Jaffna is a nice little town, cut off from the rest of Sri Lanka for almost all of its independent history, today Jaffna is the capital of Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Warred, bombed for decades, Jaffna is scarred, but trying to catch up with rest of Sri Lanka. Predominantly Tamil, but there is some Buddhism. It has culture, cuisine different from the rest of Sri Lanka. There are no big businesses or organizations working here, because it is predominantly rural. People go to big cities for work.
Train: Lot of trains from Colombo, Kandy, Anuradhapura. There are Chinese made blue color AC trains. Check for information on trains here. Best way to book a train is to get help from a hotel, or anyone in Sri Lanka.
Bus: Plenty of buses from Colombo, Kandy, and Anuradhapura. The private buses are little expensive than the government run buses.
Flights: Cinnamon Air runs air taxis that fly between Jaffna and major Sri Lankan cities.
48 hours is the ideal number of hours to stay here. If you speak Tamil, you are cool. Here is the to do list.
1. Book a Homestay
Small town, but plenty of nice homestays to try if budget stay is your thing. Jaffna is opening up to tourists since recently, but try and stay with a local. You might hear stories about their life during the war. The house I stayed at was large, had more than four rooms, and a huge backyard with coconut trees.
2. Check Out War Ruins
Decades of war has battered establishments, buildings here. The effect of war shows. Many buildings used by the rebels, and the army is abandoned today. There is a Jaffna tour that takes you around these ruins. Jaffna is economically recovering, but ruin tours is one of important incomes for tour companies here.
3. Eat South Indian breakfast
You booked a homestay, reached Jaffna, and you are at the homestay. Either there is breakfast at the homestay or not, you tell the host you will be back for dinner, and then take off to find breakfast. You reach the Nallur kovil, and look around. There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants around. So you pick a restaurant, sit on a chair, and order South Indian breakfast.
Idly with sambhar, or nool puttu with some sauces. Too bad the restaurant I tried did not have strong coffee Bangalore has. Drink sweet milk tea to wash it all down. Then you call the waiter pay and say, ‘Saar, nalla irukku’.
4. Jaffna Archeology Museum
Jaffna has a museum, it is small, and the collection is small, but informative. It is a fifteen minute walk from the Nallur Kovil. It is a small street, lot of houses. Only way to tell the museum, and other buildings apart is the pair of cannons inside the compound.
Address: Navalar Road, Jaffna
Timings: 8AM to 4PM
There are few cathedrals in Jaffna, but it is spread around. St. James’ Cathedral is about fifteen minute walk from the Nallur Kovil. Other cathedrals to visit are St. Mary’s, St. John’s.
6. Nallur Kanthasamy Kovil
Nallur Kanthaswamy Kovil is the most famous temple in Jaffna. This temple has daily rituals in the afternoon, and in the evening. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, and men have to take off their shirt before entering. There are many small shops selling incense sticks, coconuts.
7. Dutch Fort
The Dutch Fort of Jaffna was built by the Portuguese. After the Dutch took the fort, Jaffna became an important hub for trade in Sri Lanka. Back in the days many battles have taken place during the civil war, and the years of assault to it in the war shows. There is restoration activities going on here. There are also army soldiers stationed here.
6. Jaffna Library
The Jaffna library was built during the 1930s. It is right next to the Fort. There is a sports stadium being constructed opposite the library. This white building is one of the most beautiful in Jaffna, and one of the biggest in Asia. The library was burnt during the war, but it is being fully restored. Some of the books from the library was spread around many small libraries in Jaffna to protect them.
7. Eat Delicious Seafood
The local food is to die for in Jaffna. It has a flavor different from rest of Sri Lanka, and tasty varieties. Two of my favorite places to eat is the Hotel Rolex, and the Cosy Restaurant. Both these places have great food, but try and make sure you get here during lunch, at 1 PM to 3 PM to get warm and delicious food.
For Vegetarians? – Try Mangos, Temple Road, Nallur. You could eat delicious South Indian meals for 200 to 400 LKR. They have great parota, idiyappam also. After lunch, head out for desserts at Rio ice cream shop. It is a short walk from Mangos.
8. Point Pedro
So after visiting the above mentioned places you go back to your accommodation. Sleep early so that you can wake up early to catch a bus to Point Pedro. There is a lighthouse, a church, and a temple. There are lot of buses to and from Point Pedro, but the direct buses stop at 6PM in the evening. I missed the 6PM bus, and I had to take a bus to a village on the Jaffna-Kandy highway, and take a Jaffna bus from there.
There are many small markets in Jaffna, many of them near the Jaffna Fort. The fish market on Beach Road is busy, and you can catch up on all the activities there. Early morning is a nice time to be there.
10. Nagavihara Buddhist International Centre
Nagavihara Buddhist temple is located on Stanley Road about fifteen minute walk from the Dutch Fort. There is a State Bank of India branch near it. Considering the history of the temple, this is an important place of worship. This is one of the most earliest established Buddha Viharas in Jaffna.
Address: Stanley Road Junction, Jaffna.
11. Nainativu Island
I did not visit this place, but the locals and the guides suggest this place to visit. The island is reachable by boat. The island has interesting places to visit, including a temple.
12. Have lunch at a temple
The Hindu temples in Jaffna that serves delicious lunch at temples for interested devotees. Rice with vegetable curry is usually what is served in a banana leaf. It is free, but if you want to pay for the food, pay it in the form of donation to the temple.