Explore Mannar in a Day
The district of Mannar is a unique experience for Sri Lanka’s visitors, primarily because its most important attractions can be explored within the span of a single day. Located on the island’s Northern Province, most of the Mannar District can be found on the country’s mainland – while the rest of it is located on Mannar Island, a small peninsula of approximately 125 square kilometres that is connected to the mainland via a 3-kilometer causeway. Mannar’s main town is located on this peninsula and was once at the centre of Sri Lanka’s booming pearling industry. Here are some of the key attractions to visit when traveling through Mannar.
This chain of limestone shoals connects Mannar Island in Sri Lanka to Pamban Island in India, with much of it submerged underwater. Travelers should head to the northern tip of Mannar Island to get a look at the stretch of shoal and sandbank that is said to have once acted as a physical bridge between the two countries, measuring a distance of approximately 48 kilometres.
The name Adam’s Bridge is derived from early Islamic sources that claim that, when Adam was first banished to earth from the Garden of Eden, he fell to Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka before crossing to India via the bridge. Meanwhile, the bridge is also known as Rama’s Bridge due to the Hindu legend that an army of warrior monkeys called the vanara built the bridge between the two lands, to allow the Hindu God Rama to cross in pursuit of the villain who had kidnapped his wife.
Mannar Bird Sanctuary
Wildlife and bird lovers will find a haven in the Mannar Bird Sanctuary, known alternatively as the Vankalai Lagoon or the Vankalai Sanctuary. It spans an area of more than 4,800 hectares, providing a plethora of ecosystems that range between mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons, waterholes and grasslands, to name a few. It was declared a Ramsar Site in 2010, meaning that it was designated a wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention treaty. The sanctuary is home to more than 20,000 water birds during the migratory season, and several very rare bird species can be spotted here. In addition to supporting nearly 150 different species of birds, Mannar Bird Sanctuary also plays host to more than 60 different species of wildlife that includes fish, turtles, dugongs and crocodiles.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu
This shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary is said to be the holiest Catholic shrine in the country, with a history that extends as far back as 400 years ago.
After the invasion of the Dutch, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka was persecuted to the extent that, in the year 1670, several Catholic families from the coastal town of Manthai were forced to flee. Abandoning their homes in their efforts to escape, they nevertheless managed to rescue a statue of Mary from their local church, which they carried with them as they evaded their pursuers. In Madhu, they encountered hundreds of Catholics who had moved south of Jaffna, into Vanni Forest. The two communities came together to install a new shrine in Madhu, using the statue of Mary that had been rescued from Manthai. When the persecution of Catholics eventually ended, pilgrims from all around Sri Lanka began visiting the shrine. Eventually, the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu became an important landmark for the country’s Catholic population.
Best Time to Visit Mannar
Mannar is best visited between the months of July and September, or between December and February, to take advantage of milder weather conditions. The area can reach exceptionally high temperatures during the summer, especially between April and June.