Jaffna is like the last frontier when it comes to post-civil war Sri Lanka. A town still getting back on its feet, it will welcome you with its ripe mangoes and colourful Hindu temples. The best way to get to Jaffna is by train, which takes about six hours. You can also go by private car with a driver but it might take longer. Either way, it’s best to leave Colombo early so that you can have at least half a day to wander around on your first day. Another option is to leave Colombo in the afternoon and arrive in Jaffna for the night. This suggested itinerary is set up for the first moment being the morning of day one so you can adjust it according to what time you arrive in Jaffna.
Have a classic Sri Lankan breakfast at your hotel to get a sense of the area. If your hotel is close to the city centre, all you need to do to experience Jaffna is make your way out the door and start walking. If walking isn’t your jam, then catching a tuk tuk is quite easy, just wave one down and tell them where you want to go. The first thing to do during any morning is to take a stroll in the Jaffna Market and check out the colours of the produce under the northern Sri Lankan sun. Buy some spices to take home and try a fresh mango with chilli flakes.
After the market, take a stroll to the old Dutch Fort and have a look around at what is left of it after the war. Best read up on the history of the fort before visiting, so you can get a sense of all the things that happened there.
For lunch and an afternoon stroll, head on over to Nallur, a well-known area in Jaffna. Eat some local rice and curry at Mangos Indian Veg, only a few metres away from your next unmissable spot.
A must visit place in Jaffna is the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, one of the most important Hindu temples not only in the north but in all of Sri Lanka. The colourful striped walls and towering kovil will definitely make a lasting impression on you. We recommend following temple etiquette: no shoes inside and women should cover their shoulders and thighs. You can easily spend an hour here or more if you really like temples. After enduring the heat at the colourful temple, head to Rio Ice Cream and have a serving of their famous sweet ice cream.
For the evening, head back to your hotel for a classic Sri Lankan dinner and rest up for the next day.
You can’t miss out on a Sri Lankan breakfast! After all the pol roti and dahl that you will be enjoying this morning, get ready for some boating. Pack some sunblock and plenty of water and head on over to the ferry pier. Take along some covered clothing that you can swim in. Ask your hotel if they can pack a lunch for you with some fruits and short eats.
If you are leaving Jaffna on this day in the afternoon, then it’s best just to visit the closest islands that can be reached by road and a bit further offshore via ferry, like Nainativu. If you are leaving early the next day, then you might as well adventure all the way to Delft Island.
Nainativu island is home to the Nainativu Kovil, one of the most colourful Hindu temples in all of Sri Lanka. It is believed that the people of Nainativu island are descendants of the legendary Naga tribe, which were snake worshippers. To reach Nainativu, you must make your way to the Kurikadduwan jetty on the third island off the mainland of Jaffna. From there, you can take a ferry to Nainativu and explore the Kovil right on the coast and get a quick snack at one of the little shops available. There are ferries every half hour or so during the day.
Delft Island is a bit farther off and is more of an adventure. There is a navy boat that leaves the jetty at 9:30 am and will only take 100 passengers, so it’s first come, first served. The ride is an adventure in itself as it crosses choppy waters and the passengers are tightly packed in the boat. This is not for the fainthearted but definitely for the adventurous. Once there, it’s best to take a tuk tuk to take you around and see the sights. You will discover several beaches and historical remains of eras gone by.
If you went all the way to Delft Island, then you’d better make it back to the pier before 14:30, since that is when the boat leaves to go back to the Kurikadduwan jetty. When arriving at the jetty, take a tuk tuk back to mainland Jaffna and to your hotel to freshen up. If you decided to go to Delft Island in the morning, then you can take an afternoon ferry to Nainativu to visit the Nainativu Kovil right before sunset, the prettiest light of the day!
If you’re staying the night, visit the Hotel Rolex for a delicious curry dinner. Hotels in Sri Lanka are restaurants, funny enough. To make things more interesting, this one has nothing to do with Rolex watches!