From the last week of October till somewhere January-February can be considered as monsoon rainy season. In this time you can expect heavy rain fall while some places used to go under floods.
Jaffna is the northern capital and has an airport based in Palali. Palali Airport hosts a military base but also is served 3 x per week by civil flights from Helitours (a wing of SLAF)
There are several private bus services operating from Colombo to Jaffna, cost varies from 900 Rupees onwards for a person. The drive takes half a day to complete (9 hours +) following the A9 motorway which runs through the middle of Sri-Lanka. Colombo - Jaffna bus schedules can be found here, https://www.busbooking.lk/bus/search/Colombo/Jaffna/12/120. From/to Vavuniya the journey costs approximately 180LKR by private bus and takes around 3.5 - 4 hours. Vavuniya has good connections to other parts of the Central North. Alternatively buses pass through Anuradhapura (1-1&1/2 hours south) however Vavuniya to Jaffna buses leave regularly throughout the day so any waiting in Vavuniya should be minimal.
Travellers are advised that bus drivers may frequently switch off air conditioning to save energy and petrol. However, this causes the air to warm up and be stale in the enclosed bus. Unfortunately, complaining does little. Hence do take precautions.
Four trains are running between Jaffna and Colombo theoretically taking 6-8 hours (count on 8-10+). New train schedule applies from the year 2016. Observation car seat(LKR 1,100 one way), 1st(Rs 900/-), 2nd (Rs 570/-and Reserved Rs 700/-), and 3rd class (Rs 320/- reserved Rs 500/-)tickets can be booked up to 45 days in advance but these train tickets used to be sold out quickly, specially if there are 3 or 4 holidays are coming in a row. So book your tickets well in advance. Popular one is the Express train which is fully air-conditioned and the ticket fare is Rs 1,500/- per passenger. Train tickets can be booked in person at Colombo Fort, Kandy, Wellawatte, Vavuniya or Jaffna station. You can reserve your tickets through your SLT landline along with Mobitel and Dialog connected mobile phones. No direct on-line booking facility is available as of February 2016. Most of the trains offer Buffet cars where you can purchase coffee and cold drinks along with snacks. So far there is no canteen available in the Jaffna station. You have to purchase products like mineral water in the shops located in front of the station.
Once in Jaffna there are several modes of transport.
By auto (tuk-tuk)
these are three wheelers which are very common in south east asian countries. These are the quickest and probably the cheapest way to get around to places. Before board the three wheeler ask for the price. Normally they used to charge from Rs 100 - Rs 150. Very few of them are fitted with tariff meter.
Public transport system available in Jaffna are the buses. See http://jaffnavisit.com/category/bus-root/ for route maps.
These are private hire mini-vans, best if you need transportation for the whole day.
The locals get around on cycles and Mopeds, and (fairly ropey) push-bikes are available for a few hundreds rupees per day at some guesthouses. One can cycle out to the islands along the quiet (ish) roads. There are a good collection of shops (including an ice-cream shop) in Velanai but be warned the roads are almost completely shade-free; so be prepared for a lot of sun although of course it is a very easy flat cycle. Keep watch for war-damaged buildings and note that the beaches on the islands (including 'Chaddy beach') are not really worth considering as swim-worthy by Sri Lankan standards.
Nallur Kandaswamy Temple A bustling and beautiful temple which is worth a look. Note that you must be barefoot to walk the temple grounds and men will need to remove their shirts to enter the temple. Free entry.
Nainativu island You need to take the bus number 776 from the bus station (50rs). You have around 1h of trip with beautiful landscape. The women are dressed with a lot of colours it's beautiful! Go down at the last stop with everybody (Kurikkaduwan Jetty) and jump in the boat (50rs). Half an our later you will be in front of the temple! It's worth going! Note that the usual ferry route drops you off at Nagadeepa temple (500 m to the south) but departure is from the Nainativu North jetty. Arguably one of the most visited of Jaffna’s islands, Nainativu, or Nagadeepa as it is referred to in Sinhala, holds an important place in Buddhist and Hindu histories. For the former, the Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya is worshipped as one of Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist sites where the Buddha was said to have once called upon two Naga kings in disagreement with each other. And for the latter, the Nagapooshani Amman Kovil, which is referred to in several ancient chronicles as one of 64 Shakthi Peethams located across South Asia – shrines dedicated to Shakthi, the Hindu goddess of power.
Jaffna Library First built in 1933, the Jaffna Library has long been a symbol of northern heritage. The Jaffna Library is a pleasant escape in the early evening, before it closes at 6 PM. As a sign of respect to the culture preserved by this iconic building, visitors must remove their footwear before entering the library. Although most wings are inaccessible to walk-in travellers, you are still able to explore the public areas of the library, along with the beautiful garden that adorns its grounds.
