A Guide To What To See And Do In Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Trincomalee Sri Lanka, isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of this gorgeous country. Yet, it’s a wonderful destination and you are bound to fall in love with it.

Located on the east coast of Sri Lanka, Trincomalee is known as one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world. I must admit I wasn’t expecting much of it, but I fell in love the minute I arrived and realized the atmosphere was so chilled, the beaches long and sandy and perfect for a relaxing walk.

If you are planning a trip Sri Lanka, consider going to Trincomaleee –  this beautiful destination is totally different from the western coast. It is growing popularity after the end of a long civil war among Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamil Tigers. Last but not least, it boasts colonial charm combined with wonderful white sand beaches and colorful Hindu temples.

I’d recommend to spend about a week in Trincomalee just to have enough time to take it easy and lay down at the beach, and take in all the nice sights and things it has to offer.

In this post, I highlight all the things to see and do to make the most of Trincomalee Sri Lanka and share some useful information to plan your visit.

Fort Frederick Trincomalee Sri Lanka
Fort Frederick is one of the nicest places to visit in Trincomalee

What To See And Do In Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Fort Frederick

One of the nicest places to visit in Trincomalee is Fort Frederick. This was built by the Portuguese in 1623 and since then it was held by the Dutch, the British and the French. It is located on the little peninsula between Back Bay and Dutch Bay. There is still a military base but you can have a lovely walk on the main street.

My advice is to reach the top and first visit the Hindu temples and then walk down towards the main gate. On your way you’ll see lots of spotted deer, high and old trees and colonial buildings in ruins: entering is not allowed but you will enjoy the creepy atmosphere (just picture a perfect setting for a Halloween Party!).

Swami Rock

Once you pass by Fort Frederick main gate and follow the road you reach the top: Swami Rock. It is a cliff from which you can enjoy an amazing view of the city, the coast and of course the ocean. If you are lucky you can spot whales in the distance.

things to do in Trincomalee
You can get staggering views from Swami Rock

Lover’s Leap

On the highest point of Swami Rock, hanging onto the cliff there is a tree covered by remnants of some material where the devoted have written their prayers. It is hard to guess how they could manage to reach the branches of that tree.

This place is known as Lover’s Leap and it’s one of the most charming places to visit in Trincomalee Sri Lanka. There are many legends trying to explain this name but the most popular is the one about Francina van Reed who jumped from the cliff after her engagement was broken by her fiancée. Despite the beauty of the view, for a long time from this place the broken-hearted jumped to death wishing a new better life. There is now a security fence to prevent further suicides.

Koneswaram Temple Trincomalee
Koneswaram Temple – one of the most unique in Trincomalee

Koneswaram Temple

Konewaram Temple is a Hindu temple complex and a major place for Hindu pilgrimage. The first thing that will catch your eye is a huge Shiva statue, which contains the shrine to Shiva. The temple is a masterpiece of colors outside and inside and if you are lucky you can experience a real ceremony. The view from the temple is amazing, especially at sunset.

TIP: To enter into the temple you need to be dressed respectfully – cover your knees and shoulders – and take your shoes off. It costs 20 Rupees to leave your shoes at the wardrobe, while entrance to the temple is free of charge.

TIP: There are monkeys asking for food right outside the temple: please do not feed them and pay attention to your glasses and your other belongings as they are naughty!

Walking towards the temple you’ll through dozens of stalls where you get a nice juice or some fruit or candy. Keep your eyes open as on your way you’ll meet barefoot people wearing colorful saree coming back from the temple and they are quite a sight!

Pathirakali Amman Temple

Located just next to Koneswaram Temple, there is another beautiful temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Bhadrakali. It was built in the 11th century and, thanks to all its colors, it is a very photogenic place. The temple is built in the classical Dravidian style of architecture that can be mainly found in Southern India. It is where the annual festival called the “Mahotsavam” takes place each year from the third week of March, lasting  about ten to fifteen days.

Dutch Bay
Kids playing cricket in Dutch Bay

Walk along Dutch Bay 

Just outside of Fort Frederick, you can have a lovely walk along this bay. It is a great chance to take a peek of locals’ daily life: when I was there I had the chance to watch a family playing football, some youth playing cricket and other people having a walk. It gets crowded even during the sunset when locals finish working.

On the other side of Frederick Bay, there is Back Bay where fishermen leave their boats and nets.

CURIOUS FACT: Did you know that cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka? In June 2019, the national team beat England during the world cup.

Kanniya Hot Springs Trincomalee
Not exactly a day to enjoy the hot springs!

Kanniya Hot Wells 

If you want to experience something local, one of the nicest things to do in Trincomalee Sri Lanka is heading to Kanniya Hot Springs. The ticket is around 50 rupees and you can get a drink on your way to the springs in one of the many stalls. They are quite different from the ones you may be used to. They are nothing more than little holes in the ground. There are seven squared-shaped wells 3-4 feet deep and their temperature is obviously high but can vary from one to another.

These springs are a religious place: people believe in the healing power of the water particularly for recovering from arthritis and rheumatic disease.

As they are quite small the wells can easily get crowded, so it’s better to go really early in the morning. There are separate changing rooms for men and women. Using any kind of detergent in the wells is prohibited.

Unfortunately, when I visited it was raining heavily and I was unable to enjoy the springs.

