Connected by a causeway over the blue waters full of birds to the mainland is the largest islet of the country – the island of Mannar. It overlooks the Gulf of Mannar on the North West coast of Sri Lanka and is 321 km from Colombo. Mannar has morphing landscapes from tree covered jungles to green paddy fields and open dry plains with swinging palm trees. A local hub for fishery and has many places of historical and religious significance. The Mannar Fort was built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century and was rebuilt by the Dutch. The town of Mannar has revered places of worship with its Our Lady of Madhu Church which is a very popular Catholic Church known for bringing blessings to all who visit the church; the Thirukketeeswaram Kovil which is venerated by the Tamil Hindus since it is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and the Goddess of Gowri Ambal, a form of Goddess Pattini. Adam’s Bridge, a chain of little lands that separate the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Straits was once a land that connected Southern India to Sri Lanka. Renowned for baobab trees, Mannar is thriving with many. There is the largest ancient irrigation reservoir known as Giant’s Tank or Yodha Wewa in the heart of Mannar. It feeds several minor tanks that irrigate all the paddy fields of Mannar thereby sustaining cultivation in the area.
Talaimannar, a quiet fishing village on the western region of the island, is believed to be the windiest place in all of Sri Lanka. Due to its strong winds the quiet village is also popular for kite-surfing and kite-boarding. The area is also considered to be somewhat of a birder’s paradise, so look out for some magnificent winged creatures as you make your way across the island. For a more historical experience, make your way to the Doric Bungalow at Arippu East, it is the residence of the first British Governor of Ceylon, Frederick North.
The once sleepy and dusty town of Mannar is rapidly evolving into a popular tourist destination due to its many beautiful sites and attractions.
Mannar district was originally part of the Rajarata Kingdom during the pre-historic centuries. Thereafter it fell to the regime of the Jaffna Kingdom and eventually taken over by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British colonists. Once the British had assumed full control of the entire nation of Ceylon, they had segregated the country into three administrative divisions based on ethnicity as of Low country Sinhalese, Kandyan Sinhalese and Tamil. Mannar district, however fell under the Tamil administration along with Jaffna and Vanni districts hence forming the Northern Province of Sri Lanka post independence.
Mannar district was under the control of the civil war rebels Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for years during the long and tedious civil war and was recaptured by the Sri Lanka Army during the end of the war in 2008.
How to get there
From Colombo – Mannar is easily accessible by bus, train or car.
By Bus – you can take the bus from Colombo Central Bus Stand in Pettah which would take approximately 8 hours of travel to Mannar.
By Train – There are two trains departing from Colombo Fort Station to Mannar daily in the morning at 08:50 am which is the long distance train taking approximately 10 hours and in the evening at 19:15 pm being the express train taking approximately 8 hours.
By Car – if you are driving or hiring a vehicle in which Epic Sri Lanka Holidays could make arrangements for you, you can go via the Katunayake Expressway (E03) towards Katunayake and take the Canada Friendship road AB9 towards Kurunegala and follow the A28 highway to the Old Puttalam road leading you towards Anuradhapura and take Thanthirimale road to Medawachchiya-Talaimannar highway and continue till Mannar. The drive would take approximately 6 and half hours.
However for a more adventurous drive, you can take the road towards Puttalam via Chilaw on passing through Negombo and upon reaching Puttalam you travel inland on the A12 passing through Wilpattu where you could get a glimpse of the wildlife in the National Park and just before Anuradhapura you turn left getting onto A14 from Medawachchiya to Mannar.
From Jaffna – There are plenty of frequent daily buses that operate every 30 minutes from Jaffna Central Bus Stand to Mannar. A car drive would take little over two hours along the Navakkuli-Karativu-Mannar highway (A32).
From Anuradhapura – By car you can take the A12 highway which is the Puttalam-Anuradhapura-Trincomalee highway and then proceed along the Medawachchiya-Talaimannar highway and continue till Mannar. There are trains from Anuradhapura at midnight at 00:10 am and another in the afternoon at 14:35 pm which take two and half hours. There are buses (No. 4-13) that come from Puttalam through Anuradhapura to Mannar, therefore these are the buses that you could take.
The average temperatures in Mannar does not vary much since it is hot all year with very low chance of rainfall most of the year. The warmest month is generally late May where the highest temperatures are regularly around 91.5°F (33.1°C) with temperatures rarely dropping below 82.3°F (27.9°C) at night. Therefore the best time to visit is from end May to September.
