Jaffna – A Vibrant City, Recovered From The Wars

This post was last updated on April 9th, 2020 at 01:19 pm

Slowly but surely, Jaffna welcomes more and more tourists. It is a fascinating, unimposing and usually not so touristy place that for a long time was the undisputed cultural capital of the Sri Lankan Tamils. It is a place that is definitely worth a visit!


Jaffna, the Unknown City in Sri Lanka

The city has been impassable for a long time through years of war. This not only led to the loss of human lives but also the historic Tamil city was heavily damaged by the many battles. When you arrive, the consequences of all these battles are clearly visible.


Around you are destroyed houses, bombed churches and public buildings that have been damaged by bullets and shrapnel.


The city was the center of a large number of civil wars. It has been largely inaccessible for more than 20 years. Fortunately, that is now changing. Jaffna is a vibrant city and despite many years of isolation, it is still impressive.


Tamilian Island Hindu temple with many details and figures
The temples here have many amazing details


Why Do You Have to Go to Jaffna?

They are working hard to restore the region. Refugee residents are back to rebuild their city. The city is surprisingly green with picturesque streets, colonial suburbs and beautiful temples and churches. The roads, railways and air connections have been greatly improved.


Yet the Tamil population in Jaffna and their struggle is perhaps the most important reason to come here. It is a great experience to hear their stories. Jaffna is also the ideal base for trips to the idyllic islands to the west of the city, and the lagoons of the surrounding peninsula.


The surrounding islands are a nice trip from Jaffna.


Best Sights in Jaffna

Jaffna is closer to India than to Colombo. When you arrive in Jaffna you get a kind of culture shock when you have spent a lot of time in the rest of Sri Lanka. The Indian influences here stand out immediately.


But while there is certainly a bit of India in Jaffna, the city has formed its own unique and complex identity with beautiful sights.


1. Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil

This huge Hindu temple is one of the most important Hindu religious buildings in Sri Lanka. The current temple dates from 1734. There are friendly priests, some of whom speak English, who answer questions about the temple and traditions.


Gold colored temple with towers in the background
The impressive Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, one of the most significant Hindu temples in Jaffna


Visitors must take off their shoes. Men also have to take off their shirts.


2. Jaffna Fort

The Jaffna Fort is a piece of Dutch history. Large parts of this impressive complex have recently been restored but it is still a bit messy. The Fort was once one of the largest Dutch forts in Asia.


It was built in 1680 on the site of an old Portuguese fort. From the fort, you have a beautiful view of the lagoons.


Aerial view of the Jaffna Fort
Aerial view of Jaffna Fort


3. Royal Palace

There is not much left of the Royal Palace but with a little imagination, you can visualize a part of it. Nallur used to be the capital of the Jaffna Kingdom. A few buildings from that time can still be visited.


For example, you have the Yamuna Eri, a U-shaped swimming pool made of stones. It is believed that this was the royal family’s bath. There are a few more buildings like that.


4. Visit the Kadurugoda Temple in Kandarodai

Although the population in Jaffna is predominantly Hindu, you can still find some ancient Buddhist temples. The most famous is the Kadurugoda Temple in the Kadarodai region of Jaffna.


The special thing about this temple is that the complex has about 20 stupas that in no way resemble the stupas that you can find elsewhere. This makes the complex a special site for archaeologists.


5. Visit the Local Market

Jaffna has a nice market that you can visit. In the market, you can find many food items, but also clothes and household items. We always like to explore the chaotic markets in Asia. So do you need anything on your trip? See if you can buy it at this local market in Jaffna.


TIP – Buy one of the famous Jaffna Mangos at the market.


6. Stroll Past the Public Library

Jaffna Public Library

The Jaffna public library used to be one of the largest libraries in Asia. Unfortunately, the building burned down in 1981. Since then, the population has been busy rebuilding the library.


It is a special building to see from the outside. Nowadays, you can also see a number of rooms inside the library.


How to Get to Jaffna

The city is located on the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka. It is quite a long journey to get there. Yet the city is easily accessible. There is even an airport that connects the city with the rest of the country. Another option is taking the bus.


To Jaffna by Bus

Various buses run to and from Jaffna. Buses depart from the CTB Bus Stand. Buses run to the following cities, among others:

  • From Anuradhapura to Jaffna takes 5 hours, 250 rupees, US$1,40
  • From Colombo to Jaffna takes 12 hours, 670 rupees, US$3.80
  • From Kandy to Jaffna takes 9 hours, 350 rupees, US$2
  • From Mannar to Jaffna takes 4 hours, 200 rupees, US$1.15


To Jaffna by Train

In addition to the bus, you can also reach the city by train. The trains run from the following cities several times a day.

  • Colombo (6-8 hours);
  • Anuradhapura (3 – 4 hours);
  • Vavuniya (2 – 3 hours).

It is best to check the prices locally, as they often change.


To Jaffna by Plane

Jaffna also has a local airport. Domestic flights are relatively expensive in Sri Lanka. We recommend that you travel by train, bus or minivan in Sri Lanka.


Jaffna Railway Station
The Jaffna Railway Station


Accommodations in Jaffna

Fortunately, the war has ended in Jaffna and tourism is starting to pick up again. There are plenty of different accommodations in Jaffna. All accommodations are located in the city center so you cannot stay on the beach nearby.


The advantage of this is that you are always close to all activities.


TIP – View the range of accommodations in Jaffna here.


Best Time to Visit Jaffna

The best months to visit Jaffna are from May to September. Jaffna is located in the far north of Sri Lanka. The best time to visit northern Sri Lanka is also in the months of May to September. These months have the best chance of sun, pleasant temperatures, and the least rainfall.


In the months of November to March, you can suffer from the Maha Monsoon, so it can rain a lot in the south and the north of the country.


Check out more information about the best time to visit different parts of Sri Lanka.


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