5 Days Around the North-West of Sri Lanka
As you make your way north from the more conventionally beautiful southern regions of the island, you will feel as though you are entering a completely different country. The north-west coast of Sri Lanka is sparse and untouched. Long tarmac roads wind through the dusty windswept region, its black serpentine outline starkly standing out against the barren rust coloured land. Occasionally you will pass a lone Hindu shrine whose multicoloured walls seem to scream out and grab your attention, but apart from that, and a few grazing cows, the countryside seems empty.
Yes, the north-west is unlike any other region in Sri Lanka, but it is certainly one of the most charming; with a rich history, natural beauty and amazing food. It is a treasure trove of beautiful landscapes, culture and adventure, waiting to be explored.
Day 1 & 2: Jaffna
Geographically closer to India than the commercial capital of Colombo, Jaffna is a vibrant city that is finally getting its time in the spotlight. Up until 2010, Jaffna was out of bounds for visitors. Sri Lanka’s northernmost city was once ravaged by the effects of the nearly 30-year long Civil War, but in the years since, the city has managed to rebuild.
In many ways, Jaffna feels like a time capsule; remnants of the colonial era are scattered across the city, as well as a few monuments dating back to the time of Sri Lanka’s ancient kingdoms. However, it also feels like it is on the cusp of great change; new roadways are being constructed, connecting this once-isolated region to the rest of the island, and new hotels are cropping up with the hope of sharing Jaffna with the rest of the world.
When you are here, be sure to try the street food which shares many similarities to South Indian Cuisine. Enjoy delicious wades and dosas served on green banana leaves alongside a number of curries and chutneys. But the crowning glory of Jaffna cuisine is the world-renowned Jaffna Crab Curry. The vividly coloured crabs are doused in a dark brown curry which is made from a harmony of spices, it is best eaten with white rice and accompanied by a cool glass of thambili.
Things to do and see in Jaffna:
Day 3 & 4: Mannar and Wilpattu
For the next leg of your journey, make your way south from Jaffna to the magical town of Mannar and the jungle of Wilpattu.
Throughout history, Mannar has attracted many travellers due to its legendary pearl fisheries. The ancient Greeks and Venetians sought after these tiny spheres of wonder, and Mannar used to have the largest pearl fisheries. Over time, the number of oysters dwindled, gradually bringing an end to Mannar’s pearl industry, but that does not reduce the city’s intrigue whatsoever. The town has many monuments from days gone by, from an African Baobab tree brought by Arab traders, to a Dutch fort, and the mythical Adam’s Bridge which is heavily associated with the Hindu epic Ramayana.
An hour and a half drive from Mannar will take you to the lush verdant forests of Wilpattu National Park. This is the country’s oldest and largest national park which is home to many interesting inhabitants. The park is made up of a dense green forest, but it gets its name from the 106 willus- essentially lakes or tanks- that are dotted around the park. These small pockets of wetlands make Wilapttu a biodiversity hotspot and the park hosts 31 species of mammals, including elephants, deer, and sloth bears, as well as many bird species.
Things to do and see in Mannar & Wilpattu:
Day 5: Kalpitiya
Finally, end your journey in the small town of Kalpitiya. This idyllic town lies on a 48km long ribbon of land and is wedged between the Indian Ocean to its west and the Puttalam Lagoon to its east. Over the years, Kalpitiya has transformed from a small fishing village to a vibrant tourist destination and this is largely due to its amazing geographical features, which have made the town a hub for adventure sports.
The glistening aquamarine waters of the lagoon is the island’s #1 spot for kitesurfing, and the season runs from May to October. Another reason that this unassuming town is so special is the fact that Kalpitiya is the best whale watching location on the west coast. Between October and March, these gentle giants flock to the warm blue waters of Kalpitiya, often accompanied by their smaller cousins – dolphins. Enjoy this breathtaking experience as you end your journey around the north-west coast of Sri Lanka.
Things to do and see in Kalpitiya: