Tour guide to Trincomalee Sri Lanka !
Trincomalee, or “Trinco” for short, is today an upcoming tourist destination. Post-War Trinco is definitely a place to go, especially if you don’t intend to visit the beaches of the south coast.
Originally, Trincomalee was called “Thiru Kona Malai” which in Tamil meant “Sacred Lord Mountain”.
During the civil war, Trincomalee was a strategic point due to its wonderful natural port that provides one of the best deep-water anchorages in the world. This was a reminiscence of the earlier rivalries during the Colonial era when the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British vied for this part of Sri Lanka. The port was so strategic during World War II, that it was here that Lord Louis Mountbatten established his headquarters. Due to this, Trinco came under Japanese bombing.
Both the civil war and the 2004 tsunami that over 1000 peopled dead here wrecked havoc on the town. However, development efforts are transforming the place especially in the fishing and port sectors.
The town is not sprawling, hence you can venture to visit it by foot. Rickshaws are available everywhere and if you are travelling with children, most drivers know where to take you. Don’t however let them dictate your itinerary.
How to get to Trincomalee and how to move around
Trincomalee is best visited between April and October when the beaches on the other side of the island are under heavy monsoon. Mid-November to Mid-February is the least favourable season.
By road: There are innumerable buses that ply from Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Colombo, Habarana, Kandy, etc. that stop right at the city centre.
By rail: Trinco is also reachable by rail. There are two trains from Colombo Fort and the journey last about 8 hours.
By air: Trincomalee airport is also active with daily flights operated by Cinnamon Air, Helitours and Sri Lankan Air Taxi Service.
Top tourist attractions to see in Trincomalee
This is the name given to the part of the rock on which Fort Frederick and the Koneswaran temple are situated. Due to its relative height (130 metres), it offers a wonderful view of both the bays that surround it, Back Bay and Dutch Bay.
A natural feature you would not want to miss is the steep cleft created between two rocks called Ravana's cleft. The place is also called “Lover's Leap” as this is where Francina Van Reed, the daughter of a Dutch civil service, ended her life on 24 April 1687. Engaged to a Dutch officer, Francina could not bear the sorrow when he announced that he wanted to break the engagement and embarked on a boat to foreign shores. Hardly did the ship pass the precipice, Francina threw herself into the sea. An inscription on a pillar that records the date of the tragedy can be seen on the promontory.
Before the Portuguese arrived, there used to be magnificent Koneswaram temple at this spot.
A Portuguese general, Constatine de Saa built the fort in 1622 using the stones of the demolished temple. In 1639, the fort fell to the Dutch. It changed hands and was under French rule between 1672 and 1784, when it reverted back to the Dutch. In 1795, the British took over Fort Frederick and used it also for military purposes.
During the Second World War, the Fort was the commanding head quarters for British naval forces in South-east Asia. Even after Independence, the fort housed British troops under a special agreement until 1957.
As the fort is still used as a military establishment, basic rules such as refraining from taking photos apply to visitors.
You can also visit the little Hindu temple situated atop a hill and admire one of the most majestic banyan trees on the island.
Opposite to the temple is the Pavanusam Theertham, a Buddhist place of worship. Further up, a white Buddha statue towers majestically over Back Bay.
Entrance is free.
Devoted to Shiva, the temple is a classical complex dating back to the rule of early Cholas and the early Pandyan Kingdom. The initial temple was a magnificent work of art and is said to have had a thousand pillars.
Its fame was so widespread that devotees from as far as Orissa in India came for worship and the temple's upkeep was financed by the kings that ruled the Deccan in South-Central India. The original temple, as said previously, was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1622 to build Fort Frederick and although most of the stones were used to build the fort, many idols were scattered around without care.
The temple made world-news in the 1950s when a team of archaeologists and enthusiasts like Arthur C. Clarke helped recover precious bronze statuettes that had remained underwater for quite many years. In 1960, workers engaged in digging a well found three statues buried under the ground, all turned upside down.
