Trincomalee, a treasure trove with a rich historical heritage carries significance and pride pertaining to trade, maritime and religion. Famed for its deep water natural harbour – a legend of the past and one of the finest in the world, Trincomalee has always been a popular resort port city which attracted many sea traders and explorers for many an era. It sits on the east coast of Sri Lanka, 265 kilometres away from the bustling city of Colombo.
Steeped in history, Trincomalee has the largest Dutch Fort in the country, Fort Frederick, which houses the sacred Hindu temple Koneswaram Kovil. Although the original kovil was destroyed by the Portuguese, it was newly restored on the highest point of the Swami Rock, a cliff within the fort. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Many of the artefacts that were housed by the original kovil were discovered underwater and returned. During World War II, Trincomalee was a British naval base, and it still home to major Sri Lankan naval bases and a Sri Lankan Air Force base.
Within the vicinity of the Koneswaram Kovil, there’s a cliff called Lovers’ Leap, which is a 350 ft drop that fascinates visitors due to the romantic legendary story behind its name – a British maiden jumping off the spot after losing her lover. The ancient Kanniya hot springs dating back to the legendary King Ravana period is another popular attraction. The water in these springs is believed to have therapeutic value.
Trincomalee is home to one of Sri Lanka’s maritime national parks, Pigeon Island, located a kilometre off the coast of Nilaveli beach. The island has a history of being used as a shooting range during the Colonial era and was eventually transformed into a sanctuary in 1963 and then declared a national park in 2003.
Trincomalee is surrounded by stunning beaches, amazing wildlife, majestic hilltops and beautiful rock formations. It is a one stop destination for every tourist seeking a holiday full of culture, adventure or simply a relaxation.
Trincomalee’s history deflects to its significant importance in relation to the political, social and economic factors of Sri Lanka. Due to its harbour being in a highly strategic position in the centre of the trade routes of the Indian Ocean, many international and local traders and rulers recognized its value. While Trinco, as it was commonly called, was a seaport it was also a venerated Hindu Pilgirmage site since 400 BC. Ancient inscriptions found in the city in the Tamil language give testimony to the oldest settlements being Tamil origin. Historical accounts refer to Trincomalee as Gokanna, since the harbour had a unique shape resembling a bull’s ear and the Sanskrit Language refers to this word ‘go’ as bulls.
Gokanna was taken over by the Arya Chakravarthi kings of Jaffna after the 12th century and was renamed as ‘Thirukonamalai’ in which the Tamil language refers the words, ‘thiru’ to Hindu places of worship on hills, ‘kona’ and ‘malai’ refer to peak and mountain thereby literally referring to sacred range of hills. This is clearly reflected by Hindu temples and shrines that dot all over the area. Thirukonamalai ultimately became the English name of Trincomalee .
Several historic events took place in the port of Gokanna which is of importance. King Vijaya’s successor, Prince Panduvasudeva had arrived to Sri Lanka from India by landing at the port of Gokanna. The Chola Dynasty invaded the country through the Gokanna port in which they had extended their power to the Polonnaruwa kingdom. King Vijayabahu restored Gokanna port as a commercial trade point after eradicating the Chola invaders in the year 1070 AD. Thereafter many invasions and conflicts arose which caused tensions between Sinhala Kings and the Arya Chakrawathi kings of Jaffna over the possession of the port.
During the colonial years of the Portuguese and Dutch, the port mainly functioned as a naval base and gained recognition as the best port during British rule for they had said it was large enough to host all the ships of the entire naval fleet.
How to Get There
From Colombo: There many ways of travel from Colombo to Trincomalee which are by train, bus and road.
By Train –A night mail train leaves Colombo Fort at 21:30pm and reaches there by 05:30am again taking about 8 hours of travel.
By Bus – you can take the AC intercity bus from Colombo Central Bus Stand in Pettah which leaves at 11pm and would take approximately 8 hours of travel to Trincomalee reaching by 5:25am.
By Road – if you are renting a car to drive or planning to taxi, it will be 5 and half hour drive from Colombo to Trincomalee via the Katunayake Expressway (E03) and then proceeding along the A6 which is the Ambepussa-Kurunegala-Trincomalee Highway from Kurunegala that ends up in Trincomalee.
