The White Seabirds at the Mannar Gulf
The Seabirds at the Mannar Gulf

Sri Lanka, the paradise full of wonders in the Indian Ocean, is a tourist hotspot. Simply, any traveler urges to visit and experience the surprise in it. Every inch of this wonderland has some attraction that magnifies the level of excitement of the visitors. One such area that is famous for its coastal beauty is Mannar.

This charming town of Mannar seems like a separate part of the country due to its gulf. However, Mannar is an island formed in the North Western part of the country. Though it is an island, it is quite close to the mainland with easy access. So, many visit this wonderful island as they explore this country.

Scroll down to know more about this beautiful coastal town in Sri Lanka!

What are the Best Places to Visit in Mannar?

There are many historical, cultural, and religious attractions in Mannar. Some of them are as follows.

  1. Mannar Island
  2. Shrine of our Lady of Madhu
  3. Mannar Bridge
  4. Yodha Wewa
  5. Thanthirimale
  6. The Doric at Arippu
  7. Baobab Tree
  8. Thiruketheeswaram Kovil
  9. Mannar Bird Sanctuary
  10. Mannar Fort
  11. Kunchukulam hanging Bridge
  12. Talaimannar port and Lighthouse

Continue reading to know more about these places.

1. Mannar Island

Mannar Island is always a visible part of the Sri Lankan map as it is formed as an extended branch on the top left side of the map. However, it acts as a causeway that connects this island with the mainland. Tourists usually visit this island due to its presence of Adam’s Bridge limestone shoals chain which is one of the connecting points between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadus. Specifically, it connects Mannar and Pamban Island. According to the geographical findings, centuries ago it used to be an erstwhile bridge to connect India and Sri Lanka.

However, the white sands, palm trees, gulls, terns, and Baobab trees out there attract visitors. Exploring fishing boats is one of the other activities that visitors enjoy when they visit this island. Besides, Mannar Island is living proof to show that Sri Lanka was once a main harbor of the traders as the island has some of the floral species native to Africa that have been planted by Arab merchants. Not only that but the crumbling colonial edifices present on the island also provide evidence of the colonial ruling of three nations, Portuguese, Dutch, and British. Other than that, the island was an affluent pearling center before LTTE hostage during the biggest civil war in Sri Lanka for decades.

Therefore, Mannar is one of the major centers in Sri Lanka as it boasts several valuable details related to the different periods of the long Sri Lankan history. However, now it is in its developing phase and is flourishing as a tourist hotspot in the country.

2. Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu

Sri Lanka, being a multi-religious country, is rich with much cultural diversity. It is evident through the number of religious monuments that you can see on this island. However, the Northern part of Sri Lanka is famous for the Hindu religion. Yet, Mannar also houses the holiest Catholic shrines in Sri Lanka. Hence, the flocks of pilgrims visit the shrine expecting to relax their minds.

Not only do the people in the respective religion visit it, but also large crowds of Buddhists, Hindus, and Protestants as well. Hence, this is one of the busiest religious sites on the island. Some visit here not to worship it, but to spend some quality time in a peaceful environment.

At the same time, this Roman Catholic shrine holds a history that goes back more than 400 years. This shrine is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and that is the main reason for having such an attraction. When investigating the history, it reveals that the establishment of the shrine was a result of the Dutch invasion.

During the period of the Dutch invasion, they persecuted the Catholic Church from the Southern part of the country, and because of that, the Catholics fled to the Northern part of the country. In the course of it, despite the haste, they did not forget to carry the statue of Mary from their local church with them. Then only the new shrine using the statue of Mary was established. It is like they took their God with them and kept her with them. It says that this is the very reason for them to believe that this shrine and their Goddess are spiritually powerful.

3. Mannar Bridge

Mannar Bridge is a road bridge that is in Mannar, which originally connects Mannar and the Sri Lankan mainland. This is the sole road bridge that is there to reach the highly populated Mannar Island.

It was originally a single-lane causeway established in the 1930s. It was completely destroyed by a deadly explosion during the civil war. Hence, in 2007 a plan was executed to build up a new bridge along with the reconstruction of the massive damages that took place due to the tense civil war. Before that also the authority took steps to rebuild the exploded bridge, but it was not effective as the strength was not enough to bear vehicles weighing more than 10 tons. It was just a quick decision taken by the authority to normalize the interrupted transportation from the mainland to Mannar.

With all these developments, now the bridge has become a two-lane bridge making all the traveling between Mannar and the mainland easier. It is now a part of the A14 Medawachchiya-Talaimannar highway. The disorder of the bridge made the development a far cry to Mannar as that was the only way to reach Mannar. But now it is in its path of development as transport has become easier between Mannar and the mainland. Also, the renovation and complete construction of the bridge made it one of the most visited tourist destinations in Sri Lanka as well.

