Jaffna is the northernmost city in the island of Sri Lanka. Home to the majority of the Tamil population, this area is still is bouncing back and rebuilding after the end of the war which raged for over 30 years. Jaffna is full of beautiful ornate Kovils (Hindu temples) as well as ancient Buddhist temples. Although there are still some remnants of the war: - destroyed buildings, forts and train stations, these remains will slowly disappear. Jaffna can be reached by train or car or just a road trip. Keep reading for some of the best things to see and do in Jaffna.
Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil
The Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is the most important Hindu Temple in Jaffna. Located in the town of Nallur, the current building is the fourth construction of the temple, which was originally built in 948 AD. If foreigners wish to visit the temple, it is expected that they follow modesty guidelines and women cover their shoulders and legs.
Kadurugoda Temple in Kandarodai
despite its Hindu majority there are still remains of ancient Buddhist temples in Jaffna, one of the most famous being the Kadurugoda Temple in the Kadarodai region. It is believed that this temple dates back to the Anuradhapura Era. The complex has around 20 visible stupas that look like no other stupas in Sri Lanka. The site of the Kadurugoda Raja Maha Vihara has been declared an archaeological site and is maintained by the Sri Lankan Army.
Elephant Pass War Memorial
Elephant Pass is the name given to the causeway spanning the shallow lagoon that separates the Jaffna peninsula from the rest of the island. It was the Dutch who gave it this curious name. During the Dutch occupation of the island, elephants were exported from Karaitivu, one of the islands lying off the Jaffna peninsula and an annual sale of elephants was also held in Jaffna. Elephants caught in other parts of the country were driven into the Jaffna peninsula, across this lagoon, which was later bridged and given the name Elephant Pass. Elephants no longer traverse this stretch but the fanciful name still remains. The wetlands surrounding the causeway are beautiful, an aquamarine sea fringed by patches of white sand and mangroves, with lots of wading birds in evidence.
Today it is the site of two major war memorials, which draw many tourists.
One of which is the large memorial to Gamini Kularatne, a Sri Lanka Army soldier who single-handedly disabled an armored LTTE bulldozer. The rusting vehicle – complete with a large hole from an explosion in its side, is mounted on a plinth. Nearby is a display about Kularatne's life, complete with letters to his mother, a pay stub and more.
The second is at the North end of the causeway. This grandiose, stupa-like monument glorifies the role of the Sri Lankan armed forces in defeating the LTTE. Huge bronze hands hold aloft a model of the country which is surrounded by bandoleer-wearing lions.
The Jaffna Market
Markets are an essential stop at any Sri Lankan town or city. The Jaffna Market is a beautiful array of vegetables, fruit, clothing and home items. Take a walk around and buy some spices to take home!
Grab an ice cream at Rio Ice Cream Parlor
The Rio Ice Cream Parlor is a favorite in the Jaffna community. Sweet and creamy, it’s a must-try when the sun is scorching. The sundaes and special treats really hit the sweet spot. Oh, and the name Rio has nothing to do with Brazil: it actually stands for the Rathinam Industrial Organization.
Visit Nainativu Island
Jaffna is a peninsula with outlying islands that are easy to reach by car or ferry. Visiting the islands in Jaffna is not something all visitors do, but those that take the extra step will get a cultural treat. The island of Nainativu is reachable by ferry from the last road-connected island. Nainativu is home to the Naga People, a living ancient culture of snake worshippers.
Nainativu Kovil is the main Hindu temple on the island of Nainativu. A must-visit if you make it to the island. This temple has around six puja rituals a day and is home to lots of festivals every year. The temple receives about 500 visitors and pilgrims a day, and over 100,000 during the festivals. Just like all kovils and temples, foreign visitors are expected to follow customary dressing rules and be respectful of the worshippers and Brahmans.