Jaffna Fort Some nice views over the peninsula from the Fort. It's not the most incredible Fort in East Asia but is certainly worth a wander round, particularly on a clear day. Look out for the hordes of ravens circling. Free entry.
Point Pedro Take a bus from the central bus station (Rs. 68 one-way) to Sri Lanka's most northern point. The journey will take an hour to the town of Point Pedro from which it is a 5 minute walk north to the Point Pedro sign and a small beach. Worth a half-day trip. The red buses marked Point Pedro depart every hour from Jaffna. To the west, the Point Pedro Lighthouse stands in the shadow of a telecommunications tower, while to the east; a concrete flag of Sri Lanka sits at the edge of the shore to indicate your arrival at Sakkotai Cape.
Casuarina beach Stretched across the northern perimeter of Karainagar, Casuarina Beach welcomes local and foreign holidaymakers for its wide expanse, shallow waters, and characteristic trees that lend the beach its name. The characteristic shrubbery serves as a compact coastal forest, serving as the ideal spot for some shade from the northern sun. The Karainagar Lighthouse is also located at the eastern tip of the beach, making this shoreline one of the most picturesque in the region.
Fort Hammenhiel Not hard to combine with a beach trip, on the southern tip of the same causeway-linked island. It's a former Army fort and prison, now luxury boutique hotel. For Rs 3,000 you get the boat transfers back and forth for maximum 6 people and a tour of the fortifications and former prison cells.
Kadurugoda Buddhist Dagoba ruins Temple and Ruins are one of the few remaining Buddhist legacies in the northern province. Paul E. Peiris, the Jaffna Magistrate at 1917, documented nearly 60 gray coral-stone stupas when he discovered the ruins at the turn of the 20th century. Today however, only about 20 stupas remain sprawled across less than an acre of open land under palmyrah trees. Located a half-hour’s drive away from Jaffna, the Kadurugoda Temple and Ruins are found on the outskirts of the city in Kantarodai.
Dambakola Patuna Following the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka over 2000 years ago, Sanghamitta, the daughter of ancient Indian emperor Ashoka, landed at the ancient port of Dambakola Patuna with a sacred sapling from the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. The Sri Lankan King Devanampiyatissa later used this sapling to plant the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at Anuradhapura, which today holds the honour of being the oldest surviving human-planted tree in the world. A temple was built here to commemorate the arrival of the sapling, however no remnants of this ancient landmark exist today. The Sri Lankan Navy however, has since built a new temple named the Sri Sangamitta Viharaya, and is one of the key Buddhist landmarks of the northern peninsula.
Keerimalai sacred water spring Keerimalai translates to ‘mongoose hill’ in the regional vernacular of Tamil. This refers to the local legend of a sage cursed with a face likened to a mongoose, who was later cured upon immersing themselves in the healing waters of the Keerimalai Sacred Water Spring. Today, the spring remains popular among throngs of local men and boys who splash about in a picturesque ancient pond overlooking the sea. The bathing area for women is separate, and can be found behind the main pond structure. Just next door, is also the Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil – one of Sri Lanka’s sacred Pancha Ishwarams, or shrines dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, who is worshipped as the destroyer of evil. Dating back over thousands of years, it is said that the same cursed sage established this kovil in gratitude of the adjacent pond’s healing powers. Keerimalai sits at the top edge of Sri Lanka and can easily be coupled with a trip to Dambakola Patuna in one journey. The sacred water spring and Naguleswaram Kovil are also within walking distance of each other, giving you ample time to explore both attractions in all their glory.
Idikundu and Nilavarai wells. These are not healing unlike Keerilamai, but have their own 'magic'. Idikundu is so deep that it's hard to see a bottom. The name translates as 'thunder well' as legend has it that lightning created it early 20th century; scientists consider the option of a meteorite strike. Nilavarai is known for having a 'bottomless' stream of water, it never depletes fully not even in the summer-fall (heart of the dry season).
Delft Island Although locally known as Neduntivu, Delft Island is still commonly referred to by the name it inherited from the Dutch in colonial Jaffna. Vast, yet largely uninhabited, Delft Island is known for wild horses that roam its coastal plains. Explored best by tuk-tuk, Delft Island also features remnants of a bygone era such as an ancient Baobab tree, a Dutch East India company 'post office' consisting of tens of mail pigeon cages, as well as a dilapidated colonial fort constructed mainly out of coral – much like most of the architecture present on the island.