4. Yodha Wewa

There are a number of waterfalls, tanks, rivers, lakes, streams, and even ponds everywhere covering most of the county with water bodies. Despite being a coastal city, Mannar also houses one of the major landmarks of Sri Lanka, Yodha Wewa aka Giant Tank.

When we look into the tanks in Sri Lanka, one common feature one can find in history is that the majority of the tanks were established by the kings of Sri Lanka. Similarly, Yodha Wewa is also a creation of King Dathusena who reigned the country during the 5th Century. Also, the records reveal that this particular tank was later restored by one of the other significant kings of Sri Lanka, King Parakramabahu I during his reign in the 12th Century.

Further, the Giant Tank is one of the best examples to prove the advancement of ancient Sri Lanka’s irrigation system. It was revealed during the colonial period when both the Dutch and British investigated it with the intention of restoring it. Being one of the significant tanks in Sri Lanka, the Giant Tank solely attracts hundreds of people to Mannar. Even the students who study history and irrigation systems choose this Giant Tank to work on their projects and research studies as well.

People call this area the Giant’s tank sanctuary considering the wildlife that lies beside it. However, it says that to get the experience of Yodha Wewa, one should take a ride in a fishing boat as the tank is extended to quite an area. Further, according to the locals, this tank is one of the best places to have a successful bird-watching session as one can spot quite a number of local and foreign birds at the site.

5. Thanthirimale

Thanthirimale is a rural, yet famous village situated in the vicinity of Mannar. It is approximately 80 kilometers away from Mannar town, and 40 kilometers northwest of the ancient city, Anuradhapura. It originally belongs to Anuradhapura city. So, the ones who visit Mannar, as well as Anuradhapura, do not miss out on a tour around Thanthirimale village.

It is not a sophisticated village, but an old one. It is particularly famous because of its ancient temple, Thanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya. Many consider this temple one of the important Buddhist monuments in Sri Lanka. Hence, it becomes a major attraction for Buddhists as there are dozens of things to explore and learn from this temple. According to the records, the history of this temple goes back to the 3rd Century B.C. Then, later, Buddhist monks reconstructed it during the 1960s.

This has also become an attraction because of its location surrounded by stones. It says that it is the reason for the temple being retained this long as well. Further, Thanthirimale is highly famous for its ruins along with the two impressive stone statues and several stone ponds. The perfect finishing in these stone-carved statues and ponds mesmerizes foreign visitors. Indeed, that is something rare to witness in the whole world.

Apart from observing the village, temple, ruins, stone carved statues, and ponds, a huge number of Buddhist devotees also explore more about the religion and its establishment with the help of Thanthrirmale Stupa. So, the Buddhist devotees, and also the occasional explorers, sightseers, and travelers flood the lands of Thanthirimale throughout the year. Despite being several kilometers away from Mannar, it has become a major attraction in Mannar and a reason for attracting visitors to Mannar.

6. The Doric at Arippu

The Doric at Arippu of course is a place that the visitors of Mannar stop by, yet situated about 40 kilometers away from Mannar Island. This has several names such as Doric bungalow or the Doric at Eastern Arippu in Mannar. Here you have the ruins of a resident that once served as the home for the first British Governor of Ceylon, Frederick North.

According to the historical details, this building was built in the 19th Century. The records also say that the intention of making this building was to help the revival of Sri Lanka’s pearl fisheries. However, it has gained this name due to the presence of its columns designed in the image of the ancient Greek Doric order. The outer wall of the building was decorated with lime plaster; the lime of burnt oyster shells. Therefore, it seems to have a marble-like appearance.

According to the remaining parts of the building, one can suggest that this is a storey building with four small bedrooms on the ground floor with a large staircase in the center. The bedrooms are in the four corners of the ground floor making the staircase a highlight. On the upper floor, there could be two rooms; one bedroom and another one that is particularly bigger than a bedroom. One can suggest that it could have been a dining room that had a space to occupy around 20 people. Although the initial resident of this bungalow was the governor, it says that after his period it was used by several officials and government agents with the same intention of supervising the pearl fishery.

However, in the present day, the Doric is considered a conserved archeological monument.

7. Baobab Tree

Among the several attractions in Mannar, the Baobab tree scores a good number of marks as several visitors visit Mannar just to witness the tree. Being one of the major attractions in Mannar, it is situated precisely at the tip of Mannar Island about 1 – 2 kilometers away from the main town. This Baobab tree is uprooted at a height of 7.5 meters with a circumference of 19.5 meters. Simply, it is a huge tree that resembles a standing elephant.

