Jaffna, the main city of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, is a unique blend of culture, history, and natural beauty that is bound to captivate any traveler's heart. Brimming with vibrant culture, ancient temples, stunning beaches, and intriguing colonial relics, Jaffna offers a unique perspective into Sri Lanka's diverse heritage. These are the top 10 things to do that should be on your itinerary while exploring Jaffna.
1. Visit the Iconic Nallur Kandaswamy Temple
No visit to Jaffna would be complete without a trip to the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. This is more than just a temple; it's a spiritual haven. As one of the most significant Hindu temples in Sri Lanka, it houses many shrines dedicated to various deities, with the most prominent god being Lord Murugan. The towering gopuram, characterized by intricately sculpted Hindu deities and adorned in vibrant colors, is a visual feast that greets you upon entry. Inside, the daily rituals, known as 'Pujas,' and the yearly festival, which attracts devotees from all corners of the Island, offers rich cultural insights.
2. Discover the Jaffna Public Library
The Jaffna Public Library, once Asia's finest, stands as a testament to the cultural resilience of the city. Destroyed during the civil war and since beautifully restored, the library today offers an insightful journey into Sri Lanka's literary past and present. Housing a collection of more than 100,000 books and rare Ola manuscripts, it's a paradise for history lovers and literature enthusiasts. Its stunning architecture, reminiscent of the Indo-Saracenic style with a dash of colonial influence, adds to its appeal. Visiting the library is not just about exploring books—it's about experiencing the country's love for knowledge and admiring the determination to rebuild and preserve its culture.
3. Explore the Jaffna Fort
The Jaffna Fort offers a fascinating glimpse into the island's colonial past. Built by the Portuguese in the early 17th century and later taken over by the Dutch, it is the second-largest colonial fort in the country. The fort, constructed with coral and limestone, once had an impressive five-sided design with a moat and bastions. Even though it endured the effects of the civil war, the partially restored fort continues to draw history enthusiasts. While walking through its ramparts, you can almost hear the whispers of the past amid the silent cannons. The fort also offers panoramic views of the Jaffna Lagoon and the cityscape. Don't miss the Dutch Church, another historical site within the fort.
4. Unwind at Casuarina Beach
Casuarina Beach represents the perfect example of unspoiled natural beauty. Named after the Casuarina trees lining the shore, this white sandy beach is a serene getaway from the busy city. The beach is uniquely shallow for quite a distance, making it perfect for a safe and relaxing swim. It's an ideal place to unwind, whether you want to take a relaxing stroll along the shore, bask under the tropical sun, or simply watch a mesmerizing sunset. Pack a picnic and spend a day here to soak in the calming rhythm of the waves and the cool sea breeze.
5. Relish Authentic Jaffna Cuisine
To truly experience Jaffna, one must indulge in its diverse and flavorful cuisine, which is a reflection of the city's lively culture. Jaffna's cuisine is distinct from other Sri Lankan food, with its prominent use of seafood, tamarind, and palmyra. One of the signature dishes to try is the Jaffna crab curry. Cooked with an exotic blend of spices and in a coconut milk base, it's a tempting combination of spicy and tangy flavors. Another culinary highlight is the Jaffna-style Kool, a unique seafood soup made with an assortment of seafood, vegetables, and a blend of spices. Remember to wash down these spicy dishes with a glass of sweet Palmyra toddy, a local palm wine, and finish off with the region's traditional sweets.
6. Visit the Nagadeepa Purana Vihara
Nagadeepa Purana Vihara, on Nainativu Island, is one of Sri Lanka's oldest Buddhist temples and an important pilgrimage site. This ancient place is believed to have been visited by Lord Buddha himself to settle a dispute between two Naga kings. A boat ride from the Jaffna peninsula will take you to the tranquil island. The serene temple, surrounded by the ocean, houses a sacred Bo tree and Buddha statues. Visiting the Vihara allows you to connect with the spiritual side of the region. Observe the local devotees offering flowers and incense, chant alongside them, or simply soak in the serenity that surrounds this revered place.
7. Explore Point Pedro
Point Pedro, the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka, is a charming town that offers a glimpse of local life. Its sandy beaches, the iconic lighthouse, and the bustling harbor make it a compelling destination. As you wander along the beach, you'll witness local fishermen setting out to sea or returning with their catch. Nearby, the bustling local market is a sensory delight. From fresh seafood and produce to colorful textiles and local crafts, it offers an intriguing window into daily life. Make sure to stop by the lighthouse, a remnant of the colonial era, which provides stunning ocean views.
8. Venture into the Delft Island
Delft Island, also known as Neduntheevu, is a hidden gem that offers an intriguing mix of nature, wildlife, and history. Wild horses freely roam the island, making it a uniquely charming place. Dotted with ruins of Dutch forts, ancient temples, and coral fences, it feels like stepping back in time. The island is also known for its corals. The Delft Island also houses an old baobab tree, a native of Africa, which adds to the island's distinctive plant life. Exploring the island offers a fun and different experience, away from the well-trodden path.
9. Enjoy the Jaffna Market
The Jaffna Market is a colorful spectacle of the city's vibrant lifestyle. You'll find a wide array of goods—from fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood to local crafts, traditional jewelry, and textiles. One of the market's highlights is the spice section, where the fragrant mix of curry powders, dried chilies, and other spices make a lasting impression. Another must-visit is the sweetmeat section, where you can try some traditional sweets such as 'athirasa' and 'peni walalu.' Interacting with the friendly vendors, its diverse range of goods, and the overall lively atmosphere make the visit to the market an unmissable experience.
10. Wander through the Keerimalai Springs
Finally, make sure to visit Keerimalai Springs, a natural underground spring located near the sea. The springs, situated in a small, peaceful grove of trees, are believed to possess therapeutic properties. Local lore speaks of miraculous healing experiences, drawing both locals and tourists seeking to cure their ailments. There are two separate sections for men and women. Also, don't miss the Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple nearby, another ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The dip in the spring, coupled with a visit to the temple, offers a fascinating experience. As the day ends, watch the sunset over the ocean, concluding your journey through Jaffna with a beautiful and lasting memory.
With its unique combination of history, culture, and natural beauty, Jaffna is an unexplored treasure that promises a captivating travel experience. From ancient temples and historical forts to stunning beaches and culinary delights, the city offers many experiences that promise to make your journey unforgettable.