Hoping to see a different flavor of Sri Lanka? Jaffna is a relatively newly-reopened town for tourists in the island country’s northern tip. It is located 395km north of Colombo and you can reach it in 3 ways: by train, by bus, and by taxi.
Jaffna has its own International Airport. However, it currently receives limited flights, mostly chartered.
How to get to Jaffna
As many visitors often come from Colombo and Kandy, we already made a detailed step-by-step guide for those routes:
Arriving from a different destination in Sri Lanka? Check out our guide below to know which is your best transport option when heading north to Jaffna.
Getting to Jaffna by Train
We recommend that you take the train when heading to Jaffna. From Colombo, you can complete the journey in a little less than 7 hours. That’s a long trip to risk on an unreserved seat, so we recommend to check BookAway for reserved 1st and 2nd class seats one month before your trip.
When coming from other destinations, there’s a great chance you will have to make a train transfer at either Colombo Fort or Polgahawela Junction.
Getting to Jaffna by Train via Colombo Fort
When coming from Galle or Negombo, you will have to make a transfer in Colombo. Below is a summary of these routes:
Negombo to Colombo
80 Rs ($0.50)
2nd Class Unreserved
Galle to Colombo
800 Rs ($4.40)
1st Class Reserved
The first train bound for Jaffna departs at 05:55 and the last train leaves at 21:00. Make sure you make it to Colombo Fort within these times to ensure a train within the same day.
Getting to Jaffna by Train via Polgahawela Junction
When coming from Kandy, Nuwara Eliya or Ella, you don’t have to travel all the way to Colombo, as you can make your transfer at Polgahawela Junction.
It saves travel time, but there’s a chance you will have to wait a few hours at the railway station if you also took the train to Polgahawela. This is why you can also consider taking either a taxi or a bus from the central towns to the junction. Below, we give you a breakdown of your options to help you decide the best way to get to Polgahawela:
1.5hr / 320 Rs ($1.80)
1hr / 3,450 Rs ($19)
1hr / 560 Rs ($3.10)
5hr / 460 Rs ($2.50)
3hr / 5,100 Rs ($28)
8hr / 600 Rs ($3.30)
5hr / 7,600 Rs ($42)
From Polgahawela Junction, 6 trains bound for Jaffna pass by daily. The first one departs at 07:00 and the last leaves at 22:25. Travel time is at least 5.5 hours.
If want to travel without having to make any transfers, you might have better luck with the bus than the train.
The best place to catch a direct bus is from Colombo, where both local airconditioned and tourist buses are available. Anywhere else in Sri Lanka, you will only find ordinary and semi-luxury buses bound for Jaffna.
If you choose to take a local bus, Bear in mind that Jaffna is located all the way up north where temperatures get higher than in inland. And don’t expect a luxury seat whether it’s an ordinary or semi-luxury bus.
Ordinary buses (red signboard) are non-airconditioned, with wooden seats, and make many stops to pick up and drop off passengers. Semi-luxury buses (blue signboard) are also non-aircon. However, their seats are a little better and they only stop at designated bus stops, so they’re a little faster too.
If you don’t mind any of that, you can take direct buses from Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Badulla, and Batticaloa (when coming from Arugam Bay). If you’re coming all the way from the south, might as well make a bus transfer in Colombo. Below is a summary of these routes, including the best possible bus type you can find.
Bus Route & No.
Colombo to Jaffna (#87)
1,620 Rs ($9)
Kandy to Jaffna (#43/#87)
670 Rs ($3.70)
Nuwara Eliya to Jaffna (#626/#43/#87)
890 Rs ($4.90)
Badulla to Jaffna (#314/#580/#87)
880 Rs ($4.80)
Batticaloa to Jaffna (#86)
790 Rs ($4.30)
Considering the travel time when travelling by bus from Badulla and Nuwara Eliya, we really recommend that you consider either making a stopover in Colombo to transfer to a better bus or take the train instead.
Getting to Jaffna by Tourist Bus
Tourist buses bound for Jaffna are only available in Colombo. You can choose from 3 different companies, with fares starting at 1,985 Rs ($11). Travel time is at least 7.5 hours, over 3 hours faster than the local bus.
Tourist buses are also way more comfortable, cleaner, and even have charging sockets for your gadgets.
When coming from Negombo or southern towns like Galle, Dickwella and Mirissa, we highly recommend that you take a tourist bus from Colombo. Below are their schedules so you can plan your itinerary accordingly.