Visit Delft (Neduntivu) Island
The next large island after Nainativu is Delft Island. Neduntivu is a flat island surrounded by blue waters and beaches of coral chunks. It is a unique oval-shaped island and home to about 6000 people. Houses are fenced by coral-stones piled-up or by Palmyra leaves. The ruins of a Fort built during the Portuguese colonial period can be seen even today. This fort was constructed out of limestone and coral. Later during the Dutch colonial period, the island was named after the Dutch city of Delft. Among the attractions on Delft are the wild horses that come from a breeding stock maintained from Portuguese times. They roam freely over the flat, grassy windswept plains of the island. Some are privately owned and are branded but are left to free-range, while others have never been lassoed. It is truly a unique and spectacular sight to see these herds grazing with their foals, lifting their tails and race into the distance as you approach. A protection law being placed on these horses, it is forbidden to remove them from the island of Delft.
Since ancient times, Pigeons have been used to carry messages. The Pigeon House (dovecote) at Delft island is an eye-catching sight. The dovecote has about 70 holes and is built in the shape of a tower. The birds were released after attaching the message to its leg. The Pigeons were trained to fly back to their pigeon hole after delivering the message.
The other ruins in the Delft island are the Dutch horse stables, the Old Court House, Queens Tower and the ruins of a Buddhist temple. Known for its white sandy beaches, other attractions are the interesting rock formation due to erosion which resembles a very large footprint of almost a meter long, the Growing Rock, and the Baobab Tree
The Jaffna Library is considered as one of the most significant historical and important places to visit in Jaffna. This library was opened in the year 1959. It was established by Alfred Duraiappah who was Mayor of Jaffna at that time. The construction of this library was similar to the Indo-Saracenic style. Tragedy struck when this library was burnt in 1981, due to the civil war. At this time the library was considered the biggest library in Asia. It possessed almost 97000 books and manuscripts.
Jaffna Archaeological Museum is located in Nallur. The front portion of the Museum is the Navalar Cultural Hall. The museum houses a rare collection of antiquities, huge collections of Buddhist and Hindu religious items, in various forms of metal, wood, and stone. The excellent collections are from the ancient period of Sri Lanka to the colonial era. There are also some archaeological excavation findings of Kandarodai seen at this museum.
Casuarina Beach in Karainagar is one of the most attractive places to visit in the Jaffna Peninsula. The main attraction of this beach is white sand. It has been so named because of the Casuarina Trees which grow on the beach.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Built by the Dutch along classical lines in the 1790s, St Mary’s Cathedral is astonishingly large, with its remarkable corrugated-iron roofing held up by a masterpiece of wooden vaulting. It is a Roman Catholic Cathedral.
The Jaffna Fort
A majestic stronghold of the colonial north. Originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century, the Jaffna Fort is one of Sri Lanka’s last well-preserved colonial ramparts. Sprawled over the southeastern edge of the northern capital, the Jaffna Fort owes much of its grandeur to the Dutch who captured it from the Portuguese and later expanded it into the landmark we see today. Following the departure of the Dutch, the British also used the Jaffna Fort as a stronghold until Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. Today, the Jaffna Fort is a popular attraction for all visitors to the city, with open grounds and century-old walls that can be scaled upon as you take in the views of Jaffna around you. This historical fort stands tall over its bordering lagoon, overlooking the Kayts Causeway. The Jaffna Fort is especially welcoming closer to sunset when it is accompanied by a cool ocean breeze and the pinkish-orange skies of northern Sri Lanka.
Chundikulam Bird Sanctuary
Leafing out from the mainland to form the northern peninsular, the ‘stem' of thin strip connecting both ends, bordered by the Indian ocean from the east, and carving to create a lagoon from the west is a divine hotspot of wild creatures. Chundikulam declared a bird sanctuary in 1938, is one of the best wildlife destinations for visitors who plan to visit the northern region of the Island. Its undulating landscapes have, over the years created a large variety of habitats. From beaches laden with sand-dunes to salt marshes to wetlands to thorny scrublands and dry forests, to tanks, mangroves, and lagoons it is a wild haven.
Point Pedro is a town, located at the northernmost point of the island. Cotton is produced around Point Pedro in the fertile calcic red latosol soils. The eastern coast of Point Pedro forms a 3 mile wide, 20-mile long beach with sand dunes up to 100 feet high, extending to Thalayady. The place-name of Point Pedro is a corruption of the Portuguese "Ponta das Pedras" meaning "the rocky cape". The name of the town in Tamil is Paruthithurai, which literally means "Cotton Harbour" as it exported cotton to South India for centuries.
