We like to go on the unbeaten path and in Sri Lanka the north is still undiscovered. We were very curious to Jaffna and so we decided to head North! Since 2009 only it is safe enough to go here due to the war that ended in 2009. The people and land here are different than the rest of Sri Lanka, the Tamil families have their own language, food, culture, and even the land looks different. The town is very colorful due to all the houses painted brightly, even though you will spot some ruins of houses that were destroyed during the war. Also, it is very green and lush with (palm) trees everywhere! The people here are so nice and are definitely not used to blond people haha. Most do not speak English but one word they do know: selfie! Curious as they are, many ask you where you are from, how long you are in Sri Lanka for and what you think of the country.
Since Jaffna is still recovering from the war, the city is not as touristic as other places, which has both its ups and downs. Below you can read about the main activities and restaurants and some tips.
Rent a bicycle
During the war, prices of fuel were sky high, which is why a lot of people started using bicycles. You will see many people biking (though motorbikes are popular as well) and they even have a sort of biking lane. The highlights of the city (the Dutch Fort, Public Library, Clock Tower, Nallur Temple and some churches) are all within biking distance and the colorful houses make it an enjoyable ride! You can often rent bikes through your guesthouse for 300-500 rupees.
Visit Point Pedro and Keerimalai pond
Point Pedro is the most northern point of Sri Lanka and an hour bus ride from Jaffna (60 rupees). There is a nice beachfront (we didn’t swim there but Tshirt and shorts are advised) close to the bus station and there is a lighthouse, but the main thing is just walking around the town and see how the people live here. The town has suffered greatly from both the war and the tsunami in 2004 which is why it is very poor but it gives you a good insight in daily life of people around here. Also, the bus ride gives you a nice scenic tour of the north! You can then take a bus from Point Pedro to Keerimalai (you will need to transfer, just ask the bus driver or ticket boy and they will gladly help you!) which will give you another tour of the country and you will end up at the sacred spring, a natural pool aligned to the sea in which people take a bath. After you can take a bus ride back to Jaffna which will also take about an hour. Both Point Pedro and Keerimalai are not very impressive, but the whole tour gives you a good view of the north. All bus rides will cost you 50-70 rupees each.
Visit the islands
We only had one full day in Jaffna so we had to choose between Point Pedro and the islands. Since it can be a bit of a hassle to visit the islands (and you will have to wake up very early) we decided to skip them. It should be very nice, and the islands have Dutch names like Delft and Leiden so we felt some connection there haha. We were first planning on going to Delft. This meant getting up at 5am, taking a bus at 6am so we would have been in time for the ferry at 9 (there are only two ferries: two in the morning and one in the evening) but we would not be sure to get a spot since it can be full and locals have priority. If you don’t get in, you can get another ferry to ‘island’ which runs more frequent.
It is advisable to stay at a place which includes breakfast since it is really hard to find a place for breakfast. It is even more hard to find a place which serves Western breakfast. We were really longing for a good cup of coffee and some nice nice Western breakfast and so we decided to splurge on a buffet breakfast at the Jetwing Jaffna. This is a really new hotel and the highest building in Jaffna (go to the rooftop bar for an impressive view!) and they have an amazing breakfast. The coffee was just regular Sri Lankan coffee unfortunately, but the waffle bar really made up for it! It was raining that morning so we sat there for a long time getting most out of their buffet and making use of their very fast wifi. This comes at a price however. Costing around 2.100 rupees per person (taxes and service charge included) this was the most expensive meal we had and were going to have, but it was worth it.
This place is a favorite in the lonely planet and though we like to discover new places, we hear so many good stories and the options in Jaffna are limited so we decided to go there. And oh boy, Mangos didn’t disappoint! Their dosas are amazing (definitely try the Ghee Masala) and the ” was Chris her favorite! If you want some explanation of the menu, just ask! They are happy to help you. (400 rupees)
Like Mangos this seems to be a favorite of everyone who goes to Jaffna and we understand why. Their tandoori chicken is indeed so delicious, as well as the Jaffna crab curry! (600-800 rupees)
Getting to Jaffna is really easy (and fast)! You have two options: take the first class-only air conditioned train (runs once a day) or a regular train which has 2nd and 3rd class. It will take you three hours from Anuradhapura and is very comfortable. You also have a slower train which will take you 5 hours. We took the first class train from Anuradhapura to Jaffna at 9am (1000 rupees) and went back in 2nd class at 6am (800 rupees reserved seat).
If you’re not a good biker or simply want to take it more slow, a tuktuk will take you to most places for 100 rupees.
As mentioned before, within Jaffna the bike is the most convenient mode of transport.
We really liked the North, it’s different than the rest of Sri Lanka and feels like a more cultural trip. The people are so kind, the town is very colorful and it’s a great escape from the (in some places) many tourists in the rest of Sri Lanka. We are pretty sure this place will grow into a touristic place rapidly, so go there while it’s still untouched! Have you been to Jaffna, or are you planning on going there? Share your thoughts in the comments below!