in Colombo. This is essential for every trip.
Reusable water bottle | In our preparation for Sri Lanka, we ask much advice to our blogger friends who have been there before us. Everyone agrees in saying to carry a Reusable water bottle. We usually carry one of it in our daily life back in London, but because it is not suggested to drink from the tap, you can buy a filter water bottle, which allows you to refill from every water source. Check this is amazing.
Biodegradable wet wipes | Together with hand sanitiser, this is the essential kit of backpackers for every trip. You can carry with you and are low weight or buy at local supermarkets once landed. Remember to throw it away in the bins and respect the environment.
Reusable straws | Being environment friendly, and watching out for your own health, we suggest buying Iron Straws for your next trip. This allows you to drink from your own piece, clean it on the way and don’t throw away other plastic. Buy yours!
OTHER ESSENTIALS | Working more on our contents, recently we have come up with an entire list of essential kits for backpackers. This is the ideal list of things you need for the next trip to Sri Lanka.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT SRI LANKA? CHECK OUR GUIDES
THINGS TO DO IN COLOMBO | How to spend 2 days in Colombo, a complete guide to the best things to do in Colombo.
THINGS TO DO IN NEGOMBO | Discover all the things you can do in Negombo
SRI LANKA SUNSET | Our guide to Sigiriya rock ruins
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