Trincomalee travel guide

Trincomalee, or Trinco for short, is arguably one of Sri Lanka’s most underrated destinations. While plenty of tourists flock to the beautiful south coast of the island, only a few have started to venture to the northeast.

With a laidback attitude, long stretches of white sand and clear water, interesting Hindu culture, and delicious fresh seafood, Trincomalee has the perfect combination for a beach holiday. A handful of hotels and resorts, beachfront bars, and snorkelling centres have popped up along Uppuveli Beach, but it still feels a lot more raw and authentic compared to the south coast or Arugam Bay.

Whether you’re looking to relax on the sand, swim with turtles on Pigeon Island, or explore some Hindu temples, Trinco has plenty to keep you busy for a few days at least. I spent nearly a week there in Uppuveli Beach, and it was definitely one of my favourites places in Sri Lanka.

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How to Get There

Depending on how you’re organising your Sri Lanka itinerary, most people arrive in Trincomalee from the south, although you can also come from Jaffna in the north. The easiest way to reach Trinco is by local bus; trains to Trincomalee do exist but are generally a lot slower.

Here are the common ways to get there:

  • From Dambulla: There are several buses per day travelling between Dambulla and Trincomalee (mostly buses that have originated in Colombo) taking around 3.5 hours and costing about 600LKR (AU$3)
  • From Sigiriya: Take a local bus to Inamaluwa Junction for 80LKR which takes about 20-30 minutes, then wave down any bus number 49 passing through on the way to Trincomalee, journey will take about 3 hours and cost 500LKR (AU$2.50)
  • From Colombo: Regular buses (bus number 49) leave for Trincomalee in the morning taking about 7 hours or you can opt for a private night bus which leaves at 11pm
  • From Anuradhapura: There are a couple of buses running to Trincomalee per day which takes about 3-4 hours
  • From Jaffna: There are several buses per day travelling to Trincomalee taking around 5 hours and costing about 900LKR (AU$5)
View from Fort Frederick
View from Fort Frederick

How Long Should You Stay in Trincomalee

This really depends on how much time you’re willing to spend chilling at the beach. You could easily spend as little as two days in Trincomalee. There’s not a whole lot to do, but I would recommend staying for at least three days if you plan to tick off all the things I recommend to do below.

I stayed a week, and could have easily stayed longer. It’s a very easy place to hang out and watch the time pass as you relax in paradise. It’s less tourist-oriented than the south coast of Sri Lanka or Arugam Bay, so if you prefer to escape the party scene of down south, you can stay much longer in Trincomalee.

View of Trincomalee from the fort
View of Trincomalee from the fort

When to Visit

The best time to visit Trincomalee is from April until September. This is the dry season in the north of Sri Lanka, so you can expect very hot but dry days. The ocean is warm and clear during these months, so it’s perfect for snorkelling and diving. This is also the best time of year for whale watching, as most of the whales come up from the south coast.

Outside of these months, it’s considered low season in Trincomalee. The rainy monsoon brings a lot of miserable days and the water clarity becomes murky after October.

Where to Stay in Trincomalee

When travellers say Trincomalee they usually mean Uppuveli Beach, about 5km north of Trincomalee centre. Very few people opt to stay in town, with Uppuveli Beach being a very nice place to chill out.

If you want even more seclusion, you can also stay even further north in Nilaveli Beach, which is a beautiful white sand beach about 10km further north of Uppuveli. Here are my top picks for Uppuveli and Nilaveli:

The White House | I highly recommend this place for budget travellers or solo travellers. Rangan runs this small guest-house just one street back from the beach. He has two private rooms and one dormitory, with a lovely garden. He cooks delicious food and is a great snorkelling guide. Prices start from AU$16 per night. Check availability here.

Golden Beach Cottages | For something a little more upmarket and right on the beach, these double bed cottages boast sea views and have an onsite restaurant right on the sand. Prices start from around AU$40 per night. Check availability here.

Oceanic White House, Nilaveli | If you want to be further away from the main town, but closer to Pigeon Island, then this cute budget guesthouse is a nice option. Double rooms start from AU$20 per night. Check availability here.

Villa Nilaveli Cabana | For more luxury, try these cabanas right on the beachfront of Nilaveli. In a very quiet spot, you’ll find these double bed villas starting from AU$120 per night. Check availability here.

Beachfront restaurant in Trincomalee
Beachfront restaurant in Trincomalee

Where to Eat in Trincomalee

When staying in Uppuveli Beach area, you basically have two options for food; beachfront bars or more affordable local restaurants. There are some nice restaurants and bars along the beachfront, which offer beautiful sunset views and a mixture of Sri Lankan and Western food.

Otherwise, you’ll also find some more affordable restaurants along Sarvodaya Road, just back from the beach, which have some delicious Sri Lankan food a short walk from most accommodation. Here are my top picks:

  • Rice’n’Curry: A very popular place, their buffet rice and curry dinner is one of the best places to eat in town. They also do fresh seafood on request, at reasonable prices.
  • Nina’s Restaurant: My go-to for lunch, Nina’s restaurant is a family run place that serves up delicious rice and curry and other Sri Lankan favourites at reasonable prices.
  • Be Cool Juice Bar & Sea Food Restaurant: Back from the more fancier places, this small cafe is a great place for breakfast with delicious smoothies and juices. Or for dinner, go for the Sri Lankan classics like kottu.
  • Cafe on the 18th: If you’re looking for Western style food in a more upmarket setting, then this cafe is for you. It’s easily one of the most popular places in Trincomalee, particularly their breakfast and coffee. It’s on Uppuveli Beach next to Fernando’s Bar.
Swimming with a turtle
Snorkelling in Pigeon Island

9 Best Things to Do in Trincomalee

The stunning coastline around Trincomalee has plenty of things to keep you busy for a few days, especially if you’re keen to get in the water. Here are my recommendations for the best things to do in Trincomalee:

Snorkelling Trip to Pigeon Island

Trinco is one of the best places in Sri Lanka for diving and snorkelling. You’ll find beautiful coral reef and plenty of sea life up and down the coast and inside the bay. The most popular place for snorkelling is Pigeon Island National Park.

