Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Jaffna is a city on the northern tip of Sri Lanka. It opened its doors for tourism in 2009 and has been a lesser-known tourist gem on the island ever since. The city is inspired by the root of Indian culture, which is apparent in its food and infrastructure. Home to almost 500,000 Hindus, Jaffna is a sacred city for those who would love to dwell in the peace and serenity of their culture. In the post, we go through the top 10 things to do in Jaffna over a 3-5 night stay. (Trust me you will want to stay longer than 3 nights once you get there)
1. The Nallur Kovil
The Nallur Kovil is one of the must-see places in Jaffna. During the monarchical era, the region “Nallur” served as the capital for the Kingdom of Jaffna. Devoted to the Hindu god Lord Murugan, the kovil serves as one of the most sacred places of worship for the Hindu community in Sri Lanka. The temple is abundant with the beautifully intricate designs and statues of gods from the Hindu culture. The kovil hosts an annual festival in August, taking place over 25 days and attracts thousands of devotees from around the island. It was built in the year 948 B.C, however the Portuguese captured this area and demolished the whole kovil in 1612. The kovil was then rebuilt in a less complex form but the spirit and devotion remain. Do note that there is a strict dress code to be followed, ladies must be dressed in clothing that reaches the ankles and covers the shoulders, and men to be dressed in a sarong or long pants but they must be topless! It is important that you respect the culture of this sacred site when visiting.
2. The Jaffna Public Library
The Jaffna public library is the second largest library in the country and was the largest library in Asia at its peak. Jaffna residents consider the library to be an important Tamil cultural and historic centre. The arson attack caused during the civil war in Sri Lanka burned down the original structure, destroying thousands of irreplaceable ancient Sinhala and Tamil texts, destroying a large, important and irreplaceable part of Sri Lankan history. The structure was then rebuilt and at present is a bright and spacious place actively used by the residents of Jaffna.
3. Mantri Manai (Minister’s abode)
This archaeological masterpiece is believed to be the home of a palace official during the reign of King Cankili II, the last ruling king of Jaffna. The building has been of interest to historians because it showcases Dravidian architecture with both Dutch and British influences. Due to neglect during the time of the war, Mantri Manai had deteriorated further and become subject to vandalism, to ensure it does not continue to happen it has been listed protected archaeological monument in Jaffna by the Sri Lankan government in 2007.
4. Rio Ice-cream
Lo and behold the infamous Rio ice cream! Jaffna is undeniably very hot, and one thing the people in Jaffna love is the cold and sweet Rio ice cream. This place is a must-visit and is one of the most recommended stops to visit during your trip to Jaffna. Rio ice cream, as its name states, is famous for its assortment of ice creams and milkshakes. I mean who doesn’t love good ice cream to cut through the hot summer days? But it's also popular for its fresh rolls and fresh juices and after a day of exploring out in the hot and dry Jaffna weather, Rio ice cream will definitely have something to soothe you!
5. The Jaffna Fort
Located in the heart of Jaffna, the fort is the second largest fort in the country. It was originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century, and it remains one of the most colonially breath-taking destinations in Jaffna. The fort was then modified into what it is today by the Dutch, who captured it from the Portuguese. The British also used the fort as a citadel until Sri Lanka’s independence.
The fort was recaptured by the Sri Lankan army after it was under the control of the LTTE during the civil war. It is now open for tourists and is being renovated to bring back the pristine beauty it holds.
The fort is a great place to go if you wanna spend an afternoon under the shade of a bo tree and enjoy some quiet reading. despite all the turmoil it has been through it has a very calming vibe to it and it is a definite must-visit when in Jaffna
6. Keerimalai Pond
A symbol of absolute tranquillity, this pond is one of the most beautiful destinations you MUST visit in Jaffna. I mean look at how magnificent the structure itself looks, with steps descending toward the emerald, green water, overlooking the sea. This is the best stop for a quick dip in the pond while the warm Jaffna breeze sweeps across your face. The locals believe the pond to have spiritual and healing properties. There are many stories ranging from skin problems being healed to even childless women being able to conceive. The pond is located about 15km away from the Jaffna town and is a part of a kovil which explains how peaceful it is. Quite interestingly it is the first ocean pool I have come across in Sri Lanka similar to the concept found to be extremely popular in Sydney.
