Cultural town of Tamil people: Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Virgin beaches and untapped islands are what you’ll find interesting to explore while in this coastal belt city of Sri Lanka. Jaffna is situated within ten degrees of latitude to the north of the equator, so expect the sun to be as harsh as it can get during the day time.
To reach the northern capital of Jaffna, travellers have multiple options. The first option is to take the train which is the cheapest but also the most time-consuming way to reach. The second option is taking a private taxi which is the fastest and also the costliest way to reach. The third option is to either take the government bus or a private bus. The government bus will cost you a fraction more than the train ticket and is actually the best value for money deal to reach Jaffna.
The private buses generally operate overnight, excellent air-condition buses with plenty of leg space. The only issue with these buses is that they leave from Colombo at around 21:00 HRS and reach early in the morning by 4:00 HRS. If reaching in the wee hours of the morning is not a concern, then the private buses are a good option to consider.
If we had to pick the best option from the above for a backpacker, then the public bus is the way to go. Efficient, comfortable, safe and value for money.
The city of Jaffna was once the main stronghold of the Tamil Tigers also known as the LTTE and after a two-decade-long civil war which finally ended in 2009, peace has prevailed. So don’t expect tourism to be at its best in the northern region.
The people of Jaffna are extremely warm and friendly, especially the ones connected to tourism. You’ll even have random locals come up to you if they feel you’re lost and try helping you find the best way to get around their city. Some will even offer to drop you to the place for free. After so many years at war, the locals look at tourists as some positive light in what’s been a pretty dark couple of decades in this region.
Once in Jaffna, there are plenty of ways to get around. The best is to use a combination of bus, cycle, foot and tuk-tuk. Plenty of bikes and scooter rental places but unless you’re a regular rider, it’s not worth renting a bike. The roads are a bit too chaotic at times. Jaffna being the most important city in the northern region makes it an easy base to visit places within the town and also around.
Within Jaffna, the attractions include the famous Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, the fort and library. All of the above are easily accessible on foot or tuk-tuks. Around Jaffna, the real excitement starts with the two islands of Delft and Nainativu of which can be reached by a bus ride from Jaffna bus station. Bus no 776 runs daily to the jetty, on an hourly basis.
Keerimalai sacred water spring is a short 45-minute bus ride from Jaffna town and it’s a place where you’ll find plenty of locals coming for a dip in the spring water just adjacent to the beach. The belief is that the spring can cure any skin ailments. The temple also provides free vegetarian lunch to anyone and everyone.
A day trip worth making is to a place called Point Pedro which is around 60 minutes away from Jaffna. The Point Pedro signboard is located close to the beach and is a good place to spend half a day on the northernmost point of Sri Lanka. For Point Pedro take a bus from the central bus station (Rs. 68 one-way) to Sri Lanka’s northernmost point. The journey will take an hour to the town of Point Pedro from which it is a 5-minute walk north to the Point Pedro sign and a small beach. It is worth a half-day trip.
Another day excretion is to the Casuarina beach which is located across the northern perimeter of Karainagar. The beach is blessed with white sand and crystal clear shallow waters, and the characteristic trees that have given the beach its name. The shrubbery trees serve as a compact coastal forest, making it the perfect spot for some shade from the extreme heat.
Eating options in Jaffna are in plenty with a lot of local bakers and restaurants serving excellent food. A must-have while here is the Jaffna is the crab or prawn curry, a speciality of the region which is on the spicier side and goes extremely well with rice. An important thing to keep in mind is that most eating places shut by 21:00 HRS. Make sure you stay close to the city centre, since that’s the only location which has a few places open post shut downtime.
Another must-have while in Jaffna is the Rio ice cream, you’ll find a huge centre just before you reach Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. It’s totally worth having a sundae after visiting the temple to cool off from the heat. The places are always crowded, so you’ll know how much of a hit, it is with the locals.
Accommodation is again in plenty but make sure you’re in close proximity to the city centre. From backpacker hostels to homestays and even luxury hotels are available in plenty. Only thing, not all of them will be close to the city centre.
ATMs and money exchange centres are in abundance so that’s something you don’t need to worry about while travelling to the north. In fact, since the place has barely any tourists, the best conversation for your money is out here.
When it comes to cell phone network and 4G data, Jaffna is very well connected like the rest of Sri Lanka. With excellent connectivity even on the islands and all the way to Point Pedro. The network is flawless.
The best time to visit Jaffna is during the dry months from January to July. Monsoon in the north of Sri Lanka is generally from September to December. When you are travelling to this part of Sri Lanka, make sure you have an umbrella if it’s not for the rain, then for protection for the extreme heat. But an umbrella is a must-have.
Jaffna is the kind of town that anyone who’s a traveller will love to explore. It’s so untapped and unexplored that everything about the place is extremely different from the other parts of Lanka. The Tamil culture or the houses in ruins after the civil war. It’s the kind of place which you will grow to like. If you’re travelling to north Sri Lanka make sure you spend at least a minimum of three if not four nights.
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