Cover photo source: Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay
Trincomalee is a small port city on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. Popular nowadays for its tranquil vibes, you would never guess that its history was plagued by colonizers and civil wars. In recent years, Trincomalee’s tourism has made tremendous strides. It’s not difficult to see why with its fine beaches and a melange of interesting activities, people are starting to notice Trinco.
In this article, I have put together a list of 9 interesting things to do in Trincomalee. Whether you are looking for a relaxing holiday or seeking some adventure, this little town has something to offer.
*My experiences in Sri Lanka was generously hosted by the Sri Lanka tourism board. All opinions expressed are my own. This post may contain affiliate links, which means, at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks for supporting!
Best time to visit Trincomalee
Sri Lanka is pretty much a year-round destination. However, if you demand the absolute best time for visiting Trincomalee, try coming between April/May to September. This is when the sky is the bluest, the ocean is at its most beautiful and whale spotting is a possibility. October to February is monsoon season for Trincomalee and nearby area, so it would be best to avoid coming during this time.
How to get to Trincomalee
The best way to get to Trincomalee, or travel around Sri Lanka in general, is by car. If you don’t want to rent a car yourself, you can hire a local tour company to take you and set a customized itinerary. Although a bit more expensive, it will be much more comfortable and save you time. We were taken care of in Sri Lanka by Jetwing Travel, a very reliable company that I highly recommend. For hardcore budget travelers, public transportation is available via train or bus. From Colombo, the country’s capital, a train ride to Trincomalee can take anywhere between 3.5 to 9 hours ($2-$7 USD). By bus, the ride is about 7 hours ($2-3). Check Rome2Rio for more details.
Where to stay in Trincomalee
In recent years, Trincomalee’s infrastructures have grown along with its popularity. Today, there are many great hotels to accommodate tourists. Check out my picks:
Budget: Starting 13 USD per night for a deluxe family room, Hotel Tobiko cannot be better value for money. The hotel is only 3 km from Koneswaram Temple, 3.2 km from Fort Frederick, and 3.8 km away from Kanniya Hot Springs. Check availability and prices here
Mid-range: Pigeon Island Beach Resort is located north of Trincomalee city. The hotel has a private beach and offers boat rides to the nearby Pigeon Island. The downside is that there is only WIFI in the lobby but not in the room. But who needs internet all the time when you have beautiful nature to explore, right? Check availability and prices here
Interesting Things to do in Trincomalee
Visit Koneswaram Temple
Koneswaram is a very colorful and ornate Hindu temple perched high on top of Swami Rock Cliff. The site has been around for a long time and contains a lot of history. Its original construction date has been debated by scholars. Most likely, the temple was built before 400 B.C.
Supposedly, back in its prime time, Koneswaram was a gorgeous complex that can rival with any of those in India and Sri Lanka (Looking at you Taj Mahal). However, during the 17th century, the colonial Portuguese raided the structures and destroyed many objects. Thankfully, restoration work, finished in 1963, recovered a lot of old pieces and ornamentations in the temple. Even though it no longer has the pre-1624 grandeur, this classical-medieval Hindu site is still beautiful and serve as an important pilgrimage center in Trincomalee today.
There are lots of things to see around the temple ground. Before you even get to the entrance, you will likely encounter little deers, hanging around the street stall selling traditional Sri Lankan goods. In the temple complex, you can see many sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses (Did you know there are 33 million deities in Hinduism?). The most impressive of all is the gigantic statue of Shiva, the god of destruction. If you are lucky with your timing, you might catch a ceremony going on.
Top tip: Visitors must cover up the shoulders and knees when visiting religious sites. You can find the red dress I wore here. If you are unsure of what to wear/pack for Sri Lanka, feel free to refer to my packing list for India, where all the same customs apply.
Also, make sure to check out the great view of Trincomalee Bay from the temple. During the months from March to August, blue whales love to hang out in the area so you may spot a couple of them playing in the water. Don’t mistake the many divers in the area for whales though. 😉
Learn about Trincomalee’s past at Fort Federick
If you want to learn even more about Trincomalee’s colonial past, check out the old fort on the same peninsula as Koneswaram Temple. Fort Federick, also known as the Trincomalee Fort or Fort of Triquillimale, was built by the Portuguese in the 1600s, along with the destruction of Koneswaram Temple.
The Fort’s original purpose was to defend the Portuguese against threats from the British and the French, who were all lusting after Trincomalee for its fantastic harbor. Eventually, this fort was captured by the Dutch in 1639. And then captured by the British in 1795.
Today, Fort Federick is still an active military base, manned by the Sri Lankan Army. However, don’t let that scare you off. The site is friendly for tourists to explore.
Relax on the beach
Uppuveli and Nilaveli are two of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. They are actually near each other but the vibes are slightly different.
Uppuveli is closer to Trincomalee town and offers more of a party beach atmosphere. Whenever you are craving some music and beer, check out Fernando’s Bar, the most famous place to be in Uppuveli.
If you want a more secluded experience, head to Nilaveli beach instead. Just like Uppuveli, Nilaveli has white sand beaches with clear water, but without the crowd. Here, you can enjoy a quiet beach to yourself. Wake up early and watch the gorgeous sunrise over the ocean. You might even see fishermen pulling in their morning nets in the water.