The motherland of these trees is Africa. There, these trees are famous as upside-down trees as the branches of these trees look like roots. Even in Sri Lanka, this Baobab tree has grown as such, but it is known as ‘Ali Gaha’ or ‘Elephant Tree’ considering its rough bark that resembles the skin of an elephant. Due to this unique appearance and as this is one of the few Baobab trees within the territories of Sri Lanka, huge crowds visit this place every year.

According to history, Sri Lanka got this tree from the Arabs during their trade journeys through Sri Lanka. Hence, it says that this tree can be over 700 years old. Looking at its retaining time span, there is nothing surprising about the tree being famous. Because of the rarity of these species, the authority has taken action to conserve this Baobab tree as it is one of around 40 surviving Baobab trees in the country.

After all, this baobab tree attracts a huge number of visitors to Mannar as it keeps the travelers enchanted when they come to witness it. Simply, due to the never-failing prosperity of this country, even a tree can make the world aware of the presence of this small island.

8. Thiruketheeswaram Kovil

Sri Lanka is well-known for its multi-national population and the incredible peace among all the religions in the country. The majority of the population is Buddhists, Yet, we can also find Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Christians, and even Malays within this territory. Not only that the country is rich with several religious communities, but with their religious monuments as well. It gives importance to every religion equally while each other respects every religion without an exception. However, the majority of the Hindu community is living in the Northern part of the country and thus, one can find the greatest number of Hindu religious monuments in the Northern part. Among them, Thiruketheeswaram Kovil in Mannar gains more attraction due to its structure and spiritual powers. People also call it Ketheeswaram temple or Tirukktsvaram in Sri Lanka.

According to the records, this is one of the ancient Kovils in Mannar. Thus, Hindu devotees as well as the occasional explorers and devotees from other religions visit it.

Regarding the origin of the Thiruketheeswaram temple, there are several stories according to the different legends. Some say that this Kovil is a man-made one in dedication to Shiva while some others say that the Kovil is a God-made one, dropped to the place. However, there is no way to confirm the origin, but it says that the temple is at least 2500 years old. Neither the origin nor the date is exact but the Kovil is in a good condition despite the exact details. The reason for that is because, after the massive destruction that happened to several monuments during the Portuguese invasion, the authority took action to renovate them during the 20th century. The renovation happened in the 1950s with the help of the Thiruketheeswaram Restoration Society.

9. Mannar Bird Sanctuary

Sri Lanka is all about nature and wildlife. Therefore, one can find a huge number of conserved forest areas, wildlife parks, aqua parks, and leisure parks. Among them, there are bird sanctuaries all around the country providing space to all the endemic and migrating birds while taking action to conserve them. One such sanctuary is the Mannar Bird Sanctuary which spans an area of more than 4800 hectares.

People also call it the Vankalai Lagoon or the Vankalai Sanctuary. This sanctuary serves mainly as a habitat for migratory birds providing a variety of different ecosystems. In fact, its land is rich with mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons, waterholes, grasslands, and many more. So, the area hosts more than 20,000 water birds during the migratory season with exceptional feeding and living habitats.

When it comes to the bird population of Mannar bird sanctuary, there are spot-billed duck, the comb duck, the long-toed stint, peregrine falcons, and the very rare Eastern Black-tailed godwit. One can even spot the flamingos within the territory as well.

According to the records, the sanctuary houses around 150 bird species. It includes other marine creatures such as fish, turtles, dugongs, and crocodiles as well. However, the migrating birds choose the Mannar Bird Sanctuary as their first stop when they are flying toward Sri Lanka. That is because they know that this sanctuary provides accommodation for them to have a proper rest.

You don’t have to pay to visit Mannar Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary has wonders to witness for about 3 whole hours. However, the experience you can gain from wandering around this sanctuary is incredible and makes you speechless.

10. Mannar Fort

Forts are major landmarks that were established all around Sri Lanka by the colonists who invaded the island back in its history. There are mainly a few Forts and all of them are quite famous among both locals and foreign crowds. Among them, Mannar Fort which is more popular as Mara Kai and Mannar Balakotuwa in Tamil and Sinhalese languages respectively is at the top of the list.

Mannar Fort is on the Southern tip of Mannar Island, a little outside of the main town. The fort is originally a creation of the Portuguese. Later, even the Dutch renovated it. Hence, one can say that the Mannar Fort is a combination of two powerful colonizers who invaded ancient Ceylon back in the mid-19s. At the same time, in the latter part of the colonial period, the British also ruled the Fort but did not make major amendments to it.

The Fort allows the visitors to explore the four bastions and the architectural beauty of its uniquely designed, square-shaped territory. The Fort obviously adds beauty to Mannar. Its location between Mannar island and the Sri Lankan mainland adds more to it. And yes, the bridge builds the connection between these two places. After all, this is one of the best places to experience an eye-catching sunset.

