Jaffna Holidays

Break from the crowd and head to Sri Lanka’s seldom-visited northern tip to explore history, heritage and Hindu temples in incense burning, sugar-loving, candy-coloured Jaffna.

Sitting in north Sri Lanka and close to southern India, holidays to Jaffna take you in the opposite direction of the well-trodden tourist path. It’s a destination alive with Tamil culture and has a unique identity from the rest of the country. Back streets sizzle with hot coconut coals, daybreak brings devotional songs, markets are lined with sheets of palmyra candy and women in saris crack open coconuts. Visit the gold-encrusted, lavishly carved Nallu Kandaswamy Hindu kovil, take a colonial wander around the defensive walls of Jaffna Fort and explore the unusual Buddhist stupas in Kantarodai.

A 26-year civil war raged in Jaffna until 2009, making it impossible to visit. Now fully accessible, it’s a beguiling stop for those seeking authenticity and a window into another culture. Explore it on our Definitive Sri Lanka tour or add it to a tailormade Sri Lanka holiday with a private car and driver.

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Jaffna Hotels

Our recommendations for the best places to stay in Jaffna

Jetwing Jaffna

A central setting with incredible views of Jaffna around almost every corner at this popular city...

Get to know Jaffna and those important practicalities when planning your perfect holiday.

Capital
TIME DIFFERENCE

GMT +5½ hours

CURRENCY

Sri Lankan Rupee

FLYING TIME TO DESTINATION

Colombo 10½ hours

RELIGION

Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam & Christianity

LANGUAGE

Sinhala and Tamil

Where is Jaffna?
Jaffna sits on a flat peninsula at the northern tip of Sri Lanka, separated from India by the Palk Strait and Bay of Bengal. It’s about 400 kilometres from Colombo and 320 kilometres from Kandy.

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History
Jaffna was a Tamil Kingdom for centuries until falling under Portuguese rule in 1619 and into Dutch hands in 1658. It was invaded by Great Britain in 1795 during a period when schools, major roads and a railway line were built. It stayed under British rule until 1948 when Sri Lanka became independent. In 1983 civil war broke out in Sri Lanka, not ending until 2009. During this brutal time, the Sinhalese majority persecuted Tamils, barred them from holding citizenship, cut off food and medical supplies to Jaffna and made roughly 700,000 people stateless. The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) fought back for equal rights in their homeland and the creation of an independent Tamil state in the north-east of Sri Lanka. The war continued for 26 years with over 150,000 soldiers and civilians killed on both sides. In 2009, the government defeated the LTTE in a bloodbath that killed an estimated 40,000 people.

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Jaffna today
An under-explored destination with a rich cultural community populated by Tamils, Jaffna today has a welcoming spirit with a great mix of southern Indian influences, Dutch and Kerala architecture, Hindu kovils and Christian churches. It’s a remarkable choice for getting off the beaten path and experiencing a different side of Sri Lanka. With a private car and driver, you’ll be able to explore not only the city but also countryside, pilgrim sites, beaches and nearby islands in the Indian Ocean.

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Temples & forts
In the suburb of Nallur, the gilded towers of Jaffna’s most lavish temple, Nallur Kandaswamy, lead you into a prominent place of worship where you’ll find shrines, a holy spear and a bathing well. If priests are available, you can take part in a puja with holy ash, sandalwood and kumkum powder. Just outside of the city, it’s worth visiting the newly built Palace of Thiruvasagam in Nevatkuli and Naguleswaram Temple in Keerimalai. Covering some 62 acres, Jaffna Fort is one of the regions highlights. It was originally built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and expanded by the Dutch to include its famous pentagon shape, a Dutch Reformed church and a hospital. Some of the ramparts were destroyed in the civil war but the outer walls, a turret and the ruins of the gallows are still intact.

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Food & drink
Restaurants in Jaffna cater to locals rather than tourists, which means you get lots of authentic flavours, no frills dining and affordable eats. Different to southern Sri Lanka, Jaffna is influenced by southern Indian cuisine with richer and heavier curries that are tangier and spicier. Seafood soups, thali and fiery crab curry are all signature Jaffna dishes and menus feature lots of vegetarian options too.

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