Sri Lanka has no shortage of stunning seaside towns. One of them is Trincomalee, a beach town located on the East Coast of the country, which suffered greatly during the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009). Nowadays, Trinco, as locals like to call it, has put its difficult past behind and looks to a future of welcoming travellers from all over the world. Trincomalee is a laid-back destination which is a lot quieter than the beach towns of Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast. That said, it is equally fascinating. We spent 2 days there. If you wonder what to do in Trincomalee, here’s our guide to Sri Lanka’s popular yet not at all crowded beach resort.
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Table of contents
- What to do in Trincomalee in 2 days
- How to get to Trincomalee from Colombo
- Top 9 things to do in Trincomalee Sri Lanka
- 1. Explore Fort Fredrick
- 2. Marvel at the impressive Koneswaram Temple
- 3. Watch the sunrise on Nilaveli Beach
- 4. Spend endless relaxing moments on the beach
- 5. Mingle with locals at Trincomalee’s colourful market
- 6. Join a boat tour
- 7. Visit the Kanniya Hot Springs
- 8. Go whale watching
- 9. Take in the views of Kantale Tank
- 1. Explore Fort Fredrick
- Best time to visit Trincomalee
- Where to stay in Trincomalee
What to do in Trincomalee in 2 days
The obvious reason why anyone should plan a trip to Trincomalee is lying on its sandy beaches. However, there’s more to Trinco than just that. Sightseeing, water sports, wildlife observation, you name it. This is why we believe that one should spend at least 2 days in Trincomalee so as to make the most of this easy-going and absolutely charming coastal town.
How to get to Trincomalee from Colombo
It is easy (and ridiculously cheap) to get from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, to Trincomalee. There is an overnight train (1,5-2,5€) which will take you to Trincomalee in about 8 hours as well as public buses (2,5€ – 6h). That said, driving is the best way to get from Colombo to Trincomalee in our humble opinion. Getting to Trinco by car also takes about 6h but the important thing to remember here is that driving gives you the flexibility to stop whenever and wherever you wish. If you don’t feel like driving for any reason whatsoever, you can hire a car with professional driver. It is the most expensive option but also the most immersive way to experience the country.
Apart from the gorgeous nature itself, there are a couple of interesting things to see along this specific route, such as the Buddhist Silver Temple. One of our favourite stops en route from Colombo to Trincomalee was a pineapple plantation. We had no idea what the actual pineapple plant looked like until then. We also had the chance to taste freshly cut fruit the way locals enjoy them. With a pinch of salt and, wait for it, chili. We know it sounds weird but it was heavenly.
Top 9 things to do in Trincomalee Sri Lanka
1. Explore Fort Fredrick
The Portuguese built a fort in Trincomalee back in 1624. That was later destroyed and in 1665 the Dutch constructed a new fort in its place, which they named Fort Fredrick. Situated at the tip of a narrow peninsula, Fort Fredrick offers breathtaking views to the ocean. The fort has no entrance fee and spending time strolling around its grounds is utterly pleasant. You can go shopping at the various stalls selling souvenirs and fresh fruit or you can enjoy a King Coconut with the best ocean view at one of the cafés inside the fort.
Last but not least, while walking around Fort Fredrick, you will inevitably stumble upon the cutest animals you’ve ever seen, a species of dotted deer found only in Sri Lanka.
2. Marvel at the impressive Koneswaram Temple
Within the area of Fort Fredrick, you can see Koneswaram Temple, a Hindu temple which is very impressive in terms of both scale and colour. The temple has a long and very interesting history. Founded before 400BC, it was then destroyed only to be reconstructed quite recently, during the 20th century. If you’re not familiar with Hindu traditions or haven’t visited a Hindu temple before, this is the ideal place to learn a lot about them. Koneswaram Temple was the first of its kind we’d ever visited and being there gave us excellent insight into the practices and customs related to Hinduism.
Alongside its historical and architectural value, Koneswaram Temple is also unique for the jaw-dropping ocean views it offers. One of the most fascinating places to visit on Swami Rock, where the temple is built, is Ravana’s Cleft. Legend has it that, when King Ravana’s mother fell ill, he wanted to move Koneswaram Temple to a different location so that it would be easier for her to visit. However, Lord Shiva, the deity worshipped at the temple, made King Ravana drop his sword and that’s how the dramatic cleft was formed. This location is also called Lover’s Leap after a young lady who fell from the cliff to her death when she saw the Dutch officer with whom she was in love sail on a ship back to his homeland.
3. Watch the sunrise on Nilaveli Beach
Who wants to wake up at the crack of dawn while on holiday? The answer is simple: nobody. But what if we told you that sunrise in Trincomalee, Nilaveli Beach to be more precise, is an once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience? We can’t even begin to describe how we felt when we saw the sun emerge in all its red glory from the depths of the Indian Ocean right before our eyes. All we could hear was the gentle sound of the waves as they kissed the golden sand and the ritual-like chant of fishermen as they hauled their seemingly endless fishing nets out of the sea. It was a mesmerising moment, to say the least.
