Trincomalee is a port town situated in the north east of Sri Lanka. I found it to be the perfect blend of culture and fun and had the best time ever. Trinco – as it is popularly known – is LONG. I arrived at the bus station, which is located in Trinco City. I didn’t find a lot of convenient stay options or even a lot of backpackers for that matter, in Trinco City, but that’s really because travellers prefer to stay closer to the beaches that are further up north. Trinco City is a great base to explore the city itself, because there’s no dearth of things to do and I spent a night here so I could do at least some.
I moved up north to Uppuveli, which is where the larger crowd goes. Uppuveli Beach is by far the most popular beach in Trincomalee, and I found lots of fellow travellers here. Plenty of hotels, restaurants, and bars dot the area and I never felt like I was out of options. I stayed at a hotel that is run by the nicest host ever, and he helped me plan my stay there really well.
Way up north is Nilaveli beach. It’s quite far out, and not as frequented by travellers, which makes it a lesser crowded destination who visit. You could either visit the beach on a day trip or stay there for a night or two. My snorkel trip departed from there, so I got a chance to see the beach as well.
There’s a lot that you can do in Trincomalee, so give yourself a good 3 days to explore!
8 Awesome Things to do in Trincomalee
1. Go snorkelling!
The waters of Trinco are blue and crystal clear, giving you a stunning view of life under the surface. There are beautiful, colourful coral reefs, plenty of fish in the sea (lol sorry, not sorry), and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a shark!
A lot of tour operators sell packages to – and a lot of tourists prefer – Pigeon Island. It is one of the most popular snorkel spots in Sri Lanka, since it comes with the possibility of seeing sharks, but when I was speaking to my host at the hotel and some locals, all of them mentioned that Pigeon Island had turned into a coral graveyard because of excessive and irresponsible tourism. Corals grow at an astonishingly slow rate, and one touch can destroy decades of growth. Imagine throngs of people stepping on corals and smashing their way through the sea. Not cool, right? They also mentioned that a lot of people pee directly into the water, and that destroys the corals too.
I can’t be a part of that.
I couldn’t bring myself to be another human contributing to the destruction of marine wealth, so I chose not to visit Pigeon Island, even if it meant I’d probably miss out on seeing a shark.
That, however, does NOT mean there aren’t other gorgeous snorkel spots! My host suggested one, and arranged for an operator to take me there. I went snorkelling at 2 different spots, had the ENTIRE AREA to myself, and saw some STUNNING marine life. Giant, vibrant corals. Lots of fish – I spotted a Nemo, plenty of Dory-s, and so many more. The clear, CLEAR water is still calling me and I’m itching to go back!
I feel a little bad for not posting about it here openly, but I really don’t want it completely commercialised and ruined like Pigeon Island. So here’s what. If you really want to go snorkelling in Trincomalee, and are truly passionate about caring for the environment, HIT ME UP! Drop me an email (Get in Touch) or sliiiiide into my DMs (Instagram) and I’ll give you all the deets. Okay?
Cost: LKR 3000 | INR 1200
2. Whale watching
Whales are such BEAUTIFUL CREATURES!! Now a lot of whether you spot a whale or not is based on luck, and I wasn’t lucky enough to spot a whale, which kinda hurt when I heard stories from others of the incredible sightings they had, but that’s nature for you!
I did see a lot of dolphins though! You will DEFINITELY spot dolphins jumping in and out of the water, coming up and doing an arc and just gliding right by your boat when you go out into the sea. Just for THAT, I would recommend a trip.
I don’t have an operator to recommend. I went with a company called Prasanth Water Activities and wasn’t very impressed with their service. Yes, I saw tons of dolphins, lots and lots of them and was left gasping with wonder. But where these guys lose points is that I don’t think we spent enough time out there waiting for whales. From what I’d heard, people had been out for two to three hours on the lookout for whales, but I was back within an hour, and that left me feeling unfulfilled. You know the dissonance – ‘ But there are still people out there who might see a whale but I won’t because I’m back early!’
Check with a couple of tour operators before finalising one is all I will say!
Cost: LKR 3000 | INR 1200
3. Visit Frederik Fort
If you are as interested in culture and history as I am, take a walk through Frederik Fort in Trinco City. This walled fort is still used as a military base, so you won’t be allowed inside the buildings, but it’s a lovely place to explore on foot anyway. I saw a lot of deer gambolling around. Go feed them a biscuit or two!
Fredrik Fort is easily reachable from the centre of Trinco City, either by Tuktuk or on foot.
4. Visit the Gokanna Raja Maha Viharaya
This is a Buddha temple located inside Frederik Fort. Local lore is that this is not the original Gokanna Raja Maha Viharaya. It initially stood at a place further up the hill, where the Koneswaram Temple now stands. That was destroyed, and the structure disappeared into the sea, where parts of it can still be found by free divers. Fascinating, no?
