While it would be too strong to say that the north of Sri Lanka feels like a different country, there’s a grain of truth to it. The region is awakening after decades of civil war, and has begun re-building and meticulously restoring its heritage while opening its arms to visitors once more. Jaffna and the surrounding areas are still recovering, and restoration continues apace in this city of temples, churches, faded European-style architecture and distinctive Indian influences. Its rich culture and history includes Dutch forts, hot springs, undisturbed temples, and beautiful islands that pepper a shallow lagoon east of the city.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
During the Dutch-colonial period, there was a building boom right across Sri Lanka which produced countless villas and merchants’ houses, as well as fifteen sturdy forts. Jaffna Fort is the second biggest, its size commensurate with its important status guarding the northern approaches. Its ramparts and bastions have borne witness to every moment in Jaffna’s history since the 17th century, including the full onslaught of the civil war. Today, only the strongest parts remain standing, and you’ll have to fill in the rest from your imagination. Though much smaller than the forts in Galle, its unique star shape, moat and compelling history make it a wonderful place to explore.
Jaffna market is perhaps one of those holy grails often searched for by travellers but rarely encountered; a truly local market without a questionable souvenir in sight. Wander along the surrounding roads and you’ll be greeted by the heady aroma of turmeric, fennel, cumin, fenugreek and other roasted spices that make up Jaffna curry powder: a distinctive local blend which flavours many of the region’s dishes. Then delve into the central maze of stalls and feast your eyes on rich piles of vegetables, a medley of fruits, and stacks of curious looking snacks, much of which is hard to find anywhere else in Sri Lanka. You might even see your hotel chef shopping for your dinner!
The island of Neduntheevu (also known by its Dutch re-name of Delft) is a rugged, tree-covered oval sheltering between the shores of Sri Lanka and India, the latter of which is a mere 3-hour boat journey from here. Dotted with the faded ruins of old Dutch settlements and a 1,000-year-old temple, there’s something otherworldly about it, compounded by the unusual wild ponies that roam its shores. Sail Lanka is a local company that operates luxurious day cruises around the island on high-end catamarans. Relax on board as you make your way across the Palk Strait between Neduntheevu and its sister Nainativu, enjoying a gourmet lunch and the skills of a first class crew, as expert guides bring the history of the islands to life.
Combine the island’s top wildlife crowd pleasers with some magnificent hidden gems and cultural highlights before spending some time on the beach.