The temple is a very important destination for Hindus and is often referred to as the "Rome of the Gentiles". Daily services are held in the mornings at regular intervals starting from 5 am.
A very typical South Indian-style Hindu temple situated on Dockyard Road replete with gods, goddesses, demons, etc. atop its multi-tier front. Worshippers come and go at every moment of the day. You can stroll around the interior and watch the offerings being made.
Naval Museum or Hoods Tower Museum
A good place to go for travellers of all ages. The Museum is located at Fort Ostenburg, a small fort built by the Dutch with a 360° view at the entrance to the inner harbour of Trincomalee and later surrendered to the British in 1795.
It was called "the most powerfully gunned fort in Ceylon" with strong batteries at sea level and many guns on the ridge above them. However little of it remains today, mainly due to the construction of coastal artillery placements by the British since the 1920 in the Ostenburg ridge.
In 1920, the British began deploying coastal artillery on the Ostenburg ridge to protect the entrance to the Trincomalee harbour that was to become a major Royal Navy base during the Second World War. With the departure of the Royal Navy from Trincomalee in 1956, the operation of the guns was taken over by the Sri Lankan Army but the coastal artillery batteries were decommissioned in 1962.
The museum houses collections dating from the 18th century: weapons, means of transport, equipment, weapon systems and prizes of war during the civil war included a mini submarine captured from the LTTE.
This cemetery is located on Dockyard Road, next to the Kali temple. Plants and weeds gently cover the tombstones of Westerners who served in Sri Lanka during the British rule as civil servants or as military personnel. There is something romantic to this place.
Trincomalee War cemetery
This cemetery is situated about 5 kilometres to the North of the town on Nilaveli road. It is one of the six Commonwealth cemeteries in Sri Lanka. The place is well kept. Children generally like walking around and reading the names of those who sacrificed their lives, quite often at a young age.
Some great places to visit just outside Trincomalee
Just 5 kilometres to the North of Trinco, Uppuveli is one of the best beaches on this part of the island.
Uppuveli is a haven for those who need to wind down for a while or those of you who would like to relax after the cultural immersion in Sri Lanka. The picturesque beach is very large and quite clean. Pick up your camera because you're going to admire the waves and the sight of fishermen coming back after their catch during the early hours of the day. You can choose to stay in one of the peaceful guesthouses situated close to the beach. For a change, you can eat out at the restaurants that serve clean and delicious food on the beach. As for swimming, you will have to ask for advice from the locals. Here, as in most beaches on the east, the currents are strong and never in the same direction.
The scars of the tsunami and the civil war are still to be seen. Many places around are off limits to tourists due to the presence of military camps. Be rest assured, with or without children, Uppuveli is a beautiful destination.
A further few kilometres up north from Uppuveli, is Nilaveli where you can spend days lazing on the beautiful sand.
The beach in Nilaveli is the continuation of the one in Uppuveli. It remains a popular tourist destination for those who love to bathe in turquoise waters and love the sight and the feel of white sands. There a not many cultural visits you can make on foot from here, so remember to carry a book and other activities if you are travelling with children. Spend at least a night or two here. A three-day stay is long enough if you keen on discovering other places in Sri Lanka.
Girihandu Seya in Tiriyai
Tiriyai, 45 kilometres north of Trincomalee, houses some of the most interesting vestiges of Buddhism on the east coast of the island.
Here lies what is considered as the first Stupa of Sri Lanka. Girihandu Seya is said to have been built during the time of the Buddha by two merchants who had offered alms to the Buddha with a case containing a strand of hair of the Buddha. In the centre of the vatadage (circular temple) is the Stupa. At the four entrances to the shrine are moonstones of considerable artistic value. Among the other striking features are the guard stones.
The historical attractiveness of the place is enhanced by the natural beauty of the place.