4. Spend endless relaxing moments on the beach
Do you remember the number one reason you decided to visit Trincomalee in the first place? That’s right, it’s the beach. With some of the most pristine beaches in Sri Lanka within easy reach, Trincomalee is the perfect place to indulge in doing absolutely nothing but enjoying the sea and the sun. Uppuveli is the most popular beach near Trincomalee and home to the legendary Fernando’s Bar. Nilaveli is a lot quieter and the ideal beach to enjoy long seaside walks and the best sunrise of your lives. Last but not least, Marble Beach boasts the clearest waters of all Trincomalee beaches.
5. Mingle with locals at Trincomalee’s colourful market
In our opinion, wandering around the town’s local market is one of the best things to do in Trincomalee. We enjoyed stepping inside old-fashioned stores that sold pretty much every little thing a household needs at extremely low prices.
Our favourite, though, was the fruit and vegetable market. Products there were utterly fresh and you could tell that they came from small producers as normal quantities of each item was on offer rather than outrageously high piles of them. We were reminded that real fruit and vegetables aren’t shiny, spotless and huge. They are small, funny-shaped but inconceivably delicious. Yet the almighty and super intelligent Western World throws such ugly fruit in the dump. What a shocking waste! But the local market in Trincomalee was different. It was a glimpse into a past which seemed long lost and forgotten. A past when life was a lot simpler as consumerism and all of its evils were yet to emerge.
6. Join a boat tour
The most popular boat tour destination from Trincomalee is nearby Pigeon Island. Situated just 1km off Nilaveli Beach, Pigeon Island is one of Sri Lanka’s natural parks. It is home to some of the best coral reefs in the country. This is the reason why it attracts many snorkelling lovers alongside regular beach-goers, such as ourselves. Exploring Kunchikumban Aru Lagoon by boat is yet another great way to discover Trincomalee’s hidden gems. This boat tour takes you along the tranquil waters of one of numerous tanks constructed in Sri Lanka in ancient times. All along the boat tour, one can observe various species of birds, especially eagles, as well as admire the incredible flora of the area.
7. Visit the Kanniya Hot Springs
The Kanniya hot water springs is one of the best places to visit in Trincomalee. The story behind the creation of these hot water wells is actually related to the legend of Ravana’s Cleft we mentioned above. After his failed attempt to relocate Koneswaram Temple, King Ravana returned to his mother, only to find that she was already dead. In order to carry out the last rites for his dear mother, he stuck his sword in the earth many times and that’s how the seven hot water springs were created.
Nowadays, locals flock to the Kanniya Hot Springs as they believe that the water has healing properties. Each one of the seven small square wells on the ground has slightly different temperature from the others but they are all HOT water springs. That said, it still felt strangely refreshing when we emptied a couple of buckets of this super hot water on ourselves on an equally super hot day.
8. Go whale watching
Sri Lanka is the ideal destination to observe wildlife in various forms. Apart from the obvious and mandatory option of an elephant safari, whale watching is also an exciting way to enjoy a unique experience in Sri Lanka. Keep in mind that it’s not 100% certain that you will actually get to see a whale but a day out in the sea can never be a bad day anyway. Before you book a whale watching trip, please make sure that the company you’ve chosen complies with all international whale watching guidelines.
9. Take in the views of Kantale Tank
As mentioned above, Sri Lanka is home to many water reservoirs or tanks, as locals prefer to call them. One of the largest and oldest ones is Kantale Tank near Trincomalee. Kantale Tank provides the entire area of Trincomalee with water for cultivations and human consumption alike. To us visitors, Kantale Tank is an enchanting, almost surreal setting which is really worth a short stop. If, while admiring the view, you hear a music tuk tuk coming your way, wave at it until it stops. I’m pretty sure you think I’ve gone completely mad, but, yes, tuk tuks that play music exist in Sri Lanka. What’s more exciting is that these specific tuk tuks actually sell food, most of them bread, but it’s not uncommon to stumble upon an ice-cream tuk tuk as well.
Best time to visit Trincomalee
The best time to visit Trincomalee and the entire East Coast in order to avoid monsoons is from April to September. This is also the best time to go whale watching in Trincomalee for higher chances to actually see whales.
Where to stay in Trincomalee
This will be a short one: the beach. If you decide to plan a trip to Trincomalee, make it worth every single second by booking a room in one of the hotels right on the beach. We stayed at a Nilaveli beach hotel and, although the room wasn’t to our liking in some respects, we wouldn’t miss the chance to fall asleep by the sound of the waves for the world. Not to mention that staying at a beach hotel made it a lot easier for us to enjoy the spectacular sunrise in Nilaveli.
We enjoyed immensely our 2-day stay in Trincomalee during this first trip to Sri Lanka of ours. However, next time we are in the country, we’d love to check out more of Sri Lanka’s beautiful beach towns. Any suggestions? Let us know in the comments!
Disclosure: We travelled to Sri Lanka on a press trip organised by Sri Lanka Tourism. That said, we always share our very own and personal opinions about places we visit and services we try. Under no circumstances would we ever recommend anything we didn’t actually enjoy ourselves.