Dive or Snorkel
Trincomalee is a perfect place to take a PADI course if that is on your bucket list! The calm clear water is friendly for beginners and pro divers alike. Under the sea is a completely different side to Trincomalee waiting to be explored. The region is a habitat for a lot of marine life such as corals, fish, turtles and reef sharks. Yes, you may see sharks during your dive. Don’t worry though, they are not harmful towards humans and you would be so lucky to catch sight of one.
There are several diving centers in town. You can either take a full certification course or do a simply guided dive base on your comfort level. Check out this list of local diving school on Tripadvisor.
If diving is not your thing, due to budget, fear or whatever reason, snorkel instead! You can rent snorkel gears from the diving centers, possibly your hotel, or bring your own. I definitely recommend the last option as investing in a good pair of snorkel goggle will save you money and hassle in the long run. This is the pair that I currently own and recommend.
For those who are wondering about surfing, unfortunately, Trincomalee is not a great spot to surf as there are minimal waves. The beaches here are better suited for relaxing water activities. If you really want to surf in Sri Lanka, head to the south coast beaches instead.
Go Whale Watching
Every year between March to September, blue whales, sperm whales, and dolphins can regularly be seen off the coast of Trincomalee. These magnificent creatures’ seasonal migration from southern Sri Lanka allows tourists a precious peek of them. Don’t miss this opportunity.
The whales and dolphins spotting tours are usually on speed boats. Warning that if you tend to get seasick (like me), you may want to take motion sickness pills prior to going on out to sea. Another thing to remember is that sighting is never guaranteed as the animals are wild and unpredictable. Although the guides in Trincomalee are experts and have a lot of knowledge about marine life’s patterns. In any case, manage your expectations so you don’t feel too disappointed on the rare chance that you don’t end up seeing whales.
Check out these essential pieces of equipment for spotting/photographing whales:
Visit Pigeon Island National Park
Pigeon Island is one of two marine national parks in Sri Lanka. This small island has powdery white sand beaches and crystal blue waters. Pigeon island is just 1 km from Nilaveli beach and you can reach it by boat.
Many tourists come to Pigeon Island for its stunning coral garden which can be seen if you go snorkeling. There are over 100 species of coral reefs that make up homes for over 300 species of fish. This colorful underwater world is unlike any other in Sri Lanka. A word of advice though, although the coral gardens in Pigeon Island is very accessible, please be mindful as a visitor in this delicate ecosystem. In recent years, the island has seen some damage as more and more people come to admire its beauty. Some ways to be responsible tourists include not leaving any trash on the beach and wearing reef-safe sunscreen.
Another highlight on Pigeon Island is seeing hundreds of Blue Rock Pigeons that inhabit the area. This is where the name of the island came from. If you have an interest in bird watching, you will love these cute little guys.
Walk around the Public Market
Somehow, I love stopping by markets and grocery stores in other countries. There’s something authentic and comforting in observing somebody else’s normal. If you have time in Trincomalee, take a walk in the bustling public shopping complex.
Here, vendors sell their produce spread out on tarps on the ground. Tomatoes, green beans, coconuts, ginger, all piling in a melange, making up a colorful scene. The customers, mostly women, engage in lively conversations with the sellers, while excitedly pointing and picking at what they want.
For photographers, this is a great place to capture some portraits and life shots. When we were in the market, I was surprised at how friendly the people were. The vendors were smiley and happy to be photographed for free. No one demanded money like I’ve been asked before in other countries. Sri Lankans are really some of the nicest folks I’ve met.
Check out the Kanniya Hot Water Springs
Kanniya Hot Water springs is a unique site in Trincomalee. Featuring seven square wells, this ancient archeological monuments holds cultural significance as well as serve as a hot water source for locals even today.
Its story goes back to the era of the Sri Lankan King Rawana. The legend goes that this king, a devotee of God Shiva, struck the earth with his swords out of grief after his mother died. From the spots his sword hit the earth, fountains sprung and became hot springs.
The wells are not big and don’t look super impressive by appearance. They are 3 to 4 feet deep and hold hot water which locals use to bathe. People use common buckets to scoop from the wells and shower. There is no undressing involved though. Everyone is still in their clothes as they drench themselves so it’s more of a rinse.
We tried washing our feet with the water (Do as the Romans do right?) and it was actually quite hot. The more interesting part for me was watching the playful kids splash each other. It is a nice experience but quite short since it only takes about 15 minutes.
Take a boat tour on the Kunchikumban Aru River Lagoon
Trincomalee has not only beaches but lots of mangroves. Take a boat tour on the Kunchikumban Aru River Lagoon and discover the many wildlife hidden behind the trees.
We took a two and a half hour tour and went deep into the mangroves. We spotted some eagles, cows, frogs and several big birds that I could not remember the names of. Our guide told us that there are also crocodiles. We didn’t see any, unfortunately (or fortunately? 😛 )
Overall, this is a nice quiet activity to do in the mornings or late afternoon, when the sun is not so hot and the animals are more active. It’s like a mini safari. If you are heading to one of the national parks in Sri Lanka, like Minneriya, this would be a nice intro into the rich biodiversity on the island.
Interesting Things to do in Trincomalee Summary
Trincomalee is still an off the beaten path destination in Sri Lanka. Although small, there are enough activities here to keep you busy for a couple of days. Hope you enjoyed the places and activities I shared in this article. For more inspirations on things to do before or after Trincomalee, head to my post: Top 10 Beautiful Places to Visit in Sri Lanka.
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- Read up on the best advice: Lonely Planet: Sri Lanka Travel Guide
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