Situated about 15 kilometres from Trincomalee on the Trincomalee - Anuradhapura Road is a Buddhist temple of unusual interest, Velgam Vihara also known as “Nathanar Kovil” to Hindus.
This ancient vihara, dating back to the 2nd century, was one of the few Buddhist sites that were spared by the Hindu Chola kings of India during their domination of Sri Lanka.
It is best to be adventurous here but all the while keeping in mind that you are treading on sacred grounds. Once you arrive at the first temple, climb up the rock behind the Bo tree and go through the woods to reach the site and the ruins. There are dagobas, guard stones, stone bowls, Tamil inscriptions, yantra galas, image houses and moonstones to be admired. Two stone baths, one inside the walls and the other just outside the perimeter, are to be seen. Admire the small waves that have been cut in the stone at the base of the baths to prevent worshippers from slipping.
Trincomalee has some great beaches
Back Bay and Dutch Bay
Back Bay and Dutch Bay being so close to the port, swimming is not recommended here. Uppuveli and Nilaveli, the two immediately neighbouring beaches to the north, offer beautiful sands, refreshing waves and excellent tourist infrastructure.
Where to admire wildlife in or around Trincomalee
Pigeon Island National Park
Pigeon Island National Park is just opposite Nilaveli beach. Declared a nature reserve in 1963, this little island that is today one of Sri Lanka's two maritime parks, is a beautiful spot especially to go snorkelling.
The 10-minute boat ride from is short and pleasant but comes at a price (around Rs.1800). The same goes for the entrance to the park.
If you're lucky, you can spot shoals of sharks and tropical fish like angel, parrot, Sargent major, etc. The wonderful thing about this place is the coral but it is in quite a tricky state due to unhampered tourism and the tsunami. So, while your children need to wear slippers to protect their feet, teach them to take care of the corals.
Don't forget to carry your mask and snorkel. You can also carry your picnic meal and enjoy a full day outing here. Remember to carry sunblock lotion.
If you need lifejackets, you can hire one easily here.
The Kokkilai lagoon was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1951 to protect the wide variety of water birds that come here, attracted by the shallow waters and abundant food. You can spot pelicans, cormorants, herons, egrets, wild duck, storks, wild ducks and pink flamingos.
Located on the Kandy-Trincomalee road, Kantalai Tank, an ancient reservoir built by King Aggabodhi II (604-614 AD) covering an extent of 3,750 hectares, was designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International. Large populations of water birds and birds of prey flock to this place. Herds of elephants from the surrounding jungle also visit the tank.
How to keep children occupied during your travel to Trincomalee
The Isha Water Park in Uppuveli is a great place to take rides on slides or play around in the splash pond. The water is clean and refreshingly cool. An ideal place if your children want to splash around and have fun when the sea currents are strong.
Kanniya Hot Wells
Seven wells in a rectangular tank with floor and wall tiles offer naturally hot water to pilgrims. The temperature is considerably high but vary from one spring to another. The wells are only 3 to 4 feet deep and hence run out of water when a dozen buckets of water are drawn out. It is beleived that King Ravana created these springs to cleanse himself after the funeral rites of his mother, Kanniya.
Great things to do in Trincomalee
If you have time to indulge in a cruise to spot whales and the weather is right, Trinco is one of the two places in Sri Lanka where you can watch blue whales, sperm whales and Spinner dolphins. The best period is between March and May and August to October.
Organised trips by the Sri Lankan Navy costing about Rs.6000 per person (reduced rates for children) promise to be an exciting experience for young and old.
If you are lucky, you might even catch glimpses of cetaceans when you visit Swami Rock.
The waters off Nilaveli offer excellent opportunities for diving enthusiasts be it rock diving, coral diving or wreck diving. The diving season is generally between April and October. If you are not familiar with diving, you can take a few classes if you are a beginner. The friendly diving centre personnel here are PADI-certified and fluent in English.