By Air – if you would like to reach Trincomalee sooner then there are flights daily from Colombo to Trincomalee by Sri Lankan Air Taxi which is operated by Cinnamon Air at 10am and at 3:00pm. Although it is a costly mode of travel, you would experience beautiful views of Sri Lanka from the sky.
Our tour consultants at Epic Sri Lanka Holidays can make arrangements for vehicles for hire, make any flight bookings or train reservations for you.
The climate of Trincomalee is tropical wet and dry. The dry season is from March to June and the wet season for the rest of the year. However the best time to visit Trincomalee is from March to September since the Maha (North-East) monsoon runs from October to January. The average temperature in Trincomalee is 27 degrees with an average annual rainfall of 1631mm.
Food & Drink
The food in Trincomalee has been fashioned by history with foreign influences of the colonial and South Indian habitants. There is a striking variety of flavours from sour lime pickle to seeni sambol (sweet caramelized onions). Popular cuisine is curry and sambar. Recommended places are Anna Poorni Vegetarian Restaurant, Dutch Bank Café which is set on the shore of the bay and serves fiery curries and grilled fresh fish. New Parrot Restaurant is in the heart of the city which serves hoppers and Kottu roti. For snacks, head out to Happy Cream House which is famous for their delectable samosas. If you prefer to dine indoors and want to enjoy cuisine influenced by the west head to the tiny but delicious Cafe on the 18th.
Trincomalee Harbour: A major seaport situated by the Trincomalee Bay and is the 3rd largest natural harbour in the world. The Trincomalee harbour consists 1630 hectares of water and 5261 hectares of land. The entrance channel to the Port is 500m wide. Many local and international traders and explorers have travelled through this harbour.
Fort Frederick: Since Trincomalee was a popular trade spot, it was frequented by many sea traders from all over the world. Therefore the Portuguese constructed a fort with remnants of an ancient Hindu Temple which was the original Koneswaram Temple destroyed by the Portuguese. The original fort was a triangular fort named Fort ‘Triquillimale”. Eventually, the fort was captured by the Dutch in 1639, dismantling and rebuilding the fort renaming it, Fort Frederick. Ultimately, the fort was taken over by the British in 1795.
Trincomalee Beaches, Nilaveli, Uppuveli & Kuchchaveli Beach : Trincomalee, popularly referred to as “Trinco”, is home to an uninterrupted stretch of beautiful beach that runs towards north of Trinco for nearly 30 kilometres. This is known as Nilaveli Beach.
Pigeon Island: The Pigeon Island Maritime National Park is one of the two maritime national parks in Sri Lanka. The coral reefs make snorkelling and diving, popular activities in that region.
Koneswaram Kovil: Located within the Fort Frederick, beside one of the finest harbours in the world, the Koneswaram Temple sits on top of a gigantic cliff known as Swami Rock, facing the Bay of Bengal and the eastern coast of India. The Swami Rock rises above the city of Trincomalee. This rock is dedicated to Lord Shiva which is visited by many Hindus.
Pathirakali Amman Temple or Kali Kovil: In the same temple compound of Koneswaram Kovil, is the Pathirakali Amman Temple or Kali Kovil dedicated to the goddess Bhadrakali, a form of the goddess Kali Amman. Built in classical Dravidian architecture, the Kovil is located just before the entrance to Swami Rock.
Gokanna Vihara: According to historical references, Trincomalee was known as Gokanna in ancient times. The Gokanna Vihara was built by King Mahasen in the 3rd century by destroying a monastery that had existed on the Swami Rock.
The temple was destroyed by the Portuguese to build a fort. Gokanna Vihara is one of the 74 Buddhist sites identified at Trincomalee district by the Department of Archaeology in Sri Lanka.
Ravana’s Cleft/Lovers’ Leap: One of Koneswaram Temple’s most iconic geographic features—a huge cleft along the cliff face of Swami Rock, was the result of King Ravana, an ancient and mythical ruler of Sri Lanka. Ravana’s sword was said to be struck down by Lord Shiva, spinning down into the sea and cleaving Swami Rock in half along the way. This place is also referred to as Lovers’ Leap, named after two similar myths relating to suicides of heartbroken lovers.
