Jaffna has not been a safe place to visit for long.
Located in northern Tamil Sri Lanka, it was a city that was once the second largest on the island.
Due to the Sri Lankan civil war, many people in the region were displaced.
Since the war ended in 2009, Jaffna is slowly recovering, some people are returning and it is now safe to visit the city as a tourist.
Remnants of war exist everywhere.
Jaffna is about 400 kilometers north of Colombo, at the tip of Sri Lanka.
NOTE: I visited Jaffna and northern Sri Lanka in October of 2011. As of writing this, there were very few foreign tourists visiting Jaffna. Jaffna is not included on the normal backpacker route of traveling around Sri Lanka.
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How to get to Jaffna
Since the railroad to Jaffna was destroyed in the war, taking the train all the way is not an option. However, if you really want to utilize the train in Sri Lanka, you can take the train north to the town of Vavuniya and from there catch a bus on to Jaffna.
Sri Lankan’s are extremely friendly, so if you ever have trouble finding the correct bus, just ask around and you will definitely get pointed in the right direction.
There are daily flights from Colombo to Jaffna via Sri Lanka’s domestic Expo Air. I’m not sure of the exact price but I think it’s well under $100.
You might also check Sri Lanka Lion Air and Serendib Express for flights from Colombo to Jaffna.
There are a number of different buses from Colombo to Jaffna. The semi-luxury bus is more of just a normal bus and there is also a super-luxury bus.
I personally got to Jaffna on a direct semi-luxury (more like normal bus) overnight bus from Kandy. We left Kandy at about 7 pm and arrived in Jaffna at the highly inconvenient time of 3:30 am!
It wasn’t the smoothest ride, nor the most comfortable bus that I’ve ever been on, but it did only cost me 465 LKR (just over $4)!
NOTE: I didn’t have to apply for any kind of permit to visit Jaffna. Our bus did stop at a checkpoint where I had to exit the bus and some sleepy soldiers took my passport and wrote down its information. Then I got back on the bus and was merrily on the way to Jaffna!
Transportation around Jaffna
Once you’re in Jaffna, there’s no need to use any form of transportation other than bus, rickshaw tuk tuk, or walking on foot.
- Buses in Jaffna are pretty easy to use as most of the signs are written in both Tamil and English. As long as you know where you are going, you can also ask other people and they are almost always ready to help. Rates on local public buses around Jaffna are around 20 LKR ($0.17) per ride.
- Rickshaws are the main mode of hired taxi transportation in Jaffna. Rates should cost less than 100 LKR ($0.88) per 1 kilometer.
- Walking is an alright way to get around Jaffna, but the city is quite spread out.
Jaffna being inhabited by Tamil Sri Lankan’s offers a different realm of cuisine from the rest of the country.
Just like all Sri Lankan food, the staple is characterized by rice, assortments of curries and roti flatbreads (among many other things of course). Jaffna however, has a unique set of principle curries and their food is known throughout Sri Lanka to be just a bit spicier!
Here are a few Tamil Sri Lankan specialities:
- Brinjal: braised eggplant
- Jaffna Prawn Curry: tasty and slightly sweet prawns
- Squid Curry (known as cuttlefish in Sri Lanka): similar to the prawn curry but with squid
- Pittu Cakes: rice and coconut steamed cakes
- String Hoppers (Idiyappam): rice noodles
- Pol Sambol: shredded coconut, lime and chili garnish
I particularly fell in love with the Jaffna style candied eggplant known as brinjals. The eggplant is cooked until it’s caramelized yet becomes mushy smooth and full of flavor.
My favorite restaurant (and the one I kept coming back to) was Hotel Rolex – a local style busy Jaffna food restaurant. Hotel Rolex is located across the street from the Jaffna bus station. Full rice and curry meals go for around 200 LKR ($1.76) per person.
Also see this list of 40 delicious Sri Lankan foods.
Where to Stay in Jaffna
- Jaffna YMCA: They had double rooms for 800 LKR ($7), but they were all full when I got there (Kandy Road, Jaffna)
- Green Inn: There are 2 branches of this inn and double rooms go for around 2000 – 3000 LKR ($17.60 – $26.37) per night (No. 60, Kandy Rd, Jaffna | Tel. 021-2223898)
- Sarras Guest House: Double rooms go for around 2000 LKR ($17.60) per night (No 20 Somasundaram, Avenue, Jaffna | Tel. 94718565375)
- Devi Hotel: This is where I stayed when I traveled to Jaffna. It’s a decent quiet hotel in a good location (just down the road from Jaffna YMCA). I got a non-AC double room (2 single beds), with communal bathroom for 1000 LKR ($8.80) per night, but I did haggle for a better price. (37. Kachcheri, Nallur Road, Jaffna | Tel. 021-2223252)
- Gnanams Hotel
Overall, if you are on a budget the lowest prices for double rooms in Jaffna are about 800 – 1000 LKR ($7 – $8.80) per night (split by 2). Other slightly nicer guest house options with AC are in the 2000 – 3000 LKR ($17.60 – $26.37) per night range.
NOTE: Check out these other Jaffna accommodation options.
- Nallur Kovil Hindu Temple: The most famous and recognized Hindu temple in Jaffna is Nallur Kovil. Best time to visit is between 4 and 5 pm when there are daily ceremonies. Men must take off their shirts, and women must have their legs and shoulders covered to enter. There is no entrance fee, but photography inside is prohibited.
- Pilgrimage to Nainativu Island: Nainativu Island is home to important religious sites of Nagadipa Purana Vihara Buddhist temple and Sri Naga Pooshani Amman Kovil Hindu temple.
- Churches / Cathedrals: The beach side area of Jaffna is home to many Roman Catholics. There are lots and lots of churches and shrines to see.
- Jaffna Public Library: With its interesting history and great architecture, the Jaffna public library is a great place to see.
- Old Buildings and Ruins: As war just ended, Jaffna is still in the process of rebuilding. There are countless building ruins and empty lots.
- Jaffna Fort: Built by the Portuguese, overtaken by the Dutch, and the center of a number of battles, the remnants of the Jaffna Fort is interested to visit.
NOTE: During the time of Hindu oriented festivals, the population of Jaffna swells. Festivals may be a good and interesting time to visit Jaffna, but it may be harder to book a guest house room.
Have you been to Jaffna? Please feel free to contribute any travel / tourist information!
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