07:00-16:00 20:30-05:00 22:00-05:30
9h 8h 30m 7h 30m
1,985 Rs ($11)
Avro Travels & Tours
2,165 Rs ($12)
Sri Murugan Travels
2,350 Rs ($13)
You can book these tourist buses through the link below. Make sure to check their departure points before booking.
The taxi is the most expensive yet easiest option when travelling to Jaffna.
For long journeys like this, you can get a good transfer with TaxiGo. Fares start at 21,100 Rs ($116) when coming from Kandy. Uber and Pickme offer cheaper rates, but they might not always be available to make such a long journey.
6 Awesome Things to Do in Jaffna
Jaffna was Sri Lanka’s 2nd most populated city, next to Colombo, before the Civil War. A lot of things have happened since then – many residents have been displaced and the town has suffered major infrastructure damages.
For over 20 years, it was cut off from the rest of Sri Lanka. Luckily it is now open to tourists again and this is still a part of Sri Lanka that you can explore without having many tourists around. See here our top things to do for a 2-3 day visit to Jaffna:
Unlike most of its southern counterparts, Jaffna’s major religion is Hinduism. It’s most important temple is Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. First built in the 15th century, it has since undergone several renovations. Despite that, its Dravidian architecture remains majestic and thousands of Hindus from all over the world often go here just to visit this temple.
Remember to wear clothes that cover your elbows and knees and take off your shoes when entering the temple. Men should also be bare-chested. We recommend attending the daily puja (prayer ritual) for the most immersive experience. The daily puja takes place at 05:00, 10:00, 12;00, 16:15, 16:30, 17:00, and 18:45. Note that photography is prohibited inside the temple.
#2 See the Dutch Fort
Although not as splendid as those in Galle and Negombo, a visit to Jaffna is not complete without exploring its Dutch Fort. First built by the Portuguese in 1618, there is a lot of history there.
Unfortunately, most of the fort was destroyed during the Civil War and is under renovation, but it’s still worth a visit for a couple of hours.
PRO-TIP: Go in the (late) afternoon so you can enjoy a beautiful sunset overlooking the sea.
Before you visit the Dutch Fort, you can drop by the nearby clock tower and public library for a glimpse of beautiful Jaffna architecture.
#3 Explore Civil War Ruins and the Elephant Pass War Memorial
The best way to explore Jaffna is on your own foot. Just wander around the streets and observe the architecture of the houses, buildings, forts and railways still in ruins.
They take you back to a war-torn Jaffna, but they also give you hope. The rest of the town is recovering and in a few more years, these remnants too shall be gone.
For an added history lesson, drop by the Elephant Pass War Memorial on your way to Jaffna. It’s not exactly a visual wonder, but it commemorates the Civil War and the heroes of this town.
#4 Discover the Local Market and Taste Jaffna Mango
Local markets are interesting anywhere in the world. And also in Jaffna, it’s the place to visit if you want to see the locals in their daily life. They might have had a painful past, but they’re looking forward to a beautiful future. You can see it on their smiles whenever they see tourists, which is still relatively rare in this coastal town.
PRO-TIP: Make sure to try out the famed Jaffna Mango. It is their most prized produce. They like to sprinkle it with chili, sugar and salt. An interesting mix, but very delicious!
#5 Road Trip to Kankesanthurai Beach and Keerimalai Natural Pool
Kankesanthurai Beach and Keerimalai Pool are located 20km outside of the city center. It takes about 30minutes to reach by tuk tuk (1.000 Rs, $5,50) and it’s worth adding to your visit to Jaffna if you are looking for a refreshing jump in the ocean!
Kankesanthurai Beach is considered the best in Jaffna with its golden sand and turquoise waters. It’s nice for an afternoon walk, where you can watch families enjoy the beach.
Nearby is the Keerimalai Natural Pool, which is said to have healing powers. It is often filled with people so swimming might not be an option. Still, it’s nice to see local kids having a great time.
#6 Island-hopping at Nainativu and Delft Islands
If you have extra time, do check out the nearby islands. Nainativu Island is the nearest. It is home to the Naga People, who are snake worshippers. You will also find here a colorful Hindi Kovil, which holds a number of festivals year-round.
Delft Island is about an hour away by ferry. It is filled with history and kind residents. Make sure to bring your own food and drinks because you won’t be able to buy any here.