Nowadays, the Mannar Fort is an archeological site and the Department of Archeology maintains it. All these values attract more and more visitors to this place.

11. Kunchukulam Hanging Bridge

 As mentioned above, Sri Lanka is rich with inland water sources. Even some of them were created in the past with the sole intention of developing certain industries in the country. Malwathu Oya is one such thoughtfully irrigated water source. This flows through Mannar. In order to cross this quite expanded stream, there is quite an unusual bridge, which is famous as the Kunchukulam hanging bridge.

This bridge is not fulfilling the purpose of crossing the bridge for every purpose as it is a hanging one. It is in the thick jungle within a part of Wilpattu Wildlife Sanctuary where Malwathu Oya streams down through. The adventure-loving tourists visit this jungle to witness the unusual beauty of this bridge. So, this bridge is a major tourist attraction that makes visitors visit Mannar.

Within the territory of this island, there are few such bridges. Of course, they add value to the existing beauty of the country. The locals name these bridges Ellena palama or Sangili palama which particularly means hanging bridge or suspension bridge. This is a steel bridge and it includes two strong cables beside and steel sheets across the bridge.

Being close to the turnoff to the Madhu church, it belongs to the Madhu division of Mannar. However, the beauty of this bridge hanging in the thick forest makes the visitors speechless. The best of it comes when the rain falls down. When the rain falls the stream starts to conquer the bridge and the water drains down like a waterfall from all over the bridge. Including that the bridge gives so many cinematic and satisfactory views that make a person forget the world beyond for a moment.

12. Talaimannar Port and Lighthouse

 Since the blue waves of the Indian ocean surround Sri Lanka, its coastal line becomes a major attraction. It is the same in history as well when the colonial nations ruled the country. It is because of that attraction they took several steps to improve the areas. One of the major steps was erupting lighthouses as significant naval signs and landmarks. One such lighthouse is the Talaimannar lighthouse along with its port.

As usual Talaimannar lighthouse is also a cylindrical-shaped white tower with dazzling lights on the top where the gallery is. According to the record, it is 19 meters in height which means 62 feet. This seems like a lone tower in the far corner of Mannar. Yet, it was once the busiest area where a lot of vital business took place.

The records say that the Talaimannar port and lighthouse were built in 1915. However, after the civil war started, its highest effect was on the Northern part than on any other region. Hence, the maintenance of the lighthouse drained off during that time.

Along with the victory of the war, the whole country led towards development. Accordingly, this city was also developed with modifications at the Talaimannar port and lighthouse. Then, this city was open to the general public and foreigners.

Besides, there is another significance about this port and lighthouse. This is the only place where both an A-grade railway and road end together. Further, this place initially had a ferry service which was a part of the Indo-Lanka railway service that took passengers between Talaimannar and Rameshwaram Island in India.

How to Reach Mannar?

From the main cities in Sri Lanka, Kandy and Colombo, there are primarily four ways to reach Mannar; by bus, by taxi, by train, or by driving your own vehicle.

If you are reaching Munnar by bus, taxi, or private vehicle you have to take the route to Anuradhapura and then to Mannar from there. If you are choosing the rail journey as your traveling mode, you can take a direct train from Colombo Fort to Mannar. Of course, that would be the most effective way of traveling to this city. The trip would take around 7-8 hours but it will be very easy and comfortable. 

Weather and Climate of Mannar 

Mannar is in one of the warmest regions of the country. Hence, one needs to be very alert about the temperature and endurability of this area. According to the records, it says that the warmest period of Mannar is from April to July. Therefore, the climate period that is suitable for a quality tour around Mannar is from September to January. During that time, there is a fairly cool climate in Mannar that is suitable for a tour.

Accommodation in Mannar

Being a major tourist hotspot in Sri Lanka, it is not really hard to find accommodation around Mannar. It usually covers a wide range of facilities such as hotels, bungalows, homestays, and villas. The only thing is that it is quite hard to find super luxurious accommodation facilities within the territory of Mannar. However, the majority of the available facilities cover the basic facilities and are in a good condition.

Food Culture in Mannar

As mentioned before, Mannar has a higher population of the Hindu religion. Therefore, one can witness more Hindu culture and traditions in this area. However, you can find all kinds of food in this area including Sinhala and Tamil food items. Even you can find International cuisines in this area but it is a bit rare. However, you can easily find street food stalls all over this town. It is kind of a tradition in that part of the country. 

The Bottom Line

After hearing all these details about Mannar, no one could ignore Mannar and proceed with their tour plans. Also, no one would like to miss a tour around this highly attractive tourist destination of Sri Lanka. So, add Mannar to your bucket list immediately and plan your journey in a way that you cover all these places. Happy and safe traveling!