Located almost 7 hours up north from the commercial capital of Colombo and bordered by the Gulf of Mannar to the East, Mannar Island is quite an intriguing place to the casual traveller, as it was right in the thick of the 3-decade long Civil War. Even with such a volatile recent past, Mannar Island is slowly, but steadily, reconciling and moving forward to being a place of great historical and religious significance that greatly contributes to Sri Lanka’s rich heritage. Adorned with miraculous places of worship, unique natural landscapes and quite a rich history that dates back 5,000 years, Mannar Island will certainly be a surprise for anyone who visits the place.

Top Reason to Visit

Although not really a touristy place, due to being in the thick of the 3-decade long Civil War against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that was only ended in 2009, Mannar Island still provides the makings of being an important area that showcases the Sri Lankan colonial heritage with the Dutch Fort and the various churches that lie in the town. Coupled with other interesting places of worship and playing a central role in ancient mythology, Mannar has many reasons for you to visit the historic island.

While You’re There

Marvel at the colonial heritage:

The Mannar town itself really has no interesting sites, save for the Dutch Fort, sometimes called the Mannar Fort. It is quite dilapidated due to negligence, however, the 500 year old fortress still stands and boasts of the remains of a chapel, dungeon and a Dutch bell tower. It was initially built in 1560 by the Portuguese and subsequently expanded in 1695, when the Dutch gained the stronghold. A century later, the British colonisers captured and controlled the fortress. Walking on the ramparts really does justify the reason for the fort’s construction, as it was built to protect the offshore pearl banks from prying eyes.

Long standing places of worship and traditions:

One of the highlights of the island is the abundance of various places of worship that showcase the peaceful coexistence and diversity of the society that dwells in the place. One such notable place of worship is the Thiruketheeswaram Kovil that is also considered to be one of the major Hindu temples in Sri Lanka, as it is one of the ‘Pancha Ishwaram’ (The five historical Sri Lankan Shiva temples established to protect the island from natural disaster). Another notable place of worship is the Church of Our Lady Madhu, which is believed to have miraculous healing powers, especially from snake bites. Moreover, the church is also famed for the ‘Madhu Feast’ that commemorates the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to heaven in August and invites everyone to be a part of it, making it quite a spectacle.

Unique natural landscape:

Although its historical and religious landscape takes the limelight, Mannar is also known for being an interesting place that is home to some unique natural landscapes, especially in the form of the Baobab trees. It is believed that the native African tree was introduced 700 years ago by Arab traders and settlers, in order to provide adequate food for the camels, they brought with them. Locals call this tree the ‘ali gaha’ (elephant tree) due to its huge circumference that is measured to be 20 metres. It often comes as a surprise to many a traveller, since the very sight of the trees could make one think that they have suddenly been transported to Africa due to the complementing backdrop filled with greenery.

A bridge to the continent:

One of the ancient marvels, the ‘Adam’s Bridge’ can be seen offshore from the Talaimannar area of the Mannar Island. The bridge is believed to be man-made and has a strong connection to the ancient epic ‘Ramayana’ (a chronicle that depicts the conflict between King Ravana of Sri Lanka and King Rama of India). It is believed that Lord Hanuman, who was a friend of King Rama crossed this very bridge to enter the island of Lanka to help out his friend against the Demon King Ravana. The sand dune bridge has long been submerged underwater, however, recent satellite images do show evidence that the bridge was indeed man-made. Long before, the Talaimannar area was a ferry terminal too that followed the bridge to India in just 30 minutes. Although those times have long been gone, it certainly accentuates the rather, neglected town of Mannar.

Insider Advice

Travel: Getting about in Mannar is actually quite difficult, since there are not many transportation options. There are a few busses and relatively few tuk-tuks that you can hire, however, it is best to use the bus service due to the lower cost.

Weather: Typically, Mannar experiences a hot and humid climate all throughout the year, however, the months from May to September prove to be quite bearable, since temperatures average around 28°C and humidity is quite low too.

Money: Apart from the usual supermarkets, many of the shops do not accept debit or credit cards. Therefore, it is imperative that you carry cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, 50s and 100s.

Clothing: The town is quite rural and quite religious, so it is best to be clad modestly when going about the place.

Safety: Mannar is a safe neighbourhood with a very accommodating society, however, do be mindful of your belongings.

Meals and refreshments: There are only a few established eateries in the area, since it is quite rural. Therefore, it is best to opt for your accommodation provider to fill in that gap.

Mannar Island may not be your typical destination for a beach getaway, but it certainly has the potential of being a major tourist destination due to its rich heritage and culture that has endured the horrors of a Civil War. Therefore, making Mannar an important stop during your journey across the Paradise island of Sri Lanka.

Title image by: Roshie Kahandawela
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