Delft Island is smack bang in the middle of the Palk Strait, separating northern Sri Lanka from southern India. The island’s about 30km west of Jaffna city, and is just 8km in length and 6km at its widest.
The north of Sri Lanka is seriously raw, and Delft Island takes authenticity to a whole new level. It’s so remote and off the beaten track that at times you feel like you’re on another planet. It’s somewhere where modern life doesn’t exist beyond a few random power lines, and the faint 3G signal from the mainland.
Delft Island is also the first place we’ve witnessed the perils of climate change first hand. Rising sea levels have lead to an increased water level over the whole island, affecting crops, homes and ancient sites. It was seriously confronting for us both to be walking through fields in ankle-deep water, and an experience which has driven us to become even more environmentally conscious since.
Surprisingly for a near-deserted limestone/coral island in the middle of the straits between Sri Lanka and India, Delft Island is full of historical sites to see and things to do.
Local tuk tuk drivers will greet you at Delft harbor and offer to take you on a tour of the island, which takes around four hours and visits all the main sites and attractions. We definitely recommend taking them up on this as the island is hard to navigate, and the major sites are dotted randomly throughout the island. It also gives you the opportunity to witness the island’s unique landscapes, while getting a local’s insight to life here.
Portuguese or Dutch Fort
Situated under tall Palmyra palms, this ruined ancient Fort (originally built by the Portuguese) constructed out of limestone and coral, was eventually turned into a Fort by the Dutch. It’s free to explore to your heart’s content
Delft Island baobab tree
A huge baobab native to tropical Africa planted on Delft in the 16th century by Arab merchants. After spending so much time in Africa, it was pretty flipping weird to see baobab trees here in Sri Lanka.
Old Dutch Hospital
This old hospital was built by the Dutch and converted into an administrative centre in the early 1900’s. In ‘The Courts’, there’s a British Emblem inscribed on the wall, which gives you an insight into the reach of the British Empire.
Set in the gardens of the Old Dutch Hospital is a unique structure used to house messenger pigeons during the Dutch reign. The pigeons used to carry messages between Delft Island and Jaffna.
Dutch Horse Stables
The island of Delft was used as a breeding ground for Dutch horses, so there are a number of ancient stables on the island. The stables are now crumbling, with 64 pillars visible where horses were formerly tied up. When we visited, the area was under water, which made for a unique experience
The giant human-like footprint embedded in the rock is somewhat of a myth, but the local inhabitants believe it was left by Hanuman, the king of monkeys and the devoted servant of Rama. Mythical and kinda cool