Northern Tip of Sri Lanka
The Northern Tip of Sri Lanka is a perfect sightseeing spot that lies on the perimeter of the road between Velvetithurai and Kankasanthure. Some Tourists are blinded by the misconception that, the Northern point is the same spot as the Point Pedro Lighthouse. But in reality, the exact point lies around 4.2 km west of the lighthouse. This point is basically highlighted with a concrete board decorated with a painted image of the Sri Lankan flag. Cherish the lovely walk to this point enjoying the mild sea breeze. Visiting the place is surely going to etch lifelong memories in your heart.
This spring is a wonderful spot which is located around 22 km away from Point Pedro. The pool has different sections for men and women. The men’s side possesses a picturesque view of bright aquamarine water, while the women have access to a smaller pool which is surrounded by huge walls. The waters of Keerimalai Spring are supposed to hold healing properties. Keerimalai translates to ‘mongoose hill’ in the regional vernacular of Tamil. This refers to the local legend of a sage cursed with a face likened to a mongoose, who was later cured in the healing waters of the Sacred Spring.
Point Pedro Harbour
Among the famous tourist places in Point Pedro is the attractive harbor. This harbor is currently controlled and managed by the Sri Lankan army. A visit to this destination will surely be enjoyable, as the sunset view is quite mesmerizing.
Point Pedro lighthouse is listed among the famous resorts in the town. Built in the year 1916, it rises up to a height of 32 m. A prominent spot with sweeping views at the east end of the spectacular VVT–Point Pedro Coast Road, the lighthouse is fenced off and photos are forbidden. But there is a nice beach right beside it where you can have a dip or a picnic.
St. Lourdes church of Thumpalai
St. Lourdes church of Thumpalai is a landmark drenched in religious aura which is very soothing. The architecture of St. Lourdes church is very vibrant and admired by visitors.
Allipuram Alvar Vishnu Kovil is a famous Hindu temple in Jaffna. This is a renowned religious spot dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is known to be the preserver and protector of the whole wide universe. Tourists can visit this temple to hear several fascinating tales that describe Lord Vishnu’s majestic power.
The Nilavarai Well lies 19.45 km away from Point Pedro and is appreciated by travelers as one of the finest tourist places in the region. It is referred to as a ‘Deep Well’ or a bottomless well by the local residents. The top layer has been collapsed revealing the limestone cavern that connects to the underground water source. The people here believe that this well has never dried even during conditions of severe drought. Water from the well is utilized by the farmers for growing crops. It is also said that the initial 40 feet of water preserved in the well is fresh, but the latter part turns saline. Tourists value this landmark because the water source is linked to Keeramali Freshwater Pool.
Velvettithurai, also known as VVT, was earlier a seafaring port in the Jaffna District. The name of the town literally translates into ‘a port of an expansive forest land’ as it is stretched over a large land, covered with forests, and was also a seaport. However, the town is not occupied by many people which has made it one of the top offbeat places in Sri Lanka. If you have been looking for a quaint place in this country then take a look at these places that you can cover in Valvettithurai.
The Kayts Causeway is a road that brings you from Jaffna Fort across the water to the island town of Kayts. The memorable drive is best done at sunset when the light falls softly on the landscape.
On the way,you can stop to view the well-preserved Dutch fort on Fort Hammenhiel Island, a 19th Century church and Kayts’ own Portuguese fort. It’s a scenic drive through the lagoons a haven for nature lovers as it takes through a world of amazing birds.
Kayts is a moody little village with a few scuttled fishing boats down by the ferry dock and some big old banyan trees. This was the port from which elephants were shipped to India, and you can still see traces of its colonial past. The waterfront has views of evocative Fort Hammenhiel across the shallow waters.
A Dutch fort and former jail set in the Indian Ocean and surrounded by islands. This historic Portuguese-Dutch fort – Hammenhiel, which strangely translates to ‘heel of the ham’ was used as a jail right up until the 1970s. And if the walls could speak they’d have a fair few stories to tell. The place is worth a trip just for its novelty and great views across the lagoon.
So get the most out of your vacation in Sri Lanka with a visit to Jaffna!