At equal distance between Sri Lanka and India, Delft Island can be reached via a daily ferry that leaves the Kurikkaduwan Jetty, see bus instructions above for Nainativu. The Sri Lanka Navy operates one round-trip service a day – leaving to Delft at 9 AM and returning to Kurikkaduwan at 2:30 PM. Although these ferries are able to hold a maximum of 100 passengers, preference will be given to Delft residents and after that local tourists. It is best option to reserve a full day for combining Neduntivu and Nainativu; first Delft and upon returning there is enough time to catch the (frequent) ferries to Nainativu. And avoid local public holidays, as you might not find a place in the ferry and be forced to hire a private boat which won't come cheap for a 2 x 1 hour trip.
Elephant Pass' Not really a day trip from Jaffna but an almost unmissable sight along the main access road. Elephant Pass controls access to the Jaffna Peninsula, therefore it is referred to as the Gateway to Jaffna. It is very crucial as it is on the isthmus connecting the peninsula to the Sri Lankan mainland, and to territory in the Southern Jaffna peninsula. Elephant Pass connects the militarily significant town of Chavakacheri in the Jaffna peninsula to the Sri Lankan mainland (the other route is through the lovely Pooneryn bridge and then on to Mannar). The name is derived from the Dutch East India company days, when elephants were exported to India and transported over this route to the Jaffna peninsula ports. There are nice salterns in the area, a rebuilt railway station, and a monument covering one of the several battles that were fought here during the civil war.
There isn't a lot to do on Jaffna unless you arrive at festival times. Nallur Kovil Thiruvizha (festival) is the biggest event in the Jaffna calendar when all the faithful come home to pray.
Rajah Cinema, Kasthuriyar Road, ☎ 021 2 227334, . One of the oldest cinemas in Jaffna, located near Kasthuriyar Rd - Stanley Rd Junction. They screen movies (mostly Indian) with English subtitles. edit
The Old Park, Kandy Road, opposite the YMCA. A public park located by Kandy Road, next to the ruins of Kachcheri. Worth visiting on weekend afternoons when many local middle class families come. On other times it is rather empty and a good place to chill out. There is a small canteen next to the park where you can buy fresh juice (80-100 rupees), ice cream and snacks. edit
The Centre for Performing Arts, Main Street, ☎ 021 222 2393. Founded in 1965, The Centre for Performing Arts is Sri Lanka's longest standing organisation using arts for peacebuilding. They use music, dance and drama (including traditional Tamil koothu drama) to support people’s expression of conflict, facilitate healing and encourage them to listen to each other. Occassional and irregular performances by artists from Jaffna and other parts of the island - it is wise to visit personally and ask about the program. Entry free. edit
Palmyrah products such as jaggery, its dried roots and handy crafts made of its leaves are very popular here and are cheap too. You can find virgin gingerly oil that used to be extracted using the slow process. Its quality is nearly equal to olive oil. Jaffna palmyrah arrack is rare but can be sometimes found in local liquor stores.
Don't miss the Jaffna ice cream, known for its sweetness. Chinese rolls dipped in chili sauce are unique in taste over here, if you can handle hot and spicy. Odiyal cool a kind of thick soup can be vegetarian or with seafood. The main base is Odiyal flour.
You can go to the Malayan Vegetarian Café. 63-year old café where you can have a nice Goat Milk tea with sweets. Or different vegetarian dishes. Served on a banana leaf and eaten with your fingers.
Water isn't good because of mineral content; made from well water which is highly salienated, hence also don't use for boiling for tea/coffee. The local brew is toddy, from the coconut or the palmyrah tree. Toddy from the palmyrah tree is sweeter. Also you can find young coconut water. It can be either orange or green color. People here believe the orange one got medicinal value. Many "Cool Spot" used to sale a drink named as "Faluda" It is sweet and cold. It will have ice cream, jelly, with the rose syrup and milk base.
Buses depart to various places around Sri Lanka from the Jaffna central bus stand, including Mannar, Batticaloa Kataragama. Matale, Trincomalee and to Colombo. A full timetable is provided at the inquiries desk of the Jaffna central bus stand, though tickets can only usually be bought on the bus on the day of travel.
Kandy - public bus 8 hours Rs400 - there are regular public (red) bus towards Kandy during the day. So don't believe in any of those people telling you that the bus has departed and asking you to ride on his vehicle instead.
Trincomalee - public bus 88 departs at 04.00, 04.15, 06.00, 07.00, 11.00, 12.00, 14.15, 16.15 and 19.00, costing around Rs. 250.