You can take a boat trip from Uppuveli or Nilaveli and spend a couple of hours snorkelling or diving around the reefs of Pigeon Island just off the coast. Here, you’ll find plenty of turtles, reef sharks, tropical fish, and colourful coral (although much of the coral is still regenerating from the 2004 tsunami).

I took a morning snorkelling trip to Pigeon Island with Rangan from The White House, and it was one of my highlights from Sri Lanka. You can read more about it in my post below.

Read more: Snorkelling Day Trip to Pigeon Island

Deer inside Fort Frederick
Deer inside Fort Frederick

Explore Fort Frederick

Fort Frederick was originally built in the 17th century by the Portuguese. Later taken over by the Dutch and then the British, it’s occupied by the Sri Lankan military today.

Built around the small peninsula jutting out into the ocean near Trincomalee town, it’s definitely a must see while exploring the east coast. The fortified walls are still very well preserved, along with some ruins of the former outposts.

You can wander around within the old fort, where you’ll find a couple of lookouts, many deer amongst the trees (random, I know!), and the famous Koneswaram Temple at the end of the point.

Note that as of 2023, there is an entry fee for the fort which is $10USD for foreigners.

Koneswaram Temple
Koneswaram Temple

Admire the Views from Koneswaram Temple

At the end of the peninsula and Fort Frederick is the famous Hindu temple, Thirukoneswaram temple. It’s one of the most important Hindu temples in the whole country, and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Believed to date back to 400BC, it’s been rebuilt and destroyed many times over the course of history. Currently, there are multiple small shrines, a prayer hall and large Shiva statue that occupy the site.

Wander around and admire the worshippers who come to prayer, as well as the incredible views of the ocean and harbour from behind the statue.

Uppuveli Beach
Uppuveli Beach

Relax on Uppuveli Beach or Nilaveli Beach

The benefit of staying in the Uppuveli Beach area is that you have a beautiful long beach stretching right along the coast just a short walk away. Some accommodation have their doors literally on the edge of the sand, while others are just one street back.

While not as crowded and tourist-oriented as other beaches on the south coast, Uppuveli has a few bars, sun bed lounges and snorkelling shops right on the sand. You can buy a drink and relax on the sun lounges for as long as you like.

For more seclusion, head north to Nilaveli Beach. This is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka, with a longe stretch of white sand, palm trees and very few people. It’s just 10km north of Uppuveli, so a tuk tuk will cost around 1200 LKR one way.

Sunset drinks on Uppuveli Beach
Sunset drinks on Uppuveli Beach

Sunset Drinks on the Beach

Head down to the beach in Uppuveli around sunset time for a drink at one of the bars. Many of them have happy hour specials where you can enjoy a Pina colada or try the local arrack.

The most popular spot is Fernando’s Bar, which has an appealing vibe around sundown and the only real place in Trincomalee where you can enjoy a bit of a party atmosphere. During the day, they have sun beds, fresh juices, and snacks. However, for the price, I think there’s better places to eat in Trinco.

Boat ride to Pigeon Island
Boat ride to Pigeon Island

Go Whale Watching

Trincomalee is also famous for being the seasonal home of Blue Whales, the largest mammal on earth. You can go whale watching or even swimming with blue whales, usually in the dry season from April until September. However, they migrate around the island and the timing can be difficult to predict sometimes.

However, whale watching and diving trips usually require a 30-40km boat trip off shore, so be prepared for a long day. Contact Rangan to know more about diving with blue whales. His WhatsApp no is +94 715213701 or you can find him at The White House in Uppuveli Beach.

Tropical fish in Pigeon Island
Tropical fish around Pigeon Island

Learn to Scuba Dive

With plenty of dive schools and beautiful diving sites around the coast, if you’ve ever been interested in learning to dive, Trinco is one of the better places in Sri Lanka. There are several diving centres and schools offering PADI scuba diving courses for beginners up to advanced divers.

You’ll need a minimum of 3 days to complete the beginner course. Otherwise, divers who are already familiar with breathing under the water can head out to diving sites like Pigeon Island, Swami Rock, and the HMS Hermes ship wreck.

Any of the dive schools on the beach in Uppuveli can help you plan a diving trip or course. But I recommend contacting Rangan for all your snorkelling and diving needs, his details are above.

Observe Worshippers at Sri Badrakali Amman Temple

Another interesting local temple, wander into Sri Badrakali Amman temple not far from the central bus station in Trincomalee main town. It’s dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali who is believed to be an incarnation of goddess Kali Amman.

It’s a colourful temple inside and out with paintings, mini statues, and depictions of Hindu gods. Entry is free, but please respect the worshippers by dressing respectfully and not bothering them while they’re praying.

Dried fish in Trincomalee
Dried fish in Trincomalee

Visit the Local Fish Market

If you walk from the bus stand to Fort Fredrick, you’ll come across the local fish market. While not the most appealing place to visit with a strong stench of fish, it does offer an insight into the local community and culture.

You can see plenty of seafood on offer, including lots of dried fish which is a very popular Sri Lankan delicacy.

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