Climate: Outside of the northeast monsoon season (December to March, but the wettest months being October to January) which accounts for more than 90% of the annual rainfall, the Northern and Eastern Provinces tend to offer a dry heat throughout the rest of the year ranging from 26 C to 33 C.
Capital city of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, Jaffna is quietly re-emerging from its imposed civil-war stance as hub of the Tamil rebellion. Although visual scars of the fighting still remain, there are a number of treasures to seek out, not least the lively bazaar where gold and beautiful Indian saris make for a perfect purchase. Once home to many rare and historical manuscripts relating to the history of ancient Sri Lanka, the Jaffna Library was ravaged by fire in the 1980s at the height of the unrest, with many ancient books subsequently lost ad infinitum. Reopened in 2003, the library is today watched over by Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. One of the first parts of the islands conquered by the Portuguese and Dutch colonials, Jaffna Fort was built in 1618 when by the Portuguese. Extended by the Dutch in the late 18th century to facilitate trading, the fort has until recent times been the battleground between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army. Homages to the breadth of religious persuasion in Jaffna are in evidence at every turn, from the architectural Italianate beauty of Anglican St James’ Church and the quirkily colourful Jummah Mosque to the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, one of the most impressive and significant Hindu Temples on the peninsula, dedicated to Lord Muruga. The Jaffna Peninsula Connected to mainland Sri Lanka by a narrow stretch of land occupied by the Chundikkulam Bird Sanctuary and the Elephant Pass causeway, this low-lying peninsula, much of it covered in shallow lagoons, is renowned for its intensive agricultural programme – mangoes, potatoes, onions, chillies and millet are its principal crops – and palmyrah trees, a taller and rather starker version of the southern coconut palm, derived from which is the local brew, toddy. Beyond the capital itself, the peninsula boasts a number of authentic and unspoilt beaches which are quieter and significantly less touristy than those further south. The kaleidoscopic Nagapoosani Temple and its imposing five-headed cobra is a must-see, with Hindu worshippers flocking to this ancient shrine built by the ancient Naga peoples of Sri Lanka, worshippers of the snake god. North of Jaffna meanwhile, about halfway to Kankesanturai, you’ll encounter 100 miniature dagobas, dome-shaped shrines said to contain the relics of Buddha and Buddhist saints and thought to be over 2000 years old. The islands west of Jaffna Of the many islands lying off the west coast of Jaffna, a number are worth singling out for their beauty and cultural treasures. Three of the major islands – Kayts, Karaitivu, where you’ll find Casuarina Beach, the finest on the peninsula, and Punkudutivu – are joined to the Jaffna peninsula by causeway, with the outlying islands accessible by boat. As the infrastructure in this part of the island develops, be prepared for a rather adventurous journey of discovery. Nainativu (Haarlem) is renowned as a pilgrimage destination largely due to its ancient Buddhist connections, the brilliant white Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya acting as the focal point for those seeking to pay respectful homage. The island also has a strong Hindu presence and its riotously colourful temple complex of Sri Naga Pooshani Amman Kovil is a sight to behold, the architectural detail simply breathtaking.Named after the Dutch town of the same name, Delft (Neduntivu) is an island of windswept beauty where remnants of Portuguese and Dutch influence remain, wild ponies roam and the architecture comprises huge chunks of coral sourced directly from the land. To the west of the island are the remains of a thousand-year-old ancient temple from the Chola dynasty, whilst the garrison fort attracts interest for its geological composition and history. Affectionately known as ‘Trinco’, Trincomalee is a deep-water port, described by Nelson as one of the finest in the world, has been the target of many a colonial battle in its long history. More recently, the city has endured the ravages of civil war coupled with the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, yet out of the shadows of adversity, Trincomalee is well on the road to recovery and is enjoying a boom in popularity, particularly in its new-found status as gateway to the beautiful beach resorts of Uppuveli and Nilaveli. The city itself is a melting pot of Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim cultures and a few hours can easily be passed exploring the main sights including the thriving market, Fort Frederick, dating back to the 16th century, and Swarmi Rock, better known as Lover’s Leap following the legendary tale of a jilted lover throwing herself to a watery grave. Here you’ll find the revered Koneswaram Kovilis temple, a pilgrimage site for many who ward away evil spirits by smashing coconuts. Outside the city, you’ll find the legendary hot springs of Kanniya, known for their therapeutic properties and believed to have been created by the god, Vishnu, the ancient Velgam Vehera temple dating back to 2 A.D and the Thiriyai Vata-de-ge monument, carved with Bhyana Buddhas and Bodhisattva images. Whale watching for blue whale is also a popular east-coast attraction from May to October. Beaches of the east coast Acclaimed as the finest stretch of coastline on Sri Lanka’s eastern shores, Nilaveli Beach stretches 15km from Uppuveli, 5km from Trincomalee, all the way up to Nilaveli itself. Boasting white sands and crystal-clear waters, it naturally acts as a honeypot for sun worshippers far and wide. Pigeon Island National Park lies just 2km off the coast and is renowned as one of Sri Lanka’s best marine reserves and ecosystems (visits only possible between the months of May to October). Further south, unspoilt Passikudah Beach is protected from the ocean in its own tranquil bay and provides a picture-postcard image of heaven on earth, its shallow shoreline the perfect spot for a leisurely meander, its coral-rich waters popular for diving.
Driving Distances: Colombo to Jaffna: 10 hours (363km) Colombo to Trincomalee: 8 hours (264km) Jaffna to Sigirya: 4 hours (262km) Trincomalee to Arugam Bay: 4 hours (250km) Trincomalee to Jaffna: 6 hours (238km) Trincomalee to Passikudah: 2 hours (115km) Trincomalee to Polonnaruwa: 1¾ hours (112km) Trincomalee to Sigiriya: 1.5-2 hours (103km)
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Find out more about Sri Lanka
CapitalSri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, with Colombo the commercial capital AirportBandaranaike International Airport is 1 hour from downtown Colombo CurrencySri Lankan Rupee (£1 = 208 Sri Lankan Rupees) Size268 miles long and 139 miles wide Population21 million Average temperatureThe climate varies dramatically between coast and interior year-round, and between the south-west and north-east according to time of year. Average coastal temperatures in areas we feature is 30 degrees whereas the temperature is much cooler in the hills, with hot water bottles needed (and provided) at most hotels. Rainy season in the south-west is September to October, and April to May in the north-east.
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