7. Fox Resorts Jaffna
Just 10 minutes outside the Jaffna town, this historic house is the ancestral home of one of Sri Lanka’s most successful businessmen R Rajamahendran Aka Kili Maharaja, but behind it lies a clamorous past. The property was once used as a treasury by insurgents and a bunker for the LTTE before coming under government captivity. Since then, the house was renovated by its owner into a luxury boutique hotel. The bunkers have been preserved, one of which is now being used as a museum to educate its visitors about the lifestyle and history of Jaffna’s past. Another has been transformed into an art gallery that hosts Kili Maharaja’s art collection. Unlike other hotels in Jaffna, Fox Resorts gives you a homely feel as you walk through its doors. The more laid-back structure of the resort is what I loved most about it. With a huge garden, a beautiful pool and open aired seating takes you away from the hustle of the city.
8. Nagadeepa Island
Visiting the northern part of Sri Lanka doesn’t limit you to just Jaffna, there are many small islands in the vicinity that are left to explore. Among those is a tiny island named Nagadeepa island. We were taken on a boat to the island from Kurikkadduwan jetty. The Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple situated on the island and is one of the 16 holiest Buddhist shrines in the country. According to Sri Lankan history, the Gautama Buddha visited this temple 5 years after attaining enlightenment, to settle a dispute between two of the kings.
Along the route to the Nagadeepa Kovil, you are likely to find a plethora of shops selling products made from the Palmyra tree, one of the island's pride and joy.
The Nainativu Nagapooshani temple is also one of the most sacred temples in the island. The temple is a symbol for the Tamil devotees in the island and is mentioned since archaism in ancient Tamil literature. This amazingly beautiful temple with intricate designs and sculptures was re-built in the early 1700’s after the Portuguese destroyed the structure in the 1600’s. The temple attracts over 1000 devotees every day and approximately 5000 on the festival day.
The entire experience of heading to the jetty and taking the local commute to this island and exploring by foot was quite a refreshing one and I'd highly recommend it for those of you looking for a less touristy and more local experience.
9. Casuarina Beach
Located in Karainagar, this beach is a place you need to visit in Jaffna. Especially after a long day of exploring in the hot sun. This is the perfect place to wind down in the peaceful coast which is covered by Casuarina trees. Making it to this beach by 4pm means that you can have white sand and blue waves all to yourself for a couple of hours, followed by sunset overlooking the glimmering horizon.
10. Point Pedro
Last but not least on our list we have point Pedro. The northernmost point of Sri Lanka. and whilst there is not much to see hear it is worth checking out just to say you made it to the northern most point of Sri Lanka. The message found here is one that resonated with us young Sri Lankans who grew up through the civil war. we hope it serves as a constant reminder to everyone on this island that unity in diversity is where our strength lies in.
If you are visiting Jaffna it's best to go prepared as the northern city is quite isolated from the rest of the island. while you will find all the essentials you need in the main city here are a few tips to keep in mind when traveling Jaffna.
Stay hydrated and always have a water bottle with you. The heat at the northern most point of Sri Lanka can be unbearably hot, even for us Sri Lankans. And long days of adventures can take a toll on your body if you are not well hydrated.
The people in Jaffna are less used to mass tourism than many other tourist hubs on the island and as such, we'd encourage all visitors to be respectful of the cultural differences found in the region.
The food in Jaffna is extra spicey and quite different to the cuisine found elsewhere on the island. Do venture out to try the local food but make sure you are ready for serious fire!
This blog post is apart of our "This is Sri Lanka" initiative that began a little over two and a half years ago. The intent was to showcase the lesser-known gems found all over the island and share a local's perspective with those hoping to visit Sri Lanka. Over the last few years, the "This is Sri Lanka" initiative has seen collaboration with like-minded bloggers, celebrities and companies who have banded together to create an informative and uplifting travel series about the island to showcase its many possibilities. Created and hosted by Shenelle and Shehaan, make sure you head over to our Youtube Channel to view over 25 Cinematic travel vlogs we've created around Sri Lanka in the past year.
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Check out our video for a more in-depth experience of Jaffna as we visit all these places and more, capturing Jaffna’s scenic beauty through our videography!