Trincomalee is one of those surprising destinations in Sri Lanka, with everything a traveller could wish for: culture, beaches, exciting activities and good food. Considered off the beaten path and less known to visitors, there are so many places to visit in Trincomalee, that will fill a good few days on your Sri Lanka itinerary.
Where is Trincomalee?
Trincomalee is located in the East of Sri Lanka, in one of the world’s largest and most beautiful natural harbours. You will be surprised to find that Trincomalee has some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, with golden sand and lovely calm, warm waters.
How to Get to Trincomalee?
As you will probably land at Bandaranaike International Airport, in Negombo, to get to Trincomalee you would most likely have to hire a private driver. The roads are slow in Sri Lanka and it will probably take a good half a day to reach Trincomalee. However, you can make an exciting road trip out of it, stopping on the way to visit hidden temples or enjoy some of the local delicacies, such as curd with coconut honey – which is only sold at the side of the road, just outside Trincomalee. A private transport from the airport to Trincomalee costs around 50 euros. You can check different offers on Viator by clicking here.
Another option to get to Trincomalee, if you are in Colombo, is the train. Cheap and reliable, the train reaches Trincomalee in just less than four hours.
Don’t worry about the long journey, because Trincomalee is worth visiting if you are looking for a more authentic experience than the beaches in the South of Sri Lanka.
Best Time to Visit Trincomalee
Whilst the temperatures don’t usually drop below 25 degrees Celsius all year-round, the best time to visit Trincomalee is between February and September. Trincomalee has a tropical climate, with a dry and a wet season. Most of the rainfall happens between October and December, with high chances in April as well. June, July and August are the months with the sunniest days. The temperature of the sea stays constant, at around 29 degrees Celsius. Do expect high humidity most of the time.
Best Places to Visit in Trincomalee:
Check out Fort Frederick
Fort Frederick is an old defence fortress, built by the Portuguese in 1623, using materials from the old Koneswaram temple. Trincomalee was captured in 1639 by the Dutch, and the fort was destroyed. In 1665 a new fortified fortress bearing the name “Fort Frederick” was built in its place, to defend the city from the sea sieges by the British and the French. In 1672 the fort was conquered by the French, and later on in 1795, it was taken over by the British. It remained as a British garrison until 1948, when Sri Lanka was granted independence from the British Empire.
The fort still acts as a military base for the Sri Lankan army, but you are allowed to enter through its main gate and make your way up to the Koneswaram temple. Inside the fort, you will see many deer walking around freely, and in the upper part of the road there are little cafes and souvenir stalls. It is a great place to shelter from the heat.
Visit the Koneswaram Temple
One of the best things to do in Trincomalee is to visit the Koneswaram temple. An interesting fact to know about Trincomalee is that the population of the city is divided between four main religions: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian. This is why Trincomalee is a unique multi-cultural city with a very rich culture, where people of different religions live together in peace and harmony, and have respect for each other.
Koneswaram is a Hindu temple, first mentioned in the Ramayana stories from year 400BC. It was founded as a temple complex dedicated to lord Shiva, which has gone through a tumultuous history over the years. The original temple was destroyed in the 17th century during the Portuguese occupation. Valuable artifacts were also stolen, and the priests and pilgrims were massacred on site. The priests who managed to escape saved a few of the statues, but most of them were lost.
The temple was rebuilt in the 20th century. Some of the artifacts were found at the bottom and the sea and some were found nearby, buried at the base of the rocks.
Today, Koneswaram temple is a very peaceful place to visit, sitting high above the bay, offering stunning views towards the sea. Even if the temple doesn’t have a thousand pillars, as it is said to have had in its glory days, it is still very beautiful. A very large statue of God Shiva welcomes the pilgrims at the entrance, whilst scenes from the Ramayana are sculpted in the rock walls, inside the small caves.
Enjoy the Beaches in Trincomalee
The beaches in Trincomalee are some of the most beautiful in the East of Sri Lanka. With white sand and warm water, there are plenty of places around to enjoy sunbathing. The best beaches in Trincomalee are located north of the city, in Nilaveli and Uppuveli. These are also great places for snorkelling, with plenty of shops that will rent out the equipment you will need.
South of Trincomalee you will find Marble Beach, a more tranquil place with crystal clear calm waters. As most tourists head to the north, this beach still remains untouched by the masses.
Go Whale Watching in Trincomalee
Trincomalee is famous for whale watching, especially when the marine creatures come very close to the shore and can be easily spotted from the cliffs of Koneswaram temple. Did you know that Trincomalee is the only places in the world where Blue Whales can be seen from the land?
The best time to see whales in Trincomalee is between March and August. The highest chances to see Blue Whales on a spotting tour from Trincomalee are in March and April, whilst Sperm Whales are visible towards the end of April. The Spinner Dolphins can be seen year-round.
A whale watching tour in Trincomalee lasts for around 4 to 5 hours and it is recommended to book in advance. Some tours combine whale watching with snorkelling, making it a day trip with breakfast and lunch on board.
This whale watching tour in Trincomalee from GetYourGuide has good reviews. I visited Trincomalee out of the whale watching season so unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see them. This is something still on my bucket list, after a few failed attempts to see whales in other parts of the world.
Have a Bath at the Hot Springs of Kanniya
The hot springs of Kanniya are a fun place to go if you want to interact with the locals and enjoy a nice splash around. The origins of the hot springs are very unclear, and nobody knows who built them, or why. What is intriguing is that even if the water seems to be coming from the same source, each well has a different temperature. The wells are pretty shallow, and they do empty after 10-15 buckets of water are taken out. The locals usually move from one to another when they come here to bathe.
