Jaffna, Sri Lanka: Travel Guide and Useful Tourism Information

By Mark Wiens 14 Comments

Jaffna Travel Guide

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.

How to get to Jaffna

Train

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.

Plane

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.

Bus

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!

Visiting Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Transportation in 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.

Jaffna Tourism
Delicious Jaffna Style Food

Jaffna Food

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:

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

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.

Jaffna Travel Guide
Jaffna Travel Guide: Nallur Kovil

Jaffna Attractions

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!

 

14 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Dee

    9 years ago

    Wow! This is a very interesting read! I used to be taken by mom every long school break to Jaffna in the 70s to the mid 80s. I was about 4-12 years old then. We flew in from kuala lumpur to Colombo and then took the “yaal-Devi” train from col-Jaffna. Mom used to put me in the dirtiest clothes (never white!) due to the dust and dirt that blew through the open windows of the train throughout the 8-9 hr journey!(could’ve been more!) In Jaffna we were shuttled via a black Morris Minor to my grandma’s home. The most vivid memory I have of Jaffna town was the Bata shop in the “Bazaar”. Also, we brushed our teeth with ash from the firewood cooking stove, bathed at the well and played with the squirrels! Entertainment each night was to play cards admist a lantern as Jaffna at the time was conserving energy-lights out at about 9pm each night! an experience never to be forgotten was a trip to the Keerimalai Springs. It’s a mineral “swimming pool” that had a men’s pool and a ladies pool. The men’s side was clear and clean water and the ladies pool was like swimming in a fish pond with algae all over! They said it had healing powers! I fell sick for days after that!!

    The last holiday I went to Jaffna was in 1984. It was a harrowing experience for a 12 year old due to the several check points between Col-Jaffna. I returned to Sri Lanka as a back packer in 1996 but never went to Jaffna.

    After 28years, I will be returning for a visit to this Jaffna that I fondly remember. Never was I a national of Sri Lanka but my memories are filled with this place. I will spend 4 days here and one place I am taking my 12 year old son to, will be “Keerimalai” and “Temple Road, Jaffna”- my late grandparents home.

    I am so excited! -Dee-from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    • Mark Wiens

      9 years ago

      Dee, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your insightful stories about Jaffna. I know what you wrote right here is only scratching the surface of the vivid memories you (and your mom) must have of Jaffna and the surrounding area. I had a fantastic time visiting and it was truly one of the most eye-opening places I’ve been, but it’s so tough and sad to think about the recent history of the area. Great to hear you’ll be going back soon along with your son, I wish you all the best. Have an amazing trip!

  • For 91 Days in Sri Lanka

    10 years ago

    We spending 10 nights in Jaffna and planning to see as much as possible and took the time to do so.

    That said, what are some other interesting things to see which are not the main attractions?

    Really looking forward to your tips.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Great to hear that you’re spending so many nights in Jaffna. It really is an interesting place. I’d recommend checking out the pilgrimage to Nainativu (http://migrationology.com/2012/02/pilgrimage-to-nainativu-island-in-northern-sri-lanka-jaffna/) – it’s mostly a really interesting journey to get there from Jaffna. Other than the other tourist attractions I really just enjoyed just waling around, drinking tea and relaxing. Hope you have a great time in Jaffna and let me know how you like it! Also be sure to eat a few meals at Hotel Rolex!

  • gayE @ pinaytraveljunkie

    10 years ago

    It’s true, Jaffna is considered to be an off the beaten path. Perhaps part of the reason also is because of its distance from Colombo. Travelers usually end up in closer cities with awesome UNESCO World Heritage sites (like us!). Would have loved to see Jaffna though, if only we had more time.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Thanks Gay! And I ran out of time in Sri Lanka before getting to the most famous historical sites that I would have loved to see as well! By the way, awesome job on those Couchsurfing videos!

  • Robert (@Kenya Safari)

    10 years ago

    Mark, thats a very vivid guide to Jaffna and will surely serve travellers into this new frontier in Srilanka. Thats a very helpful post and the food also looks very tasty.

  • Bhathiya

    10 years ago

    i think you need to visit to udawalawa , wilpathtu ….. national parks ..
    it is really grate ….

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Yes, would love to in the future.

    • Lakmal

      10 years ago

      Yes, I agree with Bhathiya. And also I suggest Mr. Mark to visit Adams Peak in Sri Lanka. December to May is the season. These days its very crowded with Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Hey Lakmal, I’d love to visit Adam’s Peak, that’s one of the places I really wanted to see, but didn’t have enough time to get there…! Thanks for the comment.

  • sully86

    10 years ago

    mark: hey good information laid out here. Sri lanka fast becoming a nice place to visit huh?

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Definitely! I really enjoyed by trip to Sri Lanka!