Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and the biggest port in the country. Although predominantly a container port, but it can also handle 2 cruise ships at a time at the 2 cruise terminals. The port is quite basic and lacks sophisticated tourist amenities. There is a small market of stalls that sell souvenirs right in front of where the ships are docked. It's not possible to walk to any areas of interest and the distance between the ship and the exit of the port is about 1.5 miles. The city centre of Colombo is about 3 miles away. There are taxis are available outside and could be quite a good price, if you brush up on your negotiating skills. Make sure the driver sticks to the negotiated price at the end of the trip. Bandaranaike International Airport of Colombo is 32km away, 40 min by car. There are public buses available in Colombo as well, however they are seldomly used by travellers, as they are not air-conditioned and often very crowded with no luggage space. Rickshaws or tuk-tuks are very popular and cheap way to go around.
The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR or Rs). You won’t get a good rate if you purchase rupees outside or Sri Lanka, and you are not legally allowed to bring more than 5000 Rs in and out of the country. So, don’t forget to keep your receipts and exchange your money back at departure. The best places to exchange money would be the licensed bureaus and the banks – they have very similar rates and no fees. Normally exchanging bigger notes will give you a slightly better rate. All major Credit Cards are also accepted, providing you have called your bank to let them now you will be travelling. Beware of scams and make sure you can see your card at all times when paying. ATMs are also easy to find but beware the bank fees.
English is one of the 3 official languages in Sri Lanka and is widely spoken in tourist areas. Most of the younger generation would speak English, so you should have no issues of being understood.
Opening hours and bank holidays in Colombo. The opening hours in Colombo are quite variable, but most shops, except malls will be closed on Sundays. The markets work Monday – Saturday, normally from about 10 am to 8 pm. They will also be closed on Sundays.
Tipping in Colombo is normally 10% at restaurants – check if the amount has already been added to your bill, about 100 Rs for hotel staff (100 Rs is less than 50 pence), between 100 and 500 Rs for tour guides (use your discretion if the tour has been organised by a company at home). In general, 100 Rs should be OK for any type of service. Recently travellers have reported that they have been asked for tips or asked for higher tips. Again, use your discretion and don’t allow to be blackmailed.
The local time in Colombo is GMT + 5.30 and the International dialling code is +94 11.
Things To Do
The National Museum of Colombo is a must-see. Established in 1877, it is the oldest and biggest museum in Sri Lanka. There are nine branches of the museum throughout the country and even a mobile museum service. There are permanent exhibitions of the regalia of the country, paraphernalia from the colonial period, a collection of antique demon masks as well as art, carvings and statues, all with the purpose of telling the story of Sri Lanka.
Walk through the statues, carved by Sri Lankan, Chinese, Thai and Burmese artists at Gangaramaya Temple. The most visited temple in Colombo is famous for the dozens of Buddha statues, made of stone, metal, gold, ruby and jade. It's also a home to the smallest Buddha statue on Sri Lanka, only visible through a magnifying glass and the sacred Bodhi tree. The beautiful and peaceful Seema Malaka Temple, the meditation centre of the temple is nextdoor.This is not only a place of worship, but also a cultural and learning centre, and an excellent photo opportunity spot! Nearby is the beautiful and idyllic Beira lake.
Do not miss the understated Independence Memorial Hall. It's located in the Independence Square at Colombo 7, in the heart of Cinnamon Gardens. This is a monument that celebrates the indepence from Britain in 1948. The Memorial Hall has been built at the exaclty same place where the formal ceremony that started the self-rule of then, Ceylon, and the opening of the first parliament by HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester took place on February 4, 1948. The architecture of the Hall is based on the Audience Hall in Kandy and it's decorated with traditional Sri Lankan designs.
When the hustle and bustle of Colombo become a little too much, head off to Viharamahadevi Park – named after king Dutugemunu’s mother. This is a lovely green space, beautifully maintained, with gorgeous flowering trees (from March to May). Sometimes you can see elephants there, used for ceremonies, the odd snake charmer, but mostly people of all ages, relaxing and enjoying the ambiance. The park features a Buddha statue, multiple water fountains, mini zoo, children’s playground, a wobbly suspension bridge and even a British jet trainer from colonial times.
A few other points of interest in Colombo are the Old Dutch Hospital – the oldest Dutch building in Colombo, now a heritage building and a shopping and dining precinct; the Dutch period Museum – the second oldest Dutch building in Colombo, dating back from 17th century and displaying over 3000 pieces of Dutch furniture and artefacts; the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque (the Red Mosque) – in the heart of the Pettah district, a distinctive and attractive building with unusual red and white alternating, spiralling and swirling brickwork and pomegranate shaped domes; the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara temple, dating back from 500 BC and destroyed by the Indians and the Portuguese and rebuilt twice, considered to have been visited by Buddha himself on his third visit to Sri Lanka.
If you are looking to spend more time outdoors, shopping or simply taking in the unique atmosphere of colourful and buzzing Colombo, head off to Galle Face Green – an open green space facing the ocean and a narrow beach on one side and high-rise building on the other. Visit the Deliwala Zoo and Gardens, home to over 3000 animals of 350 species, an aquarium, a butterfly park and an elephant show every afternoon.
Take in the chaos, delicious smells, traffic and noise of a Sr Lankan market at Pettah market, and buy anything from clothes and jewellery, exotic fruits and vegetables to car parts! The Good Market is also very popular with its organic and healthier choices.
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