The temple is quite beautiful. A tall statue of Buddha stands over the city of Trinco. The temple overlooks the port, and I was there in time for sunset, so it was all rather spectacular. You can sit there for some time and just take it all in.
5. Koneswaram Temple
This is one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Sri Lanka. All you need to do is keep walking up the hill inside Fort Frederik, and you’ll be there. The temple is quite famous for its thousand-pillared hall. Once you’ve finished seeing the temple, go out back. The view of the bay is incredible, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a whale!
6. Chill at Fernando’s Bar
Fernando’s is by far THE most popular hangout in Uppuveli and with good reason. It’s a very, very aesthetic bar, with indoor, outdoor and upstairs seating, as well as beach chairs that you can rent if you’re not ordering anything. I met some fellow travellers here from Sigiriya, and met a bunch of new ones as well. I spent an entire evening here. Took a dip in the beach. Read a book. Came back in and ended up meeting people who I hung out with till dinner. Do yourself a favour and skip the food, though. It’s rather unremarkable. There are way better places to eat in Trincomalee! More on that in a bit.
7. Go to Nilaveli Beach
Nilaveli beach is the one that is faaaaar up north. It was my pick-up and drop-off point for when I went snorkelling, so I got rio spend some time here. This long stretch of beach has stunning blue waters and pale sand, fewer tourists, quite a few locals, swinging coconut trees and an aura of complete chill. I could’ve literally sat there at a cafe, with a pineapple lassi (it’s a thing in Sri Lanka) and a book all day long. It’s peace.
8. Eat some DELICIOUS local food
I gotchuuuuuuu!!! There are plenty of places to eat in Trincomalee, and if local fare is your thaaaaaang, then TAKE DOWN THESE NAMES!!
New Raheemiya Hotel, Trinco City. It’s a very small, local join tucked away in a busy street in Trinco City. Don’t go by how it looks. It’s a FAVOURITE among locals, and that means they’re doing SOMETHING right! I had the hoppers here (which were sold out by the time I went) but they managed to put together an egg hopper and a plain hopper for me. I was STILL hungry, so I ordered a roti with kurma instead, and it was SO DELICIOUS and SO CHEAP that I couldn’t believe my luck. The Kotthu looked delicious too, and I might’ve given it a chance if I wasn’t full by then. Ah well.
Trinco Lanka Restaurant, Uppuveli. This was right outside my hotel, so I simply walked across the road and plopped myself there and ordered a seafood kotthu. Okay, so a kotthu is basically roti, vegetables and your choice of meat all chopped up, tossed together with some condiments, and served like a pile of pasta. It is full of flavour and one of my favourite Sri Lankan dishes to try.
Rice ’n’ Curry, Uppuveli. No prizes for guessing what they serve. The traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry is an entire meal consisting of rice served with dal and a number of vegetable and meat curries, coconut sambol and pickle. It’s the ultimate Sri Lankan indulgence and this place serves some of the BEST rice and curry I have eaten in Sri Lanka and tops the charts in Trincomalee!
Here’s a good way to plan out 3 days in Trincomalee
Morning: Arrive in Trinco City and settle into your accommodation
Afternoon: Visit Frederik Fort, Koneswaram Temple and the Gokanna Raja Maha Viharaya
Morning: Move to Uppuveli Beach and check into hotel
Afternoon: Lunch at Trinco Lanka restaurant. Then go to Fernando’s and spend some time at the beach
Evening: Dinner at Rice ‘n’ Curry
Morning: Leave for snorkelling
Afternoon: End snorkel session and arrive at Nilaveli Beach. Spend rest of the day at Nilavel.
Evening: Return to Uppuveli
Early morning: Leave for whale watching. Return by late morning. Check out from hotel and depart for your next destination.
Of course, this is only a sample itinerary and you can totally play around as you wish.
The local bus network is pretty reliable. I took a bus from Sigiriya and arrived at Trinco City, from where I took a Tuktuk to everywhere else. Buses to Trincomalee connect from Colombo and Kandy as well, two major cities that normally feature on any Sri Lanka itinerary.
Where to Stay
I stayed a night in Trinco City at C-World hostel, which is walking distance from every landmark in the city and quite decent for a night.
I stayed at Alass-Ga Rooms in Uppuveli. A non-AC single room set me back by LKR 1500 a night. That’s roughly INR 600. I got a very clean room in a very nice hotel, a very helpful host, and a great location to base myself at. Highly recommend.
I booked both on Booking.com. You can use this link to get 10% back on your booking!