The Ramayana legend says that the Great King Ravana was so upset when he found out about his mother’s death, he hit the ground with his sword seven times. From each point where his sword struck the earth, water sprung out, creating the seven wells.
Near the hot water wells, you can see the ruins of an old monastery, which was destroyed during the Civil War.
The entrance fee to the hot springs of Kanniya costs 50 rupees (£0,20) for visitors. It is without a doubt one of the most fun places to visit in Trincomalee.
Explore the Local Market
The local market in Trincomalee is colourful and cheerful, a great place to learn about the native fruits and vegetables, and to feel the pulse of the city. Local farmers come here to sell their produce, arranged nicely in piles on blankets, which are placed on the ground. One of the intriguing vegetables that I noticed in the market was the drumstick, a long yellow plant that can grow up to five meters long. It is used to make curries.
The market is a great place to stock up on king coconuts, which are so much cheaper than at any hotel. You can usually buy five coconuts in the market with the same price you would pay for one at any hotel or restaurant in town.
The market is also a great place to start a conversation with a local, to learn more about the city’s culture and way of life. Who knows, maybe you can learn a few words in Sinhala as well, such as “Stuti” (Thank you) or “Hari” (OK).
Drink King Coconut Water
The king coconut is native to Sri Lanka and it tastes delicious. The juice is sweeter and more refreshing than the usual Caribbean coconut, perfect for the tropical climate of the city. The locals swear that the king coconut “takes the heat away from the body”.
The king coconuts are yellow and much larger than their brown relatives. Usually the seller with chop the top off, make a hole for you to drink the water, and once you’ve finished, crack it open for you to eat the flesh.
Spot the Old Buildings
Whilst this is not a touristic attraction in Trincomalee, trying to find old Portuguese and Dutch buildings is still a great way to learn about the history of the city. Left in despair, used for storage or patched with plasterboard, these houses are part of the city’s heritage, and nobody seems to talk about them.
Enjoy Bird Watching in Trincomalee on the Kunchikumban Aru River Estuary
A bird watching cruise on the Kunchikumban Aru River Estuary is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon in Trincomalee. Consider this as a hidden gem, as the chances of finding other tourists here are very rare.
The lagoon is very quiet, as the boats navigating the canals don’t have engines, only oars. Among others, you can see egrets, pelicans, and cormorants.
Snorkel and Dive at Pigeon Island
Pigeon Island is just a 10 minutes boat ride from Nilaveli Beach. Home to around 100 different corals and 300 species of reef fish, Pigeon Island is a paradise for snorkelling and diving. You will see black tip sharks, turtles, Moray Eels, and lots of small colourful fish. The area is a National Park and gets its name from the endangered Rock Pigeon that is native to the two islands off the coast of Trincomalee.
If you want to go snorkelling or diving at Pigeon Island, make sure to book an eco-friendly tour and follow the recommendations for reef diving. Because the number of tourists who come to Pigeon Island has grown over the years, the coral reef is suffering. Please use reef friendly sunscreen and do not step on the corals whilst in the water.
The best time to go to Pigeon Island is as close as possible to the beginning or the end of the season, in order to avoid the crowds.
Watch the Fisherman at Sunrise
Another great thing to do in Trincomalee is to wake up early and watch the fishermen bring their catch to the shore. It is quite a unique experience which I stumbled upon by accident. I set my alarm just before sunrise, to take photos of it from the beach. After I set my camera up, I noticed a group of men moving in a steady pace at a 45-degree angle, pulling a rope from the sea with their bare hands, whilst chanting.
This took on for ages and it was fascinating to watch. One of our “sunrise photographers” actually jumped in to give them a hand and helped to pull the rope for a little while. Our guide said that if you help them, when they finally pull the catch out of the water, they reward you with fish.
Visit the War Cemetery
The War Cemetery is the resting place for the fallen soldiers during World War II. It is a peaceful place, very well maintained, with a knowledgeable ground keeper who can tell you more about the history of the place. Mr. Vasantharaja, the cemetery keeper, has inherited the position from his father and is training his son to pass it on to when he retires. He takes great pride in maintaining the grounds and he is happy to chat with visitors. There is no information about the cemetery, but he can make your visit so insightful.
364 Servicemen and women from 12 commonwealth nationalities, who fought in the second world war and died far away from their homes, are buried here. Princess Anne planted a tree in the cemetery during her visit in 1995.
Eat the Local Food
Whilst when I travel I usually write down the name of the restaurants I eat at, in Trincomalee it wasn’t needed. I mostly ate at small restaurants, with plastic tables and wooden gazebos, popular with locals. This is where you will find the best home cooked food.
Usually these restaurants have their dishes in big pots on the kitchen counter, from where you serve yourself whatever you like. Usual choices include traditional Sri Lankan dishes such as fish, chicken and vegetables curry, dhal, pol sambol, tempered vegetables, pickles, and a green leaf salad.
Where to Stay in Trincomalee?
I highly recommend choosing a beach resort in Trincomalee, either on Nilaveli or Uppuveli beaches. There is something special about falling asleep and waking up with the sounds of the sea. I stayed at Pigeon Island Beach Resort, on Nilaveli beach. It is a budget resort with its own pool, garden swings and beach loungers that guests can use free of charge. They also have an on-site restaurant with a themed barbecue each evening. You can read the reviews of this resort on Tripadvisor, or book directly on Booking.com
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Disclaimer: Please note that I visited Sri Lanka as a guest of the Sri Lankan Tourism Board. However, all the opinions in this article are my own and I would not recommend anything that I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself doing or think it was a great place to visit.
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