This is what little I know about travel to Jaffna. Getting there, where to stay, what to eat, what to see. Seeing as this was the first time I’ve been there I’m not in much of a position to advise, but people keep asking. A lot of this is cribbed from my trusty Lonely Planet. Please add any info you have in the comments.
Can contact 011 242 9673 for the bus (view flyer larger for details)
I took the Lake House bus, roundtrip for Rs. 3,600. It’s a comfortable Volvo tour bus, quite nice. We caught the bus in Wellawatte at 11 PM and got there about 10 AM, I don’t quite remember. Had a decent sleep though. The seats are comfortable and the bus wasn’t full so we could stretch out. It stops for food and choo breaks.
Other ways to go are the train up to Vavuniya and then a bus, which is also OK I think. You can also take a cheaper and more uncomfortable bus from Colombo. One can also fly via Deccan or another airline, but that’s over Rs. 20,000 last I checked.
On the way back I forgoed the bus ticket and drove back with a friend. This is actually a quite nice way to go because you can stop and see the ruins of the Wanni. The A9, however, is not in great shape above Medavachchiya, actually, it’s a dirt road in parts. If you’re driving it’s best to alternate or stop midway, as it’s about 8-10 hours.
Jaffna town is actually quite small and you can walk around. The trishaws charged us way too much, by Colombo rates at least. We were able to rent a van for Rs. 6,000 a day. That seems a bit lot but the peninsula is big and we went everywhere, over 100 km in a day. Plus there were eight people in the van so it was ok. You could probably find a van by asking at a guesthouse, it wasn’t that organized. If you drive up it’s all good. The roads aren’t great but they work. We were also able to get around pretty reliably by bus, though it’s a big peninsula and the bus rides actually take hours.
Where To Stay
My friend had a friend who played football with a guy from Jaffna. So he hooked us up with a room at this place called Sauw Bagaya (I think). We put three or four guys in a room and ended up paying about Rs. 750 per person. The owner doesn’t speak English and I wouldn’t really recommend the place.
A friend stayed at the GTZ Guesthouse, which was actually quite nice, and apparently the food was cheap. They can be reached at 021 222 2203. It was Rs. 2000 a night, for a double I think.
My friend in Point Pedro highly recommended the New Bastian Hotel, which he said was about Rs. 2,500 a night. He said it was one of the better places to stay and had good Jaffna food.
Note that everyone is going to Jaffna and places are likely to be booked. You may need to call around. Here are a few more places.
I personally wasn’t that impressed with the local eateries. The best may be to eat at the guesthouse. Ours didn’t have, but the neighbor loaned us some pots and we made a fire and grilled cuttlefish, fish and chicken quite happily. We were able to get nice roast paan (I went a bit far down Main Street to find), and there’s a supermarket on Hospital Road with most of what you need. For vegetables and meats you’ll need to go to the Jaffna market.
One of the best meals I had was just sea crab (Rs. 200 per kilo) cooked in the guesthouse kitchen. Another was lagoon crab we found near Casuarina beach, but that required asking fishermen (in Tamil) and getting lucky enough to catch the guys at the UN house nearby before they took them out for export. I’m not sure exactly what the logistics or connection was there, so can’t say that’s a recommendation. Finding lagoon crab is hard.
In terms of eateries, I liked Omax, on Hospital Road, in the town center. You can find a lot of stuff near the bus stand in the town center. Rolex is also OK. For vegetarian there’s Malayan, but I didn’t like it that much, found the selection a bit meager. You need to show up at the right time, sometimes the food gets cold. We did have a really nice shrimp, cuttlefish and paratta meal at Omax when we first arrived. Cosy Restaurant is also popular, but they had like an hour waiting time for food when we checked. The Lonely Planet recommends an Old Park Restaurant which I wish we’d tried.
Finding a desert island
There is so much to do in Jaffna, it’s good to wake up early. Since Jaffna has both western, eastern and northern coastline, you can catch both sunrise and sunset. Point Pedro (the northernmost point of Sri Lanka) is probably a good place to catch sunrise, though we didn’t try. Casuarina Beach or any of the islands of Nagadeepa or Delft (facing west) would be nice for sunset.
Casuarina is an amazing beach, well worth a visit. You can wade out for hundreds of meters in waist deep, baby blue water. The beach is dotted with these eerie evergreeny Casuarina trees, looking like they drifted in. The beach is pretty empty around noon (in my experience) but gets quite crowded round sunset.
We also visited the springs at Keerimalai are absolutely worth a visit. They’re not as hot and awesome as the waters at Kanniya in Trinco, but that place is also tiled like a bathroom and you can’t actually bathe. The Keerimalai springs are a full swimming pool with waves breaking over the side and helicopters flying overhead. Spring water has a particular quality, both of sensation and light. It’s amazing. I recommend going early before the kids come and start doing back flips.
Nagadeepa Island has two temples, Buddhist and Hindu. The Hindu one has an awesome giant cow statue. What’s more interesting, however, is if you go behind the kovil. There you can wade out in the shallow water (bit pokey and corally though) and chill out in one of the parked boats. If you’re with a Tamil speaker it is possible to negotiate a boat ride from some fishermen. We got one for Rs. 2,500 (though they were nice and we paid them 3,000). That took us island hopping and we found a lovely desert one. That was the best part of the trip, perhaps the best part of any trip.
First and foremost, go to Jaffna. It is amazing. It is new for one, but the peninsula has a depth of wonder that I have never known. I love travelling any part of Sri Lanka, but right now Jaffna is my favs. It’s accessible, friendly and fascinating both as a tourist and historical destination. I highly recommend checking it out.