Food & Drink
Since Mannar is slowly developing after the civil war it has several restaurants and eateries that serve all types of food with the popular being south Indian dishes. From the dosa, sambar, parata to traditional rice and curries. There are many hotels that serve up fine dining dishes such as Shell Coast Resort that serves Sri Lankan and International cuisine with the main being fresh local fish, Hotel Ahash serves all types of cuisines and they also serve fresh seafood from the ocean at Mannar with their specialty dish being the Seafood Kool and The Palmyrah House can cater food according your taste and they are well recommended for the local food.
Adam’s Bridge – A bridge steeped in mythology and legend connecting Sri Lanka to India. This 30 kilometre long bridge separates the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Strait by a string of little sandy islets that was once a complete strip of land. It is a crucial nesting area and haven for many migratory birds and the most popular site for kiting.
Mannar Fort – A piece of Sri Lanka’s maritime heritage, the Mannar Fort is a fortified structure located by the causeway on Mannar Island which is surrounded by waters. It was first built by the Portuguese in 1560, then the Dutch and eventually surrendered to the British in 1795. Today its ruins still retain the charm and give beautiful views of Mannar town and the Gulf of Mannar.
Baobab Trees – The Baobab trees in Sri Lanka are a thing of mystery for its appearance in the island and its rare and unique features are fascinating. Mannar is renowned for its oldest and largest yet behemoth baobab tree which captivates every viewer with its unusual shape and huge branches. Baobab trees are a rare species therefore it is protected in Sri Lanka and has become a phenomenon for travellers who visit from all around the world.
Giant’s Tank – Giant’s Tank is an irrigation reservoir built by King Dhatusena in the very early centuries. It irrigates water to 162 smaller tanks which in turn gives water to hectares of paddy fields. The waters of the reservoir are full of fresh water fish which is a delight for local fishermen and is an ideal attraction for bird watching since many birds flocks to the reservoir to quench their thirst.
Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu – Considered to be the most sacred and mystic Shrine for Catholics in Sri Lanka. It has been revered for its miraculous powers of healing and it is steeped in history which spans over 400 years continuing to be a beacon offering hope and inspiration, not only to Catholics but to all faiths. It hosts the feast festival of Madhu which is held on 15th August every year.
The Doric Bungalow – It is the residence of the first British Governor of Ceylon, Frederick North, son of the British Prime Minister. The bungalow was planned by the Governor himself and was named as such due to the architectural style of the house, reminiscent of the ancient Greek Doric Order. The house was built to revive and supervise the pearl fisheries of the area.
Thirukketeeswaram Kovil – This temple was one of five Ishwarams and is venerated by the Hindus and is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and Hindu Goddess Gowri Ambal, another form of Goddess Pattini. Thiruketeeswaram was connected with the ancient port which was used as a gateway into the island by sea traders. Therefore, it has been considered that the temple was built by South Indian traders and merchants.
Thanthirimale – Thanthirimale temple is located in a rock covered area in an old village 78 kilometres from Mannar. A temple of reverence and historical value since the sapling of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree was brought and kept there for a night and a branch was believed to have grown which was planted here to commemorate the incident.
Mannar Beach – Mannar beach or Keeri Beach is an unspoilt stretch of white sand and turquoise blue waters making it an ideal location for swimming and relaxation.
Donkeys – These ‘beasts of burden’ that were descendants of the breed introduced to Sri Lanka by Arab traders many an era ago, fascinates every visitor with its numbers in many colours dotting all over the streets of Mannar. The Donkeys were of value to the people in keeping the insect coconut beetle at bay since they possess special insect repellent qualities.
Mathota Rajamaha Viharaya – Located in a little town in Mannar district is the historic Mathota Rajamaha Viharaya, a temple that was given its name after the ancient port of Mathota in Mannar. It has historical signifance relating to the belief that Sangamiththa, daughter of Indian emperor Ashoka, had arrived here and rested for a night whilst on her journey to Anurdhapura from Jaffna with the sapling of the Sacred Bodhi Tree.
Bird Watching in Mannar – Mannar is one huge bird paradise. Considered an important resting point for migratory birds from October to March, it has been a magnet for many species of birds which are not found in the southern half of the island. Such sites are Giants Tank and the Vankalai Sanctuary.
Kite Surfing in Mannar – Mannar has been the most recently discovered destination for kite surfing and kite boarding in Sri Lanka. It includes part of Adam’s Bridge which has endless flat waters with pristine nature along with the strongest and most consistent wind in the entire island. The sandy beaches and lagoons offer great riding conditions for all levels of kite surfing.