Trincomalee Sri Lanka
The well kept British War Cemetery

Trincomalee British War Cemetery 

This cemetery, located in the north part of Trincomalee, on the way to Nilaweli beach, is one of the six Commonwealth war cemeteries in Sri Lank. Here, British soldiers who died during the Second World War are buried. There is no entrance fee and the cemetery is open every day. It’s very well maintained.

Nilaweli Beach

There is little doubt that Trincomalee is blessed with some gorgeous beaches. Renting a motorbike or hiring a tuk-tuk can be an easy way to reach them all. My advice is head straight to Nilaweli beach, situated approximately 15 km north of town. Enjoy a walk along the beach, go for a dip or swim, or simply work on your tan.

Pigeon Island
The clear waters of Pigeon Island make it ideal for snorkeling

Pigeon Island

Visiting Pigeon Island easily qualifies as one of the unmissable things to do in Trincomalee.

At a ten to twenty minutes boat ride from Nilaweli Beach, this is a small but unique island. It can get quite windy there, but the good news is that no matter where the wind is blowing from, one side of the island will always be protected, so you are bound to get clear and calm waters perfect for snorkeling.

This Natural Park is famous for its corals, tortoises, fish and even sharks. When I was there I swam with three big turtles, several little sharks and hundreds of small colorful fishes. The island itself is a slice of paradise on earth: shallow turquoise water, white tiny pebbles, lush trees and lots of beautiful flowers.

TIP: The visit to Pigeon island can be organized directly by your hotel. I advise you to research carefully before picking one of the many local agencies – you want one that is responsible in caring for the marine life, where you’ll get a good guide to show you the many species that can be seen, and which will provide good snorkeling gear.

The National Park has a $30 USD entry fee, to which you will have to add the cost of the boat rental.

Alternatively, you can join a guided tour departing from Nilaweli such as this one.

Whale Watching in Trincomalee

One of the best things to do in Trincomalee is whale watching. It is said that the best time of year to see them is from May to September, but I was lucky to enough see them in October, though I must admit it took quite some time to locate these gorgeous creatures.

TIP: If you are traveling between November and April the best place to see whales in Sri Lanka is in Mirissa.

Whale watching tours usually leave the harbor between 6:00 and to 7:00 am and the tour lasts approximately 4 hours, though it really depends on how long the crew takes to spot the whales. Don’t take it for granted though! The ocean is big and they move quickly.

A good crew usually knows the places where the whales can find food, so cross your finger and enjoy the experience.

I must admit that it struck a chord with me when I first saw in the distance the spurt of a whale and I dropped a tear when that big tale came out of the water. During the sailing you’ll also have a chance to spot dolphins, turtles and various bird species.

The tour costs around $35 to $40 USD. Drinks (water) and snacks are usually included but it’s better to ask when booking. You can book online here, reserve directly from your hotel or just go to any of the agencies in town.

TIP: Make sure to bring motion sickness tablets if you stand the slightest chance of getting sea sick!

Try on a Saree

This one is for the girls! If you like shopping or if you are just curious to wear something typical for once, you should try on a saree while in Trincomalee Sri Lanka. There are several shops in town (for example Mufeedhas, Nawamila’s Textiles and Meemas) and you can choose from several fabrics (most of which are silks), colors and garnishments.

The shop assistances will help you to wear your saree, because it’s not a dress but a rectangular drape wrapped around your waist with one end draped over your shoulder.

Keep in mind a good saree can be quite expensive. Silk ones cost a minimum of $100 USD but make sure to bargain the final price.

spotted dears in Fort Frederick
Spotted dears roam freely in Trincomalee’s Fort Frederick

Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Trincomalee Sri Lanka

How to get to Trincomalee Sri Lanka

There’s no airport in Trincomalee Sri Lanka, so you will have to fly into Colombo. You can get to Trincomalee from Colombo by train in less than 4 hours by getting the train from Colombo Fort Station. Alternatively, you can opt for one of the buses that leave every 30 minutes from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal. You can get your tickets in advance here.

Alternatively, you can hire a private car with a driver (I really don’t recommend driving in Sri Lanka!) which is a great way to enjoy the scenery and admire the daily lives of people and the villages as you drive by.

When to visit Trincomalee Sri Lanka

The best time to visit the east coast of Sri Lanka is from May to September. I went at the end of October but I was lucky enough to enjoy some sunlight between a rain showers – in fact the monsoon season starts in October and ends in January. Either way, you are bound to enjoy this place regardless of when you visit!

Where to sleep and eat in Trincomalee Sri Lanka

There are many excellent accommodation options in Trincomalee Sri Lanka, for any taste and budget. I have stayed at Trinco Blue by Cinnamon, just outside town, but researched a few more places for you. Here is a selection:

Other useful information 

Make sure to research about visa requirements before traveling to Sri Lanka. At the moment, citizens of many countries – including the United States, Canada and all EU countries – benefit from a visa waiver which means that you can apply for the visa (you need to do so before traveling) but don’t have to pay for the visa. Should you however have to pay for it, you can easily apply for your visa online here.

Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip. Get yours here.

Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

For further readings about Trincomalee Sri Lanka, you can check one of these books:

Further readings about Sri Lanka

If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, make sure to read my other posts:

This post was written by My Adventures Across The World contributor Elisabetta Tavani.

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau during my trip to Sri Lanka, and I wish to thank them for the incredible trip and all the useful insights. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain mine. 

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Find out what to see and do in Trincomalee Sri Lanka - via @clautavani
Discover what to see and do in Trincomalee Sri Lanka - via @clautavani

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