Day 4 - Anamaduwa, Vavuniya, Omanthai, Elephant Pass, Jaffna
After breakfast, depart for Jaffna, the island’s northernmost region, only recently reopened to travellers after years of civil war. The region is one of the oldest habitation sites in South Asia, and there is much to explore.
Heading north from Anamaduwa, stop at Vavuniya, which was on the front line during the hostilities, and is now a friendly bustling gateway to the north. Continue through Omanthai, previously used as a checkpoint between territories controlled by the Sri Lankan government and Tamil militants. Due north, stop at the town of Killinochi, the Tamil Tigers’ de facto capital until it was retaken near the end of the war. From here, travel to Elephant Pass Causeway, which connects the Jaffna peninsula to the Sri Lankan mainland, and runs across beautiful Jaffna Lagoon, with its diverse waterbird population.
Travel up the coast of the Lagoon to arrive at Jaffna town. There has been a settlement in this area for at least 4,000 years, and the port’s proximity to India - and tactical location overlooking the waters between each country - made it a tempting prize for a succession of Colonial powers, each of which left cultural and architectural legacies behind.
Having checked in to your hotel, the remainder of your day is at leisure.
Decades of war have deeply affected the town of Jaffna and its people: bombed ruins and buildings pockmarked with bullet holes are all too evident and the effect on local life was immense. However, returning Jaffna-ites are slowly rebuilding the town and there’s a sense of optimism in the air.
Overnight in Jaffna.
Day 5 - Jaffna, Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Manthri Manai, Jaffna Fort, Nilavarai Well, Point Pedro
After breakfast, depart for a morning of sightseeing.
First stop of the day, on the outskirts of Jaffna, is Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. Originally constructed in the 10th century, this huge temple complex comprises of numerous shrines, a five-storey, ornately carved tower and a beautiful courtyard with a large water tank, all surrounded, rather uniquely, by red and white striped walls. It is one of the country’s most significant places of worship for the Hindu community and attracts thousands of devotees every year, especially during the month-long Nallur Kovil festival.
Continue on to Manthri Manai, which are the ruins of Jaffna Palace. Originally built by a Tamil king around 100AD, the palace was home to centuries of Jaffna’s ruling elite, before the Portuguese invaded in 1619, killing the incumbent and destroying much of the palace. Although they by no means match the building’s former glory, the ruins are still impressive.
Next stop is Jaffna Fort, which was built in the 17th century by the Portuguese, before being captured by the Dutch and then held by British Colonial forces. More recently it was the scene of intense battles between the LTTE and government forces during the Civil War. In its heyday it housed thousands of troops and civilians, although today it lies predominantly in ruins.
A stop will be made at Nilavarai ‘bottomless’ well – a spiritually significant natural well – before arriving at Point Pedro which is your final destination of the morning. Known for its cotton production, Point Pedro is the northernmost point on Sri Lanka. There has been a bustling port here for centuries, and the town is peppered with pre-Colonial Hindu temples, Portuguese catholic churches and, from the English, some of Sri Lanka’s oldest schools.
After a stroll around Point Pedro, return to Jaffna.
Overnight in Jaffna.
Day 6 - Jaffna, Kandarodai, Kayts, Punkudutivu
Following breakfast at your hotel, meet your guide and head north out of Jaffna to visit the small village of Kandarodai, also known as Kandurugoda.
Archaeological digs here over the years have un-earthed an abundance of historical treasure including ancient coins from pre-Christian Rome, and significant Buddhist relics. The main attraction is a collection of small domed stupas constructed from coral stone that are thought to be over 2,000 years old.
After some time exploring, head back towards town and across the narrow Pannai Bridge, which connects Jaffna to a series of small, sparsely populated islands. Whilst there are no specific tourist attractions on these islands, the Tamil and Dutch architecture is interesting and the variety of religious buildings (churches, mosques, temples) are testimony to the religions that have co-existed (and frequently conflicted) here over the centuries.
Stop at Kayts, one of several significant villages amongst these islands. Previously home to a large, bustling port Kayts has a more deserted feel now due to the Civil War, but has some noteworthy colonial buildings.
South of Kayts, on the southern coast of Velanai island, lies Chaddy (or ‘Chatty’) Beach, with its curve of firm sand and sheltered, shallow waters. Enjoy a stroll here, before crossing the long causeway to the even smaller island of Punkudutivu which is home to one of the region’s most colourful Hindu temples.
Return to Jaffna where the remainder of your day is at leisure.
Overnight in Jaffna
Day 7 - Jaffna, Keerimalai Hot Springs, Tea with a local family
Make a morning visit to the hot springs of Keerimalai. The waters have a reputation for healing, and the complex is set up for bathing and socialising, with separate pools for men and women.
There will be plenty of time to take a relaxing dip, and if you wish to visit the nearby temple.
Your afternoon will be spent learning about the day-to-day lives of the local people and gaining a greater understanding of life in rural Northern Sri Lanka. Drive to a nearby village where you will be welcomed into the home of one of the village families with a cup of tea. Tuck into home-made snacks of Vadai (savoury doughnuts) and Coconut Roti, whilst chatting with the family about their way of life and the impact of the civil war on their family, friends and the region.
After some time bid farewell to your hosts and return to your hotel where the rest of your day is at leisure.
Overnight in Jaffna.