The Hoods Tower Museum: This museum is a Naval Museum of the Sri Lankan Navy, an inclusive guide to observe the prestige and acclaim of Sri Lanka’s maritime power thrived along its coasts of Sri Lanka. It is situated inside the historic Naval Dockyard, Trincomalee.
Orr’s Hill Army Museum: Trincomalee, boasting a legendary maritime and war history, became more attractive when the Sri Lankan Army founded a state of the art Army Museum, the ‘Orr’s Hill Army Museum.” The museum is open air and is probably the first ever largest of the kind in Sri Lanka. It reminisces memories of the past as this architectural marvel is perched atop the notable “Orr’s Hill” overlooking the spectacular harbour of Trincomalee giving beautiful panoramic views of the blue seas.
Velgham Vehera: It is also known as Vilgham Rajamaha Viharaya, is situated next to the little reservoir known as Periyakulam. It is a Buddhist temple but referred to as Natanar Kovil by the Hindus. This monastery dates back into the 2nd century BC and was one of the few Buddhist temples, which was not destroyed by the medieval Cholas who had invaded the country.
The Maritime and Naval Museum: The Maritime and Naval Museum was founded in 2013. The Museum has many exhibition booths containing information of the country’s maritime history, marine biodiversity and information of the history of the local naval affairs. It occupies a restored and rehabilitated colonial building which was the former residence of the police chief of the Dutch Navy.
Marble Beach: One of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in the Trincomalee area. Crystal blue shallow waters and minimal waves make it an excellent bathing spot. Before the war, the beach was chiefly used by the Sri Lanka Air Force officers and remains under the control of the Sri Lanka Air Force. The name Marble beach comes from the Marble stones found in the area and it is an ideal holiday destination for families with children.
The Kanniya Hot Water Springs: A natural marvel that is entwined with myth and legend of ancient past. The hot water springs are said to be surface manifestations of subsurface hidden energy sources, however their origins are yet a mystery and is intricately linked with the history of this country dating back to the Ravana period over 5000 years ago. Whatever the origins and archaeological significance these springs provide their waters to all nationalities and religions. They are visited by hundreds of travellers a day, since most people believe that these waters have healing properties due to the mineral composition of the waters which can cure ailments and therapeutic powers to soothe their bodies, minds and souls.
Luxury Catamaran Sailing (Whale Watching) in Trincomalee: Set sail to the beautiful blue sea off the coast of Trincomalee, a seaside port with its grand harbour on a luxury catarman and visit the resort of Nilaveli Beach which has fascinating coral reefs ideal for diving, snorkelling and swimming. You can witness dolphins and whales that would come up to the surface and entertain you with their performances.
Whale and Dolphin watching in Trincomalee: The sandy beaches and shallow teal blue waters off the coast off Trincomalee has dolphins and whales popping up during the months of May to October. Its calm seas yield favourable conditions to go out to the deep sea to see the marine giants of Blue Whales and sperm whales truly making it a once in a lifetime opportunity. These mammals can be viewed around 6-8 miles east off the coast of Trincomalee which is approximately a 30 minutes boat ride. Most sightings of the dolphin occur between March/April and August/September.
Diving and Snorkeling in Trincomalee: Trincomalee has many dive sites which are located in Nilaveli Beach, Pigeon Island and Swami Rock. There are over 200 species of hard and soft corals, marine and aquatic life which include the Sting Rays and Moray Eels. The best time for diving and snorkelling is from April to October. The shipwreck called ‘Irrankandy’ which can be found 40 minutes off the coast is full of fish. The Pigeon Island Marine Park has a lot of corals, coral fishes, blacktip reef sharks and turtles.
Golf in Trincomalee: Located on the East coast of the island, the Eagle’s Golf course has spectacular views of the crystal blue waters of the Marble beach and well preserved gardens. The golf course spanning over 171 acres will test every golfer’s skill since it has a heap of challenges like sand bunkers and water hedges that are sure to yield a tough game. There is a green fee of $50 for foreign nationals. Other services pertaining to the sport like caddie, ball spotters and clubs are provided to the players on request.